It sounds noble to say I don’t care about gifts at Christmas time, but that simply is not the case. Without a gift, there is no Christmas. The cost of the gift makes all the difference in the world. So, it really is about receiving the best gift, ever, at Christmas!
The problem is that the best gift, ever, isn’t something we can shop for or find on Amazon. It has already been given, and it was a one-of-a-kind. In fact, this gift is so exceptional that people have been trying to describe it for more than 2,500 years.
Before it was given, it was described in terms like Wonderful, Mighty, and Everlasting. 730 years before it was given, a gift this remarkable could only be thought of as miraculous, coming from a seemingly impossible origin—God Himself would have to be involved. And it surely must be expensive. I want to receive a gift like that!
And what kind of message would a gift like this convey? That I am loved? Valued? Incredibly important to the giver? Certainly all of these and more.
It is easy to overlook the best gift, ever, when it isn’t wrapped in flashy paper, or illuminated with gaudy lights, or prominently displayed under the tree for everyone to speculate on its content. The best gift ever slipped quietly into the stream of history—at just the right time—to re-define the meaning of gift-giving forever. Nearly 2,000 years ago the gospel writer described it like this, “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son” (John 3:16, The Message).
While we’re engaged in Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and whatever madness might accompany our holiday observance, let’s take time to give thanks for God’s gift to us of His only Son, Jesus. As the Apostle Paul said, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15). He truly has given us the best gift, ever.
God has been prodding my conscience lately as I realize that people (maybe me?) often profess to follow Jesus for any number of reasons. For some it could be cultural or family tradition passed down for generations. For others, it may be politically or professionally advantageous to be known as a Christ-follower. Yet others find hope and genuine regeneration through faith in Jesus and His substitutionary death on the cross for our sins.
In the book of Acts, Dr. Luke profiles several lives changed by our Lord and lived through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. He also demonstrates the danger of claiming a lifestyle that appears genuine but lacks heart change and counterfeits the authentic change of the new birth. Simon the magician in Acts 8 is a striking example of attempting to “add Jesus” to one’s personal agenda.
While authentic conversions to Christ were occurring in Samaria, Simon already had acquired a following and a reputation, “…saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great’” (Acts 8:9-10). When he offered money to the apostle Peter to buy the ability “so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (v.19), Peter’s reply was swift and to the point: “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” (v. 20).
Simon simply wanted to “add Jesus” to the agenda he had established for himself to enhance his abilities or perchance acquire a supernatural marketing tool. He never heard the Master warn, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other…” (Matthew 6:24).
Authentically serving Jesus isn’t adding Him to my plans, but denying my agenda in favor of His. Here are a few questions for contemplation, and perhaps conviction as we seek to allow the risen Lord to live His life in us: Have I added Jesus to my career or has He directed me into this stewardship of my life? If Jesus were to clearly call me out of my profession to an area of His choosing (like calling fishermen to follow Him), how would I respond? If He would send me in a life-direction contrary to everything I’ve prepared for (like Saul of Tarsus), would I yield to Him?
As we focus on the cross and resurrection of our Lord, maybe now is a good time to take a look at the bottom line, count the cost of following Him, and realize what it means to be a Christ-follower.
Forty years is a long time. In 1977 quarterback Tom Brady was born and Elvis died. The Apple computer went on sale and Star Wars premiered Episode IV. Jimmy Carter was president and Rocky was a hit at the box office.
No one knows how long 40 years can seem better than the lame man in Acts 3. For more than four decades he had been carried each day to the gate of the temple to beg from faithful Jews. Many passed by, a few dug deep into their pockets to find spare change, but anything more was rare and unexpected. Until that day that everything changed.
What started as a normal day—the same as every day for more than 40 years—took an unexpected turn when two strangers approached and spoke. Apostles Peter and John were walking their normal route to the temple, winding their way through the vendors and beggars strategically placed at the entrance.
When Peter said those special words, everything changed. In the sight and hearing of all, these words rang like a bell, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” The lame man leapt; he who was carried, walked. The one who had been carefully placed was now standing. Begging turned to praising!
An ordinary day turned extraordinary! This lame man hadn’t planned to meet God, but that is what happened. Jesus Christ of Nazareth invaded his comfort zone and everything changed. Just hours ago, his expectations were too low. He didn’t factor God into the picture; he just planned to live life without God.
What would our lives look like if we expected God to participate? Do our expectations leave room for God, or is the dial-tone life we’ve come to know all we plan to experience? Let’s leave room in “today” for God to change everything!
While returning from an overseas trip, I was impressed by the people waiting in line to enter the U.S. It wasn’t so much their appearance, as the important documents they were carrying. Passports of many colors and languages were produced along with various kinds of visas—all to establish identity and citizenship.
I couldn’t help but think about another kind of citizenship. In the book of Philippians, Paul calls attention to our “nationality” saying, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (3:20). And as heavenly citizens there are both rewards and responsibilities.
An eternal home and unbroken fellowship with our Savior are just the beginning of blessings for the Kingdom citizen. Freedom from the penalty and power of sin in addition to the Spirit-filled and abundant life right now make anything else seem dull by comparison. But there is a “down side.”
When we received our heavenly citizenship, we traded in our former identity. Colossians 1:13 says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son….” As upstanding citizens of the kingdom of darkness, we “…were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:2–3).
Renouncing our former government and its leader placed us in a state of spiritual “war” which affects us daily. God’s enemy has become our enemy. Satan has determined to render us powerless to stand against his schemes. But God has equipped us with more than adequate defenses for the battle.
Ephesians 6:10–20 gives a picture of our defensive equipment. From belt to sword; helmet to shield we are well dressed for the spiritual battle. Satan’s dangerous darts are no match for us equipped and empowered for service to our King.
For the remainder of the summer, our Sunday morning messages will focus on our enemy’s Dangerous Darts and how to defend against them. One important defensive strategy is not to be caught alone. There is strength and encouragement when we gather as a group. Let’s determine to know our spiritual armor and how to use it in order to be effective in the battle!