Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Greatest Gift

Philippians 2:1-11 “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

We just celebrated Remembrance Day. King George V of the United Kingdom in 1919 formalized what we know of this day because the armistice for WW1 was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The Great War was over and there was recognition of the great cost of war. Jesus talked about that cost in terms of love. He said that the greatest love a man can have is to lay down his life for another. In war, that is what happens. Whether we agree with war or not, whether we support the aims of the conflict or not isn’t the issue; the issue is for Jesus was the price one was willing to pay for love.
I have fond memories of Christmas as a kid growing up. I remember going down early with my twin and walking into the living room which was lit only by the lights of the tree. Work socks were full of stocking stuff, presents around the tree wrapped in bright and coloured paper. I remember one year getting a long red metal toboggan. It went fast and was one of my favourite gifts. It was used over several years and had the dents to show it. Some of my Christmas memories and desires a kid has morphed into some of the traditions we do today as a family. We have a little plastic train that we put under our tree. It goes round and round on track that gets duct taped together. We have a wonderful box that has a drawer for each of the 24 days in December leading up to Christmas Day in which we put a little something for the kids. Each morning they are up and looking in it for that day’s treat. I have also had some wonderful gifts. A few years ago I got an M500 Palm Pilot. It was great to have an electronic Calendar and Adress Book to take with me. Unfortunately, one day I had stuck it in my back pocket and upon sitting down I cracked the glass. I can still use it to play music, but since I can only see half of the screen and it doesn’t respond to the stylus well, it sits idle much of the time. More recently I received a newer Palm Pilot. It had more memory and was easier to sync with my online Calendar. Now if I could only find it, it would be great! It’s black, about this big… let me know…
What’s my greatest gift? Though Bonnie didn’t come wrapped in shiny paper on Christmas, she really is the greatest gift I have received on this earth. Greater than Bonnie? Well, the only thing is what others have already called the Greatest Gift. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. The gift God gave us that resulted in the ability to have a relationship with Him is rooted in His character. God gave us the gift of love - Love is the Greatest Gift there is. God set the example of Love, and of giving love. All the gifts that Bonnie has given me, that I have given her and the kids, is all about love. We love so we give. And we give love in so many ways.
As we enter this Christmas season I want to live you with a few thoughts about giving love this year because it models what Jesus has done in you and I. Because we have been given these things, we can and need to turn around and give them to those around us.

Love means we give freedom. God gave us freedom, freedom to choose. We have freedom because we were created in the image of the God of Love. We have the freedom to choose to accept the gift that God so freely offers, the gift of salvation. Jesus died while we were yet sinners, not while we were good enough. He holds that gift out even now to those who are yet sinners, those who are old in their sins, and those still young. You and I need to reach out in love and offer the gift of freedom to those around us. Freedom doesn’t mean we condone or we think grace is cheap; it means we see the value of the individual who was created in the image of our God. It means we refuse to pass judgement on them, because God is not finished with them yet. We need to offer it while people are in the midst of being wrong, in the midst of sin, in the midst of our messy lives. Jesus saves, not us. We are not called to throw the Bible or the Law at people, we are called to throw love at them. We give people the freedom to say, “Not now, Jesus” and still be all we can be to them. What does that look like? I think it looks like compassionate ministry. Jesus said when we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, when we invite the stranger in, clothe the naked and visit the sick and the prisoner we have done that to Him. We need to see people in need as Jesus sees them. He sees them as the prodigal’s father sees his son who has gone astray out in the world. God longs to see the lost come home. Jesus says that our faith has to be in our actions of love or it is not faith. So we give people the freedom to make mistakes, to be who they are. In the midst of that we share the Good News we have experienced as we are able. We love them because they are our brothers and sisters. Give the gift of freedom this season.

Love means we give hope. There is hope in this life and the next. God has shown us that we can change. As Nazarenes we believe that the power of God is at work in us through the Holy Spirit changing us into the likeness of Jesus. Isn’t that a wonderful truth? When we extend people freedom, we do it knowing that God can change them. They say first impressions are lasting impressions. The truth is people change. Pastor Debbie works in the prison system which is designed to rehabilitate people. One of the biggest factors for a successful reintegration into society, into community upon their release is some connections with people. Who will give them a chance? Who will give them hope, or who will just see them and judge them as they were? We believe God changes, right? How do we put that into practice? I look forward to pastor Debbie sharing her ministry in the federal penitentiaries with us, and allowing us to enter into her ministries in practical ways in the months and years to come. There are people in our city caught up in cycles of addictions and abuse and ministries like the Bridge on 20th work hard to provide hope to those people. They provide resources and tools to help them get out of those destructive patterns, and we can join with them in giving that hope. The work of Christian Counselling Services headed up by Bee Jay Carter speaks hope into their clients. Your Best You speaks hope to women who have been pushed down by people and the world so they have a hard time seeing worth and value in themselves. This season, give hope.

Love means we give joy. The Psalmist especially speaks of the joy of our salvation. So often we look at what is not working, what is wrong, what we haven’t got. We need to look at what we do have, what is right. That is what Philippians 4:8 means when it says “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Life is messy. It is depressing. It is hard. But God is love, and even “though our outer man is decaying, our inner man is being renewed day by day.” The message of hope we give in freedom is joy. We have the answer to life. We know the last chapter and it is wonderful. Doesn’t an eternity in the presence of your Creator give you even a smidgen of joy? God has given us joy. Give the gift of joy this season. Let people see your excitement about God and His ability to change us both today and in the life to come. My dad said his funeral needs to be a celebration. He knows when he sees Jesus face to face he will be changed. There may be temporary grief, but he is entering an eternity without any sorrow or sadness or pain or grief. Let the joy of the season be the joy of your salvation.

God is good, God is great, God is love. We have been given the Greatest Gift in the life and death of Jesus. We celebrate the incarnation over the next 6 weeks, and in a few months the death and resurrection. We experience in so many ways that gift in our faith, in our day to day walk with Jesus. Turn around and give that same gift of love this season to those around you.

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