Gifts can be a little awkward; both in the giving and receiving. Do you remember having the Christmas expectations and then the disappointment when you found out you got socks again instead of that set of golf clubs you wanted?
Nancy and I began pastoring a little congregation in Saskatchewan when I was 24 and she was 21. We were young and naive and we didn’t have any family around. I wanted to buy her something really nice for Christmas to show her how important she was to me. I didn’t know what she would like (we’d only been married a year) but I did know that we didn’t have a vacuum cleaner. Most guys love power tools so it made perfect sense that Nancy would want a vacuum. I knew it’d make her life so much easier. So I went out and spent about $200 on an Electrolux vacuum. You have to remember that $200 - 37 years ago was a lot of money for two kids right out of college.
So I wrapped it up; put it under the tree and she kept guessin’, trying to figure out what it was. By the time our Christmas came, her anticipation was through the roof. She ripped the paper off and saw the picture of the most beautiful vacuum on earth on the side of the box. I was waiting for the “Oh, I’m so happy!” - All I got was a cute little smile and she said, “Nice try. You put a ring in here didn’t you?” ~ I started to worry. For whatever reason, she didn’t believe it was a vacuum cleaner. I don’t know why. But from that point on, I was beginning to think I was somehow in trouble. By the time she opened the box I was shakin’ in fear. She had this horrified look on her face and said, …”It IS a vacuum cleaner!”
I’m thinkin’ to myself- “There was a picture on the box. I thought that would have been obvious.”
Anticipation and disappointment.
We experience it all time and it is directly related to our expectation. What would you expect if the Prime Minister came to visit you? Whether you like him or not, it automatically puts thoughts into your head around security and making sure you’ve picked up your dirty clothes in the living room. You wouldn’t want people to think you were born in a barn.
What would you expect if God showed up and you had never heard the Christmas story. And God told you what he told Mary? Would you even entertain the thought that you might now get some nice clothes, have servants, be treated with respect? You must have had some kind of thoughts that painted a nicer picture than being a village girl. Your son is going to be Messiah. At least you wont be living in a barn.
Guaranteed, Joseph wasn’t thinking that he’d end up sleeping on the ground in a stable when he walked into Bethlehem.
I just don’t think the actual birth of Jesus was anything like anyone’s expectations. Why send the world’s Saviour to a barn? ~ I don’t know. I just know that God’s ways aren’t anything like my ways.
Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
But I am thankful for the gift.
God’s gift of Jesus became a giver of gifts. He’s given us Himself as our companion in the Holy Spirit. I’m convinced there is so much more to discover from him. It’s available to us but we have yet learned how to access it. It’s through him that gifts have been deposited in each of us.
Think about the ingredients in a recipe, or a LEGO piece in model plane, or an item in a survival kit. God’s metaphor was Body. It’s living. It has many parts, and each part is gift that is both needed and in need of the other parts in order for it to live. I’m not sure that we understand how much we need each other. Certain things remind us of how dependent we are upon him. Even a rainbow is a reminder.
Genesis 9:13 God said, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
When we realize who God is and how he sustains everything, it really doesn’t leave us a lot to brag about even though he has made us individually important. God gives us spiritual gifts and abilities. Then he gives us visions of what can be - And we embrace it and start running and God gives us space until we run to the margins of life and we realize that we are still completely in need of him.
Years ago, when I worked for Food for the Hungry, we developed an inspiring Christmas marketing piece that told our story very well. We had these great ideas of how we were gonna make up our yearend deficit. We mailed them all out, then came a postal strike. Back then people didn’t do wire transfers. We were almost completely dependent upon the mail. God had given us a great idea and we ran with it to the margins of relying on ourselves more than God. And we walked into a postal strike at Christmas time.
Rediscovering we are completely dependent upon God brings us to a place of surrender and then the double portion comes and we know we can’t take credit for it. ~ People started walking into our office and leaving checks. Some were smaller. Some were considerable. But by yearend we had met our deficit and we were humbled by the goodness and faithfulness of God.
We often think that the end result is what we should be striving for and God looks on and says, “Isn’t that cute.” Because God knows that he has created us to need each other, and together, we need him. Eventually our effort will bring us back to the place of dependency and we will see the beauty and wisdom of surrendering our spiritual gifts and abilities to him. When we of our own free will, give back to him what he has given us, he then he partners with us in the process and often impossible things happen. It’s in the process of dependency that we are changed. And as that change matures the gifts we have been given not only are a source of strength to each other, but they also now can be used beyond this fellowship to bless our community.
God gave us His gift in the form of a little baby. Infinity contained. His gift gave us life, then equipped us to live that life in ways that he described as “abundant.” He gave us freedom to love him or reject him. When you think back over this week, it is probably easy recognize that we have become accustomed to our freedom. We aren’t often comfortable with needing help from someone else. I don’t enjoy realizing that I am needy; that apart from Christ, I’m still broken. With him, I’m becoming whole; with Him, I have something to offer my community. God gave us gift. And Gift gave us gifts so that we could become gifts to each other and to our community.
Occasionally I meet people who seem to not make a single decision without it passing through the lens of their love for God. Those are remarkable people. In their presence I feel like a child. Yet the gifts we have been given are meant to make this world a better place. ~ You have influence. Yet it requires us to be intentional.
I sat on a six-inch stool in a side alley in Vietnam. It was dark. Across from me was a young woman. She held her baby. He didn’t move in her arms. I suspected she had laced his milk with opium to keep him from crying when he was hungry. Beside me stood her four-year-old daughter. She had beautiful eyes that twinkled in the light. She climbed up onto my knee. Her mother’s face bore the strain of life on the street. Her eyes were weary—tired of the battle, yet determined to not give up. For her I knew it was another step, another day that will bring the same as the last. Where does she find bread for her child?
The three bowls of soup I ordered were placed in front of us. The third bowl was for an obnoxious man—pushy; abrasive from the hardness of life. Clearly, this little mother barely tolerated his presence.
I turned back to the woman. I knew that the solution for her was not so impossible and yet it would probably never happen. All she would need was to have someone come along side, invest, at most, $100; walk her through the initial steps of running a little street business of selling soup—the same as we were eating there on the sidewalk.
But such simple solutions require people. There were no people. There was no money. And I looked into this mother’s eyes and realized she had no hope. It isn’t that difficult to become a gift for someone else. Yet for us to use what God has given us, in a way that brings life to others, we must be intentional in the things we do.
14 Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:14 (NIV)
The soul is the place of deepest communion with our Creator. When the longing simply is not there, we are invited to ask God to create it. As he draws us to himself it feels similar to someone lifting a great sadness from your heart. We begin to identify with his suffering. That’s our common ground with those around us. We may not have the capacity to identify with the success of others. Yet we all understand loss. We all understand pain. God’s love allows us to see our neighbour.
If you’re struggling to reach out to those around you, it is probably because you haven’t become comfortable with gift you’ve been given. Using our gifts for others often requires a personal brokenness for us to discover where we truly belong. When you know that, your need to feed your insecurities or cravings diminishes and your ability to respond to those in need, increases.
The gift you have received will give you life when it is applied to others. This manger held the beginning of the Last Great Gift. Look around you. (seriously ~ look around you) What you see is why you possess something that can give life. You have been redeemed, purchased; as in one who was a slave and has been bought and then given their freedom. That allows you to look at life differently. You can see it through the eyes of a free person. Free people see things differently than slaves do. You can see what God intended creation to be. You can see the value of a single person. You can see that you are able to make a difference in another person’s life.
Without hope, “people do perish.” It’s true. But hope is readily visible to those who have eyes to see it. People with hope take time for aesthetics. People with hope find generosity an easy thing to do and be.
The humble poor know a deep secret. They give from themselves, not from their surplus. They give from the abundance of their hearts. ~ Kefa Sampangi, A Distant Grief (Out of print)
The gift of Jesus the Christ was given to instil hope. We take that hope and invest it wisely in our communities when we desire to see healing and wholeness take place at the root levels of despair.
Hope provides a vision of where we are going. It helps to reframe the past so that we gain wisdom from it, and it enables us to make good and wise decisions in the present. Create small successes. If we can even take the smallest step and recognize it as one step toward sharing this gift, we have something to celebrate. Over time, hope begins to grow.
There’s an African proverb that says:
“Giving flows from a good spirit as a river flows to the lake. It is not a matter of possessions. The river can never give back to its source, what it has taken. It simply passes on its water to the lake, even though the waters of the lake are many times greater... There is a giving to serve others and there is a giving to serve oneself. There is a giving to promote, and a giving to dominate. Without love there is only paternalism and self-importance. There is only the giving of surplus, not the giving of precious treasures.” Kefa Sempangi, A Distant Grief (Out of print)
What would make you glad to wake up in the morning? Hope is a way of helping people do things in a different way so that they can achieve a different result. The process may be slow but as we help people do well on one assignment or task it allows them to move forward, one success at a time.
“And whatever you do or say, do as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17).
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness... On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” ~ Edward Mote (1797–1874)