The wheels began churning long before this morning. What gift should I get this Christmas for my husband, my wife, my kids, my parents, my friends?and the list goes on and on. I?ve been hearing lots of talk about Xbox, the Wii, iPhones, Zhu Zhu pet hamsters, and the always popular gift cards.
I was reading an article this past week from the National Retail Federation that led me to believe that this Christmas was going to be very different than all of the Christmas? before. Let me read you a snippet and see if you come to the same conclusion. The article is called, ?Economy to Impact Two-Thirds of Families this Holiday Season.? (http://tinyurl.com/ylefrhp) The title kind of gives it away huh? Here?s just a sampling.
It comes as no surprise that the economy was an overriding theme throughout this year?s survey. Two-thirds of Americans (65.3%) say the economy will affect their holiday plans this year, with the majority of these consumers saying they?re adjusting by simply spending less (84.2%). People will also be shopping for sales more often (55.0%), using more coupons (41.7%) and putting up last year?s decorations (34.0%). Many Americans will also make changes in gift-giving, planning to buy more practical gifts (36.0%), buying a joint gift for kids or parents (17.3%), and making more gifts (16.7%). Additionally, more than one-fourth of Americans (28.6%) say the economy is forcing them to travel less or not at all for the holidays.
I haven?t been to the mall, but the article led me to believe that it was probably empty. That was until I read that even with all of these indicators showing that folks would be spending less, Christmas spending is projected to be $437 billion this year. 437 BILLION DOLLARS!!
Now, I don?t want you to think that I?m an advocate of canceling Christmas, burning shopping lists, and giving the tree to Goodwill. I love Christmas. I love the songs, the lights, the get-togethers, the Christmas Eve service here at BCC, and I love to give. I?m not an advocate of canceling Christmas, but I?ve become an advocate of creative Christmas giving. We, as Christians, need to think outside the box. We need to think of ways that we can give which reflect who we are and who we are called to be as followers of Jesus.
Here?s a question that has been running through my head??How can Connie and I honor those we love and help those who need help?? I didn?t come up with this on my own. I was running one morning and listening to a sermon by one of my favorite preachers, Francis Chan. Francis said,
The average American will spend $832 just for Christmas day?on decorations, food, and presents. $832. Meanwhile, on the planet, there are 3 billion people who make less than $2 a day. So those 3 billion people, if they work every single day of the year, they will make $732 a year. Full time. Every day. 3 billion people live on less than $732 a year. We spend $832 on one day, on stuff we don?t need. It?s crazy. But it becomes normal to us. We just go ?well we live in America. That?s what we do.? I hope that we as believers take these things into account and live differently. I was challenged a couple of years ago, actually by one of the professors at our college, about some of my thinking as to some of the things that I was thinking about. We were talking about a certain issue when he said, ?how much of your beliefs are American and how much of your beliefs are biblical?? Aren?t they the same thing? ?Until you get alone with this Book, get alone with God, you don?t realize how much you are influenced by other things. And suddenly it makes sense to us to spend that amount of money on one day when half of the world is living on less than that amount for the whole year. It?s normal to us, but would it be if we had a biblical mindset? (Francis Chan, Beware of Good Liars.)
Canceling Christmas and vowing to never give gifts is the antithesis of Christmas. We serve God. He is the ?Giver of every good and perfect gift.? (James 1:17) In Romans 11 and 12 we read about the gifts that God has given to His people?all of His people. In 2 Corinthians 9:9 we read,
9 As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” (2 Corinthians 9:9 NIV)
You know what is really interesting about the Scripture in 2 Corinthians 9:9? Most of the time, when we hear that verse, we interpret it to mean that God has ?scattered abroad His gifts to the poor.? The verse is a quote from Psalm 112:9. Let me read it to you from Psalms, in context, and then you tell me ?who? is scattering their gifts to the poor. Here we go.
5 Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice. 6 Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever. 7 He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD. 8 His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes. 9 He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be lifted high in honor. (Psalm 112:5-9 NIV)
Now, tell me, who is the Psalmist talking about? God? Or is he talking about the person who is walking with God, a righteous person, a person whose heart is fixed on God, trusting in the LORD? It?s quite clear isn?t it? Sure it is. We are to be givers. If you are a follower of Jesus then your very nature is to give. The more you come to understand Jesus the more you will give. Please don?t hear me saying that giving is equivalent to, or defined solely as, ?money.? That is certainly part of giving. I?ve learned from experience that the more I become attached to Jesus, the less I am attached to money and stuff. The more I allow Him to draw me to Himself, the less I am drawn to the mad American mindset of accumulating more and more. The more I realize what He has given to me, the more I want to give to others, but giving encompasses so much more than just money.
I want to be able to give in such a way that meets needs. I want to use the money God has entrusted to Connie and me to meet needs. I want to offer my gifts and abilities to help meet needs. I want to use my time in such a way that helps to meet needs. Before you can do that you have to know what the needs are, right? We can ask folks, ?What do you need?? but most of the time you will hear what they want rather than what they need. It is overwhelming when you stop to consider the needs of the folks around you isn?t it? I think people?s needs fit into one of two categories: Spiritual and physical.
I could list for you all of the people that I have met with or talked to in the past week and describe for you the needs they have that we talked about. Each and every one of them falls into one of the two categories that I?ve just listed for you. They come to talk to me, but I am not the one they are looking for?they are looking for Jesus. Some don?t even realize it, some would deny it, but I will assure you that they are looking for Jesus. Let me explain.
Jesus described Himself as ?the light of the world.? I will show you those places in Scripture where He does so in just a minute, but for now take my word for it. The ?Light? was constantly shining into dark hearts, chaotic hearts, turbulent hearts, lost and broken hearts.
The spiritual and physical needs of us all oftentimes unleash chaos into our lives?it is only God?s ?Light? that can bring order out of chaos. Let me show you an example of this. Turn with me to Genesis 1.
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-3 NIV)
The earth was ?formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep?? The Hebrew phrase “????? ???????” (tohoo wavohoo) means, ?chaotic, confusion, empty, disorder.? And that was the state of creation before God spoke. Look what follows. God speaks into the chaos. He says, ?Let there be light.? When the light shines order proceeds out of chaos. Out of the disorder and chaos God brings about order. What is true for the Cosmos it equally true for our lives as individuals. When the Light shines into our chaotic and confusing lives order begins to come forth like never before.
At Christmas time we always hear, ?Jesus is the Light of the World.? We light candles and sing carols, we have Advent wreaths with candles representing Jesus as the light of the world, and we read the Scripture from Isaiah 9 which says,
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV)
The announcement came to the world that change was on the way. A Child is born. Unlike any child who would ever be born. Before the prophecy of Jesus? birth there is another Scripture in Isaiah 9 that I want you to see. Take a look at verse 2 with me.
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2 NIV)
The world was shrouded in darkness until the Light came. When the Light comes everything changes, but without the Light people will continue to stumble in the dark. Turn with me to John 8 and let me show you a real life example of what I?m talking about.
3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” 12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:3-12 NIV)
The woman wasn?t an ?alleged? adulteress. She was caught in the act. She has a problem. It?s not a physical problem, although if they would have been allowed to stone her then her problems would have also been physical. She has a spiritual problem. I don?t know her whole story, but I know the stories of many people who live outside of God?s design for sexual intimacy. A man or woman who lives within God?s design for sexual intimacy will experience order in that aspect of their life, but once we step outside of God?s design we step into the darkness and disorder and chaos will break forth with a vengeance. Have you been following the continuing saga of Tiger?s chaos lately? Do I need to say any more?
When we seek to use anything to fill the void, the emptiness inside us, other than God, then chaos is guaranteed to follow. When we live outside of God?s design for life then chaos is sure to come. This is a spiritual problem. What the woman caught in adultery needed was for the Light to shine into her darkened understanding that something other than God could meet her deepest needs. What she needed was for the Light to draw her back into God?s design for her life. Jesus told her that He didn?t condemn her then He said, ?Go now and leave your life of sin.? What follows that statement is most important. We read,
12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 NIV)
If we follow Jesus we will never walk in darkness because His light will lead us. The more we follow Him, the closer we stay to Jesus, the less we will find ourselves stumbling in the dark. Have you found that to be true in your life?
The truth of the matter is that there are many, oh so many, all around us who are living in the dark. Don?t be fooled by their outer appearance. They may look like they?ve got it all together, but they are wrapped in utter darkness. They need the Light.
Now turn with me to the next chapter of John, John 9. Here is a man with a physical need. The man was born blind. Let?s read the story.
1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. 8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” 10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they demanded. 11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” 12 “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided. 17 Finally they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.” 18 The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” 20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God, ” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” 25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:1-25 NIV)
The man had his need met. His sight was restored, but more importantly than his vision being restored the man?s eyes were opened to the Light. As his physical need was being met, he was able to see Jesus for who He truly is. The religious leaders were having a great debate about who Jesus really was. Is He a ?sinner?? Is He from God? The man said, ?Whether he is a sinner or not, I don?t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!? This man opened my eyes!!
Isn?t that principle still true today? I can?t tell you how many stories I?ve gathered through the years of folks who have come to know Jesus because there were caring followers of Jesus who were willing to meet them at their point of need and help. In Matthew?s Gospel Jesus speaks to His followers and says,
14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 NIV)
?You are the light of the world.? Don?t look at your neighbor. He?s talking to you. He?s talking to me. The things that Jesus did we are to do. We are to reach out to those who are walking in darkness, those who are stumbling through life, those who are lost with no light to guide their way. We are to point them to Jesus. We are to show them Jesus.
We are to reach out to those who have real physical needs and help. We are to visit them, pray with them, support them, walk with them, and lead them to the Light. Where were we before the Light came on in our lives? Where would we be this very morning if it were not for the Light continuing to shine into our lives?
I want to close where I began. What are we to give this Christmas? I believe that we are to wrap the grace, mercy, and peace of our Savior in our acts of love, generosity, and devotion. We are to be the light of the world. We are to pray and work so that those who don?t know the Lord will come to know Him. We are to pray and work so that those who are hurting find comfort, those who are grieving find solace, and those who are hungry, thirsty, homeless, and lost will find relief from what ails them.
I believe there are people right here this morning who need the Light to shine in their own life. Why not celebrate Christmas early? Just as Jesus reached out to the woman caught in adultery and restored her to God, He can do the same thing for you. Just as Jesus reached out to the blind man and met his need, He will meet your needs as well. Will you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
Oklahoma City, OK. 73114
December 20, 2009