I have many wonderful memories of Christmas gifts I received as a child. My dad bought me a new football uniform virtually every year. Little wonder that I ended up playing football through college. On one occasion my brother rode his bike to retrieve a gift for me from the neighbor who lived about a mile away. On the way home, he dropped the present, breaking the contents (a toy truck) into small pieces. He was so concerned that he had broken my present that he sat down with me at the kitchen table and tried to help me reassemble the broken toy. If you understand anything about sibling rivalry, you will understand that my brother's gift of concern and time meant more than a toy that would soon be forgotten.
Gifts became a more meaningful part of Christmas when I was old enough to purchase gifts for other family members. My mom worked at Cato's store on Main Street of Morganton, N.C. Dad let me do my own shopping which may seem strange to our modern day sensibilities, but it was perfectly safe to let a small boy go shopping in our small town.
I can't remember all the gifts that I purchased that year, but a few stand out in my mind. I bought my brother a roll of film for his new camera. I remember this particular gift because when asked about what size of film I needed, I responded by telling how large my brother was. Somehow, I ended up with the correct film. I bought my mom some little ceramic figurines -- they were bears playing instruments that looked like flowers. I thought they were incredibly beautiful. But the real reason behind the purchase was that I had broken some of mom's decorative items by my careless play and felt this would help replace them. I honestly can't remember any of the gifts I received that year because I could hardly wait to see the expression when each family member opened the gift from me. I had learned the joy of giving.
THE GREATEST GIFT
It is easy for us to get so caught up in all the trappings of Christmas that we forget the gift that began it all. The sovereign God of the universe sent the One who was and is King to earth to sacrifice His life for the redemption of sinful man. Listen to the majesty and simplicity of the story of the greatest gift ever given.
"She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). "'Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,' which translated means 'God with us'" (Matthew 1:23). "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11).
I have read and taught the story of the birth of Christ for most of my life and it still amazes me and moves me to tears. It is beyond my comprehension that God loved me so much that He sent His Son to earth to take upon Himself my sin and die in my place that I might have abundant and eternal life. But like every gift, this is a gift that must be received. I trust that you have received the Greatest Gift, but if not, why not turn from your sin and invite Him to be your Savior?
WHAT GIFT SHOULD WE PRESENT TO THE KING?
When I discovered the joy of giving, Christmas came fully alive to me. So let's ask ourselves: What gifts should we present to the King this year? Remember, this gift should reflect the nature of God's gift to us. May I be so bold as to suggest three gifts!
-- Give the gift of life to someone this year. Christmas provides us with a natural time to share the Gospel with a friend, family member or colleague who needs to know and experience the gift of forgiveness that leads to eternal life. This season is replete with images and sounds that are related to the true meaning of Christmas. Look for divine moments to explain what this season means to you.
You could invite neighbors or friends to your home for a Christmas party. As a part of the evening it would be most appropriate to have someone read the Christmas story from the Bible. You could follow that by giving your testimony and explain how one can receive the gift of eternal life.
One of my daughters spent a Christmas season in Bulgaria. Having no family around, she invited several neighbors to join her for Christmas. She researched the Old Testament for several promises that were fulfilled in the coming of Christ. She purchased a Menorah and had her guests light the candles one by one while she read and explained these biblical prophecies. This celebration has now become a part of our Christmas family heritage.
When I moved to Tennessee a few years ago, Paula and I lived in a condominium community. We traveled so much we really didn't get to know our neighbors very well. One Christmas Paula baked cranberry nut bread and we wrapped it with "The Prayer of Jesus" book. One of our neighbors became a Christian through the reading of this book. She died not long after Christmas and we had the joy of telling her friends and family about her wonderful discovery.
Since that time Paula and I have given small books that contain the Gospel. Last Christmas I gave away two cases of "God Will" to persons at the fitness center where I work out. Here's another idea. Print out your testimony and include it in your Christmas card this year. Use your creativity and you will discover numerous ways to share the gift of life.
-- Give the Gospel to the nations. As you walk through malls this Christmas season and hear carols being broadcast over open speakers, remember that 1.6 billion people have yet to hear the name "Jesus." Everyone has the right to hear that the Savior has been born and that they can have a personal relationship with Him. We know that the Gospel is good news. We know that it is the power of God unto salvation and that once sown it will not return void. When we introduce the Gospel to a people group it spreads like leaven throughout the community.
Since we know that it is both "good" and "powerful" news, why do we do so little to introduce it to the people who have never heard? Southern Baptists have several wonderful mechanisms that allow us to cooperate in this global task. One is the Lottie Moon Christmas offering. I can still remember my mother saving dimes all year so that she could give a sacrificial gift for missions at Christmas. Why not make your Lottie Moon Christmas gift the largest gift you give this year. No doubt, you have heard about the need created by our current recession. This year would be a wonderful time to give a gracious gift to the reaching of the nations through your Lottie Moon offering.
Another tool at our disposal is the Cooperative Program. Fifty percent of the CP funds allocated by the SBC go to the International Mission Board, and over 45 percent to both the North American Mission Board and the six Seminaries. That means that more than 95 percent of CP funds go directly to training ministers and supporting missionaries. You can raise the level of Cooperative giving by increasing your weekly gifts through your church. As the church budget increases, each church can then consider giving a larger percentage to the Cooperative Program. In this manner you will help to give the Gospel to the nations throughout the year.
-- Give your own body. Listen to Romans 12:1 -- "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship."
The "offering" of our bodies is based on the truth that we have received mercy. By virtue of redemption our bodies have been made alive and therefore we can present the members of our bodies as instruments for righteousness (Romans 6:13). If you read the remainder of Romans 12 you will discover that Paul is discussing spiritual gifts that have been distributed to all believers to enable them to advance God's Kingdom. These gifts function through our human bodies and thus we must first present ourselves to God. By the way, I hope you noticed that your gift to God has already been declared to be "acceptable to God."
In the book of Ephesians Paul speaks about the church being empowered to express the fullness of God (Ephesians 1:18-23). The term "fullness" was used to describe Jesus in Colossians 1:19. Your church is designed to express God's fullness in the world today in the same manner that Jesus expressed God's fullness during His incarnation. The church is designed to demonstrate God's manifold wisdom (Ephesians 3:10).
How does God accomplish the empowering of His church? He gives gifts to individuals and then He gives those gifted persons to the church. Read Ephesians 4:11-16 if you want to understand how God designed to build itself up in love.
Here is the point. God has chosen to work through human instruments that He has gifted and given to the church. God has chosen to work through you. Have you given yourself to the King for service through His body, the church? Present yourself to Him this year. Discover, develop and deploy your gifts in His service.
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the SBC's national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth and the former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Read "Seek First" daily devotionals by Hemphill and others at www.auxanopress.com.
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