What’s in a gift? What can we bring?

I’ve just returned from a bit of last minute shopping. It’s frantic Friday – everyone is rushing, pushing, searching, trying to put the finishing touches on the event that Christmas has become.

I was musing recently about why we give gifts at Christmas. Is it because we think of Jesus as God’s gift to us, or perhaps because the wise men brought gifts. It’s impossible to equate even the most extravagant Christmas gift with the giving of Jesus for us. Although Jesus is ours, he is never ours in the sense of a possession, something we own. He is ours, because we are his, and he is everything.

So that brings us to the wise men and the reasons for their offerings. First of all, the wise men were rather late to the party. Although they set out when they saw the star rise, it took some time to arrive at Bethlehem. Mary, Joseph and Jesus were no longer in the stable, and Jesus was an infant child, not a new born baby. But that in itself tells us something about Christmas – it was an event so monumental that the wise men were determined to pursue what they had discovered, even at such cost in terms of time and energy. I don’t know how far east they had come from, but judging by the age of the children that Herod murdered, it was some distance. This was more than curiosity, it was a conviction that the rising star bore real significance.

For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.
Matthew 2:2

Worship is a serious business, and these wise men were serious about worshipping the new king.

When they arrived at the house, the wise men did indeed worship Jesus, and they offered gifts to him. But those gifts were not toys or trinkets to be played with. The gifts themselves were an act of worship.

Perhaps we will come late to the real meaning of this party too. It may be well after the decorations have come down that we can objectively think about how we should treat Jesus, but here’s some food for thought for when you get there.

We are told that the wise men ‘offered him gifts’ (Matthew 2:11). The important word is ‘offered’. It’s quite a common word in the New Testament. We read of it when the people brought Jesus the sick and the demon oppressed. We read of it when the paralytic was lowered down from the roof. We read of it when a blind, mute, demon possessed man was brought to be healed. We read of it when the little children were brought before him.

Yes, we bring our offering of worship to the incarnate God – Immanuel, God with us; Jesus, God saves. But we come too, knowing our need, knowing that there is only one who can heal, restore, forgive. We offer ourselves not because we can give to him, but because he alone can save. And, strangely, these two, worship and petition go hand in hand with our loving God. No matter what state we find ourselves in this Christmas, know this, that Jesus welcomes all who will come and offer themselves to him. ‘I won’t reject anyone who comes to me’ Jesus would later say.

So, when you are struggling with the busyness, or the obligations, or just the whole commercial weight that is heaped on our Christmas celebration, remember the lines of the Christmas carol, and take them to heart:

Yet what can I give Him?
Give Him my heart.

And give him your heart in worship and in need. Jesus is more than willing and able to meet that need and accept that worship.

What’s in a gift? What can we bring?

Finding our Purpose

Difficult times can hit us in so many ways: job worries, family worries, health concerns. Perhaps the hardest part of any of these is the not knowing the end – not being able to recognise a purpose in that trying time. For Christians in particular it can add to the burden when we are walking a difficult path. We are to live by faith, and we do, but still that faith seeks out a purpose, a reason for the hardships that we suffer. If only we knew why, it would help us stand up under the pressure. And yet, God does not often reveal his purposes at this specific level.

Job suffered catastrophic loss, and yet we know from his story in Scripture that the heavenly goings on were never revealed to him during his life on earth. His faith is the ultimate example. I suspect our wanting to have a specific purpose for suffering is actually a lack of faith. We want to approve whatever it is that God is doing, it’s an attempt to wrest back some sort of control over our lives and our destinies: “Lord, work out your purposes, but please just run it by me first.” But that is original sin, it is pride and it is lack of faith and we must repent of it.

All through the Bible we read of God’s plan and intent in all that he does. The whole universe was made for his purposes, and we are a part of that. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world according to his good pleasure – God has taken pleasure in his plans for us! That universal plan has a definite purpose and a definite end. In Ephesians 1:10 we are told that God is going to one day bring life, the universe and everything to its ultimate conclusion. That’s a concept that we need to keep at the forefront of out minds as we walk through any difficult time.

We don’t often know the specifics of God’s plan for us before it happens, and often we don’t understand as it happens, but we do know that there is a purpose.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10

That is sufficient!

In the book of Ephesians Paul uses some incredible terms to describe what God is doing in his created universe. Each and every one of us plays their part in God’s plan. Paul’s purpose was to reveal the mystery of the Gospel, that was previously hidden, but now revealed in Christ Jesus. But every individual has a part to play. So, let us take up all the equipment that God has given us and press on, not insisting on knowing the specifics, but understanding we are here specifically to play our part.

so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 3:10

The first couple of words in the verse above translate a small Greek word, and possibly my favourite word in the Greek New Testament: hina. It literally means ‘in order that’. Right through God’s Word he is reassuring us that what he is doing, he is doing ‘in order that’, and that includes us. The Church is here in order that we might make known the manifold wisdom of God, not just here in this world, but to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places too – now, there’s an incredible purpose.

So, when the hard times come and we wonder why we look to a greater purpose that we do know. We don’t minimise our present troubles, but we don’t seek to take control from God’s ultimate purpose, we trust, we endure, we look in faith and in hope to that ultimate consummation of all things when our Creator God recreates, redeems and fulfils all his promises and plans. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Finding our Purpose

Don’t Linger, Don’t Look Back

When Abraham and Lot parted company, Lot thought he had got the better deal. That thought was driven by his own desires for the good life. Lot eventually settled on the plain of Jordan, and as we know gravitated towards Sodom. The Bible tells us that Lot was righteous and greatly disturbed by the behaviour of the residents of Sodom (2 Peter 2:7), but not enough to leave.

When, at Abraham’s intercession, the angels went into the city to warn Lot of the coming judgement, he still wavered. It’s an indication of how far a righteous man can go, when in the wrong environment that when the city, to a man come with the intention of raping the angels Lot offers his virgin daughters as an alternative.

Deep down in many of us there is a gnawing hunger for the world. There is a desire to be a part of it, and to enjoy the benefits of living, as the world does, for ourselves and for our own pleasure. We have more in common with Lot than with Abraham. Now, Lot was righteous; Lot knew the danger or remaining; and yet Lot still lingered. He had to be physically dragged from the impending judgement. Is that you?

This world has nothing of value to us. More than that it is deeply harmful to our souls, it lures and entices and offers nothing in return, yet still we linger! Don’t linger, don’t look back! Turn away from the world and seek out the Lord God, who alone offers forgiveness, hope, peace, and a future.

Even as Lot’s family fled, his wife looked back once too often and she lost the ability to flee. God forgive us for looking back and longing for that which has no value when we can flee to the One who has all to give and have offered it freely, no charge, not because it is of no value, but because we cannot afford the price.

God is a gracious and loving and merciful and patient God, who offers forgiveness to all who will flee to him. But don’t linger, don’t look back, because the time that you look back may be the last opportunity that you have.

It was from Abraham that God’s family, his people was to come. Choose to live in the wilderness with God, rather than in the world – the wilderness with God is a much safer place to be.

Don’t Linger, Don’t Look Back

Remember your Identity

9-5 ThesesWe’re a generation living with an identity crisis. We have been told that we can choose to be whoever we are, and with that choice, for most of us comes confusion. Where does that leave us? Identity comes from where we come from, where we’re going, who we belong to. It is a complex thing, and not one that is always consciously understood, and yet it still defines us.

I remember that it was only once I had left home and began to live in a different country to the one that I was born in that I became more interested in family history – my origins. Subconsciously I was trying to establish my identity, and that identity had roots. If we decide that we can arbitrarily change that identity we are in effect cutting off our roots. But roots are the very thing in which we thrive. A tree without roots is mere wood. A person without roots doesn’t know where they are going or where they have come from.

The Bible, cover to cover is given to explain not just our roots, but also our destination. The Bible makes explicit what we can see in part as we look at the universe in which we live. The Bible also makes clear that we are God’s and he is ours. He made us, he has plans for us, he has plans for this entire universe.

And so, our identity is bound up in God. We cannot choose it and more than we can choose our parents. And yet, just as a child can disown his parents and walk away from them, we too can walk away from God. The story of the Bible, and of Jesus in particular is that God is not willing to walk away from us. He sent his Son, Jesus to win us back, to open the door to a restored relationship.

It is neatly summed up in the Apostle Peter’s first letter (2:10):

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, now you have received mercy.”

Our identity, our belonging, our hope and destiny is all bound up in a loving God who has shown mercy, who has at great cost opened the door to forgiveness and reconciliation for all. Our God has offered to include us in his people – that’s our identity.

In the book of Hebrews we’re told of a new covenant. The single word translated by these two literally means a ‘together covenant’ – the idea being that of bringing all things together: a consummating covenant. This is the ultimate goal that God has for this universe – a people that belong to him, loved, prepared, as a bride for a groom and kept for all eternity!

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days declares the Lord. I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Hebrews 8:10

Remember your Identity

Remember: We’re made for more than this!

In this busy world it’s so easy to drop our gaze. What I mean by that is that the day to day struggles of life, the pressures of this world attract our attention and draw us away from seeing the ultimate reality. The here and now distracts us from the hereafter.

Of course, that is what this world would have us do. I know that we all have to live, work, deal face to face with life here and now, but, just like Brother Lawrence did, we can live here and now with our eyes on the hereafter.

One of the most exciting, encouraging and hope filled passages in Scripture is found in the book of Revelation. It describes what the Apostle John saw of that final consummation of Christ and his Church. It’s found in Revelation chapter 19.

We know that when the Lord Jesus Christ returns he will do so in power and glory, and that every eye will see him and all will bow the knee. But after that, after the judgement, after the ‘come inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’, after this comes the Marriage Supper of the Lamb!

I recently had the opportunity to meet my MP in the Central Lobby of the Palace of Westminster. I had to ask to see him, I then had to negotiate my way to the Palace of Westminster, through security, proving that I had an invitation, and then into the Central Lobby to await the minister. After jumping through hoops I was on the inside, ready for the meeting, I could relax. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is on the inside. It’s for the redeemed, the saved, the loved ones, the people of God – the Bride of Christ!

Just pause for a moment from the things that demand your attention, the hoops we must jump through, and dwell on the hope that we have. We’re told in Jude that Jesus himself will present us before the presence of God’s glory with great joy. Imagine that! Not only faultless, but Jesus taking joy in presenting you and I before his Father’s glorious throne!

Now, consider the picture that John saw of that marriage supper. First of all there is the heavenly host, a multitude crying out: Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God! Then the Church, the Bride of Christ joins in the song and the sound of it is so powerful that the voices blend as one into what sounds like the roar of many waters. A wall of sound in worship and adoration of their Lord and Saviour, their Redeemer and King!

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—

Consider this, hope in this, hold on to this, and, if you know that you have been saved from your sin, redeemed to the Lord Jesus Christ, then, take to yourself this assurance:

“Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb!”

Remember: We’re made for more than this!