Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tuesday's with Jesus #77

#77 "Our Christmas Gifts To Jesus"
December 19, 2006
"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law." (Romans 13: 8). "And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us." (1 John 3: 23). "And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother." (1 John 4: 21).
The countdown begins. As I write this, the snowman on my kitchen wall reminds me that there are 7 days until Christmas. Most of the gifts are bought. It's time for "wrapfest" and "cookie bake-off." Cookies will be consumed around here at about the same rate that they're baked. And you think I'm kidding! Remember, I have two teenaged boys still at home. I'm sure that you're in the throws of your last minute preparations as well. 
There will be parties to attend. Office parties. Church gatherings. And oh, those infamous family get-togethers. Tempers are short. And so is the checkbook. And I can't help but think, "Is Jesus pleased? Is He smiling at our attempts to celebrate His birth?" I'm not saying that I think He doesn't like it when we get together with family and friends. I don't think He's generally opposed to our gift giving if we do it in the right perspective. I don't think He's opposed to the festivities and the celebrations. As long as we keep the reason we celebrate in the forefront of our minds and hearts. But what do you think Jesus really wants for Christmas? The obvious answer is that He wants you! But let's go deeper...
The Bible shows us exactly what Jesus wants for Christmas and every single day of our lives. He wants us to love. First, He wants us to love Him. {"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment".} Today, we'll focus on the second. Jesus says, "And the second (commandment) is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Love is what it's all about. Not just the kind of love that shows up with the Christmas "warm and fuzzies". Deep, abiding, hard to love, LOVE, each and everyday of our lives. Love is the foundation for everything. The Greek word is "agape". It's a self-sacrificing kind of love. John 3:16 is the simplest, yet most profound commentary on the kind of love that God has for us. I know you know it, but really look at it...."For God so LOVED the world, that He GAVE His one and only Son, that WHOSOEVER believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." God is Love. He is a Giver and His brand of love is for "whosoever".   So who should we love? Who are our "whosoevers"?
First we must love those belonging to the household of faith. I say this first because Galatians 6:10 says, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." Family first, neighbors next. You might think that this is the easy part. I think we're deluding ourselves if we think that we're doing a good job of it. From the time of Paul to the present day, division among believers in the church has been a constant stain on the proverbial shirt of Christianity. One of my commentaries says this: "Nothing can frustrate the advance of the gospel more, both in a Christian community's effectiveness in their witness for Christ and in Christians' individual lives, than internal unrest among believers. The gospel is all about reconciliation, and unreconciled people do not advertise it well." 
When we're divided as Christian brothers and sisters, when we are backbiting, grumbling and complaining about each other, we are not living a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ. We are an advertisement for Christ. Jesus prayed to His Father in John 17: 21 that "all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you." He continued, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." 2 Corinthians 3: 3 says that "you are a letter from Christ." What does your "letter" say? Do you want to know what Jesus wants for Christmas? Unity, my friend...unity among believers. May no one ever hear me, ever again, slander, gossip or talk about a fellow believer in Christ in a disparaging way. May my children never hear it again. I do not ever want to put a black mark on what Christ died for and what is the obvious desire of His heart. We must "stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel." (Philippians 1: 27b) Our churches aren't one better than another. Our pastors aren't one better than the other. One denomination isn't better than another. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Amen.
The second recipients of our God-kind of love are unbelievers and those who have done us wrong, Christian and non-Christian alike. Jesus said, "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?" The Bible says to "accept one another, just as Christ accepted you." Where were you when Christ found you? What type of sin(s) were you steeped in? Are you perfect today? God loved us and continues to do so in spite of our sin, in spite of our selfishness, in spite of our lack of desire to change. And we are to love just like Him. This couldn't be impossible because God would not give us a command that we could not carry out. That would be cruel. But in His mercy and grace, He gives us the precious Holy Spirit to help us carry out His command to love. Submit yourself to the Holy Spirits' guidance, anointing and power and He will enable you to love the unlovely, to touch the leper and to forgive your enemies and love them in spite of themselves...just like He loves you!
You say, "Donna, they're just impossible. They'll never change. I've been hurt so badly." Ruth Bell Graham, in her book "Prodigals [and Those Who Love Them]", says this: "We cannot convict of sin, create hunger and thirst after God, or convert. These are miracles, and miracles are not in our department. God's part, (the impossible) is conviction of sin, creating a hunger and thirst for righteousness, conversion, and bringing a person to the place of total commitment."  Those words revolutionized my way of thinking. I am not Holy Ghost Junior! Don't try and effect in people's lives what only God can do. Love...pure and simple...love. Affirm, encourage, teach, listen and care.  And never give up on them. What would've happened if God gave up on you? This goes for your unsaved husband, your prodigal daughter, your loved ones who have hurt you deeply, that homeless man who just refuses to get with the program....all the "whosoevers" in your life.  We look so little like the lovers that the Bible calls us to be. But we must do it, "for the sake of Christ." Again, His reputation is at stake. Christ must be our example. Through death on a cross He not only "saved us" but modeled for us God's way of dealing with the opposition -- loving them to death!
Love them patiently. Love them kindly. Don't envy or boast and be not proud. Don't be rude or selfish. Don't get easily angered and by all means, keep no record of wrongs. Let it go. Rejoice with the truth. Protect, trust God, hope and persevere. This is 1 Corinthians 13, Bible-kind-of love. This is the kind of love that Jesus wants from us. These are the things that are on the Christmas list of Christ.
I pray that you will have a blessed and peaceful holiday. I pray for wonderful time with family and friends. I'm going to take a couple of weeks off from writing. "Tuesday's" will be back on January 9, 2007. 
I pray to my Heavenly Father for each one of you, "that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God." Let's together, in unity, give Jesus what He wants, more than anything, for Christmas... and everyday of our lives.
Merry Christmas,
Donna Schultz                                                                             

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