The Perfect Gift

For most of us this week will be time to put away the Christmas stuff. We will take down trees and lights, repack decorations and put away manger scenes. Some of us will return things.

Soon stores will be making room for Valentines Day. Christmas comes and Christmas goes. We move on into the New Year. Are you ready for the New Year? How are things in your life? Are you feeling pretty good about how you are doing? I want to ask you a very important question today. Are you going to go through another year without Jesus Christ in your life?

We are all faced with the question: What have you done with Jesus? He is the unwrapped gift. Will you accept Him as a gift or put Him away only to be brought out at your time of need?

We are not the first ones to ever face that question. For those of us who know the true meaning of Christmas we know that Jesus Christ was born to die. He came to give His life for us that we might have eternal life.

Thirty three years after He was born, Jesus faced a mock trial and made up charges that would lead to His crucifixion and death.

He was brought before Pilate who was the Roman Governor. He didn’t really have an interest in being involved but he was in it and had to make a decision. In fact it is the same decision that some of you need to make this morning. What will you do with the unwrapped gift: Jesus?

“ 19 Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.”
 20 Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. 21 So the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?”
   The crowd shouted back, “Barabbas!”  22 Pilate responded, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Matthew 27:19-22

What a great question: “What should I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" There are at least five choices that people can make in regard to the Christ (Gift) of Christmas.

1. There are people that would love to exterminate Him.
Part of the "Herod Clan" is still around to either destroy Jesus or remove Him from the Christmas celebration. But when every part of their crowd is gone, Jesus Christ will remain.

240 Million (plus) Americans celebrated Christmas this year in America alone yet as in every other year the PC police were out all over the country trying hard to eliminate Christ from Christmas. Nativity Scenes were removed and considered offensive. Department stores drop the word Christmas out of their advertising. School systems are left in a dilemma because they are so afraid of offending someone and being sued. In the name of diversity we will teach all other kind of religions but as a nation there is a vocal minority doing a fairly decent job of exterminating the message of Jesus Christ. I might also add that Churches full of non caring professors of Christianity have also done an equally good job at eliminating the effectiveness of Christ’s message.  

This year the YMCA in Greenwich Village even banned Santa Claus and made kids hang out with a Frosty and a talking penguin sidekick.  

We are being conditioned to keep Jesus in the church where He belongs. Religious discrimination against Christianity is a growing theme. You will hear more and more about it over the course of the New Year. There are some who would love to exterminate Jesus.

2. There are some that try to exploit Jesus.
Part of the cold corporate world has become rich because of His birth. It's "whatever they feel will sell this year." He Makes or breaks the balance sheet. The results affect the mood in paneled board rooms.

There is no doubt that Christmas has turned into a major part of the bottom line for many businesses. The Christmas shopping season begins earlier and earlier. We are encouraged to buy more. It is a tough thing to resist being sucked into the “spirit of spending.” Just be aware and know that all the people who would want to exploit Jesus are not in the secular corporate world. Christianity has become a big business.

From record companies to book publishers and Christian trinket manufacturers, Jesus is big business. Just visit a Christian bookstore sometime and look at all the different ways we have discovered to “sell Jesus.” Family Christian Bookstores in an unprecedented move opened their stores on Sunday’s nationwide a few years ago. For most of you in here today you are wondering what’s wrong with that. There was a day when Christians led the way in respecting the Sabbath and keeping it holy.

Politicians will exploit Jesus Christ.

Actors will often exploit Jesus by giving lip service to Him but then turning around and doing films and projects that are anything but honoring to God.

3. There are some that examine Jesus like a work of art.
In the wake of shattered dreams and inner emptiness, they ponder becoming a disciple; just a thought again this year.

There are always a number of people who come out at Christmas and Easter to make their semi annual church visits. Christmas and Easter are two of the holiest days on the Christian calendar; one celebrating Jesus birth and the other remembering His death. To “honor” Him by showing up twice a year is really not all that honoring. Jesus Christ is about a lifestyle and a choice to follow Him daily. He is all about being in relationship with us.

Jesus is not a work of art to be admired or examined. He is not some historical museum piece to be gawked at once or twice a year.

He was and is the Son of God who came to this world to bring salvation.
He came to die.
He came to call you to follow Him.
He came to make you and me fishers of men.
He came to ask you to pick a cross on this earth and a crown later in heaven.
He came to find men and women who would sell everything and follow Him.
He came demanding obedience and deserving it.

If you get the warm fuzzies over examining Jesus you better take another look. One of my favorite author’s Annie Dillard warns us with these words: “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, making up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies hats and straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offence, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

For God’s sake, what we believe and practice here is radical, transformational, and priority changing. And if resurrection takes hold of us as it might, we should put up a disclaimer on Grant and Williams streets:

Warning: What we celebrate here could and will alter your life forever!  

I believe that what we do here in this church in the next year will be critical to God’s continued blessing. Over the next few weeks some of you are going to be called out. Like an old western. It is high noon and it’s time to quit sitting and soaking. It is time to do more then just come in here and examine Jesus every Sunday.

For our church we believe that this will be a year of answering the call to live fully surrendered lives to God’s calling.

4. There are some that come to experience Jesus.
It's one thing to know about Him, and quite another thing to know Him. Thousands will experience the "new birth" during the holiday festivities. This is the most important thing a person can do in their life. It is more important than buying a house or a car. It is more important than being famous or posted in the Forbes richest 400 people in the world list.

Coming to experience Jesus is about priority. Prioritizing what is most important in your life.

I wouldn’t want to experience life without Jesus.
I wouldn’t want to experience a marriage without Jesus.
I wouldn’t want to experience raising children without Jesus.
I wouldn’t want to experience a career without Jesus.
I wouldn’t want to experience tragedy without Jesus.
I wouldn’t want to experience sickness without Jesus.
I wouldn’t want to experience death without Jesus.

One hundred people nearly lost their lives because of spilled coffee. On April 3, 1998, an air traffic control supervisor spilled his coffee in the control tower of New York City’s LaGuardia Airport. Another controller turned to help clean up the mess but the supervisor said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get it.” By the time the controller got his bearings back on the planes, two jets came within twenty feet of colliding with each other about two hundred feet above the runway intersection. The coffee spill caused the controller to miss a needed call for one jet to abort its landing. Consequently, a US Airways plane passed beneath the tail of an Air Canada jet at 130 mph.

Fortunately, nobody was injured, but the potential for disaster was enormous. Misplaced priorities frequently don’t seem real significant, but they are laden with potentially disastrous results. It is about priority. What is most important in your life right now?

You need to make it Jesus. You need to experience the Christ of Christmas.

Putting on Christ’ is not one among many jobs a Christian has to do; and it is not a sort of special exercise for the top class. It is the whole of Christianity. —C.S. Lewis

Do you want to experience Him this coming year? Would you like this coming year to be different then the last? You can come to know Jesus Christ in a personal and life changing way.

5. There are some that come to exalt Jesus.
Christians around the world bowed before Him and presented the ultimate gift of themselves to the King of Kings. Worship silences the voice of the secular world temporarily. Values will change. The activity treadmill for just a few days is seen for what it really is. We talk a lot about worship but I am afraid that we have reduced it to a musical experience. Worship is about everyday of our lives exalting God in all we do. Rick Warren writes: “You were planned for God's pleasure. The moment you were born into the world, God was there as an unseen witness, smiling at your birth. He wanted you alive, and your arrival gave him great pleasure. God did not need to create you, but he chose to create you for his own enjoyment. You exist for his benefit, his glory, his purpose and his delight.

Bringing pleasure to God is called worship. The Bible says,
"The Lord is pleased with those who worship him and trust his love" (Psalm 147:11, CEV). Anything you do that brings pleasure to God is an act of worship. Like a diamond, worship is multifaceted. Anthropologists have noted that worship is a universal urge, hard-wired by God into the very fiber of our being -- an inbuilt need to connect with God.

Worship is as natural as eating or breathing. If we fail to worship God, we always find a substitute, even if it ends up being ourselves. The reason God made us with this desire is that he desires worshipers! Jesus said,
"The Father seeks worshipers" (John 4:23, paraphrased).

Depending on your church background, you probably need to expand your understanding of the real meaning of "worship." You may think of church services with singing, praying and listening to a sermon. Or you may think of ceremonies, candles and communion. Worship can include these elements, but worship is far more than these expressions. Worship is a lifestyle.

Worship is more than music. For many people, worship is just a synonym for music. They say, "At our church we have the worship first, and then the teaching." This is a big misunderstanding. Every part of a church service is an act of worship: praying, Scripture reading, singing, confession, silence, being still, listening to a sermon, taking notes, giving an offering, baptism, communion, signing a commitment card and even greeting other worshipers.

Actually, worship predates music. Adam worshiped in the Garden of Eden, but music isn't mentioned until Genesis 4:21 with the birth of Jubal. If worship were just music, then all who are nonmusical could never worship. Worship is far more than music.

Even worse, "worship" is often misused to refer to a particular style of music: "First we sang a hymn, then a praise and worship song." Or "I like the fast praise songs but enjoy the slow worship songs most." In this usage, if a song is fast or loud or uses brass instruments, it's considered "praise." But if it is slow and quiet and intimate, maybe accompanied by guitar, that's worship. This is a common misuse of the term "worship." Worship has nothing to do with the style or volume or speed of a song. God loves all kinds of music because he invented it all -- fast and slow, loud and soft, old and new.

You probably don't like it all, but God does! If it is offered to God in spirit and truth, it is an act of worship.

Worship is not for your benefit. As a pastor, I receive notes that say, "I loved the worship today. I got a lot out of it." This is another misconception about worship. It isn't for our benefit! We worship for God's benefit. When we worship, our goal is to bring pleasure to God, not ourselves.

If you have ever said, "I didn't get anything out of worship today," you worshiped for the wrong reason. Worship isn't for you. It's for God. Of course, most "worship" services also include elements of fellowship, edification and evangelism, and there are benefits to worship, but we don't worship to please ourselves. Our motive is to bring glory and pleasure to our Creator.

Worship is not a part of your life, it is your life.
It's not just for church services. The Bible tells us to "worship him continually" (Psalm 105:4, TEV). Every activity can be transformed into an act of worship when you do it for the praise, glory and pleasure of God. The Bible says, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV). Martin Luther said, "A dairymaid can milk cows to the glory of God."

How is it possible to do everything to the glory of God? By doing everything as if you were doing it for Jesus and by carrying on a continual conversation with him while you do it! The Bible says,
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men" (Colossians 3:23, NIV).

This is the secret to a lifestyle of worship -- doing everything as if you were doing it for Jesus. Work becomes worship when you dedicate it to God and perform it with an awareness of his presence. We come to exalt Him. We honor Him this morning.

The Gold Rush of 1849 had people from all over the world heading to California with dollar signs in their eyes. Each person came with visions of finding a fortune and many miners did indeed strike it rich. This phenomenon was all started by James Marshall who discovered gold in Sutter’s Creek. You would think the man responsible for starting all of that gold craze would have died knee-deep in wealth. Ironically, Marshall died in the late 1880s as a penniless itinerant miner just a few hours from the place he first struck gold. His fortune was never realized because he failed to stake his own claim.

An individual can know all about God and the abundant life he has to offer, but if you don’t stake your claim through a life-long commitment to Christ, you will never experience the riches of eternal life. Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World, Zig Ziglar, 1989, p. 45–46
In December 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their "flying machine" off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: "We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas." Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, "How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas." He totally missed the big news--man had flown!
SOURCE: Daily Bread, December 23, 1991.

If there is still an unopened gift under the tree what are you going to do with it? I suppose you could just put it away and use it for next year’s decorations.  What if it was a card with a thousand dollar gift card in it? What if it was a tool or item you really need and could use?
If you don’t open it, it will be useless to you. Jesus Christ is the perfect Gift but He will be nothing to you if you don’t open the gift and accept It.  
God is calling some of you today to make some changes in your life. The gift is opened. The package is unwrapped. What are you going to do with Him?