Sunday, January 9, 2011

Gifts to Give to God

For the last several weeks we have been talking about the gifts that God has given us. God has freely given us the gift of his word, the gift of being able to worship Him and find in his presence the hope and joy we need in life. We have been given the gift of purpose, the gift of God’s Holy Spirit and of course the gift of Jesus. God has also given us the gift of life and the gift of this new year which we need to make the most of. Life is precious and no matter how many years we are given, life is short and we can’t waste a single moment of it. So we have been looking at all the gifts God has given us but today we need to get think about the gifts we need to give to God and to show us how to give and what to give we are going to reflect on the gifts the Wisemen gave to Jesus.

When the Wisemen saw the star that appeared in the sky when Jesus was born they knew it meant that a king had been born. Now certainly other kings had been born during these men’s lifetime and yet no star appeared at their birth, so this star tells them that this king is different. Because of the star, they knew this king had more authority and power than any other king and because of who he was – they were going to make a journey to find him. One of the things I like about their journey to give gifts to this new king is that that they made the journey themselves. These Wisemen didn’t send their assistants with the gifts and they didn’t send them by Fed Ex, or whatever kind of courier service they used in those days, they went themselves. They took their gifts to Jesus themselves and they show us that when it comes to giving gifts to God we need to make them personal.

Faith is a personal thing – we aren’t Christians because our parents are or our children are we are Christians because we have made a decision to follow Jesus and the beginning of the year is a good time to reflect on our own personal walk with God. Are we allowing God to guide us? Are we using not the light of a star, but the light of God’s word to lead us in life, and are we giving the gifts to God that we need to be giving? The Wisemen made a personal journey to find the new king and they personally gave their gifts to Jesus, can we make the same journey and humbly enter into the presence of God and give him the gift or our hands and the gift of our hearts and the gift of our lives?

The Wisemen gave 3 different and unique gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Many people have joked that these may not have been the most practical gifts for a baby, or for a couple who now has the responsibility of raising a child (well, maybe the gold is practical, but frankincense and myrrh – maybe not so much), but the gifts were definitely appropriate for a king and they are also symbolic of the kind of gifts we need to give God today.

Gold is certainly symbolic of wealth and royalty which makes it fit for a king, but it is also a symbol of authority and power. When we give gold to king, part of what we are saying is that we give them authority and power in our lives and that is one of the gifts we need to give God. We need to give God the authority in our lives that he longs for. While God loves us and longs to be a father and friend, God is also GOD and He alone knows what is best for us and God longs for us to surrender ourselves to him so he can accomplish his will and purpose in our lives. When we are willing to give our gold to God, literally give him our wealth, we are saying that we are willing to surrender ourselves to God and that we trust him to do what he wants in our lives.

That is the symbolic statement we make each week when we give God our offering. We are literally offering our gold to God, but it’s not that God wants the gold – God doesn’t need it – all the gold in this world already belongs to him, what God is longing for is the statement we make when we give him our gold. God wants to know that we are willing to trust him and that we are willing to submit to him all that we have and all that we are – he wants that authority in our lives. Now when it comes to giving our gold to God, the Bible states clearly that the offering God looks for is a tithe – or 10%. Now if giving God 10% seems like too much, think of it this way, God says to us, look – keep 90 % of all you have and just give me a tenth as a sign of your faith and trust in me. Think about that – God allows us to keep 90% of all we have – that’s more gracious and generous than our own government! God is gracious, but God is also jealous and he wants to know that we trust him and that we are willing to follow him no matter what, so are we willing to give him that 10%.

I would encourage you to take this gift to God seriously. Giving an offering to God has nothing to do with giving to the church – it is a statement to God that we trust him and are willing to submit ourselves to him. Anyone can say I trust God, but not everyone is willing to put their words into action. As we begin this new year I encourage you to put actions to your words – give life to your faith and give your gold to God as a sign of giving God the authority and power he wants in your life. God can never prove he is trustworthy and faithful if we aren’t willing to give him what he calls for. While this is one very clear gift we can give, let’s be honest, it is not an easy gift to give and the economy today and our own fears about the future make it difficult for us to give – but I invite you to allow God to be faithful in your lives and give your gold to God and allow God to open the storehouse of heaven and give to you in return.

As we think about giving this particular gift to God, I want to share something with you. This past week, David Carter’s sister shared with us about the work of some missionaries around the world and one of the statements they made caused me to become unsettled. They said that the most unreached areas in our world, in other words, the areas of our world where people don’t have the opportunity to hear about Jesus are also the poorest areas on the planet. The areas where there are the most Christians and the most churches are also the richest areas in the world. As I thought about this I had to ask myself, would God be pleased with how we are spending His gold? How can there be so much need in the world when so much of the world’s wealth is held by the followers of Jesus? Can I say that again, how can there be so much physical need in this world, the need for food, water, shelter, medicine, how can there be so much need in this world when most of the world’s wealth is held by Christians or people in strong Christian areas? If we would all begin to give God more of our gold then God could begin to move those resources to the people in need. We at Faith Church are hoping to enter into a relationship with some of the poorest people in Africa and if we will commit to this relationship with God’s people in Sierra Leone it will allow God to move His gold to his people who are in need. And as we commit to give to those in need, we show that we trust God to meet our needs and the more we trust God – the more God proves he is trustworthy.

The second gift we hear about is frankincense. Frankincense is a spice that was burned as an incense during the worship of God in the temple and while it may not seem like a practical gift for a baby, it reflects the Wisemen being willing to worship this new born king. Again, because the birth of this king was announced by a star in the sky, they knew he was unique and powerful and was worthy of their worship, and certainly Jesus is. This king, Jesus, was God in the flesh and as God he deserves our worship and praise and one of the gifts God desires from us is our worship and praise. It’s funny if you think about it, but worship is really a gift that we give back to God. God gives us the gift of worship because it is God who makes it possible for us to worship Him in the first place. God opens the door to his presence, but God doesn’t force us to enter, we come in of our own free will and when we do, when we give our thanks and praise to God we give him the love and adoration that God desires. As our creator, but more importantly as our father, God wants our love. Maybe there is no gift more meaningful then the gift or our hearts given to God in worship. In Psalm 51:16-18 it says, You (God) have no delight in sacrifice, if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

We can worship God together like this, but God would also love our worship everyday. A simple prayer, a simple thank you, just taking a moment to appreciate the life we have and the gifts God has given us is really what God wants. A few years ago we talked about taking a moment in every hour to just think about God – that’s worship and nothing would make God happier than a world of people who took time everyday to turn their hearts and their attention to him in gratitude and love.

And then the last gift given to Jesus was myrrh. Myrrh was a spice that was used when they would wrap the dead for burial and it was also made into oil for anointing the sick. Myrrh came to symbolize suffering and sacrifice for others and again this may seem like a strange gift for a baby, but an appropriate gift for this king. Not only did myrrh foreshadow the suffering and death of Jesus, but it reminds us that we are called to suffer and sacrifice for him. Jesus said if any one wants to come after me let them deny themselves, take up a cross and follow me. So another gift God desires is a life that is willing to be completely given to him. Are we willing to sacrifice what we have and what we do and who we are for the sake of Christ and the sake of Christ’s kingdom? Are we willing to sacrifice our time, our money, our energy, our reputation and our will to serve God?

Again, thinking about some of the missionary stories I heard this week, I had to confess that at times I am pretty weak in my own sacrifice for God and the kingdom of God. When I hear of people who have left the comfort of jobs, the ease of retirement and the joy of family to go and serve the poorest of the poor in our world in the name of Jesus, I am humbled and reminded that there is so much more I could give if I really trusted God, and that is what it often comes down to, a lack of faith and trust. Either I don’t give more because I am greedy and don’t want to, or I don’t trust God to provide for me, or I don’t really believe that God knows what is best for me, and yet, how silly is that. God is the one who created me, God is the one who formed in my inward being, and God is the one who knows me better than I know myself and if I would give the way he calls me to give, worship the way he calls me to worship and sacrifice the way he calls me to sacrifice, if I gave these 3 gifts to God – I would find more fullness and power in life than I could possibly imagine.

Sometimes when it comes to giving gifts to God we fell like we have nothing to give at all. Many times we feel like we are just an empty box with nothing of value to offer the One who created us – but we have more than we know and we already possess all that God really wants and that is a heart and life willing to give what we have. So I invite you to open your heart and life and give gifts to God that will touch God’s heart and change your own. Give gifts that will allow God to prove his faithfulness to you and at the same time bring forth his kingdom in this world.

Again this week you will find some next steps in the bulletin. There are 3 of them and they reflect the 3 gifts of the Wisemen.

• Can we give just 1% more of gold to God? Whatever we are giving to God today can we give 1% more as a sign that we trust God and want God to show his faithfulness to us?

• Can we spend some intentional time in worship everyday this week? I have included 7 psalms that can help us worship God as we read them and live them out. (95-101)

• Can we give up something this week and begin to learn how to sacrifice and give more of ourselves to God and others? As we give up something - can we give that time or money to God so that his kingdom can come and his people around the world experience more of the fullness of life?

Take these next steps in your faith and give these gifts to God.