Serious gift giving is a complicated, complex undertaking. We enjoy giving a gift to someone we appreciate. Two things are necessary to make a gift wonderful. The gift must express your genuine appreciation. The gift must touch the life of the person who receives it. The ideal gift does two things. It meaningfully communicates your heart. Equally, it meaningfully communicates to the heart of the receiver.

My greatest desire when I give a gift is to touch the person who receives it. For me, one of life's hardest jobs is to select such a gift. I never want the person to wonder, "Why did he give me that?"

Have you had that experience? Have you received a gift, sincerely appreciated receiving the gift, but wondered why that gift was selected for you? Several years ago an engaged couple knew they would face major marriage adjustments. They were not members of the Church of Christ and did not worship in the congregation. We were friends, and they asked for my help. We spent several weeks learning how to build a relationship.

After that, the young lady surprised me with a unique gift for my office. The gift was beautifully prepared and reflected a lot of thought on her part. I deeply appreciated all the gift represented. But I did not know how I was supposed to use it.

  1. The majority of us have been in that situation.
    1. Usually that kind of gift comes from someone who is very confident that he or she knows us.
      1. In that confidence, the person selected the gift.
      2. When the person saw the gift, he or she said, "This gift is him (or her)!"
        1. "He will love it!"
        2. "She will be thrilled with this gift the minute that she sees it!"
    2. This is also the kind of gift that is given when a person says, "I know what he says he likes, but I know what he really likes."
      1. The person confidently assumes, "I know what you enjoy more than you know what you enjoy."
      2. "Though you don't know that you want my gift, you will want it when you see it."

  2. That situation happens to God far more than it happens to us.
    1. Every person who has a serious faith in Jesus Christ has decided what God wants.
      1. Sometimes our decision is based purely on our own human intuition; we "just know" that is what God wants.
      2. Sometimes that decision is based on what we were told by other people.
      3. Sometimes that decision is based on a specific scripture; for our own reasons, we decide that this scripture is more important than other scriptures.
    2. Too often, we think that we understand God better than He understands Himself.
      1. "I know scripture does not say much about this, but I also know that is what God really wants."
      2. "I know what God said He wanted, but this is what God really wants."
      3. "I have decided what is really important to God is..."
    3. With this kind of thinking and reasoning, we make subtle changes in what God reveals.
      1. We make artificial distinctions between what God says and what God wants.
      2. It becomes more important to give God what we decide that He wants than it is to do what God says that He wants.
      3. So our gifts to God reflect our priorities, not God's.

  3. A few days after Peter correctly declared that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God, Jesus was transfigured in front of Peter, James, and John (Matthew 17:1-8).
    1. For Peter, James, and John it was an incredible moment and a terrifying moment.
      1. It happened on a mountain top.
        1. Just the four of them climbed to the mountain's top; Peter, James, and John knew that they were alone.
        2. They knew no one else would just happen to "walk up."
        3. Luke 9:28 says they went to the mountain top to pray.
          1. While they were praying, Peter, James, and John got sleepy.
          2. But when Jesus and two other men, all three in their heavenly bodies, stood shining and talking, Peter, James, and John were wide awake.
      2. Right there, in front of them, a man who was flesh and blood had the body of a heavenly being. Terrifying!
        1. It was more terrifying than that! Two men who did not walk up that mountain were standing in their heavenly bodies having a conversation with Jesus.
        2. The two men were Moses and Elijah; Peter, James, and John knew it was Moses and Elijah; and these two men had been dead for several hundred years. Terrifying!
        3. Luke 9:31 says Moses and Elijah discussed Jesus' departure and the things that Jesus would accomplish in Jerusalem.
        4. Mark 9:6 says that Peter, James, and John were terrified.
    2. As Moses and Elijah were leaving, Peter said, "I am glad that we were here."
      1. I doubt that was an honest statement.
      2. "Let's honor God's presence on this mountain top by building three booths."
      3. "We will honor God's great law giver, Moses; we will honor God's great prophet, Elijah; and we will honor God's son, you."
      4. In the light of Jewish history, that seemed like a good proposal.
      5. Peter wanted to give God a gift, and Peter was sure it was a gift that God wanted.
    3. A cloud swallowed them like a dense fog, and a voice spoke from the cloud, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!"
      1. God did not want to honor Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.
      2. Moses was a powerful spokesman for God who gave the law.
      3. Elijah was a powerful spokesman for God when few people trusted God.
      4. But Moses and Elijah were not God's Sons; listen to Jesus; now he speaks for God; he is God's son.
    4. When the cloud passed, there was Jesus, alone, a flesh and blood man.

  4. When we listen to Jesus, what does he tell us God wants?
    1. This is a clear, obvious emphasis in Jesus' teachings: a gift that God cherishes is caring about people and treating them right.
      1. The greatest command God has given is to love God with all our being (Matthew 22:36-38).
      2. The second greatest command God has give is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39,40).
      3. When we love God with all our being, we will treat people as we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
      4. When we love God with all our being, we will love our enemies (Matthew 5:44,45).
      5. Loving God with all our being will make us forgiving, compassionate, merciful, kind, and helpful to those in need.
      6. Jesus showed us how to love God with all our being, and showed us how to love people the way God wants us to love them.
    2. This congregation did something in the last two and a half months that rarely happens.
      1. Months ago you agreed that we should build a family life center.
      2. Then, in November, we were informed that the cost demanded that we rethink what we need to build.
      3. In November you said, "Let's build something that will meet our needs."
      4. In late December, at the worst time of the year financially, we began selling bonds.
      5. In less than a month, the bonds were sold, and the Family Life Center is under construction.
      6. In that same period, you gave our former property on Windsor Drive to C.U.R.E. to be used for local and worldwide benevolence.
      7. Thank you! That is remarkable!
    3. Permit me to focus you in two ways.
      1. First focus: may we all understand that our gift to God is not a building; our gift to God is the way we use that building to bless people.
        1. God did not ask for buildings.
        2. God asked us to love and help people.
        3. Help us use the Family Life Center and every material thing we possess to love and to help people beyond all that you have done (and you have done many wonderful things).
        4. May our mission work explode as we reach out to people with God's love.
        5. May C.U.R.E. lead us as we help more people than we ever imagined.
        6. May our inner-city work touch and bless more and more lives.
        7. May we strengthen the weak, encourage the discouraged, show compassion to those who make mistakes, and forgive those who hurt us.
        8. May we give hope to those in distress, help troubled families find healing, give vision and direction to our young, and be a source of encouragement wherever it is needed.
        9. May we help people discover what God can do for all human relationships.
        10. By loving people, may we lead people to love God.
      2. Second focus: I have no idea of what will happen when midnight of December 31, 1999 arrives.
        1. Right now indicators suggest that the closer we come to the end of the year the greater people's concerns and anxieties will grow.
        2. If there is a Year 2000 Problem, that problem will give us the greatest opportunities that West-Ark has ever had.
          1. Just a little over two years ago, a terrible tornado brought destruction and opportunity.
          2. If the year 2000 brings unusual problems, those problems will create incredibly opportunities.
        3. I would love to see us give serious thought and planning to what we will do to help people if the year 2000 brings unusual problems.
    4. I challenge us as individuals and as a congregation to continue to grow in giving God a gift that He wants.
      1. As a gift to God, may we love and care about people.
      2. As a gift to God, may we guide people to the forgiveness, the hope, and the peace found in Jesus.
      3. As a gift to God, may we help troubled families find guidance and broken families find healing.
      4. As a gift to God, may we help our young people find direction and purpose.
      5. As a gift to God, may we encourage, strengthen, and lift each other up as we all struggle in our war with Satan. May we enjoy and offer Christian friendship.
      6. May it never be every person for himself; we need each other.

[Song of reflection: 705, "A Common Love"]

One of Old Testament Israel's biggest mistakes was centered in a gift they gave God. The mistake was not in giving God the gift. God accepted the gift. Their mistake was placing faith and trust in their gift instead of their God.

When did they do that? When they built God the temple. God never asked for a temple, but God accepted the temple. For generations after they gave God the temple, they placed their confidence in the fact that they had God's temple. They failed to place their faith and trust in the fact that God was their Savior and their Deliverer.

When we build a building, don't place your faith in the building. Use the building to serve God's purposes.

Have you given God your greatest gift, yourself?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 31 January 1999

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