by Chuck Foreman, Teaching Pastor, First Christian Church of Phoenix
None of us would dispute the observation that Christmas has been hijacked by consumerism. Even Christians get caught up in the hustle and hassle of buying more stuff than at any other time of year. We agree that Christmas should be about giving not receiving, but what kind of giving exactly? Am I really giving something worthwhile or am I just spending?
How many of you have ever received a gift you didn’t need?
How many of you have ever received a gift you didn’t want? Didn’t even like?
How many of you have pretended to like it anyway?
How many of you still have it because you can’t get rid of it and still live a happy life?
How many of you have ever given a gift to someone and you know they didn’t like it? …because they told you so.
How many of you remember all the gifts you bought for people last Xmas?
How many of you remember all the gifts you received and from who last Xmas?
How many of you have ever far exceeded & essentially destroyed your normal monthly budget in December buying Xmas gifts?
How many of you long for Xmas to be different—less hectic and more restful, less commercial and more worshipful?
How many of you know how to make that change happen?
It’s a difficult subject to even talk about, isn’t it?
The way we do Xmas has become part of our culture. But something un-Christian has happened to Christmas…
Americans spend $45 billion on Xmas presents every December! Really?!
I wonder how many of those gifts actually meet a genuine need? Or do they fall into the category of stuff we don’t even want, and we can’t even remember who gave it to us?
Imagine the incredible good that could be done in the world, in our communities, in our churches, if even a fraction of that $45 billion was redirected to meet real needs of real people.
If Jesus is the Reason for the Season, why do we spend so much money buying so many things for so many people who don’t have any real needs?
What if this Christmas you went into your living room on Christmas morning and joyfully announced, “I didn’t buy anybody anything this Xmas because everybody already has everything!”
What if this Xmas you found people who don’t have what they need—people who aren’t getting by so well, and you redirected your normal spending—even just some of your normal spending— to meet some real needs of real people?
(Some of you have done that with the gift tags off our Christmas Tree…)
In Acts 4 there’s an almost shocking description of the early Church that always haunts me. Let me read it to you… Acts 4:32-35
I’d like to suggest this morning, as we enter the Xmas Season here at FCC, that that kind of giving is what Xmas—True Christian Worship is all about. We raised over 30K for missions overseas in our Thank Offering. That’s a good thing …But we also have some families at FCC who have some real needs right now, which we’re going to try to help meet too.
For the next 4 weeks leading up to Xmas, we’re going to be talking about how to:
- Worship Fully
- Spend Less (on ourselves)
- Give More (to those in need)
- Love All People
at Christmas time.
Worship Fully? How do you do that? Do we ever, really?
One thing for sure, you can never worship God fully if there are distractions in the way—or substitutes for him. If money and possessions come before God, we’re in trouble. Jesus said, Luke 12:15
Somehow we’ve got to free ourselves from the hold that money & possessions have on us. The best way to do that is to GIVE it away—but give intentionally and thoughtfully to meet real needs of those less fortunate than we are.
In the Bible, God makes the connection for us between:
Worship————->Taking Care of the Needy
but I’m not sure we’ve paid attention. Let’s take another look…
What kind of Worship does God really want?
How did Mary worship God?
(She paid attention, acknowledged what He was up to…)
How did the Wise Men worship Jesus?
How do we give to Jesus now?
Matthew 25:31-46 (summarize)
Joseph’s Dilemna.. When the incredible story of Christmas was just beginning to unfold, Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, had a huge problem with the way God was going about things… (Explain…)
God’s Solution: Matthew 1:21
Jesus (Gr.) = Joshua (Heb.) = Savior, Deliverer. Jesus was “God to the Rescue”. He is our Hero, the One who can Deliver us from all our bondage caused by sin!
And just as Jesus is our Deliverer, so we, as His Followers, are Deliverers too! With whatever means and power we have, we are to help the helpless out of whatever holds them captive, so they too can enter into the life of freedom and joy God created them for.
The Central Miracle of Christianity? is not the Virgin Birth. It’s not the Resurrection, or any of Jesus’ other miracles… It’s Xmas!
It’s The Incarnation—“God with us” Matthew 1:23
The Central Miracle of Christianity is the very idea that God would become one of us. This is Christianity— that God gave the ultimate gift— He gave Himself!
And as His People, that’s what we do too. (slide-build bold) We Are Givers.
“Freely you have received, freely give.” Jesus gave his 12 Disciples a very demanding, draining ministry. But listen to what he told them: Matthew 10:7-8
Following is Costly (and “salty”). He talked about what it would cost to follow him: (slide) Luke 14:33
He said it not me! This is not figurative language with some more palatable, hidden meaning. Preachers are often tempted to explain this away… But you’re not going to get any help from this preacher to make this easier for you. You’re on your own. Go figure out what this is going to mean for you.
Then Jesus referred to us as “Salt”. Luke 14:34
“As my Followers, you are to be like salt—you’re either noticeably present or noticeably absent. (Ever had popcorn w/o salt?) You are the ones who make a difference in this world. If you aren’t making a difference, you’re like unsalty salt. You’re of no use. You’ll be thrown out.” (He said it…!)
Giving is better than receiving. Paul’s example about working to help the weak: (slide) Acts 20:34-35
We need to reconnect our ideas about Worship with helping those in need. When we help others, we are worshipping God with the very way we live.
When you give to FCC, you are giving to those in need. We have a significant portion of our budget that is dedicated to helping people who are struggling financially. Every year when we plan our budget, we plan to give away a lot of it. And we always end up giving away more. And God always provides.
I believe that Following Christ means being a regular Giver. Following Christ means that you understand that what God gives you, he gives you to manage for Him. He doesn’t give it to you just for you. You are a conduit of his blessing to others. If you don’t give to others, neither will God give to you. It’s that simple.
Jesus said, The Key to Finding Your Life is to Deny Yourself
I have to ask: How often do we deny ourselves anything in this country?
What about generosity? How do you define generosity? What’s the dollar amount cut-off, above which you have just become a generous person, or a “sacrificial giver”?
C.S. Lewis talked about what it means to be generous: (Mere Christianity)
For the Xian, there ought to be some things we just do without. We simply decide that there will be some things we won’t have, may never have, may never do, because we’ve chosen to give away enough of our income so that those things, whatever they are, are denied to us—they’re beyond our financial reach, on purpose.
And we’re OK with that, because we know, that just like the One we Follow,
We are Givers!
II Corinthians 8:9
The richest people are those who give—of themselves—to others.
So Let’s Give! Let’s really Worship!
Let’s rethink Xmas this Xmas.
Check out these other great blogs:
- Enlightenment, Encouragement & Enrichment by Giselle Aguiar, Award-Winning Christian Author
- Deo Volente! (God Willing): A look into early Christian history
Check out Giselle’s award-winning Christian novel: Deo Volente! (God Willing): Love in the First Century a historical novel about the early church check it out! $1 from the sale of each book – no matter what format, benefits StreetLight Phoenix to help eradicate child sex slavery. www.giselleaguiar.com/novel1