Each year we get together some friends for a Christmas party. Amongst the frivolity of the evening is a gift exchange. Everyone is tasked to bring a gift and put it under the tree. Then we all draw a number and proceed based on the number drawn to pick out a gift. Two things about the process. After the first person opens a gift the next person up has the opportunity to pick out a gift or steal a gift that has already been opened by someone. The second is this is a white elephant gift exchange. If you don’t know what that means it means that the gifts, shall we say, may not always be a gift anyone would want. It may be something you find laying around the house.
For example, for as many years as we’ve been attending a back massager that resembles cow udders has been making the rounds. One thing I have noticed. Of all the gifts that have been stolen over the years no one has ever stolen the cow udder massager. If that was the package you unknowingly picked, it was going home with you. Even if someone else got a crummy gift they weren’t stealing it. So for the next year you were tasked to keep it safe and sound until the next party, at which time you could unload it on some poor fool. On the bright side you don’t have to worry about what you are going to bring the next year.
Christmas, is about giving and it is about the Gift. If you think about, it is a gift exchange. It is about a beautiful Savior leaving the perfection of heaven on His way to swap Himself for the cow udder massager that is our sin. He exchanges our sin for His righteousness. In 2 Corinthians 5:21. Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” He gives us all of himself; eternal life, a new heart, peace with God, the Holy Spirit, unconditional love, joy beyond all comprehension, and adoption in the family among a long list of other things. In return we give Him our guilt, our past sins, our fears, our pain, our bitterness, our addictions, and a myriad of other things.
Who does that! Who willingly and knowingly takes the cow udder massager that is our sin and gives us the best gift under the tree? “For God so loved the world He sent His Son . . .”
Among all the gifts given, received, and exchanged cherish the one who exchanged the worst of us for the best of Him.
I’ve lost count of how many home improvements show are on television. Every time you turn around another has been added. The premise is they work with a couple to find a new home. Draw up plans to remodel it. Then transform this once ugly property into something amazing. One my wife and I used to watch coined the term ‘demo day.’ It was the first day of the project and entirely devoted to destruction and removal of anything that was being replaced, removed, or repaired. Sledgehammer, jack hammer, and bulldozer are among some of the implements of destruction brought in to accomplish the task. Looks like fun.
Honestly it is fun. Having done, and in the process of doing, remodeling projects on the homes I’ve owned there is something satisfying about taking a hammer and Sawzall to something in your house. To obliterate a wall and leave in a heap on the floor relieves quite a bit of frustration and pent up anger. That’s why people will pay good money to take a sledgehammer to a car.
However, I’ve also learned demo day is generally the easiest day of a project. After that begins the process of putting it back together the way you envision it in your mind. That’s where the work comes in. Quite frankly it can take too much work. The exuberance that was there in the demolition process isn’t there.
Tragically we can apply the same principal to people. If someone has a failing, fault, or sin we are quick to apply the sledgehammer of judgement and Sawzall of character assassination. We hungrily step in and join the crowd shouting crucifying him. A group of men find a woman caught adultery. Get the stones! With the advent of social media we see this increasing at an alarming rate. Someone who righted themselves and advances great causes in the community has a misstep. It’s demo day!
No one wants to do the hard work of restoration. Perhaps it’s because demo day makes us feel better about ourselves. If we can tear them down it masks our own shortcomings. Yet this should never be. Our aim should always be to participate in the hard work of the remodel. Jesus sat in the dirt with the adulterous woman. Met her where she was at and brought restoration. (John 7:53-8:11). At Peter’s worst Jesus sought him out and brought him back to the fold. Imagine where we’d be, where the early church would have been if Jesus never sought out Peter for the tough work of restoration? Just read the opening chapters of Acts and blot out wherever you see his name. You’ll find a huge void in the history of the early church.
We would do well to be less anxious to demo some in need of restoration. We would be modeling Jesus in the way he showed himself to us. Next to him he had every right to leave us in the dust heap. Yet he reached down to us and restored us brand new.
Unplug the Sawzall of character assassination in favor of the grace we’ve all been given.
I sauntered out the doors of St. Thomas More School and headed across the street to the mall with a friend of mine. We headed to the arcade to play a few games or pinball then bummed around the mall for a bit. Cruising through Sears our eyes got a glimpse of these cool little pinball machines. That would be cool to have. No one was looking and the door was near. The game was snatched. Once on the outside we realized we had a dilemma. There was one game and two of us. The solution was simple. Snatch another one. Back in the store, game procured, we made our way to the exit not noticing the guy standing next to the door.
Before we knew it we he had us by the arm and was leading us to the security office. He took our names and phone numbers, banned us from Sears forever, and warned us if we didn’t tell out parents he would file shoplifting charges on us. My mother worked at the school at the time so I headed back there to tell her the good news. This time there was no saunter in my step. I found her and broke the news to her what I had done. Having to look my mother in the eye and tell her was one of the most difficult moments of my life. I had let down the woman who worked her tail off to provide for me and had a love for me that knew no limit. That’s what hurt the must. I wronged the one who had never wronged me. Yet, although there was a glint of disappointment in her eye, the overriding atmosphere of the moment was the love she still had for me.
I ponder that las night of Jesus when He stood in the courtyard. Peter was there. He had just spent the day failing Jesus left and right. It reached rock bottom when that rooster crowed the third time. Luke tells us in that moment, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter” (22:61). Peter was crushed and ran from the place bitterly weeping. In that moment I see the same gaze I saw from my mother that day in the school. Disappointment? Absolutely! Yet also a gaze that expressed a love for this man He had poured His life into.
I am thankful for that shared moment I have with Peter. Not that either one of us deserved it, but that we learned to understand the depth of love for someone who, at that moment should have been undeserving of love. Unconditional love is an expression of love that is tough to fully comprehend. But I am thankful for it.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).
When I first learned to read I could not wait to turn the page to see where Spot would run to next. As I grew older Spot could not hold my attention (unless a grandchild was on my knee) and I discovered the Hardy Boys. I looked forward to the solution to whatever mystery had caught their attention. Eventually the Hardy Boys lost their luster and were laid aside for the adventures of an overwhelmed little hobbit from a distant land. Then it was on to Jack Ryan and whatever conspiracy attempted to cripple our nation. As I grew in my reading (outside of the Hobbit) the previous reading delights were insufficient to satisfy my love for reading.
We see this in our culture as well. As I watched television evolve over the years, June and Ward Cleaver were replaced by Al and Peg Bundy, Perry Mason by Criminal Minds. A motorcycle that max’s out at 150 mph is replaced by one that will go 200+ mph. The sport of parachuting has evolved from jumping out of an airplane to jumping off bridges to winged suits. Smoking cigarettes to smoking dope to smoking meth.
The truth is we are always searching for something that will satisfy an inner emptiness. Each and every level attained leaves us searching for something more only to find a new void. Until we find the ultimate we will always be left disappointed.
I have come to discover after traveling many of the roads mentioned above seeking something to fill the void, true and ultimate satisfaction can only come through the Him who gave his life for me. In John 4 Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well. Or should I say she encountered Him? The woman had live a rather promiscuous life. She came seeking a drink of water. A temporary fix for a momentary thirst. He came to provide living water, himself. A permanent fix to a bottomless void.
It is a good reminder to us the things of the world will only give us temporary satisfaction and in the end leave us wanting something more. It is only Christ who can fulfill that which is truly lacking, spiritual nourishment and peace with the Father. If you are restless and searching, search no longer.
Rob Jeffrey, Pastor - Bradford Alliance Church