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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gift Giving

‘Tis the season of gifts once again, and I want to discuss the greatest gift we’ve ever received: God.  I can expand that if I need to:  God’s love, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, eternal life…ultimately, it all comes back to God.

Let’s be clear—we don’t deserve this gift.  We are flawed.  Full of sin.  We have no business putting this on our Christmas lists, yet He gives it to us anyway.  It’s the best gift, and we gladly accept it.  We crave it.  We soak it all in and keep it…for ourselves.

We hoard it.

Why are we so quick to accept this gift, yet so hesitant to give it?  Isn’t it better to give than receive?

Think of someone who has wronged you.  There’s a very high chance that you just thought of someone who is not a friend or family member, even though, statistically, a friend or family member is more likely to hurt you.  Why is that?  Why, when we think of someone who has wronged us in some way, do we not think of a loved one?

Because we love them.  Because it’s easy to forgive them.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them…But love your enemies, do good to them…Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” – Luke 6:27-28, 32, 35 (Jesus talking)

This is an old message/lesson that we all know very well, yet do we really live it?  Be honest with yourself: Are you quick to forgive someone when they’ve wronged you or do you hold a grudge?  Maybe talk about them behind their back (only you call it “venting”)?  Do you sit at home, silently brooding over their injustice towards you?  I’ll bet you do…because I know I do.

This message is expressed countless times in the Bible, so it’s safe to say that it’s pretty important.  God wants it drilled into our brains:  Forgive others.  Forgive others.  Forgive others.  How important is it?  “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15—Jesus talking).

Get it?  If you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven.  If you do not give this gift, you will not receive this gift.  It cannot be said any clearer than that.

Is this difficult to do?  As I quoted Perry Noble last week, “When was it in the Bible that anyone was asked to do something easy?”  Of course it’s difficult to do!!  That’s why the reward for doing it is so great.

Here’s the thing:  Should it be difficult?  I’m going to throw something out there that some of you might disagree with because it won’t be easy to hear—it certainly wasn’t easy for me five seconds ago when God hit me with it...If you are full with God’s love—truly full—then forgiving others isn’t difficult at all.  If you are full with God’s love, then you are pouring that love onto others.

Love your enemies.

Love.

What is the greatest commandment?  Love the Lord your God…Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-39).  The greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

We Christians always talk about wanting to be like Jesus.  “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’” (Luke 23:34).  Jesus forgave those who were murdering Him WHILE IT WAS HAPPENING.  And you can’t forgive someone when they insult you?  Talk about you?  Lie to you?

Still…it’s not easy.  Pain is pain and it’s hard to let it go.  So how do we make it easier?  How do we learn to truly forgive?

We pray.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…” – Luke 6:27-28 (Jesus talking)

When you’ve been wronged, when you’ve been hurt—pray.  When Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, He provided The Lord’s Prayer.  Do you pay attention to these words, or do you just recite them from memory?  “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us (Luke 11:4).  Pray for the strength to forgive.  You want to grow in this area of life?  You want to give this incredible gift, but struggle with it?  This is Step 1.  Simply ask God to give you the strength to forgive that person.  Step 2:  Pray for that person.  And not like a, “Dear God…get ‘em!!” prayer.  Pray for their heart.  Pray that God forgives them.  If you’re strong enough to ask God to forgive them, then you are strong enough to forgive them yourself.  Step 3:  Let it go.  Don’t let your prayer just be words.  Mean what you say.  Don’t ask God to forgive them, and then go “vent” to a friend about what that person did or said.  You have to let it go.  I don’t believe in “forgive and forget.”  We’re human.  We have memories.  The deeper the wound, the harder it is to forget.  Remembering that it happened isn’t wrong.  Dwelling on it is.  Let it go.  Forgive.

The Lord says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head” – Romans 12:20

Here’s how my Bible explains that last part:  “This may refer to an Egyptian tradition of carrying a pan of burning charcoal on one’s head as a public act of repentance.  By referring to this proverb, Paul was saying that we should treat our enemies with kindness so that they will become ashamed and turn from their sins.”

People respond to the unexpected.  When you have been wronged, people expect you to be angry.  They expect you to seek revenge.  When you react with kindness, it throws them off.  They’re not quite sure what to do.  Some will even ask how you’re able to handle it the way you are.  Just like that…you have a chance to give God’s love to them and the person that hurt you.  Treating your enemies with kindness does not show weakness.  On the contrary, it takes a much stronger person to forgive.  To let it go.  To be kind and loving.

Want the easiest way to forgive enemies?  Have fewer enemies.  Want fewer enemies?  Look at how you act towards others.  As Christians, we are to be in a building-relationships business.  Are you actively trying to build relationships, or are you content with the ones you already have?  Are you sharing the gift of God’s love with everyone or just the ones you already love?

Simple acts can display God’s grace.  Smiling and/or waving to a complete stranger instead of avoiding eye contact and pretending they aren’t there.  Striking up a real conversation with casual acquaintances instead of the typical, banal small-talk.

Jovan Belcher, a 25-year-old linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs and seemingly good guy, snapped on December 1.  During a fight with his 22-year-old girlfriend (and mother of their 3-month-old daughter), Belcher shot and killed her.  He then drove to the Chiefs’ practice facility, thanked his coach for all that the coach had done, then shot himself in the head.

Following the game the next day, Chiefs’ quarterback Brady Quinn was questioning if anything could have been done.  During his interview, he said, “When you ask someone how they’re doing, do you really mean it?  When you answer someone about how you’re doing, are you really telling the truth?  We live in a society of social networks…and while that’s fine, half the time it seems we’re more preoccupied with our phones…instead of the actual relationships right in front of us.”

Is this you?  Do you blow these questions off as just being polite, or do you actually care how that person is doing?  Are you actively trying to build relationships or are you content to just maintain your current ones?  The stronger your relationships are, the less likely it is that someone will hurt you.  When someone does wounds you, however, do you let it go or hope for the chance for revenge?

Hopefully, you have already accepted God’s greatest gift.  Him.  This Christmas (and into 2013), give this gift.  Grow in the relationships you’re currently in.  Develop new relationships with mere acquaintances and strangers.  Show God’s love to everyone…even those that have hurt you.

Especially them.

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