This is the audio from the December 1, 2019 sermon, “Looking For the Perfect GIFT”, shared by Tom Lemler at the North Wayne Mennonite Church.
Text: John 4:10, Colossians 1:27
As we enter a season when many individuals are looking for the perfect gift for someone special, or even for themselves, let’s look at some lessons we can we learn from the things we look for in the perfect gift we give or receive. Each of these lessons not only help us to give the perfect gift, they help us see Jesus as the perfect gift that has been given to us.
When looking for the perfect gift, look for:
Psalm 27:13-14 — When giving a gift that we want to be “just right”, we search for something filled with goodness. Something that is appropriate for the person and situation the gift is meant for. The gift must not only meet our standards, but it must be acceptable by the standards the recipient is known for and deserves. Jesus reminds us that while our nature is to give good gifts to our children, even greater is the nature of His Father to give good gifts to those who are His. Even in the midst of a very up and down life, David writes of being confident of seeing God’s goodness in the land of the living. Yes, he knew the goodness of God exists throughout heaven in eternity, but there is also an element of God’s goodness that He showers upon us here on earth — with the supreme example of that goodness being the sending of Jesus to die for our sins.
Psalm 25:8-9 — When looking for the perfect gift, we want to be sure it does what it should. Whether we read them or not, we want to know there are instructions and help available should something not make sense in the use of the gift. With all of the “some assembly required” gifts that we give, the quality of the instructions go a long way in making sure the gift will look and work as it is supposed to. When it comes to the perfect gift of Jesus, God has given us His Word to instruct us in every area of life we will face. Working in combination with His Word, the Holy Spirit has been given to God’s children to help us know and understand the instructions God has given each of us for life. From entering the kingdom of God, to living as kingdom citizens here on earth, to be ready for eternity in the presence of the King, God’s instructions are both clear and complete.
John 8:34-36, 2 Corinthians 3:17 — The perfect gift always comes with an element of freedom, otherwise the gift quickly becomes our master and we soon resent both the gift and the giver for enslaving us. Many people have received gifts that at first glance appeared to be beneficial and wonderful . . . and then they discovered the time and financial commitment required to keep such a gift. God has shown us that His laws, even the “thou shalt not” laws, are given to us for the purpose of teaching us how to live as those who are truly free. The gift of Jesus has been given to us to set us free from both the penalty and the power of sin in our life. Being cleansed of our sins and living by the power of the Holy Spirit within us frees us to live for Christ rather than for self.
John 1:14-17, 14:6 — Finally, the perfect gift is always given in truth. No misrepresentations, no double-talk, no hidden agendas, no bait and switch, and no exaggerations. In a world that not only wants something for nothing, but wants you to believe it is giving you more than it can, truth in giving can be a very uncommon trait. The advertising world thrives on making things appear bigger, better, faster, quieter, louder, or whatever other characteristic you desire; than what they really are. A few years ago, a national sandwich chain took a lot of heat because their “foot-long” sandwiches weren’t really twelve inches long. They’re initial response did little to satisfy the general public as they simply claimed “foot-long” was meant to be an approximate term and not an actual measurement. With Jesus as the perfect gift, He makes it clear that He is truth. In fact, He expects the same from us as He calls us to let our yes be yes and our no be no. Part of the prayer of Jesus for His followers is that we would be set apart by truth, the truth of God’s Word.
In all the gifts ever given, there is none so perfect as Jesus!
It is my prayer that you not only accept this perfect gift, but that you would live your live sharing this gift with others.
“After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18 (NIV)
Today I am thankful for the promises of God — specifically the promised return of Jesus to gather those who are His to Himself. I am thankful that God has given us His promises for the purpose of encouraging one another. I am thankful that after a month of writing a daily “Giving Thanks” post, I still have so much more to be thankful for than just the things I’ve written about. I am thankful that we are not only “caught up” to be with Jesus forever, but we “will be caught up together with them” — the “them” being those who are in Christ but have already passed from this life.
Clouds have a way of obscuring things as they keep us from clearly seeing what is beyond them. At times, clouds can completely hide known objects from view yet we live with confidence that what disappeared behind the clouds is still just as present as it was when we could see it. While there have been lengthy periods of time when the clouds take over and it feels like the sun will never be seen again, but the truth is that it is always there even when unseen and it always breaks through the clouds no matter how many days may pass before it does so. It is in the cloudy days of life that I am most thankful for the unchanging nature of God as it reassures me that His promises will all be kept.
As I spent the day with my family chasing a steam locomotive to photograph, we kept looking for the clouds of steam and smoke that rose in the air as a tell-tale sign of where it was. There were even times when the clouds of steam would completely hide the train from view, yet the cloud itself was proof that the train was there. “Being caught up in the clouds” is an encouragement only if we believe there is something beyond them. Even when the clouds of this human flesh obscure our vision and understanding of what heaven is really like, we can trust the promises of God that it is not only real but it is a place of complete peace in the presence of God.
I pray that you and I would continue to be thankful every day that God gives us life. I pray that we would hold fast to the promises of God in such a way that we are encouraged by His faithfulness. I pray that we would encourage one another as we trust God with everything that is beyond our vision.
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.“ Ephesians 3:14-19 (NIV)
Today I am thankful for a family which derives its name and purpose from our heavenly Father. I am thankful for the family of God that I have been adopted into, but am especially thankful for the godly immediate family that I am part of. I am thankful that we continue to learn how to work together so that each part of the family benefits. I am thankful for shared interests that give each of us joy as we search out the beauty of creation to photograph. I am thankful for the power of God to help us endure the times of difficult health with the knowledge that God is with us in the midst of it.
I am thankful that I grew up in a family that did life together as it taught me much that I use even today. Yes, we worked hard growing up on a farm but we worked hard together. I also have very fond memories of the times we played together both on the farm and on family trips and vacations. No, we didn’t always get along or even recognize what we had, but we were given no option but to endure and overcome whatever difficulties we faced — and especially the ones we created.
I am thankful that I carry these lessons forward and have slowly learned over the years just how much my parents patiently endured as we did life together. I am thankful that God gives us families where we can work on learning to value each part of His family. I am thankful that my family is a reminder that we are never alone and that God will never leave or forsake us.
I pray that you and I would continue to become the family member God created us to be — both within our physical family and within the family of God. I pray that we would know and experience the power of God as He fills us with the full measure of His Spirit.
“How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.“ Psalm 36:7-9 (NIV)
Today I am thankful for a God who provides abundantly more than I can think or ask. Do I always have what I want? No. Do I always have what I think I need? No. Sometimes I simply don’t ask. Sometimes I ask and the answer requires some effort on my part that I’m not willing to give. Sometimes I ask selfishly and my request would not be a true benefit to myself or anyone else if granted. Sometimes I’m impatient and assume the good that I’m asking for isn’t coming when it just isn’t time yet. When I think of God providing abundantly, I think of the promised land that was “flowing with milk and honey”. When confirmed by Joshua and Caleb that this was in fact true, the people resisted and rebelled because of the other reports that detailed how much work and difficulty appeared to be involved in claiming God’s promise. God’s promise of abundance doesn’t always look like we expect it to and the promise is really about God providing Himself so that the abundant life He gives is an eternal life.
Spending a month writing a post each day about giving thanks is a helpful exercise in seeing the abundance given by God. When doing that, I realize my abundance isn’t accurately measured by my bank account or my house or my truck or by any other possession I have but rather my abundance is measured by the goodness of God He has placed in my life. I am thankful for the things God has given me. Even as I have a turkey on the smoker this morning, I am thankful for the feast God provides daily through His Word. With coffee cup in hand, I am thankful for the living water that God provides as I surrender my life to Jesus. After a day of brutal winds, I am thankful for the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit providing comfort and direction to my soul.
I am thankful that God is accessible to me, and to you, no matter how the world sees us. I am thankful that God is a refuge to all who would come to Him. I am thankful that God’s love never fails. I am thankful for the people God uses to comfort and encourage me. I am even thankful for the people God uses to challenge and convict me when I allow my life to drift off track.
I pray that you and I would know an abundance that isn’t measured by material possessions. I pray that we would count our blessings each day as a reminder of what God is doing in and through us. I pray that we would see even our material abundance as a gift from God and use it to bring glory to His name.
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.“ John 14:26-27 (NIV)
Today I am thankful for the availability of peace that surpasses all understanding. I must admit that even while I am thankful for it, I don’t always grasp hold of it in the way that I should. I am thankful that God understands my times of high anxiety and chooses to draw me to Himself to find peace. I am thankful that the peace God promises, and gives, is not based on everything going my way. I am thankful that whether the trouble I face is caused by the world or by myself, God’s peaceful presence is always available for me to claim. I am thankful for the promise, and presence, of God’s Spirit who reminds me of God’s faithfulness.
Life in this world has a way of stacking one anxious moment on top of another — at least that seems to be my experience. Unfortunately, my history has been to often allow those moments to go unchecked until my very spirit is crushed under the weight of them. I suspect some of you have been there also. The thing that is stealing your peace doesn’t seem that big and so you don’t look to others to help carry your burden, and you definitely don’t turn it over to God — the old, “it’s not that bad, I should be able to handle this” routine. I am thankfully learning that anything of any size should be turned over to God, especially when it keeps me from the peace God desires for me to experience. I am thankful for a God that doesn’t say, “Oh, it’s you again.” but draws me close and says, “Come and rest while you tell me about your day.”
I am thankful for a peace that comes as God’s “perfect love casts out all fear.” I am thankful that a peaceful spirit can exist even in the midst of conflict. I am thankful that the peace of God has the power to dispel internal conflict and make the external happenings less powerful in their influence. I am thankful that God’s Word carries the message of the good news of Jesus that is more powerful than the things I am tempted to fear. I am thankful that I have peace with God through Jesus Christ, His Son.
I pray that you and I would continually grow in our experience of peace regardless of the circumstances we are in. I pray that we would walk each day in step with God’s Spirit as we experience a peace only He can bring. I pray that we would live as peacemakers because of the peace we have found in Christ. I pray that we would daily acknowledge that the troubles of this world are no match for the peace of God in the midst of those troubles.
“How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you. In the shelter of your presence you hide them from the intrigues of men; in your dwelling you keep them safe from accusing tongues.“ Psalm 31:19-20 (NIV)
Today I am thankful for the storehouses of God from which He lavishes good gifts upon His children. I grew up on a farm where not only did the livestock live through the winter by eating what we had stored up for them during harvest, we lived through the winter by eating the things which were stored up for us during harvest. I am thankful for a God who has not only stored up His goodness for those who fear Him, He is generous in giving from what has been stored. God teaches us that there are times when we ought to store up for future use, but most importantly we should be focused on storing up treasures in heaven.
I am thankful that God not only gives us instruction, but He sets the example for how to live according to those instructions. I am thankful that God teaches me to store up and to share, just as He has stored up and shares. When Jesus told the story of the rich farmer tearing down his barns to build bigger ones, it does not appear that the condemnation of this man was about the storing of the harvest as much as it was about the mans attitude of selfishness. I know when I go to God, I don’t want to survive on what I deserve or have earned — in fact, I have no hope of surviving in God’s presence without a generous sharing of His goodness.
I am thankful that in Jesus, God has given an example of great generosity even when possessions are few by the world’s standard. I am thankful for many people who have been generous to me in their goodness and love. They represent Jesus well when they give of themselves. I am thankful that God’s goodness and love reside within me so that I can be generous with others. I am thankful that the One who supplies the seed for every good thing within me is able to increase that seed for a bountiful harvest.
I pray that you and I would recognize the goodness of God as He showers it upon us. I pray that we would learn to store up treasure in heaven as we share God’s goodness with others. I pray that we would grow in our generosity as we consider the true source of every good and perfect gift that we have ever received.
“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature ; rather, serve one another in love.“ Galatians 5:13 (NIV)
Today I am thankful for the freedoms I enjoy in Christ. While our culture works tirelessly to convince each of us that freedom is all about doing whatever we want regardless of how it impacts others, God says that true freedom is all about being able to serve others according to their need. I am thankful that Christ continually frees me from the pride and selfishness that would keep me from serving others. I am thankful for the freedom to say no when an expected action would cause harm to someone’s faith. I am thankful for the confidence I have in Christ which gives me freedom from having to prove myself to others. I am thankful for the freedom I have to ask God for wisdom, knowing He will supply it without finding fault.
It seems that the Christian culture has an ever-increasing lust for the world’s definition of freedom. We do whatever we want, whatever we like, and whatever we enjoy with little to no thought about whether it is bringing glory to God or simply indulging our sinful nature. Many are quickly dismissing the old standards of purity, integrity, and righteousness as being out-dated and no longer “in touch” with the culture. And I’m not talking about standards created by our parents or grandparents; no, I’m talking about the standards found in God’s Word. It is in this context that I am thankful to have the freedom to hold fast to what God says whether anyone else finds it fashionable or not. I am thankful for godly examples of people who live with integrity in the midst of a broken world.
I pray that you and I would fully value the freedom we have in Christ. I pray that we would use that freedom to love people just as Christ loves us. I pray that we would be honest with ourselves when we examine our motives and how we use our freedom. I pray for a spirit of conviction when we project our sinful desires onto others in order to justify using our freedoms to indulge our own desires. I pray that we would ask God to open our eyes each day to specific ways we can use our freedom to serve others.