Our Scripture Today comes from John 3:1-17Not long ago Frank and I received an invitation to a party where we were to bring a white elephant gift. You know what a white elephant gift is, don’t you? Something cheap or weird that you own because someone gave it to you, or because you actually bought it during a time you had taken leave of your senses. You know what I’m talking about - pink flamingo boxer shorts, fluorescent socks, coffee cups honoring the inventors of Post-it notes or Velcro, anything from Ronco or K-tel …or As Seen on TV…- you know what I’m saying. Well, white elephant gifts have the same purpose as most fruitcakes: to get rid of them! The goal is to give it to some unsuspecting soul, preferably an in-law. A white elephant gift is a 2nd or 3rd rate gift. An outcast gift. A thrift store reject. The kind of thing you only see this time of year make in countries you can’t pronounce the names of. Usually they are given as a joke at those Christmas parties for the office and such. Sometimes they are given, because, quite frankly, you can’t afford a "real" gift, so you give something like that hoping the humor of the situation will cover your inability to get something on a more expensive scale.
At times while I was growing up, and even in the recent past, my family used to draw names for gift-giving, because the family was just too big for everyone to buy gifts for everyone. Anyone else do that? I think it’s a great idea. I have 96 first cousins.So what I want you to do…..I’d like you to imagine for a moment that you were drawing names, and you drew the name of the one family member you were hoping NOT to get. Maybe some distant cousin or something. This person has treated you badly in the past. Maybe this person spread lies or rumors about you. Maybe they stole something from you or wrecked your car. Or maybe they hurt someone you love. What kind of gift would you give that person? Would they be a candidate for a white elephant gift?
Now imagine that a new rule was introduced this year. The person whose name you drew is allowed to request anything they wanted, and you are required to give it to them. And it just so happens that this person has demanded your most prized material possession in the whole world. Maybe it’s your boat or car, or horse, your guitar, or dog. Maybe it’s your Kirby Puckett autographed baseball and rookie card. Maybe it’s a precious heirloom passed to you through generations before you. Or maybe it’s just a picture of you and your dad holding your first fish. Could you give it to them?
Read John 3:1-17
God gives different kinds of gifts. We all know what some of God’s gifts to us are. He gives us Eternal life, (Romans 6:23 - For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.) Peace (John 14:27 - 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.) Grace and faith for salvation. (Ephesians 2:8-9 - For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.) Wisdom for the trials of life. (James 1:5 - If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.) Daily provision for needs. (Matthew 6:31-33 - So do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.) Other blessings. (John 1:16 - From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. God has a style of giving: His gifts are good. (James 1:17 - Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.) You know….I don’t believe that any of the gifts we just looked at qualify as a white elephant gift. They’re good gifts. They are worth having and worth desiring from the hand of God. His gifts are generous. Ephesians 1:3 - Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. He makes us heirs, not with Bill Gates or the Rockefellers, but with Christ. Now how’s that for thinking big? The point here is that if we want to reflect God’s gift-giving pattern, we need to think not of "What can I get away with?" But rather, "How can I bless this person?"His motivation for giving is love. It’s ironic during a time when we are in more of giving mood, we often find ourselves with the dilemma of giving something to someone out of obligation instead of a desire to bless that person. You know what I mean - someone gave you a gift, and you feel obligated to give them one. Did you realize that God does not have to give us gifts? We don’t deserve them. If we deserved gifts, they wouldn’t be gifts, they would be wages. A real gift is something given out of a desire to bless the person receiving the gift, not out of obligation.
Did you know that there are about 330 references to blessing, and over 300 of those refer to God blessing His people. And just what is his motivation for showering His people with blessing? The bottom line is His love. John 3:16-17 - "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." Think about that for a minute. Why do we give gifts to our family at Christmas? Yes, there is tradition, but the bottom line is our desire to see our kids’ face light up when they open the gift to find something they like, right? And it breaks our hearts when we can’t do it as well as we like.
Have any of you either read the book or seen the movie, Mommy Dearest? It chronicles the bitter relationship between Christine Crawford and her mother, actress Joan Crawford. One of the most memorable parts of both the book and movie for me is where a film crew is at their house when Christine was young. Joan was already a famous movie star, and this crew was there to interview Joan, her husband, and the kids about their Christmas celebration. When the interviewer asked Joan about the children opening the gifts given by their parents and adoring fans, the answer was shocking, at least to me. She said that the children had to earn the gifts before they could receive them. Doesn’t sound much like a gift, does it? I’m sure the gifts themselves were enjoyable, but the thought of earning a gift kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? …And requiring someone to earn their gifts certainly doesn’t reflect the character of God.
Have you received God’s best gift? If not, won’t you open your heart today and ask Him to give it to you? It’s yours for the asking. The Bible says that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved, and that means you, and it means me. If you have received this best gift….why don’t you offer the gift of God to others. I want you to think back to the introduction where I asked you to think of something you hold dear, and how you would react if the person whose name you had drawn wanted that very thing. I said that that person had hurt you before, had neglected or even stolen from you. Remember?Folks, each one of us is that person. WE have sinned against God Almighty. WE have turned our backs on Him. WE have lied to Him. We have cheated and stolen. Yet we have the audacity to ask Him for eternal life. And what does He do? He gives it to us! What did it cost Him? His most prized possession. His Son, Jesus Christ. God didn’t give a white elephant gift. He gave us the very best he had to offer - to sinners like you and me.