Archive for June, 2012

On the Unwrapping of Gifts

Over the months I have been working my job (I work at a place for birthday parties), I have probably seen close to a thousand presents unwrapped. When I look into the trash cans and see the colorful array of torn paper, sometimes I think, “What a waste.”

It took a personal experience for me to understand why we love to wrap gifts. The thought hit me once more as I wrapped a gift for someone about five minutes before I left to go to their house and see them unwrap it. Since she would have it unwrapped very soon, it seemed to be just frivolous, especially since I was already in a hurry.

When she unwrapped it, however, and saw what it was, her eyes alighted and a broad smile spread across her face. A gasp escaped her lips, along with a quiet, “Wow.” That was all it took to ruin me; my pessimistic attitude towards gifts was undone. In that moment a powerful picture began to form in my mind. That tiny bit of time, in which she unwrapped the gift, contained all the emotions of wonder, joy, and gratefulness.

We wrap gifts because we want to see that moment when the recipient’s eyes light up, especially if it is entirely unexpected. Gifts express the joy of life, the bright of dawn. We cannot decide what type of gift we receive (we can, in a sense; but in the end, it is always out of our control). We do not expect to have to “pay back” anyone for a gift, though sometimes human compulsion causes us to. The only question I do not know the answer to is, who receives the greatest joy – the gifted or the giver?

As I thought about these heavenly realities, the powerful words of the apostle Paul came to mind:

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” – Eph. 2:8-9

As I thought about that moment, filled with awe and joy, I thought back to when I realized what the grace of God truly was. A couple summers ago, I was talking to a brother about some things I was struggling with. He exhorted me in the plainest, yet most profound of ways: “Brother – you are in Christ. These things have no hold over you!” I paused; in that moment God’s Spirit came to me and showed me what His grace was for me. My friend’s words were true; sin had no more grip on me, because God had given me the gift of grace. Within me welled up joy unspeakable, and it would have been very appropriate if I had leapt up and down and done a wild jig, dancing as David before the Lord.

I am not advocating a faith based on feelings; our faith is based on the Rock of Christ, and it is immovable, no matter what our feelings may be. However, we should be profoundly affected by the gift of grace. Just think about what God has done for us. All throughout Ephesians, Paul tells us what we were without Christ’s grace:

“Dead in trespasses and sins… children of disobedience… by nature children of wrath… without Christ… aliens and strangers… without hope… without God in the world…”

We were all this and more. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened [enlivened] us together with Christ, (by grace you are saved)…”

Think with me for a moment about this great gift. When I see what it is, it fills me with deep wonder, bounding joy, and a depth of gratefulness. However, it does not end with one “unwrapping”; there is something wonderful about this gift of grace. Rather, there is something very wonderful about the Giver of this great gift: He is Eternal. When I discovered the grace of God in a new way two years ago, that was not the last time – He has brought me back to the wonders of that singular gift again and again. Because God and His grace are eternal, we can never finish with them. We must unwrap them day by day, discovering new and deeper truths than we ever have before, and living a fuller life in Christ.

And that is the goal of the gift of grace; eternal life in Christ. In His words, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (John 17:3).” He is our life here and now and for all eternity. He is the only Life. And because we have been brought into His grace, we can enjoy Him more and more every day.

“For the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” – John Piper

If you have not experienced the grace of God, or are simply curious about more of my thoughts on anything, please comment. I would love to hear from you. 

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Life and Death and Language

I recently had a conversation with some friends about foul language: what defines foul language and why it is bad. I thought it would be profitable to share some of our conclusions and my own thoughts on the subject.

What defines foul language? There are few rules in the Bible that are culturally defined; adultery is adultery, no matter what your culture says about it. Language is different. When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear”, he meant to them something different than it does to us; few of us curse in Greek. Nearly everything God commands is the same throughout every age: adultery is adultery, period. This issue of foul language, however, works a little bit differently.

The simple fact is that words have meaning. These meanings have changed over time and have been corrupted, to be sure. However, they have meaning to people, today. Every culture has words that are regarded with esteem, and other, crude language. Some words have originally true meanings that were not foul (one such word appears in the King James Version 90 times – I leave it to you to figure out which); others are simply crude words used to describe things in a crude way. In either regard, they are not words that in our culture “give grace to those who hear”.

Especially in our Southern-Bible-Belt culture, it can sometimes seem that foul language is a cardinal sin, worthy of capital punishment, or at least a good whippin’. However, as one of my friends pointed out that night, it does not matter how “clean” your words are. You may never say a single foul word in your life, but you will still violate the principle Paul gives us. On the other hand, someone who struggles with saying foul words could still impart great grace with their words. Neither is excused, but the one who acknowledges it is still better than the one who does not.

(As a random thought on the side, let me ask you, dear reader: is it stranger to you when a young lady utters a foul word than when a man does? It is to me, and I think it is because of the simple stark contrast between a beautiful appearance and a rotten tongue. I have often been tempted to say to such a young lady, “You know, such ugly words should not come from such a pretty face.”)

Why is it bad? The real question being asked here is, “Why does it matter?” First, because of all that I have said before. Words have meaning; they are like vessels that carry something to the recipient. We decide whether the vessels we send out smell like manure, are loaded with poison, or carry healing balms. As a writer, I understand that one small word can change the entire meaning.

More than that, however, it is because our words have great power. Proverbs 18:21 tells us that, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”. James alludes to the tongue as the spark that can start a forest fire. When we speak, write, or use language of any sort, we are always either communicating life or communicating death. The reason foul language, biting words, or a deceitful tongue are so wrong is because they are imparting death to the hearer. It is as though a deadly miasma is proceeding from your mouth, and all within inhaling distance are catching it.

C.S. Lewis reminds us in his essay “The Weight of Glory” that everyone we meet is an eternal soul. Absolutely everyone, from that man who cut us off in traffic to the sour-faced cashier at the grocery store, will live on in eternity. They are on their own journey, either progressing towards life or death. Whether they may only enter into our lives for a short frame, or they will be beside us for many years, we will are either a help or a hindrance. We either bring them up to life in Christ, or down to death. This is why language is so important, because of the destruction it can cause.

But the emphasis is not just negative. Sure, death is in the power of the tongue; but so is life! What a miracle it is, that we can impart life and grace to listening ears! Our words could be the spark that burns down their idol temples, that are a breath of fresh air in a miasma ridden world. By the grace of God, our tongues can be used to bless. That does not mean that our words will never hurt; but when they do, it will be done like a gardener’s pruning: only to bring about more and more life and fruit.

It is an oft repeated maxim, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Too often those closest to us are the victims of our cutting words, and we the unsuspecting assassins. It seems that often any type of sin can be excused so long as it was “in jest”. Let us begin with those nearest to us: parents, siblings, children, lovers, or friends; then, we shall work outward to bless the whole world. Instead of a sarcastic insult, insert a kind compliment or encouragement. It may be an unexpected treat, like finding a dollar in your pocket. Unlike the dollar, however, it will be worth far more.

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