By Chuck Griffin
Several of us in my family have birthdays in the spring months. I’ve had presents on my mind; most of us have a tendency to want to show love to someone having a birthday, and we often do so with a present.
For years, I had trouble finding a present for my grandfather around his birthday. As he got into his 80s and 90s, he had few real needs or wants that a present could cover. We still had that urge to give him something, however, if only to let him know how important he was to us.
The last few years of his life, we focused on simple gifts, mostly the kind my wife, Connie, could make in the kitchen. He seemed to genuinely appreciate her cakes and cookies more than anything we could have bought him in a store.
Why did he like them? Well, these gifts were sweet, and he liked sweets, particularly pineapple upside-down cake. I’m sure there was another reason, though. Connie’s work in the kitchen was a simple act of love. And as I dwell on that other reason, my mind also goes to how we respond every day to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who has given us the gift of eternal life.
Obviously, there’s no way to buy something for the one through whom all things were created. We’re blessed, however, with a simple wish list left by Jesus, one expressed very clearly throughout the New Testament.
If we were to package Jesus’ gift, I imagine it going inside one those big gift bags. You know how people pack big gift bags; sometimes there is more than one item inside. I see two items in Jesus’ bag, both related to the love and gratitude we feel.
The first gift is our love for God. Again, we who call ourselves “Christian” understand what God has done for all of us. Once true belief has washed over us, this gift is easy to give. Our awareness of eternal life should cause us to race toward our prayer and worship times with thankful arms held high.
First John 3:14-18 talks about the second gift. Once we’ve experienced that overwhelming love for God, we are told that we should next feel a similar love for those who share our belief in Jesus Christ as Savior. He even positions our ability to love one another as a test of our faith, a determination of whether we are believers or “murderers,” people who abide in death.
As I meditated on this text, I began to wonder if this is the real point of struggle for the modern church. Maybe it always has been; the letter of 1 John was written for a reason. Within the church, starting at the level of a local congregation, have we achieved the kind of mutual love described in these verses? Do we love each other to the point of being willing to lay down our lives for one another? We’re always going to have disagreements, but do we hear each other with patience, forgiveness and openness to the influence of the Holy Spirit?
Lately, as we in the United Methodist Church find ourselves in what seems to be a mission-stalling irreconcilable disagreement over how we read Scripture, I also have to ask this: For the sake of Christ, do we love each other enough to set each other free, to release the unwanted holds we have on each other? Even Paul and Barnabas, out of love for Christ and each other, had to seek such a mindset in the early days of the church.
Lord, we so often find ourselves focusing on discord in church. Help us to show each other whatever kind of love is needed so we may better work on your behalf. Amen.