Making This Christmas Count part 3
The Best Investments
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
December 14, 2008

The children of Sunrise Express will be back in a little while so we can enjoy their Christmas presentation. But before they do that, I want to take a while to talk about Making This Christmas Count. We’ve been working our way through this series over the past few weeks. Two weeks ago we talked about giving the right gifts this Christmas. Last week we talked about controlling the speed of our lives during this incredibly hectic season of the year. And this morning we’re going to continue by looking at how we can make the very best of investments.

Now, there’s been a lot of talk recently about investments. Every night on the news you can see how your investments are doing in the markets. Sometimes you make good investments and they pay off, but recently it seems like almost everyone has taken a hit and has lost a good percentage of their investments.

So we’re going to talk about making the best of investments. The kinds of investments that always pay off. Obviously I’m not talking about the investments you can make in the stock market because we all know that they don’t always pay off. So I’m not going to give you and insider information on that, especially since I’m about as outside as you can get. And I’m not going to give you a series of abbreviations that you’re going to have to look up to see what they mean. I’m not talking about those kinds of investments.

So what kinds of investments am I talking about? I’m talking about the ways you can invest your time, your energy and your finances in ways that they bless others and make a meaningful difference. I’m going to talk about three investments you can make that can really matter in your life, in the lives of others, and can grow right on into eternity.

The first investment is this…

To Make the Best Investments This Christmas…

1.    Invest in Relationships, not a boatload of stuff

Listen, this is something we seem to complain about year after year after year. We gripe about how Christmas has become so commercialized, but yet every year there we find ourselves rushing around trying to buy anything we can get our hands on. We seem to think that the quality of our relationships is directly proportional to the cost of the gifts.

Let me ask you this. How many of you find yourself in this situation: You’ve already been out and you’ve done your Christmas shopping, you think you’re all done, but as Christmas gets closer and closer you start to wonder, “Well, did I get this person enough gifts? Did I spend enough money on them? What if they get me more than I got them?” How many of you find yourself asking questions like that? And what is the inevitable result? You find yourself braving the crowds once more so you can buy even more gifts, right?

Now, is it wrong to want to give gifts to the people you love? No, of course not. Giving gifts is a perfectly legitimate way to show love. I’m sure those of you who work retail are happy to hear me say that. I think gift-giving is a wonderful tradition. I enjoy giving gifts and I enjoy receiving gifts. So I’m not here to poo-poo the whole idea of giving gifts.

However, considering that financial problems are a leading contributor toward divorce, don’t you think a little restraint would be wise? I mean, if you are going deeper and deeper into debt just to buy gifts, isn’t that just a recipe for disaster? And especially this year with the financial upheaval around the world and the uncertain outlook for 2009 and how each of us may be affected, does it really make sense to spend so much on gifts that are going to break, get lost, become outdated, and start collecting dust all before Valentine’s Day?

Do you understand that your kids aren’t going to love you any less if you just spend what you can afford, and they’re not going to love you more if you spend way beyond your budget on them. In fact, in the long run, you’re going to be setting them up for failure themselves and your relationship may suffer for it.

The quality of your marriage, the quality of your friendships… the quality of these relationships does not hinge on the amount of money you spend on them at Christmas time.

So instead of investing so much time and energy and money into acquiring more stuff, how about exercising a little restraint in those areas and instead invest that time, energy and money into the relationship itself? Sure, go ahead and buy some gifts. But do it within the constraints of your finances and don’t go overboard with it.

Let me put it this way: Christmas can either be about you making withdrawals from your bank account or it can be about you making deposits into your relationships. Which do you prefer?

Flash forward 11 days from now. It’s Christmas morning and you’re gathered around your Christmas Tree with your family and you’re all opening your gifts. With every gift, there’s going to be some level of excitement or disappointment. Hopefully there’s going to be more excitement than disappointment, but there’s going to be both. As we get older, we hopefully get better at disguising our disappointment, but you know what I’m talking about, right? “Oh, great. Just what I always wanted. A Potty Putter.” I remember when I was in college, one of the gifts I received was a box of laundry detergent. Yeah, that was exciting.

Here’s the point: Regardless of what gifts you receive, whether you feel excited or a little disappointed, that feeling is temporary. It’s going to fade. But what you don’t want to fade is the relationship.

So if you want this Christmas to count, you’re going to value your relationships… with your family and with your friends. You’re going to invest time into those relationships. You’re going to create memories together.

I think the apostle Paul in the New Testament put it so well in his second letter to the Christians in Corinth…

2 Corinthians 12:14 (NLT)
I don’t want what you have—I want you.

And remember what Jesus said…

Luke 12:15 (NLT)
“Life is not measured by how much you own.”

2.    Be generous toward those in need

I’m not talking about the “I need the latest video game” or “I need that trip to the Bahamas” kinds of needs. I’m talking about the basic needs we all have if we want to live and be safe and be healthy. What can you do this Christmas to help someone who’s really in need, whether it’s here in Charlottetown or someplace else around the world?

Let me read for you something that Jesus told His disciples. Jesus was talking about His second coming and how we will all be judged, and this is what He said…

Matthew 25:31-45 (NLT)
“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’”

Do you understand what Jesus was saying there? He was saying, “If you really love Me—if you’re really going to be my disciple—then you’re going to care for those in need.” He’s saying, “Care for them just like you would care for me if I were in their shoes.”

It would appear that caring for those in need is not optional for you if you are a Christ-follower. Jesus expects you to be generous and help out.

The believers in the early Church took this seriously. Look at what they did…

Acts 2:44 (NLT)
They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.

That’s pretty serious, isn’t it? They were willing to sacrifice and go without certain luxuries in order to help out others. Here’s another verse, this time from the book of James…

James 1:27 (NLT)
Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

So again, you have people in need… specifically orphans and widows… and we’re told that pure and genuine religion (not power-hungry and corrupted religion but pure and genuine religion) means that you will care for them.

And you know, I think this is one of the greatest traditions you can begin. I mean, every one of us should learn to be generous toward those in need because we serve a God who’s generous. And if we want to become more like Him, we’re going to become more generous.

But especially for you parents, this can be such a meaningful tradition and such a character building practice for your kids. Let me tell you what I’m talking about…

What if, every Christmas, you made it a personal or a family project to give to someone in need? For example, what if you gave money to make sure a family in Sierra Leone had clean drinking water? And what if your kids understood what you were doing and participated, too? What if you explained to them what you’re doing, and they decided they wanted to give their allowance to help? Wouldn’t you be thrilled if they showed such concern for others? Or what if they even told you that they wanted fewer gifts so that your family could give more generously to those in need? Wouldn’t that just floor you?

For the past couple years at our Christmas Eve service, we’ve received an offering to buy pigs for a home for street children in Odessa, Ukraine. That’s been a fun project, and we’ve sent hundreds of dollars to World Hope in order to feed those children. And I believe that has been such a positive part of Christmas here at Sunrise.

Well, during this past year the Ukrainian government assumed responsibility for all homes for children under the age of 16, so we won’t be buying pigs this year. Instead, we’re going to focus on the Shepherd’s Home, also run by World Hope in the Ukraine. This is a home for girls ages 16 and up.

Now, one of the things I’ve become more aware of over the past few years is the worldwide tragedy of human trafficking. All around the world, including right here in Canada, people are being kidnapped and sold as slaves. That’s still going on every day. And one of the hot spots for human trafficking and especially for the sex trade has been the Ukraine. So this year at our Christmas Eve service, we’re going to receive an offering to help provide safe transportation for these girls at the Shepherd’s Home so they can get an education.

So I’d encourage you to give toward that offering. But if you’re looking for some ideas beyond that, I’ve included some other options in your notes this morning.

Global Ideas:
•    The Sunrise Christmas Eve offering (to go toward the Shepherd’s Home in Ukraine)
• (Gift Catalogue)
• (Gift Catalogue)
• (Gift Catalogue)
• (Angel Tree Program)
• (Training of Overseas Leaders) - Empowering the Nations
•    Global Partners Missionaries (some support cards are available on our Information Table)
•    Church Planters:
o    Sydney, NS – Kevin & Laura Myers, P.O. Box 722, Sydney, NS  B1P 6H7
o    St. John’s, NL – Darren & Janel Clark, 463 Torbay Rd., St. John's, NL A1A 5C9

Local Ideas:
•    Donations to the Food Bank
• (ministering to the addicted, incarcerated, and powerless)
•    The Post (Youth drop-in centre)
•    Salvation Army (serving the poor)
•    Island Pregnancy Care & Support Services
•    The Upper Room Soup Kitchen

3.    Freely share the message of Jesus

Now, this is Christmas time, but you already knew that. And every year during this season you’re reminded about what happened the night Jesus was born. So you know about the shepherds who were out in the fields watching their sheep, and you know about the angel who appear before them and told them about the newborn King, and you know how the shepherds followed the instructions the angel gave them and how they went into the town of Bethlehem and how they found Jesus and Mary and Joseph.

You’re familiar with all that. But do you remember what they did next? Do you remember what they did on their way back to the fields?

Luke 2:17-18 (NLT)
After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished…

You know, it was incredible that the angel appeared to the shepherds. And it was an honour for them to go and actually see Jesus. But I think it’s significant that their very first response to what they have witnessed was to go and tell others what they had seen.

What they saw that night changed their lives. What they saw that night changed my life. What they saw that night is why we’re here this morning. That baby that they saw would grow up and give His life you them, for you, for me. Christ the Saviour was born. He was their Saviour, He’s my Saviour, He’s your Saviour.

That news about Jesus… the difference He’s made in our lives… this message of hope and love and forgiveness and life that has been entrusted to me and to you… it’s the greatest investment you and I can make today.

Here, let’s look a little bit earlier in Luke chapter 2. The shepherds are still out in the fields looking after the sheep and then we read…

Luke 2:9-11 (NLT)
Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!”

Circle those two words… “all people.” That means you. That means me. That means every person you and I will ever come into contact with. Jesus came for all people. And that’s why we need to share His message. That’s why we need to extend hands of friendship with those who are far from God. That’s why we need to pray for them. That’s why we need to tell them what Jesus has done in our lives. That’s why we need to let them know what Jesus can do in their lives, too.

This is what you and I have to offer those who don’t know Jesus: Good news of great joy for all people. Don’t keep it a secret, and don’t waste it.

You know, we like to talk about what interests us. People who are in love talk constantly about the object of their affection. A husband who is genuinely and deeply in love with his wife will want to tell others about her. When he goes on business trips, he can't help but tell people about the fantastic wife that he can't wait to get back to.

Or if there's a specific sport that you enjoy, you'll talk about it. I like hockey. I talk about it. Maybe you like soccer, or basketball, or baseball, or football. You talk about the things that interest you.

When was the last time you found you couldn't help but talk about Jesus? When was the last time you shared what He means to you with a family member? With a friend? With someone far from God? If Jesus is alive and well in our lives, we shouldn't be able to help ourselves when it comes to sharing what He means to us. Telling others about Christ should be the natural outflow of our relationship with Him to those who don't know Him.

It’s the single greatest investment we can make, because it’s an investment that can grow right on into eternity.

Isaiah 55:11 (NLT)
“It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit.”

When you speak the Word of God—when you allow God to speak through you—it always has results.

Now those are investments we should all be making. Tell others about the message of Jesus. Express His love by being generous toward those in need. And don’t get all preoccupied by buy more and more stuff; invest in the relationship instead.



Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2008