A New Beginning

In our Gospel reading we heard of the Magi, or wise men, following a star in the east, seeking to find Jesus. Now typically when we create our nativity scenes we place the wise men in the stable with Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the shepherds, and all the animals. But in reality the trip the wise men undertook was thousands of miles long and probably took a year or two.

The Magi were truly wise in that they were well-educated individuals; they were the scientists of their day, astronomers, and seekers of truth. Because of the respect they received they were often used as counsels and advisors to kings. So it was most appropriate that they would go to a king, Herod in this case, as they sought the truth of Jesus. And when they had completed their journey they would find the One who was the Way, the Life, and the Truth!

The fascinating thing about this story to me is that the wise men, who were people of prestige and prominence, stopped what they were doing, left their titles and positions behind, and set off to find Jesus. They wanted to know more about this baby born in Bethlehem. And when they arrived in Bethlehem they approached Jesus and bowed down to worship him, realizing they were meeting the one true King.

As they worshipped Jesus they presented him with gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. The wise men gave Jesus these gifts because these particular gifts were worthy of a king. And the gifts they gave have further meaning because they are actually symbols of Christ's identity and what he would accomplish throughout his life. " Gold was a gift for a king " Incense was a gift for deity " And myrrh, which is a spice, was a gift for a person who was going to die.

So as you can see the wise men were not giving these expensive gifts to Jesus to earn favor with him. They gave these gifts as a means of worship, and to fore tell the future of Jesus life and ministry in the world.

The wise men brought gifts and worshipped Jesus for who he was. This is the essence of true worship - honoring Christ for who he is and being willing to give him what is valuable to us. We ought to worship God because he is perfect, just, and the almighty creator of the universe, worthy of the best we have to give.

The wise men provide us with an example of what it means to truly give of ones self to worship Jesus. The wise men experienced a new beginning; they left all they had and all they were to find Jesus, to begin life anew.

The birth of Jesus changed the life of many 2000 years ago, and his birth is still changing lives today. As we celebrate Christ's birth again we too can experience the life changing grace of God through Jesus Christ.

We tend to view the beginning of a new calendar year as a time to start over, to begin again. We make resolutions: perhaps to lose weight, get a better job, quit some bad habit, turnover a new leaf, be a better person, and so on.

I make resolutions every year, some are the same ones I make every year, but by the time February or March rolls around I'm hard pressed to remember what some of the resolutions I made were, let alone follow-through with them.

But this year, I want to begin again, knowing that with God we can always begin again. I want to draw closer to God, I don't want to get stuck in a worship rut, I don't want to just go through the spiritual motions of our faith. And perhaps you would like to do the same.

I've decided to spice up my worship life by learning to play the guitar so that I can participate in worship in a different way. I'm not sure this will do a whole lot for anyone who listens to my playing, but I want to tackle something out of my comfort zone as a means to experience God in a new way. And what I've discovered so far is I have a greater appreciation for the words of a song, and what they mean. You see as I learn to play a song I focus more on the words than I used to.

I've also decided to look for new ways this year to serve God, through the giving of the time, talent and money God has blessed me with.

When I pause and consider when I've experienced spiritual growth I've found in that my spiritual life has only grown when I have engaged in the spiritual disciplines of giving, study, prayer, worship, and serving. As well as experiencing sacrifice. And when my spiritual life grows my whole life begins to grow offering me new and exciting opportunities to move beyond where I am to where God wants me to be.

This year opportunities to engage in these spiritual disciplines will again be offered to the entire congregation and our community, and I'm sure our ministry teams will offer some new fresh ways to give, worship, pray, study serve, and sacrifice that will help each of us grow in our walk with Christ.

We'll also be looking for ways to use our hands and feet more in service to God. Different projects, both short-term and long-term will be considered, planned, and undertaken. But all the ministry teams can do is make the opportunities available; it will be up to all of us to engage in them, again, as a way to grow in the grace and peace of God.

As most of you know we don't engage in a stewardship Sunday or a giving emphasis time at Trinity. We don't fill out pledge cards and we don't approach giving from a fund raising or obligation perspective. I don't believe in this approach to giving.

Yes, financing the ministry of Christ's church does require time and money. But giving, to be truly giving, as defined by God, must come from our hearts, just as the wise men's giving did, as a way to worship and thank God for all that God has given and done for us, and as a way of saying, "yes God, I trust that you will provide what we need when we need it."

If we give for any other reason, then I suggest we stop giving. God wants us to give for the right reasons, not simply as a means to maintain an institution or as a way to get a tax break. If we can't give out of love for God, then we shouldn't give, it's that simple. Now when we do give God provides a standard for which we ought to strive for, and that's a tithe of our income, or in other words 10% of our income.

You may remember that 3 years ago this month we set a goal of becoming a tithing congregation by January 2007. Meaning, we would tithe, or give 10% of our church income to help others by 2007.

Well, I'm happy to report that in 2004 we achieved this goal by giving over 12% of our income to help our brothers and sisters in Christ. And when you include our apportionments, this congregation has given over 18% of what we received to help God's people in our community and around the world. This is something you should be proud of and we ought to give thanks to God for both the means and the desire to give from the heart.

Now it's interesting to note that throughout the year we never kept track of what were giving as a congregation, we just gave as God led us to give. It was only a couple of weeks ago that we discovered, when doing our year-end accounting, that we had actually tithed the church's income. Again, if we remain focused on the ministry of the Christ's church everything else will fall into place, God's place.

When Susan and I began to tithe our income, I was worried. How would we make ends meet, after all that 10% might be the difference in paying a bill or not. We have three kids to get through school, braces are needed for their teeth, seminary had to be paid for, and of course you have the car that breaks down at the most inconvenient time, unexpected medical or dental bills, and the list goes on and on. And we all have our lists for not being able to give a tithe for God's work.

But what has been real neat to experience is that since we have been tithing our income, God has provided every time we've had a need. In some way the financial issue we were dealing with was taken care of.

Now I'm not suggesting that while we're asleep God puts more money in our bank account, I'm saying opportunities present themselves in a timely manner. Perhaps there is the need for a new car, but the purchase price is too high, yet in a conversation you learn of a rebate you weren't aware of that helps ease the financial pressure, or you receive some unexpected check in the mail as a gift from someone, or a medical reimbursement you sent for months ago and forgot about comes in at just the right time. Perhaps you're trying to figure out how to pay for college when all of a sudden you become aware of potential scholarships you weren't aware of.

You see, God will provide, we have to believe that, now it may require additional work on our part, but God will place the opportunities in front of us to make ends meet if we're journeying down a path that is of God. The whole key is placing our trust in God.

Individuals, or the church for that matter, are not blessed simply because they give a certain amount of money, you can't buy or earn favor with God. Individuals and congregations are blessed because they place their trust in God, strive to follow God's will, give from the heart, and give as an act of worship and gratitude.

I also believe we ought to approach giving of our time and talents in the same manner. We ought to give at least 10% of our time in service to God, once again giving from the heart and out of love. Assuming we sleep eight hours a night this means we ought to give at least 10 hours a week to serve God.

If we all engaged in 10 hours to intentionally equip and make disciples for Jesus, and to care for one another, God's kingdom would be overflowing with disciples. Giving wholly of ones self is at the heart of what Jesus is all about; just as giving wholly of ones self is at the heart of being a Christian.

Now I know we all can't all of a sudden give 10% of our income or our time, but this is a goal we ought to be working towards. God is not so concerned with the percentage; God is concerned with our hearts. A right and giving heart means much more to God then a cold heart that gives for the wrong reasons.

So as you begin the New Year and as you begin to make your New Year resolutions, I encourage you to assess how God is leading you, how God may be calling you to be faithful stewards with all He has given you. I encourage you to include in your resolutions seeking some new spiritual undertaking as a way to draw closer to God, resolve to read and study the Bible more, and look for ways to serve God with the goal of experiencing God in new and uplifting ways.

As we begin this New Year, I hope and pray God will move our hearts to a new place. " I pray we don't come on Saturday evening or Sunday morning to simply fill a pew. " I pray we don't give simply out of obligation, guilt, or to attempt to earn favor with God. " I pray we intentionally pursue God's purpose for our lives and that we live out his purpose for us with the same intention the wise men had when they left the comfort of their homes and jobs to find Jesus.

Michelangelo once said when sculpting, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." Well the same is true of each of us. God's sees his purpose for our lives within each of us, and he carves away worldly influences until we are set free.

Recommit your lives to Christ, make Jesus the central person in your life, re-dedicate yourself to worshipping him more completely, speak and listen to him more regularly, give to him more wholly, study his word more thoroughly, and serve him more loyally.

Approach the New Year with a passion for wanting to do the will of God. Run towards God's call, not away from it. Take hold of God's hand and ask him to lead the way as you seek a new beginning.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade