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Jack Graham - How to Have Your Best Christmas Ever

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    Jack Graham - How to Have Your Best Christmas Ever
TOPICS: Christmas, Christmas Time is Here

I want you to take your Bibles and open them to 2 Corinthians, and go to chapter 8, and that’s where we are going to begin today in talking about "How to Have your Best Christmas Ever". Now I know for some people, Christmas can be a difficult time, even a depressing time because it’s maybe filled with some bad memories. But, through the years, we have accumulated some of life’s greatest moments and life’s greatest memories at this season of the year. Typically for me and Deb it’s related to family or church. Some of the greatest experiences in life have been at church, and certainly that’s true with Christmas. And I’ve been preaching the message of Christ and Christmas or the message of the Gospel at the Christmas season for over forty years, and it’s still excites me; it still absolutely thrills me to be able to bring this good news. Like the angels who announced the birth of Jesus, we just keep telling that great, great story, the good news of Jesus Christ.

So there are lots of good memories. In fact, I think we’re making a memory here today, don’t you? I mean this is a real memory. "Do you know the day we got to church during ice-ageddon or the day we watched online with our hot chocolate in our pajamas"? Whatever it is for you, we are together around the Word of God. And I really do pray that this would be your best Christmas ever, because I want this to be your best life ever, because Christmas is about this life in Jesus. In just in a few days "The Gift of Christmas" will be presented right here by our incredible choir and orchestra and cast and crew. In fact as soon as we say amen here, they’re going to start rehearsing for the opening on Tuesday night. They’ve been rehearsing in earnest. They’re going to be around the clock getting ready.

And the reason we do this so big and bodacious, this "Gift of Christmas," is because we want the whole world to know. We want for people to see it. And so we’re going to be telling the real story of Christmas, which is the storyline of the entire Bible. The entire story of the Bible is about what happened at Christmas. A Savior has come, Jesus is born, and He lived a perfect life, He died on the cross for our sins, He rose again on the third day, He is reigning and ruling from the throne of God, and yes, one day Jesus is coming back again. In great glory and in great power he is going to establish His kingdom forever and ever. This is the story of the gift of Christmas; it is the gift of Jesus!

At the lighting of the national Christmas tree at the White House President Obama said this: "The Christmas message is both timeless and universal". So far, so good. But then our president said, "No matter what God you pray to, or if you pray to none at all…" Well, Mr. President, with all due respect, Christmas is about the God we pray to! The spirit of Christmas is all about Jesus! And that’s why Christmas is an eternal and a timeless message. There’s no meaning to Christmas apart from Jesus! Jesus has come and that He lives!

Now there have been many great, great men and women in history. We lost a world leader this past week in Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela exhibited grace and courage. He affected the world; he influenced the world, and we honor his memory. But while Nelson Mandela was a great man as other men and women have passed through history, there is only one God-Man and His name is Jesus! There’s no other man like Jesus! There’s no other person like the Lord Jesus Christ! Not before Jesus, and not since Jesus! He is Jesus, the One and only! He is the God-Man! He’s the heavenly child of an earthly mother, and the earthly child of a heavenly Father. When He was born He was just as old as His Father because He is eternal God, and yet younger than His mother, "born of Mary". It is the remarkable story of Jesus, the incomparable, incomprehensible story of Jesus: the glorious impossible! All other men’s names will pass away in history, but "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil 2:10-11). And this is why we celebrate Christmas.

Now in 2 Corinthians 8:9, read with me these words: "For you know the grace (there’s our word) of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might be made rich". This describes in just a few words the indescribable, incomprehensible condescension of Jesus into this world. God descended into humanity; God became a man, and not only a man, but when we think of His birth, think of God as an embryo. Because Jesus did not exist at Bethlehem alone, but He existed in the womb of His mother Mary. It’s mind-boggling to consider God in a womb. He was alive 9 months before His birth at Bethlehem. The eternal God was in an embryo!

Think about the One who walked on water floating in embryonic fluid! He condescended! He became a man. He became a tiny seed in the womb of a virgin Mary, a holy seed in a human’s body! That’s incomprehensible! Great is the mystery of godliness, that he Creator is born and placed in a cradle, that Majesty is in a manger, and that Jesus left everything behind! He left it all behind: all of heaven’s glory, the worship of angels, the glory of the Father in His presence. He left all of that behind and He became a Man! "He who was rich…" He was fabulously, eternally rich, worthy of all praise, the owner and operator of all things! The source and sustainer of all things! He was rich and yet for our sakes, He became poor. He became a baby, a man, a human being!

Now, does this mean that Jesus became less than God? No, not at all. He laid aside and emptied Himself of His dignity, but He never laid aside or emptied Himself of His deity! He did not cease to be God when He became Man! He is the infinite God-Man; just as much God as if He were not Man at all, and just as much Man as if He were not God at all! But He became poor. And why did Jesus become poor? Why was Jesus born in poverty, laid in a manger? Why was He the child of peasant parents? Why did He become poor? He wanted to identify with us in our own poverty, because we’re all destitute! We are all impoverished and imprisoned by sin, for the Scripture says, "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).

Look, anyone without Jesus is poor. But anyone with Jesus is incredibly rich! He became poor so that we who were impoverished and broken and bankrupt in our sin might become rich! We have been enriched by His grace. We have been enriched by His love and His forgiveness! And you’re looking at a wealthy man because of what Christ has done! Not in material riches, but in the riches that are real, what Jesus called true riches. See, I’m not playing word games here when I’m talking about riches. We are rich in grace! We have been enriched by His love! We are joint heirs with the Lord Jesus Christ. You know what that means, that we are joint heirs? That means share and share alike. That means that we are now living in the legacy of our Lord. And that everything that is His is ours. Joint heirs with Jesus!

That’s why we say, you know, your net worth is not your real worth. Your real worth is in not how much you own, but in the One who owns you, who masters you. I love to quote Zig Ziglar. Zig would often say that "You can never enjoy the things that money can buy until you can begin enjoying the things that money can’t buy"! If you want to know how wealthy you are, add up everything that you have that death can’t take away, and that eternity cannot destroy. That’s how wealthy you are. And if you are in Christ, you are wealthy indeed. This is your worth; this is your value. How much are you worth?

I love the story that my friend Pat Summerall used to tell about down in Augusta National there was a very wealthy man who played golf and they had a guest from a certain city in America and this guest was rather arrogant and when he got on the first tee he wanted to know how much the bet was going to be, and when he was told it was just a dollar or whatever, he said, "I can’t play for just a dollar. Back in my club we play for $10 or $100 a hole. I can’t play for a dollar a hole". This very wealthy billionaire who was his host said, "Well, you know, it’s what we play for here".

So they played, and it was a miserable day for everybody because this particular fellow was playing poorly and so he was blaming it on the fact they weren’t playing for enough money, and he just made life and golf miserable for everybody. They finally got in, they have lunch, then they go to play some cards. He said, "How much a point"? The guest said, "How much are we going to play per point"? And his host said, "Well, here at Augusta National we just play for a penny a point". "A penny a point? I can’t play for a penny a point! Back at my club we play for $10 a point"! To which the billionaire host said, "Well, man, you must be a wealthy man! You must belong to a really fancy club". He said, "Well, absolutely. I’ve done quite well". To which the billionaire said, "Well, just how much are you worth"? He said, "Well, you know," puffing his chest out a little bit, he said, "I’m worth, you know, $15-20 million dollars". To which the billionaire host slid the cards over and said, "I’ll cut you for it right now".

That guy never said another word the rest of the time! I mean, wealth is all relative, right? But if you are in Christ all things are yours. He has given us everything in Jesus Christ to enjoy! I enjoy reading Peanuts, and the exploits of Charlie Brown and Lucy and, in fact, I really like the Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon. It’s a good one. But Lucy always enjoys being a psychiatrist. You know, she sets up a little booth and acts as a psychiatrist for 5 cents. And yet Lucy’s biggest fun is to put Charlie Brown down.

So, Charlie Brown checks in for psychiatry and here’s what she said, "Charlie Brown, sometimes I feel like we’re not communicating. You, Charlie Brown, are a foul ball in the line drive of life. You’re often in the shadow of your own goal posts! You’re a miscue! You’re three putts on the eighteenth green! You’re a 7-10 split in the tenth frame! You’re a dropped rod and reel in the lake of life! You’re a missed free throw! You’re a shanked nine iron! You’re a called third strike! You’re a bug on the windshield of life! Do you understand, Charlie Brown? Do I make myself clear"?

Well, you know, life has a way of putting us down. And people have a way of putting us down. But Jesus lifts us up and it is in Him that we discover our true identity. While we were poor, impoverished by our sin and broken and bankrupt in life, we have been made gloriously and fabulously rich in Him! It was the great reformer Martin Luther who used to say that "God doesn’t love you because you are valuable, but you are valuable because God loves you". It’s because of His grace. God moved in. God came down. One translation of the incarnation of Christ says that God moved into our neighborhood. He became our neighbor. God came near to us. The fact that God would come to earth could have been intimidating. The God of glory and greatness coming to planet earth could be hugely intimidating.

In fact, when the angels showed up and announced the birth of Jesus, those shepherds were terribly afraid. But the angel said, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11). When God came near, it wasn’t frightening. He showed us the love of God and the grace of God. You know, it’s fun seeing our grandchildren go to meet Santa Claus, and have their picture taken with Santa Claus. Our granddaughter went to have her picture taken with Santa the other day and she really liked Santa from a distance. But when she got in Santa’s lap, the tears began to flow. She didn’t like the big fat man with the white beard up close and personal! She liked him at a distance.

And you know, it reminds us, doesn’t it, that so many people like God at a distance. Keep God at a distance. You know, "God, I’ll show up at Christmas or Easter or funerals but I don’t want to get too close". People like God "out there" away somewhere. But Jesus came to earth to show us who God is and what God is like, and His grace and His love and His forgiveness. Grace lives in Jesus. Grace lives! We saw in the book of Titus last week in our message that the grace of God has appeared in the person of Jesus. Grace lives in the person and the presence of Emmanuel, who is God with us. "He who was rich became poor that we who were poor might become rich in Him". And because we have been enriched in Him, there’s a second part to this grace story, and that is not only does grace live, but grace gives. Grace lives; and grace gives! Grace is received; and then grace is released.

This incredible passage that we just read, 2 Corinthians 8:9, is right in the middle of two chapters in which the Apostle Paul is organizing an offering. And in these two chapters we have some tremendous lessons in how we as believers, as followers of Jesus are not only to receive grace, but release grace; that grace not only lives but once we have experienced grace we then express grace by giving our lives away: by giving ourselves and then giving our possessions.

Now, it’s interesting when you read 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, and it is about the offering and how the offering was to be taken for the poor people in Jerusalem and Gentiles from around the world were contributing to this offering and certainly those at Corinth and from Macedonia who gave sacrificially and generously, but in the conversation here about all the offering that was being taken, and all the giving that was being done, the Greek word for money is not mentioned one time. Not one time! Instead of the word money, the Apostle uses the word grace. This grace of giving. It’s really not about the money. Now you know the old adage: "If somebody tells you it’s not about the money, then it’s about the money". All right?

So it gets to the money part for sure. But it’s all about grace. Let me show you what I’m talking about. Look at 2 Corinthians 8:1-2: "We want you to know, brothers, about (here’s the word) the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance (love that word!) of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord". Then look at verses 5 through 7: "And this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord, and then by the will of God to us. And accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of (what?) grace. But as you excel in everything".

We have a slogan, a saying here at Prestonwood, "Excellence in all things, and all things to the glory of God". That’s a good motto for your life, a good motto for your family, a good motto for your business. So he continues, "As you have excelled in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also". Excel in the grace of giving! So in taking the collection, in organizing this worldwide mission offering in the early church, Paul appealed to the grace of God in people’s lives.

Now over the years it’s been my observation that grace-livers become grace- givers. When you have personally received the grace of God, you grow in this grace, you may excel in this extraordinary act of grace. And this passage teaches us all about really how to have your best Christmas ever. And you know the bottom line already, don’t you? That it is more blessed to give than to receive. Blessed means happy. If you want to really be blessed, if you want to have the best life and the best Christmas possible, learn how to live grace and give grace. There’s so much to be said here that we don’t have time for today, like how grace-giving acts itself out. We’re to give individually; they overflowed with this grace. It says they first gave themselves.

Before the offering we give ourselves, you give your heart to the Lord, and where your heart is your treasure is and your treasure follows. Your treasure will always follow your heart. And I’ve seen in life that the people who get all caught up in grace and giving in grace, get obsessed with giving. And the more we give, the more we are addicted to the joy of giving! And it produces generosity. The word generosity shows up in this passage that we read. It’s a beautiful word, and it’s a word that we need so desperately in our generation.

America is so much about the materialism and chasing things and chasing dollars, and you know, who decided to take over Thanksgiving with Black Friday? People couldn’t wait to eat the pie and then go and experience Black Friday and spend more money! You know Thanksgiving and Christmas starts earlier than ever now. But it’s not for the joy of the season; it’s for the fun of making more money or spending more money. So we had Black Friday. And then somebody came up with the idea of Cyber Monday! So right after Black Friday, then we had Cyber Monday. And as I’ve been reading, it broke all records as people are ordering online and getting their gifts and spending more and more money! So, of course, because Black Friday did so well and Cyber Monday did so well, then somebody decided, let’s have Giving Tuesday!

Now, I like the sentiment behind Giving Tuesday. Apparently somebody had the idea that they could, you know, just prey on the guilt of people for spending so much on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, then maybe they would give to their organization or ministry. And so there was a lot of money. They did it last year and it was done this year. There was an eighteen percent increase from the last time it was done. So, you know, I’m all for the whole idea of giving on Tuesday, and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday and Saturday and Sunday, because this becomes a lifestyle of those who have experienced grace. I hope you will be generous at this season. When we were in China I had the opportunity to be with a couple of the men who lead the Salvation Army. I think it’s like the top General of the Salvation Army. These are very fine men, wonderful men and they have an incredible and wonderful organization. It helps a lot of people.

So I advise my family and my church family, when you’re going into Wal-Mart or Costco or wherever you go and you see a red kettle, put some money in it. It will help you be generous because giving begets giving. Giving breeds giving. And the more I give the more I live to give! And so I like the idea of giving donations to various groups and certainly ministries that are viable. As a Christian when you go to a restaurant, you take your family out, you ought to be a generous giver at the table. Don’t be a skinflint and cheat people on their tips! I heard one server say the cheapest people in town are those Christians who come in after church. That shouldn’t be true! We should cultivate the spirit of generosity in everything that we do and look for opportunities to give.

See, this is excelling in the grace of giving. It really isn’t about the money; it’s about the grace! It’s about the gratitude that overflows! I stopped and paused at that word abundance, or overflowing. We’ve been given an abundant life! Remember, we are rich! We are worth something in Christ, and therefore, we are to live this out. And this grace is our motivation! Grace is our message, grace is our mission and grace is our motivation for giving! What would prompt you, as the Scripture commands, to tithe your income, to give generously to the work of Christ, starting with your church? Guilt? No, we are never to be guilt-driven. That’s why we try to do everything possible at our church never to pull out guilt on people, so that in some way they might respond with giving. Because, remember, giving is not guilt-driven; it is grace-giving. Certainly, you know, we’re not motivated by the appearance, to be seen, or because someone begged us to give.

Look, I’m not a beggar! It’s not my role to beg anybody to give. So we’re not motivated by someone begging us. Frankly, a lot of the giving appeals and pleas that I see today are panic-driven or need-driven or cause-driven. They need to be grace-given and grace motivated. We don’t give because we hear some emotional appeal. Certainly we don’t give because we get an extra tax benefit or we don’t give to get, though it’s impossible to give without receiving. But that’s not our motivation either. We give because we have received this grace! And, therefore, it overflows. Our motivation is because of what Jesus has done for us! And we want the world to know!

Look in 2 Corinthians 9:12. It says that we are "overflowing with many thanksgivings unto God". This is why grace gives. And in the etymology of the language, the word grace and the word gratitude are first cousins. Grace and gratitude are connected. And this is why we give. What motivates you to do anything for the Lord? To sing, to serve, to teach, to minister—what motivates you? The grace of God. We have been given so much grace, so much forgiveness, so much love, so much peace. And therefore, as Paul is collecting money through the churches to minister to people, we’re reminded that the church is God’s greatest cause. It is the mission of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are many wonderful causes in the world, but the greatest cause is the Gospel of grace. It is the mission of God’s church and His message to the world. And we know that "to whom much was given, of him much will be required".

That’s Luke 12:48. This is what produces generosity in our lives, this grace. Here’s something that maybe you’re facing. These Christians who were giving so excellently were giving out of poverty and sacrifice. The Macedonians were not wealthy. It was their sacrifice that counted for so much. But for most of us we’ve been given so much, we have been blessed in so many ways, that perhaps you’re finding it more and more difficult to give.

I was having a conversation with a very good friend of mine recently, and God has blessed this man financially. And he’s making more and more money. He’s been a tither throughout his life and he was just saying to me, "Pastor, you need to preach on this because I’m struggling". He said, "When I was, you know, just making a few dollars, writing that ten percent off the top and giving to the Lord and His work, I mean, it was a challenge but, you know, it was not a lot of money. But now when I’m making a lot of money, writing that check is getting more difficult and more difficult, and harder and harder because it’s a lot of money to give". He said, "Pastor, you ought to preach on that"! Maybe you’re thinking, "Well, yeah, I wish that was my problem. You know, if I had millions and millions then you know and I was a wealthy man, then you know, I’d give a lot of money". Well, you know what you would do? You would probably give about the same as you’re giving with the $10 in your pocket with a million dollars in a bank. "To whom much is given, much is required". And "He that is faithful in that which is least will also be faithful with that which is much" (Luke 16:10).

So most likely, regardless of how much you have, it’s not the amount of money, it’s not the amount of the check, but it is the grace that is given. How much are you to give? The Scriptures says here, "as God has prospered you". Don’t give what you don’t have, but give what you do have. And look, the Bible doesn’t condemn those who have money. What the Bible does condemn is the idolatry or the worship of things. What the Bible does condemn is selfishness. What the Bible does condemn is greed and hoarding and being a scrooge; being stingy and miserly. And the word miser and miserable are the same word. What God commends is giving and sacrificing. And it’s so liberating when we grow in this grace of giving because we’re no longer mastered by money. We’re no longer controlled or held captive by things because now we’re held captive by grace. The apostle commends these Christians at Corinth and the Christians at Macedonia and others because he said, "Your grace inspires others and encourages others".

And can I tell you, Prestonwood, that your faithful giving over the years is inspiring countless pastors and churches all over the world. As they see what God has done through the witness and the work and the sacrifice and the generosity of God’s people here at Prestonwood, people are encouraged and their faith is emboldened. Our faith and our generosity overflows and blesses others. And so many times when I’ve asked you as a church, Prestonwood, to step up to a challenge, whether it was moving locations from Dallas to here, or adding campuses, or whether it was raising millions of dollars for mission offerings or building buildings and capital projects so that we can give the Gospel away. Or whether it’s a shortfall, when we came up last year and we were looking at a shortfall at the end of the year and I just simply challenged you with that, and you gave and you over-gave! We are growing in this grace of giving.

If there’s disaster and I say let’s take an offering for hurting people, you give! If it’s Prestonwood Christian Academy and so many have given. And the pregnancy center and PowerPoint, and all the ministries of this church! You are excelling in the grace of giving! And I just challenge you as a believer and follower in Christ, if you’re not in on this joy, if you’re not all in on this excellent grace in your life, if you want to have your best life ever and your best Christmas ever, this is the way to do it. The more you give, the more you are blessed to be a blessing. Grace is living and grace is receiving and grace is releasing and giving. Okay, here’s a little something we’re about to do, and we’re about to shut this down. But I want to give you an object lesson on this. Put everything down and I want you to take one fist and I want you to squeeze it as hard as you can.

Now on one, two, three I’m going to say squeeze, and I want you to hold it. This is sort of like going to the dentist. They say, "Ahhh". You’re kind of trying to hold it, right? I want you to take your fist and don’t release it until I say. Alright. Now, don’t go early. You better wait cause this is going to be difficult. Okay. Get your fist. You ready? Now squeeze! Squeeze hard. No, harder! Squeeze as hard as you can. Harder, hold it. Hold it! Keep holding it! No, come on, keep holding it! Squeeze it! Now let go. Boy, doesn’t that feel good? If you hold onto stuff and squeeze it, it hurts. It’s ultimately disappointing. But when you release by grace what God has given you, there is joy in giving. No wonder the Scriptures talk about the hilarity of giving.

Now today you can find plenty of people who are down on churches, and especially on the so-called mega-churches. You can probably find people in your group, your office, maybe even your Bible fellowship class, maybe even in your own household who say, "I don’t think the pastor should be talking about money. I don’t think Jack Graham should be saying these things about money. That’s all they talk about". Well, first of all, let me beg to differ. I need to repent because I haven’t talked enough about stewardship and the grace of giving over the years. But the fact is, from time to time when we get to the Scriptures like this one we must. But you know, there are lots of bloggers and watch-doggers who love to attack pastors and churches and maybe even people that you hang out with who love to attack churches and be negative about the church.

My advice to you, if you want to be happy in life, is to get as far away as possible from those people. They’re only going to drag you down. Make you negative and difficult. They’re miserable and they want you to join them in their misery. Refuse to do it. Instead, get around people who say something like this, "Isn’t it great what God is doing in our church"? "Isn’t it fantastic about how many people are getting saved and coming to Jesus in our church"? "Isn’t it wonderful about how many young people are growing in their faith"? "Isn’t it fantastic about the children who are learning about Jesus"? "Isn’t it incredible the missions that are being accomplished in the name of Jesus"? "We have the greatest church on earth"! You get around people like that and you’ll find yourself growing in this same grace.

Look how many people are taught! Look how many people are served! Look how many people are blessed because you have excelled in this grace of giving! "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7). Paul goes on to say giving is like planting a seed. No farmer, when he plants a seed, is worrying about the planting, just planting and investing. It’s like an investment. When God became a man, He produced a seed, the seed of woman in Jesus, and Jesus changed the world. It all started with a seed. And so when we plant these seeds, it’s the principle of life that we reap what we sow. And you be generous with a generous provision that God has given you. You say, "Well, I earned everything I got". No, you didn’t. Who gave you the strength to work? Who gave you the mind to innovate? Who gave you the ability to create?

Deuteronomy 8:18 says: "He gives the power to get wealth". Everything that we have comes from God, and, therefore, we gladly, gratefully, give it back so that the whole world may know. So when somebody says, "What did the pastor preach about today"? and you say, "Money," that would be wrong. I didn’t preach about money; I preached about grace! I’m preaching about the grace of living and the grace of giving. And may we excel in this grace also. Our focus here at Prestonwood is on Jesus, not money. Our focus is on lifting up Christ, and because we’ve been so blessed, we give, not just to meet a need or to fill a cause, but to fulfill the commission of Jesus Christ which is to "Go and make disciples" (Matt. 28:19) 2 Corinthians 9 concludes this passage all about the grace in verse 15 with these words: "Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift".
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