Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr
December 2, 2018.
Text: I Thessalonians 3:9, O.T.: Psalm 25:1-10, N.T.: I Thessalonians 3:9-13
Some time ago I was visiting a dear church member. It was a difficult time for her. She wasn’t used to losing the freedom that accompanies good health. She was frustrated. She should have been discouraged, even depressed.
However, she wasn’t. Although she eagerly looked forward to the day of her health’s return, she was encouraged. Her heart was filled with comfort and optimism. The smile across her face was one I had seen on another church member’s face after a difficult loss.
The light in their eyes was a gift. They shone with God’s grace and peace.
You really don’t want to leave such people when you visit them. They’re God’s people of faith, hope, and love. They’re special people who are living beyond anxiety and discouragement. They’re the ones who dwell in that special place God gives to those who are immersed in the knowledge of Him.
Such people are gifts to us. They’re living testimonies of Christ’s presence in this world. They’re the unexpected presents of Christ’s arrival in our world.
It’s easy for us to think that optimism in the face of difficulty is a personality trait. Certainly there are people who have had a happy disposition from the time they were children. They shine with confidence that all is well – when others sink into pessimism. But there’s more to it than a sunny disposition.
Looking at such people as the product of a cheerful personality misses the real point of their God-given purpose in life. Such people are heaven-sent gifts. They’re the leaven in the loaf of life.
They remind us that gratitude for life’s small things shouldn’t be mocked. They teach us that daily joy isn’t a genetic predisposition towards optimism.
In fact, many of the most perpetually enthusiastic people I’ve known have faced some of the most difficult, challenging obstacles to happiness. They’ve endured problems, tribulations, crises, and losses that would have broken we who have never walked along their God-appointed path in life.
One man lost his wife and sons to personal problems with which he wrestled. The path from their parting was one of the most difficult journeys I’ve accompanied as a pastor. Another God-given gift was a woman who was abandoned as an infant. Her physical disability made her adoption a significant challenge. Living each day with her disability was an even greater obstacle.
Yet both Christians are examples of God’s gift of encouragement. They’ve traveled paths whose prospects would terrify any one of us if we knew that such a journey lay before us.
One man lost his job, his home, his savings, and his family. Yet he found Christ’s presence enabled him to have a new life. He smiles from knowing God is with him. God’s steadfast love endures forever. His walk with Christ enabled him to restore all that he had thought he had lost, and find Christ as His Savior.
Such people are gifts from God to we who search for God’s goodness during confusing, troubling times. They’re testimonies to Romans 8:28, “In everything God works together for good, for those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
The gifts of their smile, the twinkle in their eyes, their laughter, their confidence, their willingness to show us the good in life is an example of the truthfulness found in Romans 8:38-39. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation shall ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Too many Christians believe they’re entitled to a perfect life. They believe they ought to be free from troubles as proof that God is rewarding them for their goodness. They expect that because they believe in Jesus Christ, they should never experience difficulty.
Such a limited view of God’s gifting only leads to a dark night of the soul. You will find yourself in a place where all holy light is extinguished.
Don’t look for a perfect life as a reward for your goodness. Look at those who know better. Look to those whose lives are inspirations – who face difficulty and travail, yet exhibit faith, hope, and love with confidence that God’s goodness endures forever. They are daily gift givers to anyone who notices.
These are people who share a similar knowledge. They share an identical awareness that makes them gifts from above. Each knows it wasn’t personal strength, nor their optimism that gives them their sense of God’s blessing.
Their optimism, their confidence, the enthusiasm radiates from inside them isn’t manufactured by positive thinking. Neither are they delusional fantasies that distract them from what they’ve experienced.
The smile across their face, the brightness that sparkles in their eyes isn’t a masque to hide from everyone else the pain they daily feel. They’re not presenting an exterior image to make us think life isn’t difficult for them.
There are many who master the ability to smile and act as if they’re untroubled by what’s happening to them. They paint a rosy picture on a dismal scene. They hide their disappointment with their life so others will like them.
No, the true gift-givers possess knowledge that Jesus Christ is with them. They’ve taken the road less traveled, or at least the road most of us fear to travel. On that road they’ve encountered a heavenly companion who suddenly appeared in the darkness to show them the way.
The companionship with Jesus was unexpected, or, hoped for but not anticipated. That companion didn’t abandon them but reminded them the heavenly Father treasures them. God heard their prayers. He had sent an angel, a prophet, and finally, His only Son as gifts for them.
Each – the angel, the prophet, and the Son – was present, and comforting.
The angel came in the form of beings who offered words of love and support. Some of those words came in written cards, telephone calls, random acts of unexpected kindness from people known and unknown. Some were near. Others from afar. This angelic chorus prepared them to hear the prophet whom God sent next and to accept the prophecy as the truth about God’s love.
Then the prophet arrived and declared now, in the middle of travail, difficulty, and despair, the Lord God Almighty was present. God’s presence, His goodness, His power to save, had arrived. “Don’t be afraid for the Savior is here.”
The prophet wasn’t some saintly otherworldly figure. It’s anyone who knows Jesus Christ intimately – a little boy whose childlike faith moves hearts, a tired man whose walk with Jesus through the years has discovered the secrets of His presence, a little girl whose compassionate trust in Jesus isn’t afraid, a mature woman whose love for God’s Word helped a friend to see Christ in this world.
These people aren’t saints. Each prophet is merely another heaven-sent gift that points the way to the true gift – Jesus Christ’s presence among us. They can be any one of you who reveals Christ’s presence to a person in need.
Prophets don’t possess secret knowledge. They share their knowledge about Christ’s presence as a gift to those who face difficulty. They can’t help but share it. It radiates from them. It prepares the way for Christ.
Finally, while the angels and prophets tell the traveler on the difficult road of life that Christ is present right now, right here – there is Christ Himself. Christ is with us in our world.
He is the divine healer, elevator of the weary, and restorer of the faith-hearted. He is the one who unexpectedly arrives in the darkness. He is the one who isn’t anticipated by people who have lost hope in Him. Christ alone is the ultimate gift that gift-givers show us.
They show Christ to us from living room couches and along city streets. They show Christ in kitchens where the hungry gather and behind walls where prisoners yearn for freedom. They show Christ to mourners and wanderers.
They’re givers, not takers. They ask nothing from us. They simply offer what they know is the greatest gift that enlivens their smile, sparkles in their eyes, and uplifts their voices with grace and peace.
They’re thankful for Christ with them. They don’t hang onto their faith as a private piece of jewelry they own. They share Jesus Christ in their gratitude for the source of their smile, their joy. You know them. You’ve met them. He has shone in their smile. He has laid out His path in their footsteps with you.
All around us are givers who are thankful for Jesus Christ in life. When you find one, don’t be so hasty to attribute their joy to an optimistic outlook on life. And don’t leave them quickly. You’re meeting Christ’s gift to you!