The lead up to Christmas is well underway and at Stonehaven Baptist Church this week we began by sharing a message on the topic of ‘challenge’. A challenge is something we can either turn from or face up to, so we looked at how best we can embrace challenges rather than running for the hills.
When Paul wrote to the church in Phillipi (see the book of Phillipians in the New Testament) he was challenging them to take another look at themselves, to see if they were living as they should, in honour of God. Paul felt that this church was splintering, that disunity was creeping in and so he appealed to them to unite once again and not to drift in different directions. The centrepoint of their unity was their belief in Jesus Christ, so first and foremost it was this that they were to remember. But additionally, he beseeched them to honour their faith through righteous living, conducting themselves in a manner acceptable to God and thereby offering a compelling witness to non-believers. The same challenge is issued to us as Christians today, to come back to the foot of the cross in acknowledgement of who our faith centres on and to carry ourselves in a fashion that’s an acceptable demonstration of God’s love. We are adopted as his children, our eternal life in heaven is secured through our belief in Jesus Christ and his atoning death and resurrection, but it doesn’t end there. While here on earth we have the opportunity to convey God’s love to others and draw people nearer to him.
We’re not left alone in this endeavour though. The Holy Spirit is very real, God is with us, abiding within us, his love flowing through our hearts and out to others, all we need do is open our hearts sufficiently to receive and share him. Without God we’re nothing, hollow beings plodding our way through life with personal agendas, living on the basis of a ‘me first’ attitude. Even when carrying out kind deeds, if we’re honest with ourselves, is it in truth so that we can receive congratulation and acclaim rather than magnify God? Paul was suggesting to the Phillipian church that they were to put aside selfish ambition and seek only to serve God through their good works, treating people with an unconditional love, rather like the good Samaritan who did not seek personal gain, but demonstrated a selfless love for others.
The challenge for us today, just as the church of Philippi was challenged centuries ago, is to live life with our hearts open to God, unconditionally loving others just as Jesus was unconditionally loving to us. Jesus died a criminal’s death despite being a faultless man, and he did so purely to reconcile us to his Father, this being the ultimate example of unfailing, selfless love. Christmas signifies the birth of this Jesus, it’s our prayer at Stonehaven Baptist Church that amongst the presents, turkey and stuffing we all enjoy, we might find time to acknowledge God’s unconditional love for us all demonstrated in the gift of Jesus.