Thursday, January 15, 2015

Pearls of great price

“Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.  More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things, and regard them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him
                 -          Philippians 3:7-8

Friends of Atonement,

            A lady recently went on Antiques Road Show to show off her collection of baseball cards, which she inherited from her great-great grandmother.  The Boston woman had found the cards, some of them autographed, sitting in a desk drawer.  They depicted players from the 1871 Boston Red Stockings team, which later became the Atlanta Braves – players such as Al Spalding (later to found Spalding Sporting Goods) and Hall-of-Famer George Wright.  With tears in her eyes, the appraiser from the show told the lady on air that her collection was worth about $1 million – making it the most valuable sports memorabilia they’d ever seen on the show.
           Jesus once spoke of a “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:45-46), not just a valuable treasure, but one that would be worth giving up everything you had just to own.  How could anything be that valuable?  It’s hard enough to convince an avid golfer to leave the green, a fishing enthusiast to put away his poles and row for shore, a sports fan to turn off the game, or a music lover to give away her tickets to her favorite band?  Imagine leaving behind everything for a single priceless treasure!  Could you even imagine finding something so wonderful that everything else you valued in life seemed pale by comparison? 

            That’s just what the apostle Paul said about his experience of coming to know Jesus.  Once he realized that Christ is the one who brings all joy, light and beauty to the world, he said he’d gladly set all else aside to keep the Lord in his life.   For the Antiques Road Show appraiser, those old baseball cards were much more than a quaint family memento.  To a proud grandmother, a grandchild’s penciled portrait stuck on the refrigerator is more precious than the original Picasso hanging in the hall.  Those who live by the power of faith wouldn’t trade it for a winning Powerball ticket.

            In Christ we are all blessed beyond belief, and knowing Him makes us more than millionaires.  In this season of Epiphany, we celebrate the treasure of knowing Jesus as our friend and Savior.  As Christians, we’re all called to follow him, just as Peter, James and John did when they left their nets and became “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19); as Philip and Nathanael did when they realized Jesus was our earthly link to God (John 1:51).  But does that mean we have to be like the apostles and walk away from everything in our former life?  Are we supposed to give up everything to possess this pearl of great price?

            God calls us to pursue the life we find most valuable and worthwhile.  He doesn’t ask us to give up beauty and joy, but to find beauty and joy in and through Jesus.  That probably doesn’t mean giving up your house and family or your leisure and fun, and it certainly doesn’t mean to turn away from your responsibilities to others.  However, our desires and priorities should all obey the law that God writes in our hearts (Jer. 31:33) directing us to want Him above all else.

            Your offerings reflect this desire for God which He has placed in your heart.  You could easily spend that money on food, a few rounds of golf or a couple trips out to the movies.  You could put it towards the mortgage, fly up and see your niece or spend it on any of the millions of entertainment options we find here in Florida.  And of course there are countless other charities and worthy causes that invite your donations. 

            But there’s a difference between a donation and an offering.  An offering is a sign of our gratitude to our Lord.  We’re acknowledging that He has come to be our Savior, our King of Kings and Lord of Lords -- our “One Thing Needful” (Luke 10:42) and our “Pearl of Great Price.”  And yet, Jesus still allows us to keep everything else on top of that, hoping that we will use it all for the good of others as well as ourselves.  Obviously, for a Savior like that we should give our best, and give with happy and generous hearts.

            This is exactly what I see happening at Atonement.  People keep putting aside lesser things in their lives in order to help and support the work of God going on at this church.  Just as a family functions by everyone chipping in, this congregation has been able to grow, to reach out, and to serve more people in more ways through the generosity and gratitude of each one of you.  As 2015 presents us with new opportunities for serving our community, I hope it also gives you a new appreciation for that priceless pearl that was placed in your hand through your baptism and new life in Christ!

Thanks for all you do and may God’s grace abound in and around you in this new year!