29th November 2012 by Timothy Tai - CM
For more than 5 years, I had the incredible privilege of working at an inner-city ministry in New York called Metro Ministries. Reaching more than 20,000 kids in New York City alone (and tens of thousands more in countries like Romania, Philippines and South Africa) it’s no wonder why Metro is the world’s largest Sunday School.
Part of what we did on a weekly basis was pick up kids from the projects (i.e. government-subsidized housing for the poor and underprivileged) and take them to church for Sunday School program where they could hear the gospel message and learn God’s word.
Our busiest time by far would be the week before Christmas because every child that attended Sunday School that day would go home with a wrapped Christmas present. For many of the kids that we ministered to, that might be the one and only Christmas gift that they would get that year. So as you can imagine, it’s an extremely big deal to them.
One Christmas, we were on the bus on the way to church when one of my regular kids, a 10 year old boy named Matthew, broke our #1 rule: ‘No Fighting’. He got into a silly spat with a 6 year old boy and in his anger, Matthew kicked the little boy in the mouth. The kids understand that fighting on the bus at any time of the year is a BIG no-no and would result in them being suspended from Sunday School (Most of the kids we worked with came from broken and fatherless homes and as much as we loved the kids, we had to be really strict whenever rules were broken. That’s the only way the inner-city kids would learn to obey them).
However, Fighting on the bus during Christmas week + Giving a little boy a busted and bloody lip = Immediate suspension + No Christmas present. Period. I wanted to turn the bus around and send Matthew home right away but we were running late and had to rush back to the church.
Fast forward now to the end of Sunday School. We're sending all the kids back home and giving them their presents as they get off the bus. We get to Matthew's stop and one of my workers on the bus mistakenly gives him a present as he's getting off. He knows very well that he’s fortunate to not have missed out on Sunday School today. He deserved to have been suspended from the bus instead of going home with a Christmas present. So I take the gift away from him, pull him aside and say:
Me: You know you don't deserve to get a present after what you did today.
Matthew: … (speechless and looking very downcast and forlorn)
Me: Give me one good reason why I should give you your present.
Matthew: … (pauses and thinks for a long long while) Because it's Christmas?
Me: It may be Christmas but you still don't deserve this present… BUT I'm going to give it to you anyway because that's exactly what God did. He gave us a present you and I didn't deserve when He gave us His son Jesus. More than anything, I hope you understand that this Christmas.
And so I put the present back in his hand, wished him Merry Christmas and sent him on his way. I don't know if he grasped all that I was saying to him but he seemed to get it. I can only hope and pray that he did. I wonder though: Do WE even realize the magnitude of what God did for us? Is there anyone among us who truly deserves God's gift to us in the first place?
Honestly, what DID we ever do to deserve God sacrificing His son Jesus on the cross to pay the price for our sins? Absolutely nothing. The bible tells us in Isaiah 64:6 that “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags”. That means every 'good' deed, charitable work and act of kindness that we have ever and will ever perform, all of that put together does not even come close to warranting God's generous act towards us.
Instead, we have done EVERYTHING in the world to NOT deserve God's gift to us. Instead of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, we have wandered away from our Heavenly Father and we have made ourselves the authority of our own lives. We do what is right in our own eyes and live our lives the way we see fit.
We have become lovers of pleasure and lovers of money and our stomachs have become our god. Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and Romans 6:23 goes on to say that “the wages of sin is death BUT that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”. We deserve punishment but God gives us the gift of His son that we may have eternal life. Wow. What a good God He is indeed!
As we busy ourselves with Christmas preparations over the next 4 weeks, let’s not forget the most important gift of all. It’s the one present that none of us deserve but God gave it to us anyway because it’s the very one gift that all of us need: His son Jesus Christ.
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