(Yours truly at age seven--you gotta love the "Little House on the Prairie" dresses that Nicol and I were wearing!)
"For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift—not from works, so that no one can boast."
Ephesians 2:8-9 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
My parents, Jim and Nancy Smith, have been in full-time ministry together since their wedding day on August 15, 1964. Growing up under the wisdom and guidance of the two greatest mentors of Christ I have ever known has been a privilege for me, as it has been for my three siblings. This December, Dad and Mom will celebrate thirty years as missionaries to the Democratic Republic of Congo, carrying on a work first started by my father’s parents, Laban and Marcella Smith, who are both buried in Congo soil.
My parents served at a local church in Dearborn, MI for thirteen years prior to my father signing a record deal with Zondervan’s Singspiration label. For four years before the call to become missionaries to the Congo, my parents believed that the Lord was calling my father into music evangelism after leaving the church in Dearborn. I marvel at my parents’ faith because times were very lean financially for them. They had three little children to feed and clothe, without a steady paycheck coming in. We moved to the island of Grosse Ile, MI when I was seven, and Dad started going on the road with his music.
There was one time period when he was gone that seemed interminable to me. Long distance calls were around thirty cents a minute in the mid 1970s, unless the calls were made after 11 p.m. We children needed to be in bed long before that hour rolled around, so Dad called home two or three times each week before bedtime to talk to the three of us children before Mom tucked us in. We knew the conversations needed to be kept brief because there were three of us wanting to talk. We would ask him where he was, what he had seen, whom he had met, and, most importantly, when he would come home to us. And, always, each of us would ask him this question:
“Daddy, what are you bringing me?”
He would laugh and say, “You’ll have to wait and see!”
Although my parents didn’t have much money, my daddy would always bring me something special. Because of the length of his absence this time, I had a feeling that this time the gift would extra special. I couldn’t wait for the days to go by until his return. I was almost beside myself with the anticipation.
If my memory serves me correctly, we actually picked Dad up at the airport. I seem to recall him walking toward us out of the ramp that connected the airplane and the airport door (obviously pre-9/11 days).
His eyes, brimming with love, caught mine as he stretched out his arms for me. I jumped into them as he twirled me around and kissed me, telling me how much he had missed me. And then he pulled a small, velvet box from his coat pocket and opened his palm. In all my wild imaginings, I hadn’t thought I would get anything in a box that looked like that. Velvet boxes were for Mom. Everything inside them cost a lot of money. I gasped out loud.
“Daddy, is that for me?” I asked in breathless wonder.
“This is just for you, my beautiful girl,” Dad assured me.
I gingerly took the box from him. I wanted the moment to last as long as I could. I slowly opened the lid until the spring popped it wide open. Inside was the most beautiful watch I had ever seen. A watch was for someone who was grown up. Dad was telling me more than he was communicating verbally. I felt so loved.
I threw my arms around him.
“Oh, Daddy, thank you, thank you, thank you!” I said.
My beloved sisters, do you know how loved you are today by your heavenly Father? Do you know the gift He offers to us in His Son, Jesus Christ?
I have often thought of the little seven-year-old girl who longed for her daddy’s gift. My daddy did not disappoint me. But what would have happened if I had stood there paralyzed in front of him, unable to take the watch my daddy had so carefully and lovingly picked out for me? Is that what I do with my heavenly Father? How heartbreaking it would have been to both my father and me if I would have turned away that day, not believing that watch was mine, chosen for me by my father. Can’t we see our foolishness in not believing that we are precious, chosen, and so utterly loved by our God today?
Have you made God your heavenly Father? The gift He offers is reconciliation with Himself through the shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. We bring absolutely nothing to the table. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, offers the gift of salvation and abundant new life if we simply confess our sins and believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. When did God make a way for this gift--when we were perfect? No! Romans 5:8 says:
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
We can never be good enough. We must confess with our mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in our hearts that God the Father raised Him from the dead for our salvation. And not just salvation from the punishment our sins deserve, but salvation that makes this difficult life worth living. Salvation that gives us purpose and a high calling, that allows us to see life through the eyes of eternity. We are not just here for seventy or eighty years, praise God, to live and die without hope. Jesus is our hope.
Until we believe that we are loved, we will never act as though we are loved. And until we act as though we are loved, we can never live out our God-given purpose under the eyes of the One who has called us to it. Let’s stop being consumed with our fears and press on to win the prize of our heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. Whatever we need for our earthly race is found in the palm of our heavenly Father's outstretched hand. My darling sisters, let's take that gift and believe it is ours!
Jesus, You make us more than we ever could be. We deserve none of what you give to us, but may we believe that through You we are worthy of Your love. Help us to feel embraced by you, hearing You whisper Your great affection for us in our ears. May those words drown out the lies of the enemy today. May the question of our heart today be, “Daddy, what did you bring me?” May You give us the faith we need to accept Your gift as ours so that we can receive it with joy.
If you have just received God's gift of salvation, would you please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org? It would be the absolute delight of my life to know that you are now my sister in Christ.