“FREE GIFT” shrieks an actor’s voice as the words rise into giant red and amber mushrooms across the television screen. Again, on the computer, I am alerted to ‘Instant Rewards’ or ‘Free gifts’, providing I rush out to buy food- clothing-new car-fuel-discounts or book an airline ticket, now or within limited time. To a degree, such advertising is said to be a win-win situation, but, at the same time, retailers are building and sharing huge databases with people’s personal information. Free?
My frequent response is to think that a real gift, whether for birthday, Christmas or any other time, comes without obligation. And isn’t a gift given from love ‘free’, anyway? Even though tied with glittering ribbon, a gift in the truest sense comes ‘without strings attached’.
In our lesson this week, Romans 5, verse 18 in the King James’ version of the Bible reminds the reader of the most awesome gift of all time: the specific, genuine ‘free gift’ from Heaven:
Therefore, as by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to
condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came
upon all men unto justification of life.
Verse 20 goes on to speak of grace, righteousness and eternal life ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ Indeed, Creator God, Lord of all, Giver of Grace personified is himself the best ‘free gift’ on offer.
From knowledge of our own lives, from falling into Satan’s traps and becoming overwhelmed by weakness and selfishness, deep in our hearts we know our need. We are inhabitants of Planet Earth, subject to suffering and death. Only grace, personified in a divine being, can change us and our destiny.
Mankind, God’s handiwork, can be, will be restored! This is the message of mission stories, of Christian social reformers, preachers and martyrs, of soaring church spires or simple places of hallowed worship. Read a wonderful sermon by Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon. Called ‘Christ glorified as the Builder of His Church’, based on Zechariah 6:13, it was delivered May 2, 1858. Poets, too, from King David on, have long been inspired to speak of the Saviour who can restore God’s image in humankind..
John Donne (1572-1631) wrote in Holy Sonnets: Divine Meditation:
Oh make myself with holy mourning blacke,
And red with blushing, as thou art with sinne;
Or wash thee in Christ’s blood, which hath this might
That being red, it dyes red soules to white.
Gerard Manly Hopkins (1884- 1889) in God’s Grandeur reminds that ‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God’; that the Holy Ghost over the bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.’
English nonconformists from the seventeenth century on contributed greatly to English and American culture. Names like Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, William Cowper, Milton. The list of God-fearing poets continues, including others such as Emily Dickinson, W.H. Auden and Australian poets, James McAuley, Gwen Harwood and Bruce D. Prewer.
Gary Sloan writes that Robert Frost (1874-1963) in his last letter which was written only a few days before he died, insisted that ‘Salvation, we will never have from anyone but God.’ Frost, in his insightful poem, A Steeple on the House, says:
A spire and belfry coming on the roof
Means that a soul is coming on the flesh.
A second key passage, in this week’s lesson is especially worthy of discussion, From the King James Version Acts 17, verses 25- 28 say:
. . . He giveth to us life and breath and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord . . . for in him we live and move and have our being; as certain of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
The reference to ‘one blood’ brings to mind the vision of people like Abraham Lincoln, William Wilberforce and Charles Fox, early opponents of slave trade and discrimination; of white women abolitionists such as Hannah More and Mary Wollstonecraft and unsung quilt makers in America who hung a quilt on their clothes lines to direct escaping slaves to a house of safety. I thought also of African abolitionists such as Ignatius Sancho and Olaudah Equiano; of John Newton, a former slave trader who later wrote ‘Amazing Grace’; of Martin Luther King Jr.
The invasive Internet communicator cannot offer any gift that is non-discriminatory and redeems a captive. There is only one ‘Free Gift’, vibrant with the assurance of abundant life beyond slavery and the grave.
Jesus brings further gifts. What do you choose, or will you let Omniscience decide? Is your preference listed in 1 Corinthians 12? Or perhaps the boxes you would tick are among the following Bible-based examples: To live in a beautiful garden like Eve, be as true to God’s people as was Esther, or be a mother who brings her children to Jesus? Would your desire include caring for the earth and its animals as did Adam, to walk with God like Enoch, or to be noble in character as were Job and Noah before the flood? Or would you choose to be a missionary like Barnabas and Timothy, become another Dr Luke, or have church in your home as did Priscilla in Rome? (Romans 16: 3,5). Perhaps your selection is to or be a dear friend, as was Persis, a woman who ‘worked very hard in the Lord’ (Romans 16:12) or to ever be a loving and faithful follower who feeds on the Word, grows daily in Christ and will be among the throng who ultimately ‘meet the Lord in the air’ (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
When I was a student at Avondale College I noticed that Gwen, with whom I roomed, always prayed immediately after awaking. Her beautiful character and devotion to Jesus impressed me greatly. So much so that, although she died when young, l still think of her every morning, remembering lines by an unknown writer:
Ere you left your room this morning, did you think to pray?
Did you seek God’s loving favour as your shield today?
Consecration to God every morning, ‘your first work’ (Steps to Christ, Chapter 8) is maintenance time for holy gifts that do not tarnish. Walmart or Woolworths cannot offer such, free or at any price. Only Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour of Planet Earth can do that, and more: freedom, forgiveness and sustenance Now; transformation for eternity with reunion and complete renewal at his second coming.
You may like to join me in my prayer
Weave me, Lord, in your loom,
with warp and weft of immortality
as you promise. Take my simple skills
within the dark or sunlit frame of life.
Weave me, shape me strongly, Lord.
I trust your grace to blend in threads of silk
beside unravelled gaps and stitches missed
in wasteful moments of neglect and shame.
Weave me, Lord, as you will.
Blend and braid me, gently twist, entwine.
Form a picture of your lovely likeness
by skeins of gold transformed, all wholly thine.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4812