This is the third of five messages inspired by the book The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. The congregation is invited to take out something to write with and the bulletin insert for taking notes. Click here for the Receiving Gifts Insert. The prayer following the message is also located on the insert.
One of the things I enjoy most about Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, are the stories he uses to illustrate his points. Here’s a great one from this week’s chapter on receiving gifts. (pg. 76)
I took an anthropology field trip to the island of Dominica. Our purpose was to study the culture of the Carib Indians, and on the trip I met Fred. Fred was not a Carib but a young black man of twenty-eight years. Fred had lost a hand in a fishing-by-dynamite accident. Since the accident, he could not continue his fishing career. He had plenty of available time, and I welcomed his companionship. We spent hours together talking about his culture.
Upon my first visit to Fred’s house, he said to me, “Mr. Gary, would you like to have some juice?” to which I responded enthusiastically. He turned to his younger brother and said, “Go get Mr. Gary some juice.” His brother turned, walked down the dirt path, climbed a coconut tree, and returned with a green coconut. “Open it,” Fred commanded. With three swift movements of the machete, his brother uncorked the coconut, leaving a triangular hole at the top. Fred handed me the coconut and said, “Juice for you.” It was green, but I drank it— all of it— because I knew it was a gift of love. I was his friend, and to friends you give juice.
At the end of our weeks together as I prepared to leave that small island, Fred gave me a final token of his love. It was a crooked stick fourteen inches in length that he had taken from the ocean. It was silky smooth from pounding upon the rocks. Fred said that the stick had lived on the shores of Dominica for a long time, and he wanted me to have it as a reminder of the beautiful island. Even today when I look at that stick, I can almost hear the sound of the Caribbean waves, but it is not as much a reminder of Dominica as it is a reminder of love.
Over the past few weeks we’ve been talking about the ways people best hear and receive love. Dr. Chapman calls them the 5 Love Languages:
(1) Words of Affirmation
(2) Quality Time
(3) Receiving Gifts
(4) Acts of Service
(5) Physical Touch
Knowing how to love others and putting it into practice is important. It’s so important, Jesus commands us to love one another. (John 13:34-35) Some people feel most loved through what we say and how we say it- through Words of Affirmation. Others feel most loved when we set aside time to listen to them, to have a great conversation, to be fully present to them without distractions- through Quality Time. Still others feel loved when they receive gifts from us. Gifts are tangible symbols of love.
Fred is a great gift giver. His gifts are not expensive or numerous; great gifts don’t have to be. Three things make a great gift:
1. Its Personal
Fred was thinking of Gary’s comfort in offering him the drink. He wanted Gary to feel as welcome as possible in his home. His gift said, “I care about you as a person.”
2. Its Thoughtful
Fred was thinking of Gary when he found the stick. He thought Gary would enjoy its simplicity and beauty and the fact that it was so specific to Dominica. It was such a thoughtful gift, that every time Gary looks at the stick “it is a reminder of love.”
3. Its Generous
Great gifts take time and effort. It took time and effort to climb the tree, to find the stick. Fred lives a humble life. He could have probably sold the stick to a store that caters to tourists, but instead he made a sacrifice and gave it to Gary.
How many of us have received a thoughtless gift or even been re-gifted? Do you feel loved when this happens? Now remember a time when someone gave you a gift that knocked your socks off. Every time you remember it or look at it or use it you remember the love and effort of the person who gave it to you.
An old Nigerian proverb says, “It is the heart that gives; the fingers just let go.” Fred’s gifts were from the heart. Ours should be as well. Why? Because some people feel most loved when they receive a great gift.
Several years ago my husband Ed got me flowers for our anniversary. What made them extra special was that he spent time with the florist creating a bouquet of my favorite flowers. That extra effort showed me how much he loved me. The flowers are long gone, but I still remember and value his gift of love.
We welcome children into our worship services at Community UMC. Often you’ll see them drawing during worship. One Sunday, little Emma gave me one of her works of art. My heart soared when I saw it was a picture of me standing beside the communion table, my hands open wide. The picture also included the bread for communion, a candle, a cross, and a microphone. She was paying attention and she wanted me to know it.
In our congregation we have a group which makes and gives handmade afghans to persons who are going through a rough time or who are ill. Some donate the yarn while others knit or crochet. With every stitch the person is praying for the person who will receive the afghan. The time, effort, skill and intention join together to wrap the recipient in the warmth God’s love and the love of our congregation.
We love because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19) God is the ultimate Gift Giver. The sunshine to welcome us into a new day. A blanket of stars to settle us for sleep. Needed rain and the fruit of good earth and the gift of life itself.
Matthew 7:9–11 NRSV
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
And the way God most perfectly shows us love? Through the gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (John 3:16)
Jesus’ birth is God’s love given so we could see it.
Jesus’ life is God’s love given so we could believe it.
Jesus’ death and resurrection is God’s love given so we could receive it and live it.
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
In the story of the feeding of the five thousand, we see God’s love at work in Jesus and his followers.
Mark 6:30-32 NRSV
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
Jesus loves the disciples by offering them quality time for conversation, rest and being present to one another.
Mark 6:33-34 NRSV
Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
Jesus has compassion and love for the crowds, offering them words of affirmation and truth.
Mark 6:35-44 NRSV
When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
Like Jesus, the disciples too are concerned for the people and their welfare. Jesus tells them to show their love by giving the people food. The disciples feel overwhelmed with the challenge, knowing their offering is far too small. Yet they hand it to Jesus, who blesses it and multiplies it and it is enough. It is a good gift- personal, thoughtful, generous.
How many of us feel our offerings of love are too small? Our society says gifts are only valuable if they expensive and if they are many. Take courage! Our loving gifts when combined with God’s are more than enough.
O. Henry wrote a powerful short story called The Gift of the Magi. It’s about two poor, young newlyweds. Della’s prized possession is her beautiful, long, flowing hair. It’s grown almost to her knees. Jim’s prized possession is a shiny, gold watch which belonged to his father and grandfather. Each plot separately to give a Christmas gift that will express their love. Della decides to sell her beautiful hair in order to buy Jim an expensive chain for his watch. When he walks through the door of their small apartment, he sees her hair is gone, but he also sees the beaming smile on her face. She’s so excited to give him the gift. He opens it to find the watch chain. He then hands her his gift. She opens it to find beautiful combs for her hair. How has he paid for them? By selling his watch.
The young lovers’ gifts are personal, thoughtful, generous, sacrificial. They are beautiful because they are from the heart. They have a heart for giving because they know the Great Gift Giver. Like them, when we see all that God has done for us, our hearts overflow with thankfulness, generosity and love.
James 1:17 NRSV
Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
We give because God the Gift Giver is at work in us.
One of the joys of being a pastor is when members of the congregation share with me how God is working in their lives. Chad gave me permission to share his story.
Chad does a great deal of work related driving. He was out last week and saw a man on the side of the road with a sign reading, “Anything.” Chad rolls down his window and says, “I don’t have any money, but would you like my sandwich?” The answer is “yes.” Chad gives him the sandwhich and drives away thinking to himself, “I still have my chips and bottle of water for lunch. That will be enough.”
Chad drives further and sees another person by the road with another sign. His heart swells. He rolls down his window and says, “I don’t have any money, but would you like my chips and water.” The person gladly receives them, opening the water and drinking like she’d just crossed desert. Chad thinks to himself, “I can miss a meal.”
Next a woman asks Chad for help. He’s not really supposed to help while on duty but does. When she’s about to head on her way, she thanks him, hands him $10 and tells him to “go have a nice lunch.”
This is the God we love and serve. Not because God gives pays us back with lunch money for our good deeds, but because God gives us a heart full of compassion and love and generosity. We love because God first loved us. We give because God first gives to us. Love well. Live well. Give well.
Know you are always welcome at our congregation, Community United Methodist Church in DeBary, FL. We worship on Sundays at 8am, 9:20am, and 11am. Dress casual and bring the kids.
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