In the summer of 1981, my wife and I arrived with our toddler at the CLB Annual Convention with great anticipation. We had been called by Lutheran Brethren International Mission to go to Taiwan and begin a ministry among the Hakka Chinese. I resigned my position in Seattle as associate pastor; we disposed of most of our belongings and packed what we planned to ship to Taiwan. Then we said our goodbyes, moved out of our Seattle apartment and drove to the convention.
Due to the economic downturn in 1981, there was a severe financial shortage. This forced the convention to pass a budget that did not include us! We were stuck! We could not go back, and our way forward was blocked!
Our dilemma was solved a month later when a young couple from Wisconsin heard about our situation and offered a gift of $1,000 per month (close to $3,000 in today’s economy), thus enabling us to go to Taiwan that fall. We had been stopped, but their very generous gift opened the way. It was a perfect gift!
As people whom God created, we are meant to be with him—to enjoy fellowship with him, unfettered by sin and shame. But our life purpose is blocked by the sin we inherit and the sin we ourselves commit. We are STUCK! Nothing we can do will make a path forward toward our purpose. Much worse than our 1981 dilemma, we are lost “without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
In Genesis, God promised to bring a solution to our dilemma. He told Abram that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). Over and over again this promise was threatened by enemies from without and within. While many times it seemed that the promise was lost, the glimmer never died. Then, just at the right time (“when the set time had fully come”—Galatians 4:4) in God’s plan, when things looked so dark, the Promise burst forth and the greatest gift was given: Jesus was born!
Jesus’ birth set in motion this great salvation event—the Promise of God had arrived! He came in humility and gentleness. There was a crescendo as Jesus demonstrated power and authority in his life, death, and the resurrection!
The Apostle Paul states it so well in Ephesians 2. His basic message is: We were dead but God made us alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5). Of course there is much more to these verses—words that carry great meaning regarding our hopelessness and God’s great love and mercy; words that deserve our study. But as we distill the essence of these verses, we see the stark problem that was solved by the gift given.
We were dead (period)! There is nothing a dead person can do. He cannot will himself to be alive. He cannot even ask to be made alive. He is stuck! He cannot go forward, nor can he go back. He is DEAD! The gospel words that follow ring with triumphant music: “But God.” The young couple graciously intervened in our 1981 dilemma. But God intervened so much more in our tragic state of being DEAD! He made a way forward by making us alive in Christ! “It is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
The wonderful traditions surrounding our Christmas celebrations sometimes obscure the profound gift that was given when “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). However, even if all of the trappings of Christmas disappear, all we need is this message: We were dead, but God made us alive in Christ! This is a gift given that surpasses all other gifts!
Dr. Joel Nordtvedt works for International Students, Inc. in Phoenix, AZ. He helps international students adjust and enjoy their college experience in the United States while teaching them to understand the Bible and proclaiming to them the good news of our Savior Jesus Christ.