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Sharing the Gift
This morning, we’ll wrap up our series “Receiving the Gift” with “Sharing the Gift,” a final lesson from the shepherds present for the birth announcement of Jesus. We’ll talk about the first evangelists and how excited they were to share the good news about the birth of the baby Messiah they had found in Bethlehem.
Evangelism is a topic that is a struggle for most Christians. We don’t do it enough to get comfortable with it, and most of us resign ourselves to the fact that “it’s just not my gift.” I’ll let you in on a secret—it’s not mine either. Every time I take one of those gift assessments, Evangelism is way at the bottom. I’m not naturally evangelistic. I have to force myself to think of ways to share faith, be bolder than I’m comfortable, etc. But, guess what? The fact that it’s not our gift means literally nothing. The Great Commission wasn’t given to only those with the gift of Evangelism. Jesus told everyone to do it. The shepherds weren’t worried about it being their gift, either. I’m sure they didn’t stop to think about if they were qualified, knew enough to say the right things, or knew the answers to the questions people would ask. They just did it. How about us? What’s your excuse? How could you better share the gift? Join us this morning as we look at the shepherds and their enthusiasm for this great discovery they just made.
Free Is Free
Free is Free
Has anyone ever given you anything and not wanted anything for it? Ever tried to pay them for it? This actually just happened to me the other week. I think most of us struggle to accept gifts from people…it’s in our nature to earn things. We are told from the time we are little children that we need to work for what we have, so we display good behavior to get a treat and do chores or jobs to earn money, all with the understanding that we “worked for it.”
In almost every human scenario, this is a good thing. We teach our children positive qualities like work ethic, not taking what isn’t ours, fairness, etc. But, in God’s economy it doesn’t work. The problem is, we started with a debt we could never pay off. There’s a story in Matthew 18 Jesus tells about a servant who was forgiven an unpayable amount of money. The debt was so much that it would take multiple lifetimes to pay it back. It was so much that, in preparation for an attempt to pay it back, the servant was preparing to be sold into slavery, along with his wife, children and all he had. At the last hour, he is granted forgiveness by his master. This is, in so many ways, a picture of what Jesus has done for us. We started with something so big it would never have been repaid except by our life. At the last minute, when it seemed like all was lost, God stepped in with His Son Jesus.
But, the catch is you can’t pay for it. You can’t earn it. Today, we’ll talk about what this means and why it’s so important that we accept that free is free. Enjoy the gift. Appreciate it. And don’t try to pay for it—you can’t!
Receiving the Gift
Every now and then, I get invitations t give to causes or groups. Some of these I have given to in the past, and some are new. Many times, included in these letters is a promise of a thank you gift for giving. It might be a shirt or a bag, or it might be a bumper sticker, a picture or something decorative. You've probably gotten those letters too...they seem to be a daily occurrence during the holidays.
I have always thought God's gift of his Son Jesus to be incredibly special and unique. It is a no strings attached, no donation necessary, undeserved response to a problem we created! Seriously, when was the last time you messed something up and someone offered to not only fix it, but to do so at their expense! (i.e., Adam and Eve) The gift of Jesus is totally unique, which is why we'll be talking about it for the next few weeks: why He came, what it means for us, and how to accept this most precious gift of all gifts.
This week, and the weeks following, invite a friend. Chances are good that your friends are more receptive about coming to church this time of year more than any other. Tey need to hear about the Most Important Gift! What better time than now, when we are thinking about giving and all that Christmas means?
Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow
As we conclude our Thanksgiving weekend and families begin making their way back home, I wanted to share with you something that began for me a few weeks ago. The other week, on a Sunday or Wednesday night, we were led in a closing song, The Doxology. It had been a while since I last sang it and I began thinking back to singing it as a boy. I have always liked The Doxology for its simplicity and timelessness. It is old—published in 1709—and has been sung for generations. Here are the words:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
The author of The Doxology is Thomas Ken. Thomas was orphaned as a child and was raised by his older sister and her husband. He went to college and entered the ministry, holding several different positions and eventually becoming a chaplain in the court of English King Charles II.
The Doxology was originally written as a common ending to three different songs, but the ending stuck and the original songs are unfamiliar to most today. Its simple call for praise and acknowledgment of God’s blessing is a needed reminder, especially in our abundant modern era. James 1:17 says that every good and perfect gift comes down from the father of lights. As we wrap up our weekend of giving thanks and move into the Christmas season, let us not forget to praise God for every good and perfect gift!
The Old Man and the Gulls
The Old Man and the Gulls
It is gratitude that prompted an old man to visit an old broken pier on the eastern seacoast of Florida. Every Friday night until his death in 1973 he would return, walking slowly and slightly stooped with a large bucket of shrimp. The sea gulls would flock to this old man, and he would feed them from his bucket. Many years before, in October, 1942, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was on a mission in a B-17 to deliver an important message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. But there was an unexpected detour which would hurl Captain Eddie into the most harrowing adventure of his life.
Somewhere over the South Pacific the Flying Fortress became lost beyond the reach of radio. Fuel ran dangerously low, so the men ditched their plane in the ocean. For nearly a month Captain Eddie and his companions would fight the water, and the weather, and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts. The largest raft was nine by five. The biggest shark...ten feet long.
But of all their enemies at sea, one proved most formidable: starvation. Eight days out, their rations were long gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them. And a miracle occurred. In Captain Eddie's own words, "Cherry”—that was the B- 17 pilot, Captain William Cherry—"read the service that afternoon, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off. Something landed on my head. I knew that it was a sea gull. I don't know how I knew, I just knew. Everyone else knew too. No one said a word, but peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at that gull. The gull meant food...if I could catch it."
And the rest, as they say, is history. Captain Eddie caught the gull. Its flesh was eaten. Its intestines were used for bait to catch fish. The survivors were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, uncharacteristically hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice. You know that Captain Eddie made it. And now you also know...that he never forgot. Because every Friday evening, about sunset...on a lonely stretch along the eastern Florida seacoast...you could see an old man walking...white-haired, bushy-eyebrowed, slightly bent. His bucket filled with shrimp was to feed the gulls...to remember that one which, on a day long past, gave itself without a struggle...like manna in the wilderness.
—Paul Aurandt, "The Old Man and the Gulls", Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story, 1977, quoted in Heaven Bound Living, Knofel Stanton, Standard, 1989, p. 79-80.
Walk4Water Fundraising Goal Surpassed
Thank you, Woodsfield!
We are thrilled to share that you and your community raised $10,910 for clean water! That's enough to provide a community with a clean water well and a survival gardening workshop!
Your generosity will supply clean water for THOUSANDS of men, women, and children. With the life-saving gift of clean water, people will be equipped for a better quality of life and more opportunities will become available for their families. The team at Healing Hands International is extremely grateful to be in partnership with you.
There Are No Words
There Are No Words
“There are no words.” After the events of this past week and the passing of our beloved Butch, that phrase kept coming up in my head and out of my mouth. As a minister, sometimes you feel like “Bible Answer Man.” People ask you for help remembering a passage they are trying to think of, they ask you if you can send them verses on something they are struggling with, they call you if they’re trying to work through a Bible question or a detail about a Bible story. But, there are times when even the preacher doesn’t have the answer. This would be one of those. I struggle with words to explain how a healthy middle-aged man with a wife, three young daughters and a beautiful grandchild can be making a trip home from work—one he has probably made thousands of times in his life— and be at the wrong place at the wrong time and not make it home. Many of us this past week have asked (or shouted, or cried), “WHY?” I think that’s a perfectly legitimate question, even when shouted. The story of Job has always gotten me. It is a story of tragic loss, illness, and Job’s quest to make sense of it all. We often forget that Job never knew what we know—there was a cosmic argument going on behind the scenes between Satan and God that was the root cause of all of his trouble. In the meantime, Job is left to wonder what is going on. He is told by his friends that it is his fault—he had to have done something wrong. But, Job is innocent and he knows this. At times, Job gets pretty blunt with his friends and with God in arguing his innocence and lamenting his struggle. At one point, in Job 13:15, Job both affirms his faith while at the same time arguing for justice: “Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.” In other words, “I will have faith in God to the very end, but that doesn’t mean I won’t argue my innocence.” I think it’s perfectly normal in these situations to do just that. We can trust God, while at the same time ask “WHY?” God is ok with that. He is ok with Job doing that. A faith that asks the hard questions will, I believe, be deeper and more real in the end. How can it not? We have to let ourselves deal honestly with life, particularly when it’s been unfair.
So, ask the hard questions. Keep your faith in God. You can do both.
The church will be dedicating Sunday, November 12th to Orphan Sunday with the Orphans Lifeline International organization. There is a special contribution flyer and contribution box available in the back of the foyer, if you would like to give.
The Worst Sinner
In I Timothy 1:15, Paul calls himself the “foremost” of sinners. That’s a pretty big label, and today we’ll look at how he got there. As I was preparing for the lesson this week, I was reminded of what Paul says about all of us in his letter to the Romans in 5:6-11. He uses 3 labels to describe the “before Christ” relationship between us and God: “weak,” “sinners” and “enemies.” That last one is pretty jarring—enemies? I never saw myself as an enemy of God. I would imagine most of us probably haven’t either. And yet, in sin, that is exactly how we stand before God. Because of our sinful nature, we were hostile to him before submitting to Christ and having our sins washed away. Jesus literally washes us and puts us in a right standing with God and we become children of God instead of His enemies. Amazing, right?! It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around it sometimes.
Paul goes on to describe the incredible love God has for us. Even while we were weak, sinful enemies of God, He sent His son to die for us. Imagine doing the hardest thing you can think of for the most difficult person you know and you might come close to what Jesus did on the cross. In fact, Paul even says someone might die for a good person, but a sinner? Never. It’s not just Paul. We all have been given this incredible gift. This is how Paul—with his “worst sinner” title—is able to be forgiven. The love of God is greater than my—or anyone’s—sin. That’s good news!