The Gift We Need

The Gift We Need is a short story by Pastor Paul Goedert

It was a time like no other. Christmas. I was nine years old and the magic was still very real to me.  Santa, reindeer, chimneys and everything that goes with it. December was a month filled with family, love, joy, and presents.

OH THE PRESENTS! It seemed like Santa knew not just the things I had asked him for, but all of my secret desires for toys, games and candies! I believed, I wanted, and I got. Christmas was a time of receiving for me. But all of that changed the summer after I turned nine.

My Father was a very important man in our city. He served on the city council, was General Manager of our local bank, and he also taught Bible study at our church. But none of that mattered that summer.

Just like every other July my family went camping over the 4th of July. This year we camped at a state park that we had never been to before. We had a great time, spent nights around the campfire, except for the night that my Dad took us out on Lake Michigan in a boat to watch the fireworks from offshore. It was the best!

A few days after our return my Dad stayed home from work, he told us he had a nasty summer cold, he just needed rest. By the end of the week he was in the hospital, by the end of the month he was gone. The doctor’s told my Mother and older siblings what happened, I couldn’t make any sense of it. All I knew was that he was gone.

School started and things were tough. I missed him terribly, and it showed in my behavior and academics. If I could fight over it, I did. Many days I returned home from school with cuts, scrapes or a fresh black eye. I made sure the other kids did too.

Halloween came, I was uninterested. Thanksgiving came, I didn’t care. But December was approaching, and although I missed my Dad, the thought of all the lights, snow, and Christmas magic gave me a little hope.

Things weren’t just tough for me, my Mother had gone back to work to try and keep us afloat. My Dad’s life insurance had paid off the house, the car and had kept us able to survive for few months. Even I began to notice that things were changing, and not in a good way. Mom’s great meals were being replaced by frozen dinners and fast food. Trips to the movies or the mall got fewer and far between. I could feel the pinch, even as a nine year old boy.

After Thanksgiving my Mom sat me down, told me she needed to tell me something. She began to tell me about how tight our finances were, that we were spending most of what she was making on electricity, heat and groceries. She told me that Christmas would be different this year. She broke it to me that Santa wasn’t real, and that all those gifts had come from my parents. I was devastated, she cried with me. No Christmas this year.

My new reality hurt, and my Mom was trying to make things better. That Sunday we went to church for the first time since my Dad’s funeral. Except it wasn’t our church, we went to the little church down the street from our home, not the church I had always been in, my Mom called it a fresh start, whatever that means.

In our kids lesson that day we learned about Jesus being God’s gift to us. All I could think of was the gifts I wasn’t going to get that year. I knew my Mom would try, but I knew it would fall short of what I had in the past.

Than the hammer fell. Our furnace died two weeks before Christmas, during a record setting cold snap. The last of my Dad’s insurance money and part of what my Mom had saved went to pay for a new furnace. There went Christmas, although my Mom jokingly added that Christmas can’t be fun if you freeze.

Christmas Eve came, the meal was small and unsatisfying. My Mom explained there simply wasn’t enough to splurge on a big meal. The answer left me as empty as the meal. I yelled that I wish Dad was still here,  that he could fix anything, that we would’t be in this mess and Christmas wouldn’t have been ruined if he was alive. As I stomped off to my room for the night, I was the first of what I now know to be many tears that fell from her eyes that night.

My body woke me up at 6am, just like every other Christmas morning. I almost jumped out of bed to run downstairs. But reality flooded back to me and I rolled over. A good three hours later, I finally got out of bed and went down to have whatever breakfast I could find.

To my delight, there was a breakfast of thick french toast, bacon, eggs and strawberries put out for us. My brother who had arrived late had stopped and brought some groceries for us to celebrate. I ate the food hungrily and thought that maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. Than I walked into the living room. Disappointment swept over me.

Under the tree, instead of wrapped presents, there were cans of vegetables, fruit, boxes of baking mix, and even some spaghetti noodles. I didn’t understand. My Mom was sitting in my Dad’s chair and she smiled at me, wished me a Merry Christmas, and asked me to sit with her. I sullenly complied.

My Mom opened her Bible and began to read the Christmas story from Luke to me. As I listened, it felt like every Christmas before. This was a tradition and I felt normal for the first time in months. When she finished, she handed me a small wrapped box. It was the only wrapped gift I received that year from her. She looked at me and said “I hope you like it, I know its your favorite.”

I tore into the box, and quickly confusion set in. It wasn’t a toy, a video game, or candy. It was a box of corn muffin mix. Jiffy corn muffin mix to be exact. She was right, it was my favorite, we always had it with chili, fried chicken, and with whatever I could convince my Mom to make it with. I loved corn muffins. But it wasn’t what I wanted.

My Mom looked down and saw my confusion, but she didn’t shed a tear, she simply said “Sometimes the gifts we want, aren’t the gifts we need. I know you want toys, and sports equipment and candy. But right now those are only wants. This box of corn muffin mix is something you need. Not just the food, but the memories, the goodness, the positive feelings that go along with it. I wanted to give you something you needed this Christmas.”

“All of these cans and boxes under the tree, these are my gifts to you this year. Just like God gave us Jesus, to show us love and light, to bring us hope. That is why all this is under the tree. What we need is always greater than what we want.”

I looked around, what I had discounted before became clear to me now. These just weren’t cans of vegetables and fruit. There were cans of sweet corn and green beans, my favorite vegetables. I saw peaches and pears! My favorite cereal was there too, as well as my favorite meal, spaghetti! My Mom had gotten me all of my favorite foods for Christmas. I looked at her with a new understanding.

That Christmas I learned something, it’s not the gift we want that brings us joy or peace or even love. It’s the gift we need. With this new understanding of Christmas and God, I soon gave my life to Jesus. All because of that box of corn muffin mix.

Every Christmas after that, even now as I have children of my own, there is one small box for each. There are still toys, game, and candy. But one box for each gets opened before all the rest, that box is always corn muffin mix. To remind us of the gift we need, family, love, hope, the gift of Jesus.

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GL Kid’s Journal – July 2017, Week 1

Bible Story: 1 Samuel 17

Bottom Line: God Made You to Be You

Memory Verse: For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

Life App: UNIQUENESS—discovering who God made you to be so you can make a difference.

Basic Truth: I can trust God no matter what.

The first two weeks of July have been a blast in GL Kid’s We are continuing our theme of Gadget’s and Gizmo’s, but this month the focus is on how God has created each of us with our own unique talents, personalities and individual purposes. We really want the kids to understand that God’s creativity is evident not only in the physical world, but also can be found in each and every one of them.

Like all of our lessons, they are based upon a story from the Bible. This one is a very familiar story, one that we all know. The story of David and Goliath.

There were some powerful things we can learn from this story. First off we learn that God can use anybody, big or small, king or shepherd, warrior or poet to bring about His glory. Second we learn what happens when we have faith in God, verbalize that faith AND we take actions that show that faith, God honors and delivers. But it’s the third lesson that we really wanted to show the kids.

When David told King Saul that he was going to not only fight this giant, but defeat him, Saul offered David his armor and his weapons, preparing David for the battle in front of him. David considered these items, tried them on, but in the end wasn’t comfortable. The armor was too heavy and David couldn’t move. The sword was unwieldy, and David had no confidence in using it. So David told Saul that he wouldn’t fight with the King’s armor. That he would face this giant with what he had confidence in.

David had some unique experiences for a young man. As a shepherd he had defended his Father’s flock against bears and lions, and he had done so with staff and a sling. A unique choice for fighting off such powerful animals. David had confidence in the abilities and gifts that God has given him, and even more so he had confidence in the God that had given him those gifts. David made the unique choice again, this time to face the giant warrior Goliath, with a staff, a sling with a few smooth stones, and the power of God behind him.

We all know how this ends. God rewards David’s faith and boldness with a victory against Goliath, the Philistine army is scattered, and David is made a hero! But if not for David’s unique choice, if David had decided to try and fight as someone else, not himself, his victory may have come at a much higher difficulty. David’s swift and dominant win, came because David recognized that God created David to be David. The same way God created you to be you!

This last Sunday we had to missionary guests who shared amazing stories of kids praying and believing for miracles. In one case a little girl prayed for a healing, against the wishes of the woman she prayed for, and God delivered that miracle healing! This week I challenged the kids to look for opportunities to pray with people for the miracles they need, to have the faith that God answers prayers. Even ones that come from the tiniest of us. I challenge you to do the same as a family. Look for opportunities to pray, to believe, to give God the opportunity to show you something amazing.

Pastor Paul

GL Kid’s Journal – June 18, 2017

Bible Story: Genesis 2:19-20

Bottom Line: God Made You to Imagine

Memory Verse: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14

Life App: CREATIVITY – imagining what you could do because you’re made in God’s image.

Basic Truth: I can trust God no matter what.

What a month of firsts! We’ve talked about the first light, the first mountains, the first oceans, the first animals and God’s most special first in the creation story, the first person.

Adam was created in God’s image, with all the creative and physical capabilities to do another first; the world’s first JOB!

Adam was tasked by God to take care of His creation, to tend to the garden and enjoy the fruits of God’s labor. Sounds a lot better than some of the jobs I’ve had!

But like we learned last week, Adam was created by THE Creator, in HIS image! God knew Adam needed more to do than pull weeds and take walks. Adam needed to be able to flex the creative muscle and use the imagination that God gave him. So God gave Adam a second job… to name all of God’s other creations.

So time out for a second. One of my favorite things making its way around social media circles are the memes with alternative animal names. Adam had to name every creature on the face of the earth. He looked at the tortoise and said (in perfect English of course), “Hello, tortoise.” Adam saw birds with beautiful feathers and exclaimed “Parrots!” Us? This is the best we can do…

animal-kingdom-trash-panda-raccoon

But I digress.

God also made Adam a helper, Eve. Although they couldn’t create something from nothing, they could use all the imagination and creativity God had put into them and see limitless possibility.

These jobs God gave Adam, they are ours today as well, we are still tasked with caring for God’s creation, both the animals and all of the rest as well. God made all of us to create and to imagine. Stop and think  and dream with your child on how you can use your imagination to help make this world better. The only limit to what we can do is the limit of our imaginations.

Throughout the Bible, God gives jobs to his people. Moses was to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. Solomon, to build the temple. John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus. Paul was to go to the Gentiles and spread the story of Jesus. And that’s a job that we share as well. Jesus gave us a job to go into all the world and share the gospel. There is no unemployment in God’s Kingdom! We all have a job to do.

This Sunday we wrap up our month focusing on creation and creativity with another first… and this one is not so fantastic.

See you next week!

Pastor Paul

GL Kid’s Journal – June 11, 2017

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Bible Story: Genesis 1:26-2:1-25

Bottom Line: God Made You

Memory Verse: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14

Life App: CREATIVITY – imagining what you could do because you’re made in God’s image.

Basic Truth: I can trust God no matter what.

Well, we certainly had an adventure this week in GL Kid’s! With the arrival of summer vacation for most of the kids, the launch of our new check-in system and the introduction of a couple of new youth volunteers, our plate was full and overflowing!

This is the first of our weekly journals on whats happening in GL Kid’s, we want to keep parents, family and church up to speed on what the kids are learning and how they are growing. If I can draw your attention to the box above. You will see these five categories every week in the journal entry: Bible Story, Bottom Line, Memory Verse, Life App, and Basic Truth. Three of these are unique to our teaching style. The Bottom Line is our big idea for the week, we want the kids leaving knowing this. The Life App is our monthly life application for the theme. The Basic Truth is is focused on 1 of 3 basic truths we will be teaching the kids, this changes with each lesson.

In June and July our overall theme is Gadgets & Gizmos, with a focus on creativity in June. God is creative, we learned this week that because our God and creator is creative, than we each have a spark of creativity in us as well. Wether that spark is in artistic creativity, mechanical, culinary, musical, writing or a host of other creative ideas and thoughts. God created us to be creative, that is why he gave Adam rule over the Earth (Genesis 1:28-30), because he could be creative, think of new things, and help God’s new creation flourish and grow. God’s creation spawns creativity.

When we talk of sunsets, we speak of how God painted a perfect sky. Mountains, God sculpted them beautifully. And He crafted forests, rivers, oceans all with the creative eye of a master artisan.

God created us with the same care and thoughts. Our systems and bodies are so complex.  We were created with eyes, ears, noses, tongues, and fingers, all with which we can take in and experience God’s creation. The Father designed us with muscles, tendons, joints, and bones, so that we can work and mold this wonderful art project God made.

But ultimately the human form, was created in God’s image. And that means something else as well. 

A Rube Goldberg invention is a complex machine that does a simple action. If you have ever played the game Mouse Trap, than you have seen a Rube Goldberg invention at work. The human form, physically, spiritually and emotionally is essentially a Rube Goldberg invention. An amazingly complex machine, that does something incredibly simple.

God created us to be in His own likeness, He created us to be like Himself. That doesn’t mean we look exactly like God, so what does that really mean? 

We used Mr and Mrs Potato Head to help us tell the story of creation. See their feet? God gave us feet so we can stand strong and be courageous. Courage let’s us be brave enough to do what we should do, even when we are afraid. 

God also gave Adam arms. Our arms can be used to reflect who God is, a God of love. There are so many ways we can use our arms to show others God’s love. The kids had some great ideas. We can use our arms to hug someone when they are sad or just to show them we love them. We can help our parents, family and neighbors with work around their homes. We can hold doors, cook meals, and my personal favorite, we can even us them to give high-fives to each other!

God gave us a mouth too, you’re probably thinking how is my mouth made in the image of God. But it’s true! We can honor others with the way that you speak about them and the way you speak to them. We can also honor God as well with our prayers, praise and song! But before we can tell people how we value them, we have to see the value in them first.

So it’s a good thing God gave us eyes to see others the way that He sees them. In fact, we can use the eyes and ears that God gave us to live our lives with initiative, which means seeing and hearing what people need, and doing it.

These are all gifts that were given to us in God’s great creation plan, and now we can use these gifts in God’s amazing plan of restoration and redemption. God has made us in a wonderfully, complex manner, to do something very simple: LOVE OTHERS. 

Pastor Paul

 

Suffering & The Christian Response

A couple weeks ago in response to fellow workers recent loss, a co-worker said to me and those within earshot, “Humor equals tragedy plus time.”, a statement that I told him was probably one of the most ignorant things I had ever heard. I know that he was quoting Mark Twain, that doesn’t change the way it made me feel about what he said. Days after a co-worker lost a grandparent it was tasteless and rude to say. What bothered me the most is how un-shocked and desensitized he seemed to have become to other peoples sufferings.

Last Sunday I spoke about Nehemiah, specifically Nehemiah’s response to the destruction and ongoing state of Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been in a state of ruin for hundreds of years, but time didn’t separate the grief that Nehemiah felt when presented with the truth of it’s ruin. In Nehemiah 1:4 (ESV) it says

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

Nehemiah was deeply affected by the tragedy of the city of his fathers, he wept, fasted and prayed for many days. He was wrecked by the grief and sadness. But his sadness would not fix anything in Nehemiah 2:5 he dresses the king and says

“If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.”

Nehemiah didn’t stop at sadness, he took action. He asked the king if he could go and do something about it, and even asked for all the materials needed to complete the task. Nehemiah saw a need, was moved to grief by it, and moved into action about it.

Sorrow, tragedy and suffering are parts of everyday life, some more poignant than others, but all weigh heavy on God’s heart.

In his 1943 novel Perelandra, C.S. Lewis writes of a mans journey to Venus, where he finds a perfect Eden like environment, no death, no evil, no sin. It is all interrupted when another visitor comes with the express purpose of introducing sin and corrupting the Queen of this innocent world. The main character, Ransom, humble upon a horrifying sight. A frog, brutally injured and left to suffer. The first evil done in a sinless, innocent world, Lewis writes this of Ransom’s thoughts at the time:

“It would have been better, or so he thought at that moment, for the whole universe never to have existed than for this one thing to have happened.”

Ransom was so devastated by the brutality and suffering he sees, that he wishes that nothing had ever been created, if it meant that this heinous act could have been avoided.

Sometimes, I think the same thing. Sin has brought such pain and suffering into our world, sometimes it seems it would be better if God had never even created us.

In 2015, there were for 14 recognized military conflicts, and 396 recognized terrorist attacks. 783 million people on this planet do not have access to clean water. 795 million people do not have access to food to maintain proper nourishment. Sin has brutalized this world, sin that mankind brought into it.

As Christian’s we have two possible responses to this. First, we can be sad and bemoan the state of the world and its godlessness, casting all blame on those who don’t believe, Satan, or even the government. Secondly, we can do our part.

In Perelandra, Ransom doesn’t stop and sit in a quiet puddle of his tears. He gets up and moves on, finding more and more of the same brutal work, until he finds the man responsible talking to the Queen, trying to convince her that his ways are better. Ransom steps in, and does what he can to remind the Queen that the innocence of life, and the wishes of her Creator are far better.

You don’t have to go around the world to know people are suffering and have it break your heart. Nehemiah had never even been to Jerusalem, yet he mourned over it. People are hurting in your nation, your city, your church, even in your own homes. What is your response going to be?

#day2: Response

  
What’s your response? When you approach the King how do you respond? The wise men were filled with joy as they drew near to Jesus, joy that turned to worshipful adoration. As we approach Jesus daily do we do it in joy? Do we fall down in adoration? The presence of Jesus brought rejoicing and worship from many. Our response should be equal to His presence.