Special Offering Sunday

We celebrated our annual Special Offering Sunday at church today. It was wonderful time of worship and drawing close to God. Everyone cheerfully gave a sacrificial gift to be used for advancing and growing the church worldwide, and also for special projects that are helping those less fortunate abroad. For many years disciples have given over and beyond what most non-Christians would say is foolish. I think unexpected gifts make God the most happy. 1 COR 1:18 says the message of the cross is foolishness to those that are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.

It’s days like today that remind me of different events that happened to me growing up. When I was a small child in New Jersey, around Christmas-time each year, my family would take drives to neighborhoods that had giant light displays. There was this famous house a few towns away who would have the most spectacular animated displays and decorations. You could see it from a mile away and it would grow every single year. People would come from cities miles around to see this house and the traffic would wind for blocks. Several years later, when I became a teenager, we planned a trip to this special house and when we got close enough, my dad noticed  the owner shoving a small plastic bucket in each car window as they got to the front of the home… My dad was livid and went on and on about what a jerk the homeowner was for asking for donations to see his decorations. He said he was going to give the guy a piece of his mind when he got to the house and he certainly wasn’t giving him any money… As a teen, You know how embarrassed your parents can make you feel, and I just wanted to leave, but my father insisted. When we got to the front of the house, the homeowner shoved the plastic bucket into the car window… And it was filled with candy canes for us to take…  Unexpected gifts can happen anywhere…

I have a another story about an unexpected gift. It also starts with a very young child. A mother’s first Jewish marriage failed after just 2 years and she remarried shortly thereafter to another older Italian man with 4 other children already. The boy was confused, his last name was changed to a new one, but he really liked the homemade Italian food his new grandmother made and his new brothers and sisters. Up until that time, this child didn’t know a lot about religion, but that changed abruptly when he turned 11 and his Jewish grandparents insisted that he needed a Bar Mitzvah. He was very confused since this religion thing wasn’t discussed before. They even celebrated Christmas and Easter. The boy was very active in sports and had just co-starred in a HS musical as a 7th grader, but was told that instead of those fun after school activities, he would be exclusively going to Hebrew school and start studying for the ceremony for when he turned 13, and he had no choice in the matter. He discovered that this entailed learning the Jewish history, heritage, and Hebrew language, so that 2 years later, he could sing a bunch of memorized prayers in front of hundreds of people he didn’t know. He hated everything about it ! That’s where he got to know Mitch Berger. Until that time, he had seen him in middle school and noticed he was bullied a lot. Now he realized that he was being bullied because he was the only Jewish kid in this school (well, besides this confused 11 year old).  And no one was going to find out if He had anything to do with it… They called Mitch horrible names and punched him. He actually smiled through it all and took it better than most would’ve. The horrified boy just prayed to God that this time would go by quickly and no one would find out about this secret that he and Mitch were the same. Both boys turned 13 at about the same time and Mitch’s Bar Mitzvah was 1 week before his and the rabbi wanted him to observe and learn from Mitch’s ceremony. Right before the event, the rabbi approached Mitch and handed him the most ornate gift box imaginable with beautiful bows and wrapping, and asked him to open it. He slowly reached in pulled out the shiniest, most spectacular gold watch anyone has ever seen, and he thought… “Maybe, this would all be worth it in the end…”  He was so envious of Mitch, who was so excited about the gift and had so many of his friends and relatives there. The other boy had invited only 2 people to his ceremony and was not excited, but now couldn’t wait until he got his gold watch the following week. Finally that day came and sure enough, right before the ceremony, the rabbi came to him with the ornate present with the beautiful bows and wrapping. He eagerly opened the gift and saw the shiny gold, but it wasn’t the watch he expected… it was a necklace with a Jewish star on it. The absolute LAST thing he’d ever want or knew he could wear if he wanted to keep his secret. He was so disappointed and couldn’t wait for the day to end, and when it did, he took off the necklace, the only time he’d ever worn it, and told his parents he wanted nothing to do with religion for the rest of his life. They said since he’d done what was asked, this would be ok with them. From 13 to 31, he had nothing to do with religion. If fact, that young man was still quite angry whenever religion would be brought up, however God was still orchestrating his life so that later on, he wouldn’t remain distant. In fact, it says in 2 Samuel 14 that God devises ways to let the estranged and banished not remain estranged or banished…  

Earlier in his marriage his wife once called him the most hard hearted person she’d ever met, but all that changed. On a stormy night on July 24, 1994 I received another unexpected gift. I was baptized and received the gift of the holy spirit. The best gift I ever received.     May today’s gifts and offerings bring others closer to God…