The cold weather is starting to show up and fall is in the air. The leaves have changed colors, the weather is getting colder and Thanksgiving plans are all around, but while I know it is November-I want to prepare you for Bethlehem. I know it’s hard to think about Christmas when Thanksgiving has not even gotten here-but this year the Bethlehem Experience begins exactly one week after Thanksgiving. That’s December 5, 6, 7 and 8. That means we have to start on Bethlehem NOW!
For many of you, you were here when it all began. We decided to build and have an opportunity for families here in Buffalo to come and experience what it might have been like the night Jesus was born. Can you imagine the night that Mary and Joseph came into Bethlehem with all the stress and overwhelming knowledge they held to themselves? While there were people around them, they probably went unnoticed. Mary a virgin, approached by an angel and possibly confronted by friends and family who may have thought Mary had lost her mind. Then there was Joseph, a common man, also visited by an angel, having to take a stand with only his faith for support. The town was very busy as people gathered for the census. The sights, smells and busyness clogged the small town that would soon be the sight of the world’s greatest gift.
Our church began the Bethlehem Experience a few years ago, and I believe one of the greatest things to come from it is it allowed our members to highlight many the talents God has given them. It has also allowed many to find a place to serve in our church that some did not know they could. This past week several men came and built the stable for Bethlehem. I am always amazed at the participation and willingness of our church to be used for ministry. This is Biblical as told in Ephesians 4:11-16:
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
When God gave Jesus to us, we have a gift that we don’t deserve but one that we can rejoice in-especially at Christmas. Paul goes on to describe the church or the body of Christ as taking all of us. Not everyone is called to be the teacher or the nursery worker, but all are called to do something. It takes all of us to become what God wants First Baptist to become.
The same is true for the Bethlehem Experience. This takes each and every one of us to make it be what God can make it. If you have not gotten your costume, let the church office know so you can participate. If you have not used your talents, in building, painting, sewing, organizing, promoting, it is time for you to become active in the body. We all are joined by our faith in Jesus and it takes all of us to make Bethlehem into what God can make it. We have scheduled work days to work on Bethlehem on November 21, 22 and November 25. We need you to help us put it together, but there will also be other days announced as the dates get closer.
I know it is hard to think about Christmas in November but help us to make “the reason for the season” evident in Buffalo this year. Participate and invite someone to come to the Bethlehem Experience so they can fully appreciate the greatest Gift ever given-Jesus Christ!
If "one is the loneliest number," then right has to be the loneliest direction. I don't mean right, as in opposite of left. I mean RIGHT...doing the thing that is correct morally, spiritually, biblically. I'm talking about loving the sinner, forgiving the enemy, accepting the repentant. Sometimes doing the right thing can be lonely.
Because the world tells us their sin is too great for us to accept them back in to church... Or their mistakes can not be overcome in a small town atmosphere... Or their life just doesn't live up to the picture of Christianity we've always been told to strive for....so, they don't deserve forgiveness, a second chance, our friendship.
Folks tend to avoid you when you befriend the sinner, but Paul points us to our own sin: judgement. Paul must have been dealing with some of these "do-gooders" when he penned Romans 2. I like how the New Century Version words the passage:
1 If you think you can judge others, you are wrong. When you judge them, you are really judging yourself guilty, because you do the same things they do. 2 God judges those who do wrong things, and we know that his judging is right. 3 You judge those who do wrong, but you do wrong yourselves. Do you think you will be able to escape the judgment of God?
Nope, it's a much easier route to just "thin those sinners from the herd" and keep living in our own little churchy world where we're "pretty good people" who don't sin much and who just love Jesus! Why is that? Why do we often turn our backs on those who have sinned publically? We don't want to be tainted by their sin? It could hurt our own reputation... Maybe being with them reminds us of our own sin.
But Paul goes on to say that it is God's own kindness, tolerance and patience that leads the sinner toward repentance. (v. 4) What?! I thought judgement, scolding and a good old-fashioned shunning would be the thing that leads a sinner to see and turn from his sin. Hmm, turns out that God's grace (and therefore, our grace as we seek to treat others in the same way as God does) is the best medicine for the sinner. Imagine that?!
I'll bet Jesus felt lonely sometimes, when he ate with the tax-collectors and then faced the turned backs of the Pharisees. After all, He did say in the sermon on the mount:
10 They are blessed who are persecuted for doing good, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. 11 “People will insult you and hurt you. They will lie and say all kinds of evil things about you because you follow me. But when they do, you will be blessed. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because you have a great reward waiting for you in heaven. People did the same evil things to the prophets who lived before you. (Matthew 5:10-11, NCV)
I guess if Jesus could handle a little loneliness sometimes then so can we. Just remember, when we do the right thing, we are never truly alone. Jesus always did RIGHT and He promises to stay right beside us as we strive to live a life that is pleasing to Him.
As I write this newsletter we are preparing for homecoming. This is a special time of year when people try to go back and visit friends and loved ones. Mollie is preparing for a volleyball game and homecoming court for the first time. It is all very exciting and it reminds me of 2 Corinthians 5 where the Bible talks about preparing for a new body. It says "17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" As we continue to prepare, we hope you will come home to First Baptist Church and fellowship with us.
Please stop by our Church Library in the Dorcas classroom and see the books that were added to the collection over the summer. There are about 65 of them! Thank you very much to those who donated. There is a list of the new books in the purple folder on the desk and “New to Our Library” bookmarks in the books on the shelves. To check out a book, just enter the date, book title and your name in the spiral notebook on the desk.
03 Byron Ryder
10 Don Yeates
17 RC Dittmar
24 T.J. Loftin
06 Susan Hawthorne & Cindy Early
13 Jeannine Myers & Mike Heffler
20 Phil Skelton & Bill Womack
27 Gary Danford & Brent Williams
Mike & Betty Heffler