December 9, 2018
Pastor Jeff Struecker
One of the greatest gifts that I’ve ever been given in my life, I got as a sergeant when I was still in the Army serving in the Ranger Regiment. One of my best friends at the time, who was probably closer to me than my own relations, gave me a gift. It didn’t come wrapped in a box. This wasn’t a gift under the Christmas tree when I was a kid. This wasn’t even a gift from a family member. This was somebody who knew me well. When he got this gift, he thought of me. He made a copy and he handed this gift to me and said, “Jeff, I’m convinced you would like this. So, I want you to have a copy of this booklet that has just been circulating around our circles for a while.” This friend of mine, Rick Merritt, handed me a gift that I consider to this day one of my greatest possessions. I carry this thing around. In fact, for years this was beat up, dog-eared, and loose-edged, and I didn’t even think to put it in a three-ring binder until years after he gave it to me. Inside this little booklet is just Xeroxed page after Xeroxed page of notes that people have been assembling since 1984.
I wrote on the cover of this thing, “The Reasons Why”. It’s the reasons why I did what I did as a sergeant in the Ranger Regiment. Inside this book are Xeroxed copies of paragraphs from other books and type-written notes that guys have been assembling together. Yes, you heard me right. This is before word processors. So, some infantrymen with fat fingers sat down and typed out quotes inside that booklet. To this day, if there was a fire, this is the one thing that I would grab and take with me. I consider it one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given because this was a gift given to me by somebody who knew me really well and who cared a great deal about me. I tried to take that gift and put it into the hands of a lot of other warriors. With a lot of help from friends and from my commanders, I spent almost four years taking that booklet and putting it (pocket- sized) into the hands of warriors so that they could have this gift that somebody gave me. There are thousands of this little booklet floating around that I made up when I was a chaplain.
I’m going to tell you something about gifts today that all of you in this room already know. You don’t really need to be reminded of this, but we’re in the middle of the Christmas season, and maybe this is something that you need to keep in front of you this week. In fact, I’d like for you to go ahead and to write this sentence down. You know this already. You learned this a long time ago when you were a child:The greatest gifts in life don’t come in a box. The greatest gifts don’t come with a bow.
You can’t spend money to buy the greatest gifts. The greatest gifts in life come from the heart. It’s the middle of the Christmas shopping season. If you’ve been out in a North Park Crossing like I have, watch out because there are moms driving minivans at seven hundred and sixty-one miles an hour, trying to go from shop to shop, to shop, to buy gifts for people.
Only God could work in his grand plan. Only he could orchestrate the study through the book of Acts. -when we get to Acts chapter three and we see this amazing gift that somebody’s given. Only God could work it out so that this event would happen at this point in the Christmas shopping season. Today we’re going to be in Acts chapter three. We’re going to start in verse one. We’re going to see a guy who got an incredible gift. He got more than he could ever ask for from Acts chapter three. There are a couple of gifts that are going to just naturally jump out of this true story that you’re going to hear from Acts. Here’s one of the gifts that this guy gets. He gets the dedicated attention of Peter and John when he is in need. Listen to this story.
I. The gift of your attention
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple for the time of prayer at three in the afternoon. 2 A man who was lame from birth was being carried there. He was placed each day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so that he could beg from those entering the temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple, he asked for money. 4 Peter, along with John, looked straight at him and said, “Look at us.” 5 So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” 7 Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong. 8 So he jumped up and started to walk, and he entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized that he was the one who used to sit and beg at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. So they were filled with awe and astonishment at what had happened to him.
The first miracle in this story, if your schedule is like my schedule, is that Peter and John were willing to slow down enough to even notice this guy in need. You have to keep in mind how this story would have gone. This guy was crippled. He got up every day, and he had friends or family who would walk him to the Temple and sit him at the gate. Maybe they sit him on the side of the gate. Maybe they sit him right in the middle of the hallway where you have to walk right by this guy. He can’t work, so he has to beg for a living, which means every day, people are walking by this guy. Every day priests are walking by this guy. Every day Temple workers are walking by this guy. Every day Peter and John are probably walking by this guy. Let’s just assume that they sit him at the same spot every day. Everybody recognizes this guy. Everybody knows who he is. Everybody knows he’s going to ask for money. Maybe you have to step across this guy to get into church.
For whatever reason, this day, Peter and John slowed down enough to give this guy their dedicated attention. You don’t even have to come to church for very long to figure out why this happened. Anybody want to take a guess at what prompted Peter and John to slow down today and to give this guy their attention? Better question: Does anybody want to take a guess at who prompted Peter and John to stop and talk to him? That’s right. The Holy Spirit moved in Peter and John’s hearts before they started to address this guy who has some really significant needs. Every day people just walked by this guy until today because today, Peter and John slow down enough to give this guy their undivided attention. Most of us in this room will never understand how big of a deal it is when somebody gives you their attention, especially when you need it most. I can list for you the number of grown men or the number of women in my extended family whose lives are wrecked because the men in their life couldn’t slow down. Their dads were either divorced, were drunk, or were worse. The things that they wanted most in life was the attention of their daddy, and they never got it. Their lives became a wreck because of it.
What Peter and John really did for this man is remind him that from birth, it may feel like God doesn’t know what you’re going through. Maybe you feel like God doesn’t care about you. But for a brief moment they looked at him, and they let him remember, “God knows who you are. God knows what you’re going through. God still cares about you.” Probably the first miracle in this story long before we ever get to this guy’s legs is that God got ahold of the hearts of Peter and John and caused them to slow down long enough to look at this guy and make an impact.
This happens all the time when Christians start to minister to somebody in their community. It basically goes like this in reverse. You jump in and you start to get involved because something got your heart, and it got your heart because you started to see something for the first time in your life. Maybe there was a need in your community. It’s been there all along, but one day you got up and you left the house and you saw something for the first time. You realized that was the Holy Spirit saying, “Somebody needs to get involved. Somebody needs to make a difference.” As soon as you heard somebody, you realized that the Holy Spirit was saying, “Hey, that somebody is actually you. It’s time for you to step up. It’s time for you to get involved.” You can’t meet the need until you see the need. The first thing that happens is, when you see the need it starts to grab a hold of your heart…which is the second gift.
II. The gift of your heart
But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!”
When you give the gift of your heart to somebody, this is a precious gift that money cannot buy. That’s essentially what we hear going on in the book of Acts chapter three. I want to remind you of how this story goes in verse six because listen to the conversation between Peter and John. These are two pastors who are getting up and going to church, and they don’t have any money. They grab this guy’s attention and they say, “Hey, look at us. We want to talk to you for a second.” You can imagine that this guy starts to get excited, right? Okay, I’m going to get some money from these two. Then they say, “I don’t have silver. I don’t have gold. I’m broke, but what I do have, I’ll give to you.” You can imagine the heartbreak that this guy heard when he found out they’re not going to give him money. But I promise you, when his friends carried him into the Temple that day, he never in his wildest dreams imagined that he would get this gift from them. That man got Peter’s heart this day. That man got more than he could ever ask for this day. It started when he got Peter and John’s attention, and then he got their hearts. Before the day’s over with, he’s leaping up and down and walking out of the Temple on his own two feet.
Church, I need you to hear something from me. I want you to understand this because I am still one hundred percent convinced that God is doing this. I believe God still miraculously heals people in 2018 in the Chattahoochee Valley in such a way that the medical community says, “We can’t explain this.” I’m convinced God still does this. I’m also convinced that God does this through the prayers of his people. But don’t miss this! There are some so-called apostles out there. I’m going to have to be careful that I don’t lose my cool right now. They have the opinion that they own the gift of healing. They heal whoever they choose to heal, whenever they choose to heal them. It is a good thing that I’m not alone in a room with them because I would tell them Acts chapter two makes it very clear. If you want to claim the title, apostle, you have to walk with Jesus from his baptism to his resurrection. If you haven’t done that, you don’t get the title, apostle.
Secondly, God alone is doing the healing. Peter and John do not let the crowd be mistaken. They say, “God did this. We didn’t do this.” So, for those charlatans out there who claim to have the gift of healing, I’d ask them, “Go to the St. Jude’s children’s hospital in Tennessee and heal every one of those kids. In fact, come to my city because there are plenty of people who are broken and need healing. If you can just dispense this on your own.” No, God did this. This man had God’s heart. God had the heart of Peter and John. That’s how this event happened.
This week made me think about this story. September 2,1944, there was a Navy pilot who was flying a mission over the Japanese island of Chi Chi Jima. This is about seven hundred miles south of Tokyo. He’s flying a navy torpedo bomber. As he gets close to the island, the aircraft comes under intense anti-aircraft fire. The aircraft is shot up during this aircraft fire, but incredibly, the pilot’s able to keep the airplane on course to drop his bombs on target before the engines catch fire. When the engines catch fire, the pilot tells the rest of his crew to bail out. The pilot does everything that he can to keep the aircraft afloat just so that the crew can get out, but unfortunately, everybody in the crew is killed exiting the aircraft. Miraculously, this pilot ditches the aircraft at the last second and for hours, Lieutenant George Herbert Walker Bush is afloat in the Pacific until he is picked up by a US Navy submarine, the USS Finback.
Now, for those hours, he is under constant attack by Japanese airplanes. The US flee aircraft in there to try to protect Bush’s life and to help him make it back to the submarine. The USS Finback picked him up at sea and kept him onboard for almost four weeks before they could bring him to land. He had head injuries. He was bleeding from a head wound when they picked him up. His son wrote a book about his daddy. In the book 41 George Bush (43) describes this moment. He says this was a pivotal moment in his father’s life aboard the submarine, the USS Finback because Bush (41) had time to sit around and think. He had time to realize he almost didn’t make it out of that airplane alive. Bush (43) says this about Bush (41), “He thought a lot about how grateful he was for his family. He thanked God for answering his prayers when he needed it most. And he thought about Barbara, the girl he loved and planned to marry.” If you want to know how big of a moment this was on that submarine, when he was elected President, at the inauguration, George Bush (41) invited the families of the crew of his airplane to be there. He also invited the crew of that submarine to be there. He never forgot what those folks did for him when he needed it most.
This guy gets up and goes to the Temple every day hoping that somebody would put a silver or a gold coin in his hand. That’s the best that he can hope for. Maybe now you can imagine how happy he was when Peter and John take the time to give him their dedicated attention and to give him their heart. Imagine how hurt he was when he hears Peter and John say, “I don’t have silver, I don’t have any gold to give you. But what I do have, I’m going to give you.” Then God does a miracle that medical science cannot explain. This man who was born lame gets up and walks. Before the afternoon is over with, he’s running and jumping on legs that are strong enough to carry him. He’s never walked before in his life. If you’re not careful, you’re going to miss the greater gift. It’s not what happened to this guy’s legs; it’s what happened to this man’s soul. That is really the greatest gift today.
III. The gift of your faith
All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized that he was the one who used to sit and beg at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. So they were filled with awe and astonishment at what had happened to him.
When you start to think about some gifts to give this Christmas season, you can give the gift of your attention. That’s extremely valuable. You can give the gift of your heart. But here’s the other gift that I think you ought to consider giving because this is the gift that keeps on giving. Give the gift of your faith. When you hand your faith off to somebody else, they get so excited about it, that they tell another person who gets excited about it and tells another person who gets excited about it and tells somebody else. This gift keeps on giving. Don’t believe me? That’s exactly what the Bible says happened in Acts chapter three.
When you read the rest of the book of Acts, you will see that this event has impact all over the temple and all over the city of Jerusalem. Don’t miss what verse eight is saying. It’s saying that this guy got a chance to get up and to go into the Temple for the first time in his life. In Old Testament law, if you’re crippled, you’re unclean. Since you’re unclean, you don’t get to enter the Temple. So, every day his friends bring him as close to the Temple as they can. They sit him at the gate, and he has to listen from a distance every day of his life until this day when God miraculously heals him. This man is now whole and able to go into the Temple for the first time. Can you imagine the excitement that this man had when he’s entering the Temple that he’s never stepped foot in in his life? He’s jumping, leaping, and praising God. Now everybody around him is seeing it. Everybody’s faith level has just been raised because of this moment when this man was healed in Acts chapter three.
This guy’s excitement was infectious. You can’t miss this! One of the reasons why I love being around guys and gals who are brand new to the faith is because they’re so excited about this good news that they’ve just heard, that they can’t contain themselves. They can’t sit on it. They want everybody to hear what they just heard. They want to happen to their friends or family what just happened to them. So, they become naturally infectious about their faith because of the difference that it’s made for them. That’s exactly how it’s supposed to go in the Chattahoochee Valley today when somebody is introduced to Jesus Christ, when Jesus radically changes somebody. The change was not just this man’s legs. Don’t miss this. The change was what happened in this man’s soul.
Go back today and read Mark chapter two in your Bible. Let me summarize this story for you. The exact same situation happens to Jesus. There’s a crippled man whose friends bring him to Jesus. Jesus is in the middle of a sermon when they dig through the roof and they lower the cripple man in front of Jesus. Now there’s a crowd of people waiting to see what’s going to happen next. Listen to what happens in Mark chapter two. Jesus says to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The friends are sitting there thinking to themselves, “I didn’t bring him to get his sins forgiven. I brought him so that he would be healed.” Even the man himself is probably thinking the same thing. The Pharisees get angry about this and they say, “How dare you say his sins are forgiven. Only God can do that. Jesus, are you claiming to be equal with God?”
Jesus makes this interesting statement. He says, “I want to ask you super spiritual Pharisees, which is harder? -to heal somebody’s sins or to heal their body? I’ll prove to you that the Son of Man has authority to heal sins.” Listen to what he just said, “I will prove to you that I am God made into flesh. Here’s my proof. Get up, take up your mat and walk.” This guy gets up in front of the crowd, takes up his mat, and walks out of the room. According to Jesus, the greater gift, the greatest miracle, the greatest healing that anyone will ever receive is not the physical healing. It’s the spiritual healing. This guy today gets healed body and soul by the blood of Jesus Christ. If Peter and John were standing before you today, they would say, “We didn’t do this. God did this because only God can do something like this.”
You’ve probably figured this out by now because you all are smart, all of these gifts that we just mentioned are all totally free. You don’t need a box; you don’t need a bow for this. You can simply give these gifts away. Look, don’t take your heart out and put in a box and give it to somebody, because that’s just gross. These gifts are free, but when somebody gets these gifts, it makes a huge impact.
Let me tell you quick story about a guy I had the chance to meet this week who really impressed me. Actually, it wasn’t him who impressed me; it was his mama. The guy’s name is Marcus Bullock. Marcus made a huge mistake when he was fifteen years old and stole a car. He stood before a judge and was sentenced to prison. Don’t misunderstand me. He didn’t get sentenced to juvenile delinquency. He was sentenced to eight years in maximum-security adult prison at fifteen years old. Marcus was in prison he said, “These were dark, difficult days, and I wanted to give up on my faith, but my mama wouldn’t let me. She kept showing up. She kept encouraging me. She kept making an impact on me. She said, ‘God will do something through you in the future Marcus. You have to get out of here, and he’s going to use you one day.’”
I had a chance not only to meet Marcus, but also to meet Marcus’s mama. I am convinced she could never in her wildest dreams imagine what God would do with her son. After eight years in a maximum-security prison, Marcus couldn’t get a job because he’s a felon. So, he started his own corporation. -a company called Flickshop. Flickshop is a startup that takes a picture from your phone, turns it into a postcard, and sends it directly to somebody who’s in maximum-security prison because the only correspondence they get with family or friends comes directly through the mail. Flickshop will take a picture, turn it into a postcard, and send it to more than 150,000 inmates in the US. Marcus’s mama had an impact on his faith. That impact started to spread, and now hundreds of thousands of families are being impacted by this man because of the impact his mama had on him. I went up and met Marcus’s mother. I thanked her for hanging in there and helping her son hang onto his faith while he was in prison.
I have some suggestions for you. Maybe you’re sitting there and you’re thinking to yourself, “Jeff, I want to make a difference. I want to have a big impact on people. I want to do it during this Christmas season. I just need some specific suggestions from you. How do I do this?” I’m going to give you some very practical ideas.
Great gift ideas this month:
- Serve the homeless-There are more than 400 homeless people in the Chattahoochee Valley by estimates of the city governments in Phenix City and Columbus. Find some time this month and go serve at the Open Door or Valley Rescue Mission. Go minister directly to people who are homeless and in need. If people didn’t give this crippled man money, he would literally have starved to death. There’s nobody who is going to be able to give him a job because he can’t work. A simple practical thing you could give away this Christmas season to give away some time and to go serve the homeless.
- Start a Bible discussion group in your office or your home- You’re probably freaking out right now saying, “Jeff, I am not at all ready to do that. I don’t even know where to start.” Yes, you do, because it’s been in front of you every week for years around here. We’ve already done it for you. We call them the discussion questions. You take this passage of Scripture, ask people to open their Bible, and you just simply read the questions and let them answer them for you. Maybe there’s somebody in your office who would like to know more about the faith, but they’re afraid to ask. Maybe there’s someone in your neighborhood who would love to learn more about the Bible, but they’re afraid to ask. We will walk with you hand in hand through this. It’s right here in front of you. You could start that this week if you want to. Open up to Acts chapter three, ask a few questions and let them respond. It even tells you how to pray for people at the end.
- Invite someone who is lonely out to lunch– This is the holiday season, and people get really, really lonely during the holiday season. So, if you see somebody at work or notice somebody for the first time who looks like they need to go hang out, invite them to go to lunch with you. That could go a long way for somebody who’s really lonely right now.
- Mentor a young man or woman who needs a godly role model– If you think I don’t even know where to start or I’m not ready for that, let me remind you what I’m saying. This is not somebody who has all of the answers. A mentor is like a brother or a sister who’s a year older and got a few things under their belt. You can help them understand a few things because you’ve been through them yourself. This is kind of like a big brother helping a little brother out or a big sister helping a little sister. Acts chapter two not only suggests that you’re supposed to do this; it commands us to do this. We believe guys should be mentoring guys around here. Gals should be mentoring gals because a lot of people are looking for that right now.
- Send a personal note to someone who has strengthened your faith– This is the only item on the list that costs any money, and it costs you the price of a US stamp, if you’re going to put it in the mail. If you’re going to hand it to them, it doesn’t even cost you that. Everything on this list today is free. These free gifts can make a huge impact on somebody. Just write a little personal note and say something to somebody who’s made an impact on you a long time ago. Maybe they don’t even know that they made an impact.
• I need God’s gift of forgiveness. Today, I asked Jesus to save me for the first time.
– I’ve been too focused on gifts this holiday season. Pray that God would help me give my heart to people in need this month.
+ I want the Holy Spirit to do something great through me this year.
- What is the greatest Christmas gift you’ve ever received? What made this gift so special?
- Do you find it hard to give your heart away to new acquaintances?
- What do you believe is the greatest need in our community today? (Explain why you believe this is the greatest need.)
- Do you ever get overwhelmed by the needs in our community? If so, how do you respond when you feel overwhelmed?
- What is the greatest accomplishment that God has done through you?
- Name a few problems that silver and gold CAN’T fix. How can you be part of the solution to these problems?
- Pray for the Holy Spirit to have more control over your life tomorrow.