Giving back, and giving to others, is what the Christmas spirit is supposed to be all about. After all, God gave us His greatest gift when the Baby Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem. His birth is the only reason we will celebrate Christmas this coming Sunday – there is no other reason.
Along with the Holiday season comes an attitude of giving. It gets mixed in with the shopping, eating, wrapping, eating, charging and more eating. I try to give for several reasons. Sometimes I do it, and sometimes I fail. I give because it makes me feel good about myself. I give because sometimes I feel guilty when I walk by the Salvation Army bell-ringers, so I toss in a few coins. I give sometimes because I feel obligated – like when a relative or friend asks you too – it’s no big deal because I have done the same thing. I am trying to get to the place where I want to give – not because I feel I have to give.
I am trying to get to that place where I give because I want to help. I love to help most of the time. But my way of helping is just tossing some money at the problem and letting others do the work. That needs to change on my end, and I am making some much-needed evaluations. Giving is great, and I do my part. There are some wonderful organizations my wife and I contribute to, and they need our support.
I blogged a few weeks ago about how my wife helped feed a poor lady in Sacramento instead of giving her money. Giving what people need is always the best way to go. If you give them money, then you run the risk of the person you helped using the money for things they do not need. But giving is always the best thing to do to help those in need. They need love and support and not to be enabled.
Such was the case Thursday in the small river town of Ironton, Ohio at the City Mission Church.
Dozens of people turned out to help prepare boxes of food to be given out during the annual Christmas basket project. It was an exciting sight to watch all the volunteers pour into the small church.
Pastor Jeff Cremeans has been doing this his whole life – helping those in need. Jeff has been the pastor of the church for the past 11 years, and he has followed in the footsteps of his father, Jimmy. It’s been a tradition since he can remember. The church has been in Ironton for 72 years.
This year, Jeff said about 100 volunteers from all over the area helped put together enough food baskets to help 520 local families in need. The baskets have necessities such as fruit, vegetables, canned milk, cereal, etc. Each family who signed up in October and November also received bread and a turkey.
“We deliver to the shut-ins,” Jeff said. “But most of the people will come here and pick up the baskets.”
And there is a consistent need in the little Southern Ohio town, located across the Ohio River from Ashland, Ky.
According to statistics from the State of Ohio, Lawrence County has about 10,652 people who are living in poverty –17.4% of the population.
The state has 1,790,564 people living in poverty or 15.9% of the population. So, as you can see, Lawrence County’s poverty statistics are above the state average. The three bordering counties of Gallia (19.9% in poverty) Jackson (23.6% in poverty) and Scioto (23.5% in poverty) are also very poor, according to the most recent reports. That is why church leaders and volunteers try to help. They have to help.
“There is a tremendous need for these baskets,” Jeff said. “I wish we could do this every week, because there are so many children in this part of the state who are really truly hungry.”
So, Jeff and the volunteers try to follow the example put forth to us by Christ. “He always fed the hungry,” Jeff said. “So, we can do our little part.”
“For I was hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.” Matthew 25:35 KJV.
We as Christians are called to try to help those in need. Over the past few weeks, I have seen more than my share of homeless people who are downtrodden. I have been from coast-to-coast recently and have seen the need. From San Francisco, CA., to Washington DC., there are thousands of hurting people. Can we help them all? No. But can I help someone? Yes, I can. And to that person, it could mean the difference in going to heaven or hell. If they see Christ in us, then they have been exposed to the Gospel and may be inclined to follow Him too if asked.
“You have to meet their physical needs before you can meet their spiritual ones,” Bruce told me as he was heading into the church to volunteer. His wife, Jamie, was right there with him and told me she volunteers so she can present the Gospel to the recipients.
“I want them to be saved,” Jamie told me. “This gives me a way to tell them about Jesus.”
Over the past few blogs, I have tried to present ways to spread the holiday cheer in addition to giving the traditional Christmas gifts. I have written about visiting the Christmas Cave (this is the last weekend for that adventure) and about going Christmas caroling to the elderly. I have written about helping the poor and about our church’s magnificent children’s program. All of these things have helped put me in one of the best Christmas moods I have ever known. It’s all about giving and helping, and I’m starting to see that more clearly each day.
It’s all about helping those see the reason we celebrate Christmas, and it’s all about giving the recipients a reason to make a change and follow Christ. Once they do that, they won’t need anything else because they will have the best gift ever – the gift of salvation. Everything else will be icing on the cake.