Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas ... literally everywhere looks like Christmas just exploded. Every store, street, and commercial has some sort of Christmas decoration or theme. But sometimes, despite all of the festivities, it is hard to feel the joy of Christmas.
Two of my colleagues, Wil Cantrel and Paul Seay, recently released a book entitled “From Heaven to Earth: Christmas for New Believers, Old Believers, and Nonbelievers” and if you are looking for a good book to read this Advent/Christmas season I would highly recommend it. In the first chapter of the book they spend some time talking about Incarnation (God becoming flesh and dwelling among us) and the importance of giving the gift of presence. They remind us that “one way of understanding the incarnation is to say that Jesus is everything we need from God wrapped in a person.” (p 17)
One of the opportunities that awaits us each Christmas is to offer the gift of Jesus Christ by seeking to be a part of God’s incarnation in this world. You and I can be a part of how others see and experience Jesus this season! There may be someone in your life who has lost a loved one, or lost a job, or is experiencing seasonal depression, or maybe had a negative experience at a past Christmas, and it is hard for them to experience the joy of Christmas. This holiday season lets try to embody the incarnational presence of Jesus by offering ourselves in relationship to others. Let’s remember the importance of giving the gift of presence by seeking to be fully present with ourselves and with those around us.
Published on Thursday, December 5, 2019 @ 3:59 PM EDT
As members of First-Centenary we often look for opportunities in which to either volunteer or serve. While some consider the terms interchangeable, “Volunteers and Servants” are actually different. Some people realize that volunteering is a duty or responsibility that truly differs from serving. Have you ever volunteered to serve in some way and wish you hadn’t agreed to participate? We’ve all been there and some of us continue to over commit ourselves on a day-to-day basis.
With National Caregiving Month almost in our rear view mirror, let’s look ahead to stewardship opportunities for serving with compassion and generosity, rather than obligation. Instead of jumping in with a sense of regret, take a moment to search the contents of your heart. Are you frowning on the inside while smiling on the outside, wishing someone else had been willing to complete the task at hand? Are you acting, based on a sense of duty, rather than heartfelt desire to respond to the need or responsibility presented? It’s okay to be honest with yourself and others when your heart is simply not in sync with what you are being asked to do…What’s not okay is to fail to pray for God to soften your heart for times of future service. Tennessee may be the VOLUNTEER state, but to SERVE whole-heartedly can be far more meaningful with a divine touch from above.
Published on Wednesday, November 27, 2019 @ 9:30 AM EDT
As we move toward our commitment Sunday on November 24
and then celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to offer a seed of generosity. We become truly grateful when we understand who we are and whose we are.
Genesis 1:27 helps us remember who we are. “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them...” We are children of God created in the image of God to welcome God to bringing wholeness and healing to us and then to join God in bringing that wholeness and healing to others. After all God has done for us, we can’t help but respond in gratitude and seek to offer to others all we have received from God.
As Herb Buwalda wrote “As children of God, we love God and want to be part of whatever God is doing. God is always up to something big in the world. God is always casting compelling visions about the way it could and should work. God is always reaching out to the world with extravagant love, forgiveness, and grace. God is always giving...” (A Generous Life, p. 22)
God invites us to be part of all that God is blessing! God desires for us to join God in ministering to the sick, the hungry, the outcasts, and the lonely. We plant seeds of generosity through our giving and our living. We have a tremendous responsibility as followers of Christ who are born in the image of God to continually be scattering seeds of generosity. I want to express my deep appreciation for having the privilege of walking alongside you in this journey of faith and watching you scatter seeds of generosity in our community and throughout the world. Through your gifts and efforts lives are being changed and transformed to the glory of God!
Published on Thursday, November 21, 2019 @ 3:26 PM EDT
As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, I quickly begin to think about all the things I want to ask Santa to bring me. Then reality sets in. I just came from an In Mission Together conference. I sat with fellow pastors who are in the U.S. hoping someone will partner with them so they can keep doing the ministries (mostly with “the least of these”) in which they are engaged. I reflected on the fact that many of my pastor friends in East Europe never get to take their families out to eat at a nice restaurant because they don’t get a big salary and they often use more than their “tithes” to make sure that the people they serve have basic necessities.
Sometimes I wonder just how generous I really am. The American Church is kind of like Frodo in The Lord of The Rings. We have been given a possession with great power to hold onto. When Gandalf warns Frodo of the great power the Ring has on the one who possesses it, Frodo is skeptical. So, Gandalf challenges him to give it up. Frodo takes it from his pocket intending to throw it into the hot fire. As he struggles with the intention of throwing it away, he puts it back in his pocket.
I often wonder why we preachers (self included) when asked about Jesus telling the guy to take his stuff, sell it and give to the poor we hem and haw around saying stuff like, “Jesus doesn’t really ask people to do that today,” and other such reasoning. Mine is once it is out of my pocket and into Jesus’ hand I won’t be able to use that money to buy tickets to see LSU play in the national championship game. I am not as generous as my Eastern European friends.
As we look at “Sowing Seeds of Generosity” think of the possessions with great power that God has given us. Will we put them back in our pocket? I hope that the “Ring” doesn’t take possession of us, but when the time comes we can give it up. “Go sell all you have and give it to the poor.” Easier said than done.
Well Santa, I guess I really don’t want anything for Christmas this year, except maybe a bigger heart of generosity (and a national title for LSU). It is so hard not to think of my priorities!
Geaux Tigers, Barry
Published on Thursday, November 14, 2019 @ 3:06 PM EDT
In one of John Wesley’s sermons on Works, he emphasizes accepting and demonstrating the love of God as being first and foremost in the lives of Christians. Clearly, in the Sermon on the Mount, the love of neighbor flows immediately from the love that God instills in each of us.
Further, anything that we do that is not rooted in the love of God easily turns into prideful efforts or actions. To Wesley, serving “Others” is the central point of reference for Christian behavior. Our “love of God” should be the motivating factor energizing us to respond to the needs of our neighbors, while being focused on others truly comes from the love of Christ shed abroad in the hearts of God’s followers.
Part of the evidence of our faith as good stewards is demonstrated by genuine care that shines in the lives of those whose hearts have been forever transformed by Christ. As God continues to shape our lives as good stewards, we should become more generous in showing love and concern to those who are less fortunate.
C – ompassionate
A – cts
R – eaching
E – veryone
As God’s faithful stewards, may we forever sow seeds of generosity!
Published on Friday, November 8, 2019 @ 9:52 AM EDT