It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Cold today, but warmth is coming…

With Christmas just two weeks away, in the middle of Advent, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the shopping season. We’ve heard the stories, the ones that make us shake our heads, about shoppers armed with pepper spray and tasers, confrontations in the toy department, and competition for parking spaces at the mall. Bing Crosby croons from the radio, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”—but is it?

Well … maybe it is.

Let’s remember what the first Christmas looked like: Jews were moving all around Judea, returning to the towns of their fathers and grandfathers, in order to be counted in a Roman-mandated census. Roads were crowded, towns were crowded, streets were crowded, and private homes were crowded. It’s likely tempers were short as people dealt with one another and with impatient Roman solders and clerks.

In the midst of this, we find a Galilean carpenter and his pregnant wife. They traveled around seventy miles on foot to Bethlehem (we like to think Mary was on a donkey, but there’s no evidence of this), a trip that probably took a week given her condition. They were relying on the kindness of strangers, but so was everybody else—and it’s only human that kindness wears thin under these circumstances.

Maybe the anxiety imposed on us by today’s Christmas season, driven by commercialism, isn’t too far off from the discomfort and impatience that afflicted the first Christmas season.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not justifying the nuttiness that emerges every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. There are major differences between what happened that first Christmas and in our own Christmas seasons.

Back then, they were waiting and hoping for the Savior.

Today, we have the Savior.

As Christians, we should act like we have the Savior. That way, perhaps, we can help others to feel the peace that His coming was intended to bring.

Why Ginghamsburg Church?

10620467_10150456095174997_5875797584901867446_oPeople ask me all the time why I left a city I loved to move to Dayton, Ohio.  I must confess it was a surprise to Callie and I too.  We thought if we ever left Lexington it would be to move somewhere really warm while we suffer for Jesus in the sun or on the beach.  However, God had other plans and made that clear to us with many signs and confirmations along the journey.  The question I get was why Ginghamsburg Church?  The answer was simple. In one word: MISSIONS!  Trust me, I was the last person who thought I’d ever end up at a large church.  But what I’ve seen here in terms of impact has blown me away.

Through the annual Christmas Miracle Offerings, made possible by the generous family, friends, and acquaintances of Ginghamsburg Church, hundreds of thousands of lives have been changed in Sudan and in the city of Dayton.

What does a decade of sacrifice and $7.2 million look like faithfully placed in God’s hands?

In war-torn Darfur, Sudan…

  • Nearly 35,000 school-age children and kindergarteners have developed hopeful life pictures in 277 new and rebuilt schools.
  • 19 safe water access yards close to schools keep children from dangerous travel by foot to retrieve the family’s water, also saving lives by reducing disease.
  • 16,000 households have been sustained through agriculture projects.

…and much more!

In devastated South Sudan…

  • Two new, staffed health care units provide previously inaccessible emergency health care to 30,000 people; nearby safe water access points reduce the need for emergency care.
  • 81 healthcare workers and traditional birth attendants have been trained to serve their neighbors.
  • 30,000-plus women and children now sleep under mosquito nets, safe from malaria–a killer claiming half a million lives each year. Newly trained health workers provide education to ensure nets are used properly.

…and much more!

In our own backyard…

  • Neighbors in economically challenged communities in Dayton, Trotwood and Miami County access fresh food, GED programs – 41 new graduates just this year – job skills training and internships via New Path. New Creation Counseling provides professional Christian Counseling at 3 expanded locations.
  • Men are given a new substance-free start in life at a Joshua Recovery House; 4 more men completed the program in 2014.
  • Trotwood kids have a new Clubhouse for after-school tutoring and loving care.
  • Hungry kids at three Clubhouses had nutritional lunches this summer – the hungriest time of the year for kids.

…and much more!

What will God do in 2015 through Ginghamsburg Church? The possibilities are endless, limited only by the size of our trust in the miracle. Join us this weekend in worship and Christmas Eve as we set aside a special time for our Christmas Miracle Offering collection. God is good; much remains to be done! Let’s dream together.

Give Like A Kid

We live in an age overrun with ever-improving technology, and it seems impossible to keep up. Things change every few months and consumers have become hooked on technology like a drug. If you want evidence of this, walk into any Apple store around the time a new Apple device such as the IPhone 6 becomes available on the market; lines overcrowd the store and spill out onto the sidewalks. It prepares folks for Christmas shopping, as malls across America experience a flood of shoppers for Black Friday, Brown Thursday, and all the days leading up to December 25th.

If grown-up toys and gadgets are not fun enough, the toys that kid’s have nowadays are far superior to my GI Joe and He-man figures of the 1980s. When I was a kid, my favorite part of getting new toys was the first few days until I got bored with the toy or broke it.

As a consumer culture we get bored too easily and materialism has overtaken our homes, schools, and even churches to the point that when generosity is practiced it takes us by surprise. People have managed to get through Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and now onto Giving Tuesday. Something like “Giving Tuesday” is easier to practice because many people are doing it. However, movements like this start with a few people.10417731_10205075750914403_4865203083900063994_n

I was reminded of this today because a young girl named Syd, whose a part of our children’s ministry has set the example of what generosity looks like on her birthday of all days! Syd gives all of her birthday gifts away to children in the Dayton community who desire to have wrapped presents under their tree. Syd has done this for 5 straight years. Her generosity embodies the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:3, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” She doesn’t do it to brag or receive accolades but simply to put others above herself. This Christmas, what can you do to reclaim the meaning of Christmas and make a positive impact on the lives of those around you?

Whose Birthday Is It?

The central focus of Christmas is not so much about presents, family time, and even food.  Those things are fun and hardly anybody can disagree with that.  However the priority must be Jesus’ birthday.  It would be almost like hijacking the Olympics into a hotdog or pie-eating contest without any athletic ability being used or elevated throughout the entirety of the games.  This Christmas season we are challenged to emulate the greatest gift giver of all time as God the Father gave us His Son from the throne of Heaven and also gives us the power of the Holy Spirit in our world today.  God is a giving God to those who least deserve Him!  And that means every single one of us.  So this Christmas season I want to challenge you to give of yourself; time, money, energy, and prayers to those you would not normally think of giving to and make that a practice in your daily life.  Essentially what I’m saying is like what Mike Slaughter says, “Be A Miracle Worker.”  As I have reflected on that statement I have thought of a few miracle workers in the life of our church.  Matt Baker, who works as a lab-tech in his day job loves to do photography in his spare time.   Matt has taken numerous photos for Embrace events.  One day matt came to me with an idea about turning one of the rooms in our large ministry center into a photography studio where he can store backgrounds and take pictures of people in the community all year around, especially for people who cannot afford it.  The price of a Christmas photo shoot would be a pair of thermal socks to meet a need for many in our downtown campus, a vision God placed on the hearts of AJ and Tracie Noll and Jeff Riddell.  Thermal socks for our friends who have nowhere to lay their heads like the Son of Man.  Over the past few weeks Matt has collected over 50 pairs of socks (stuffing McDonalds gift cards in some of them, though he didn’t tell anybody until after the fact) that were taken to our downtown campus and given away after the services.  These are ordinary people truly doing extraordinary things.  There are plenty of other folks I know doing Kingdom work everyday that I want to highlight over the next couple of weeks.  Remember, it is Jesus’ Birthday!

Make Some Room

When we think of large Christmas Trees the famous New York’s Rockefeller Center Christmas tree immediately comes to mind.  However there is a much bigger one that exists in an Idaho resort called Coeur d’Alene.  It just so happens to be the world’s tallest Christmas tree standing at 162 feet tall.  Every year it gets decorated with some 30,000-40,000 LED lights and a 10-foot star to top it off.  To light this all it requires an extension cord that runs about 2 miles long.  I like to see Clark Griswold try to fit this in his house!  The humorous thing is we rearrange our entire living room and house to squeeze in a small 6-foot tree.  We attempt to make room for all our Christmas decorations but forget to make room in our lives for Jesus Christ.  Don’t forget to make room for Jesus.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Cold today, but warmth is coming…

We’re two weeks out from Christmas, in the middle of Advent, and it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the shopping season. We’ve already heard the stories, the ones that leave us shaking our heads, about shoppers armed with pepper spray and tasers, confrontations in the Toy Department and competition for parking spaces at the mall. Bing Crosby croons from the radio, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” — but is it?

Well… maybe it is.

Let’s remember what the first Christmas looked like: Jews were moving all around Judea, going to the towns that their fathers and grandfathers traditionally called home, in order to be counted in a Roman-mandated census. Roads were crowded, towns were crowded, streets were crowded and private homes were crowded. It’s likely tempers were short as people dealt with one another and with impatient Roman solders and clerks.

And in the midst of this was a Galilean carpenter and his pregnant wife. They had traveled about 70 or so miles on foot (we like to think Mary was on a donkey, but there’s no evidence of that) to Bethlehem, a trip that probably took a week, considering her condition. They were relying on the kindness of strangers, but so was everybody else — and it’s both human and understandable that kindness wears thin under these circumstances.

My point is, perhaps the anxiety imposed by today’s Christmas season — driven by commercialism — isn’t too far off from the discomfort and impatience that afflicted the first Christmas season.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not justifying the nuttiness that seems to emerge every year from Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. There’s a major difference between what happened that first Christmas and our Chrstmases.

Back then, they were waiting and hoping for the Savior.

Today, we have the Savior.

As Christians, we should act like we have the Savior. That way, perhaps, we can help others to feel the peace that His coming was intended to bring.

We’ll talk about this kind of thing this month at Embrace Church. I hope to see you there!