Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas Eve Evangelism

'Tis the season ... for planning!  If you're anything like me, and I have no illusions that you are, you've been thinking about the Advent/Christmas season since June.  Really, I start visioning and planning for the season in June.  And my pastors love me for it...

A few months back I had heard of this idea, Christmas Business Cards for the church.  It's all pretty simple, draw up a business card with your Christmas Eve service times on one side and generic info about the church on the other (regular service and Sunday school times, website, contact info) and then scatter them to the wind in your local community.  Super simple evangelism ... But not particularly intentional.

A theme that I've been following in conversations lately is the true importance of Christmas Eve in the life of families, and not just in the churched - but also in the unchurched.  For many, Christmas can be a hard and lonely time, and a time of big questions.  Even in our secular understanding of Christmas, it's a time of gift-giving, family meals, and taking stock of our blessings.  Has it become ultra-consumer driven?  You bet.  But I'm of the mind that the heart of the season hasn't drifted so far off course that it can't be put back on track.

But what's the track it needs to be put back on?  That the reason Christ came to the earth was to bring the Good News of Salvation to the least, the last, and the lost.  God started things off with the very family Christ was born into ... a blue-collar, working-class family.

Most of our congregations have an influx of visitors on Christmas Eve, people looking for answers.  Sure many of those visitors are family members who've travelled in for a visit, but if we look around, our first-time visits are way up.  But what if we didn't wait for Christmas Eve to get people inside our doors?

This year our Evangelism and Worship teams will be partnering to do something big.  The idea is building off of something that the Downtown Campus of Church of the Resurrection began a couple of months ago with their E.P.I.C. idea to simply, intentionally, share random acts of kindness around the local community - through simple business cards.  And if you know anything of the Church of the Resurrection evangelism model, they do a lot of work to bring their A-game on Christmas Eve.  As a faith community they make themselves ready for their guests on this special night, making sure everyone knows about the faith community before leaving worship and they are so very welcome to come back to their regular worship services - even going so far as to advertise the upcoming sermon series and studies in the New Year (imagine that).

So what are we at FUMCD going to do to make the season special?  We'll have our simple business cards made, with the Christmas Eve services on one side, and generic info on the other.  Then, on December 16 we'll hand them out to the congregation, ask each member to take just one card and give it to somebody they know that is unchurched.  It's kind of hard in today's climate in our churches to remember that the idea of the Gospel is to spread it, and in our increasingly secular time, we are growing up more unchurched than churched people.  And yet - through our retail-based lives Christmas is still relevant.  So why don't we take it back?

The idea here is to be intentionally invitational ... And that will make a lot of people uncomfortable, but there's another term here we need to take back for all Christians, and that is evangelical.  It's the job for all of us who call ourselves Christian to be evangelists - it's not meant to be a political term.  I'll get off my soapbox on that one now.

But, what if we encouraged each member of our congregations to seek out one person or family that they know to come to church on Christmas Eve?  And not only that we encourage them to invite that family, and then sit with them.  It's so simple, and God will reward us even if we just try.  Just imagine that good that could happen.

As I've gone around a few turns in the road here, here's our Christmas Eve Evangelism plan in a few easy steps:

  1. Draw up the Christmas Eve Business cards.
  2. Early in the Advent season, encourage the church to pray for the unchurched in the local community and even to think of a few people they know.
  3. On December 16 (just early enough) hand the business cards out to the church, encouraging them to invite one unchurched individual or family to Christmas Eve worship with them.
  4. On Christmas Eve - be ready to welcome the guests with a little gift and plenty of info about the church.

It doesn't have to be hard ... Sometimes we just have to do something.  What is your local church doing to bring people to Christ during the Advent/Christmas season?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

We Pray to Christ the King

Today is Saturday ... Which makes tomorrow Sunday.

What if we took a little bit of time today to get ready for tomorrow?  What if we took just a few minutes right now to pray, to prepare, to get ready to experience something amazing. 

Tomorrow is Christ the King Sunday - the last day of the Christian year before we enter that great in-between time known as Advent.

As many of us of given thanks this week and shared wonderful meals, let us give thanks today for our one true King and leader.

Christ the King

Almighty and everlasting God,
it is your will to restore all things to Christ,
    whom you have anointed priest for ever and ruler of creation.
Grant that all the people of the earth,
    no divided by the power of sin,
    may be united under the glorious and gentle rule of Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns for ever and ever.  Amen.*
*UMH 721, from the Book of Common Prayer

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanks Be to God!

This hymn gets to me every time we sing it in worship.  From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

For the fruits of this creation, thanks be to God;
for good gifts to every nation, thanks be to God;
for the plowing, sowing, reaping, silent growth while we are sleeping,
future needs in earth's safekeeping, thanks be to God.

In the just reward of labor, God's will is done;
in the help we give our neighbor, God's will is don;
in our world-wide task of caring for the hungry and despairing,
in the harvests we are sharing, God's will is done.

For the harvest of the Spirit, thanks be to God;
for the good we all inherit, thanks be to God;
for the wonders that astound us, for the truths that still confound us,
most of all that love is has found us, thanks be to God.

-Fred Pratt Green, 1970*

*UMH 97

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Christmas Miracle Offering

In case you hadn't heard, my church is taking on the challenge of the study A Different Kind of Christmas.  I'm looking forward to seeing our faith family rise to the occasion in worship this Advent, but not just in worship, but in how we live out the gospel this season through our giving.

In order to properly live out this study the worshipping body has to take on what's named as the "Christmas Miracle Offering".  This is a chosen cause by the church to support through giving the entire season of Advent, culminating on Christmas Eve, and celebrated the Sunday after Christmas.  It's a call to sit back and think on the charity of God in loving us and live out that charity in supporting our neighbors world-wide or locally.

I'm excited to say that our church has decided to support the Duncanville Outreach Ministry, a ministry that our church actually started sometime ago.  They provide a variety of services to our local community - a community we're right in the middle of.  Last year, they had to shut down early in the holiday season as they were lacking in funds and food supplies during the time of greatest need in the lives of the working poor families in our area.  Every Sunday of Advent, beginning with our communion rail offering on December 2, we'll be taking a love offering for the DOM for which the organization will have immediate funds.  At our annual contemporary worship concert we'll also be taking non-perishable food items as 'admission'.  All in effort to meet the needs of the local community.

On the flipside, it will also accomplish something that was talked about quite often at the COR Leadership Institute when discussing reaching the unchurched - it's a way for my local congregation to become indispensable in the community that we call home.  That's not a bad thing at all.

All this is to say, you don't have to be taking on this study to do something great for your neighbors this Christmas season.  It's time to rethink what the holidays are all about and give thanks to God by giving to others - and that doesn't just mean our own families.  Be a miracle for somebody!

In what ways are your faith families reaching out and giving in the name of Christ this holiday season?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lighting the Advent Wreath: "A Different Kind of Christmas"

This Advent Season, our worship and education teams have chosen to take on the "A Different Kind of Christmas" study, based on the book Christmas is Not Your Birthday by Rev. Mike Slaughter.  We're all very excited because it will be an opportunity to bring the whole church family together under one message for the season in worship, small group study, youth and children's Sunday school curriculum ... It's going to be fun. 

And the message of the book is radical ... At least it will be to today's culture.  It's all tuned to make us an outwardly focused body, focused on charity, focused on the ministry of Christ. 

Ministry Matters has a great breakdown of the Sunday's of Advent/Christmas using the study, giving main ideas for each week to work through our worship services.  I went ahead and wrote out our Advent wreath liturgies to correspond with the purpose for each worship service, going through Christmas Eve. 

Here's what we've come up with for each Sunday (I purposefully changed gears for Christmas Eve to be a more 'traditional' call to worship).  Feel free to use anything and let me know how it goes!


Advent Wreath Liturgies for “A Different Kind of Christmas” Advent Series
December 2 – The Candle of Blessings
R1 - We are a people accustomed to waiting.  Waiting in line.  Waiting in traffic.  Waiting for that call.
R2 – But are we waiting for the right things this December?  Are we waiting for the Lord?
R1 - Advent is a season of waiting, but this year let it also be a season of giving.
R2 – Long ago, God saw his children had a great need for a savior, but even now there’s need for Christ to come down into our lives. 
R1 - But as we wait for Christ to be revealed to us again, let us not wait to do the good Christ has called us to do.
R2 - This day we light the Candle of Blessings, for as the Lord has blessed us with so many gifts, we are called to be blessings to others.  Let us pray: 
Lord God, reveal yourself to us again.  Help us this Advent season to focus on your son Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve.  Help us not to serve ourselves this December, but to serve you as we serve others.  Amen.
December 9 – Candle of Miracles
R1 - More than 2,000 years ago the Glory of God was revealed to us through the birth of Christ Jesus.  A glorious miracle, sent down from heaven.
R2 - But many people refused to believe in this miracle, even though they had been waiting for it for so long.
R1 - That night, the Lord came to live with a humble and poor family – a family with room in their hearts and faithfulness to the Lord.  A family who was ready to receive a miracle.
R2 - This morning, we light the Candle of Miracles.  This light reminds us that not only do miracles happen around us every day, but that every day we are called show God’s miraculous love to others.  Let us pray:
Lord God, we need your help today.  Help us to make room for the miraculous in our lives that the light of Christ might shine through us again.  Amen.
December 16 – Candle of Hope
R1 - As a family here today, we come together in a celebration of hope.  But what do we hope for?
R2 - As we head towards Christmas we often hope that we can find the perfect gift to give, the perfect outfit to wear, the perfect tree to decorate.  But the first Christmas was far from perfect.
R1 - The Hope of the Nations came to us on a night of messy circumstances.  The Light of the World was born in a stable, laid to bed in a feeding trough and was attended to by field hands.  They were messy circumstances, and yet it was just right for Jesus Christ, a perfect child, surrounded by all of the love two parents could give. 
R2 - This morning we light the Candle of Hope, as we pray for Christ to come into our hearts again:
Lord God, help us not to be so focused on finding perfection in this season that we miss out on the hope that only you can bring to us.  Amen.
December 23 – Candle of Love
R1 - God’s chosen people often turned away from the Law and were less than faithful, yet, they were still God’s chosen people.
R2 - Long before Christ was born, God made a promise to King David that his throne would be established forever through God’s faithful love.
R1 - On the night Christ came to earth, that promise was fulfilled – out of the house of David the savior arose, a savior given to redeem the whole world.
R2 - God’s love for us truly does endure forever, and in remembrance of God’s mighty acts through Jesus Christ we light the Candle of Love.  Let us pray:
Lord God, help us always to remember that we are redeemed through our belief in your Son.  No matter how far we stray, you’re always right there waiting for us, loving us.  We rejoice in your steadfast love for all the people of the world, fulfilled in the birth of your Son, Jesus.  Amen.
December 24 – The Christ Candle
A mother and a father finally find rest in a barn…
The birthday boy is coming!
Angels sing and shepherds run …
The birthday boy is coming!
The stars shone bright and the Wise Men began their journey …
The birthday boy is coming!
This evening, we joyfully light the Christ Candle, remembering the night when God’s love came down at the birth of the King.  God loves us!
The birthday boy is here!

All content property of Jarrod Johnston, unless otherwise noted, copyright 2012
Local churches: feel absolutely free to use anything here!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Serving the Poor

As I searched for a prayer to pray today, I feel that simple is good.  Ask yourself this:  what would the world be like if Christians lived out the Gospel?  What would your life be like?  How blessed would your church family be if it took the Life of Christ unto itself and gave it all? 

Tomorrow we will follow the story in worship of the Widow's Mite (Mark 12:38-44), and I find these words of Mother Teresa (UMH 446) to be a heart-filling way to prepare and receive the message:
Make us worthy, Lord,
    to serve those throughout the world who live and die in poverty or hunger.
Give them, through our hands, this day their daily bread;
    and by our understanding love, give peace and joy.  Amen.
Don't underestimate the power of prayer to change the world.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Prayer of Thanksgiving - For All the Saints

This week in my faith family, as in many of yours, we will be observing All Saints Sunday.  It's a special day, set aside for us to remember the Saints, those who have died in the faith and gone before us to show us the way to the Father.

It is for them that we pray and give thanks this weekend, and as we remember them, we remember that we to are victorious in Christ Jesus.

We give you thanks, our God and Father,
   for all who have died in the faith of Christ -
   for the memory of their words and deeds
      and all they accomplished in their time,
   for the joyful hope of reunion with them in the world to come,
   and for our communion with them now;
      in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Family Spritual Disciplines: We Read the Word Together

Earlier this week I posted my sermon on Mary and Martha, focusing on how to bring heaven down to earth and into our family homes.  As I was writing that sermon, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to get a book's worth of material into a less-than-25-minute message.  So I filed a few details for later and decided that this would be a good start to a series on Family Spiritual Disciplines.

Really, I'm just going to tell you what my wife and I do to make sure that we're not only in touch with eachother, but that we're always sure that we're inviting Christ to be a member of the family as well.  I'm kicking things off with a recent addition to our life together, and one that has been more fun than I ever thought it would be: reading scripture together on a daily basis.

When Leanne and I first were married, really back to the start of our engagement, reading scripture was a big part of our routine.  On Leanne's very first visit, actually, she brought with her to Louisiana a copy of Stookey's This Day devotional guide.  On our first date we took the time to read scripture and pray together.  It was a bit of a make it or break it moment for us ... When she pulled that book out and suggested we pray I had to either decide if I was in or out.  Was a I really ready for this?  I mean, praying together?  And reading scripture?  Well, I took the plunge.

We kept it up as often as we could, following the lectionary reading plan in the book.  But soon after we were married, the daily reading went by the wayside.  I'll take a bit of blame for it ... The devotional plan in the book is amazing, but it does take time.  Leanne would bring it up every once in a while, and I would promptly change the subject.

A couple of months ago, we were both thirsting to add reading daily scripture to our routine, we just weren't sure where to start.

Enter, the Youversion Bible ap.

At the start of the summer Leanne took on a 90-day Bible challenge.  It was very difficult and it was easy to get behind on with our crazy schedules.  She had to give it up - it wasn't exactly soul-filling to be stressed about getting in 12 chapters every night.  But it stuck in my mind.

A couple of months ago we were talking and decided together that we would take on a Bible reading challenge as partners.  Except, rather than 90 days, we're following a year-long plan to get us through the Word.  I'm happy to say it's gone real well, with only a couple of delays a long the way.  In 2 months, we've gotten up to Deauteronomy, and it's actually been ... fun ...

We do read the Bible out loud and take turns reading chapters.  It never takes more than 10 minutes as you're only reading 3 to 4 chapters per night.  The plan that we've chosen also closes with a Psalm to pray after the readings, and that's a beautiful element.  The fun element, though, is really getting a sense of the narrative of our salvation story.  Reading it this fast, we're not reading it for details, but we do get a sense of the different voices involved in the writing of the Word.  It's fascinating study and a blessing to my wife and I.   We've started a journey together with this, and because we're doing it together, we hold each other accountable to make sure we finish.  For us, we needed a system to keep us on track and we're thankful for a tool - one that breaks the boundaries between my Android phone and her iPhone.  It reminds me of the peaceful kingdom.

Does your family read scripture together on a regular basis?