"I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time... as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time... the only time... when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers...."
- Fred, Ebenezer Scrooge's Nephew in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
Gifts, gifts, and more gifts. Yesterday I received a call from a family member asking what we wanted for Christmas. It's the same phone call we get each year. A family member isn't sure what to get and thus calls. Then we spend the next week trying to figure out if there is anything we need. Frankly, I don't need anything. I have literally all I need. I, unlike many in our world, don't have to worry about where I might sleep, where my next meal will come from, or who loves me. Each of these are taken care of, or offered to me. In fact, too often I take them for granted. Usually, Christmas, in terms of gift giving, is more about what I want rather than what I need. I often become more distracted by what I receive than by what is taking place around me.
Often there are gifts being given of which I take little notice. The gift of time shared, the gift of care and concern with family we haven't seen, the gift of joy and laughter, even at times, the gift of mourning and consoling, all in this season. The consumer side of Christmas often drowns out the gifts that are not material. And when I look upon past Christmas' celebrated with family and friends, these were the true gifts I needed.
Fred's speech certainly hits home with me. Christmas when celebrated properly, helps us see the true gifts of Christmas, like the gift of one another and our common humanity. These gifts certainly come from God. The story of Jesus' birth is about meeting a need we didn't know we had. And if we pay attention, those gifts of God frequently show up during this season. As people filled with generosity and charity abound, we see more poignantly God's handiwork all around us. This year, what would it look like to focus less on the gifts we expect but on the gifts we often overlook? Moreover, what if we began to imagine how we might supply gifts of need to others which are often downplayed? Rather than simple material gifts, we might offer time, space, and love to a friend or someone who would least expect it. Imagine the impact of such a gift. As we move toward Christmas, may we see God's gifts around us, and may we offer a different kind of gift this year!
Pastor Nathan Kilbourne
For this reason I remind you to kindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:6-7
Adopted shortly after the merger of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, the symbol of the cross and flame relates the United Methodist Church to God through Christ (cross) and the Holy Spirit (flame). The flame is a reminder of Pentecost when witnesses were unified by the power of the Holy Spirit and saw "tongues, as of fire" (Acts 2:3). The two tongues of a single flame may also be understood to represent the union of two denominations. The two separate flames represent the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church coming together to form the United Methodist Church.
Thinking back to when our daughters were little, they loved camping. They were Girl Scout, and even I was a registered Girl Scout. Although there are aspects of camping that can be extremely annoying, being out in God's creation was a faith builder.
One of the aspects of camping that everyone enjoyed was the bonfire. As the sun set and the darkness engulfed the campsite all the children gathered around the fire giggling, heating their marshmallows, and consuming those delicious smores. The fire would draw everyone in at the campsite and there were stories and times of great fellowship.
However, as timed passed, the flames tend to die down and a layer of ash covered the embers. There was always someone who would stir the coals and add more firewood and once again the fire is blazing - radiating its heat and light throughout the campsite.
Our Christian lives are like that bonfire. We are on fire for God shining light to everyone around us. In time the fire will die down and needs to be rekindled. Those embers we can't see need to be stirred and another log needs to be thrown into the pit.
Our desire to serve wanes, our desire to follow God can falter because other things become our priority and before you know it we lose our way.
Just as Paul was encouraging Timothy to rekindle the spiritual fire within, the Bible reminds us that we all have spiritual gifts. Timothy's was preaching, what is yours?
At the beginning of my article I gave an explanation of the Cross and Flames, the symbol of the United Methodist Church. The flames are ablaze and living. I hope we all consider rekindling the fire within to keep the passion for God alive. By rekindling your fire may you help others rekindle their fire. Let's fan into flame God's gift, what ever it is, so that we can serve God with passion and fervor.
UMCOR is the humanitarian relief and development arm of the United Methodist Church and is run through the General Board of Global Ministries. It exists “to assist individuals and churches become involved globally in direct ministry to persons in need through programs of relief, rehabilitation, and service…” Every year since 2008, our church has sent a team of volunteers to be a part of this effort.
Located in Baldwin, Louisiana, The Sager Brown UMCOR Depot is a huge warehouse, packed floor to ceiling with supplies that are packaged and shipped to those in need. Our own “Sew and Sew” group has constructed thousands of school bags and knitted hundreds of baby sweaters that have been delivered around the world by UMCOR. When I was at a Methodist school in rural Zimbabwe in 2010, every child had a school bag filled with supplies. I saw, first hand, that these ministries make a difference!
In recent years, UMCOR has changed their approach to missions. They no longer ship supplies internationally. Instead, they are directly funding foreign relief which stimulates local economies and empowers those closest to the need. The Sager Brown Depot now focuses on relief within the United States and creates health kits, “flood” buckets, and school bags for domestic distribution. There are also opportunities for volunteers to serve in various ministries out in the Baldwin community.
A mission trip provides a chance to retreat from the business of life and spend time with like-minded Christians. It is a time of fellowship, camaraderie, personal reflection, worship, and service. It is also a great time to build friendships with other church members.
For those who have not been before, I encourage you to consider visiting Sager Brown April 26th through May 1st. We are assembling a group of 12 and would love for YOU to be a part of the team!
In Grace and Peace,
Cindy Kyser Buck
Mark 10:45 "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
As children growing up in the 60's, we were either playing cowboys and Indians or Army. The television show Combat was very popular with us young boys. The drama depicted an Army platoon fighting its way across Europe during World War II. Actor Vic Morrow played the part of Sergeant Chip Saunders, a seasoned veteran of many conflicts.
The ultimate prize before we began battle was to "call" who was playing the part of Sgt. Saunders. This meant you were in charge, yelling orders, and coordinating the attack on an unnamed battleground in a field in southwest Georgia. I remember sitting around one day after successfully taking our simulated objective. We talked and bragging about our fathers and their heroism during WWII. My good friend Grant stated that his father "received a medal from flying in planes over Germany". Not to be outdone and having a Marine father that served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, I simply stated that my Daddy "won the war". There were a few moments of silence and then we boys went on with playing.
Although our calendars are littered with special times - birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and many more, on November 11th, we celebrated Veterans Day. It was originally known as Armistice Day. It is distinct from Memorial Day which honors those who died in military service. Veteran's Day honors all military veterans. This includes persons who served in the United States Armed Forces, to include the Coast Guard, and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
One of the many reasons we celebrate this day is raise awareness and pay respect to our brothers and sisters who have served the United States as members of our United States Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines and Coast Guard. These patriots are forever regarded as veterans of this great nation. Veteran invokes honor for their service because they all sacrificed more than you can imagine. Never expecting a thank you, they served and sacrificed and are proud to have been a part of something bigger than themselves. Quite often they could never imagine the importance and good that they were and are a part of.
Many of our veterans have passed due to injuries or illnesses incurred during service to this nation. Many still bear the scars of war including those that can never be bandaged. Yet, they all served without hesitation and simply went on with their lives after serving our Nation. Many continue to serve, protecting and defending our country, the greatest Nation on earth.
Our Veterans, all good men and women, accepted their responsibilities and created new legacies to take our next generation to a level we could only imagine. Just as we receive Grace because of the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, our veterans, who unselfishly served, have ensured our freedom and liberty. So, I ask you to take a moment and extend a prayer for all our veterans. Look them in the eye and thank them for their service.
God Bless our veterans, heroes all.
This past Sunday kicked off our annual Stewardship campaign. For many, the stewardship campaign is their least favorite time of year. Mainly because a stewardship campaign asks us to look at our lives and examine how we are responding to God's grace with our time, talent, and resources. Some come away from it with a sense of guilt. And yet, stewardship is an opportunity to reflect first on the grace and mercy of God operative in our lives. Each year, for me, it gives me a chance to look over the last year and consider what God has been doing in my life and name the ways Jesus has been at work in me and through me. Such always inspires me. To know God takes interest in me, even me, and loves me is astounding. I couldn't imagine not saying thank you to God. The generosity of our time, talent, and money is predicated upon God's generosity toward us. To bless God in return is an act of worship.
In their book, Practicing the King's Economy, Michael Rhodes and Robby Holt remind us that practicing this type of giving shapes our hearts to reflect our King. We each have been created in God's image as we hear in the book of Genesis. In other words, we are made to be a reflection of God's person. We can never be a full representative of God. Only Jesus can be this. However, our character and actions are a testimony to our God. We see and experience in God an unfathomable generosity. God continues to bless us and the rest of creation. As agents of God, those created to mirror such generosity, when we practice being generous with our entire selves, (physical, spiritual, financial, and more); we not only honor God, but reflect God's character in the world.
I find it both unnerving as well as an honor to be given the job of reflecting God's character in the world. Obviously I feel deficient in this job. And yet, what an honor God would say I am worthy to reflect God's generosity. Consider this week the honor it is to reflect God's character, particularly God's generosity. Moreover, how is your heart being shaped by your generosity? Lastly, know in the endeavor to reflect God's generosity, God will give you what you need, including God's Spirit, to fulfill this calling!