Christmas: It’s the most generous time of the year

Generosity is a beautiful thing.

And at Christmas, generosity shines brightly in the Creston Valley. Over the last few weeks, I’ve enjoyed a front-row seat to the stunning heart of my community as gifts were given, money was donated, time was offered and energy was expended, all in the name of sharing the joy of Christmas. Through the Creston Valley Ministerial Association Christmas Hamper program, over 400 families received a joyful boost of Christmas cheer–all of it bubbling up and overflowing from the generous hearts and hands of Creston’s amazing people, churches and businesses. And that’s not all–numerous other programs also received incredible generosity this time of year, alleviating burdens and elevating joy during a season that can be very difficult for many.

Wrapping gifts and offering soup — it’s all part of the Christmas Hamper tradition!

Seeing this generosity makes me thankful to be here, to be a member of this community and a pastor in this great valley. In a corner of the world known for its abundance, its people abundantly share.

At Christmas, generosity flows. Some might say it’s just a seasonal thing, when hearts are warmer than normal, or perhaps have grown a size or two throughout the year. Perhaps there’s something in the air during this time of little light, something that makes us want to give back–we who have received so much.

Young and old, everyone gets involved in spreading Christmas joy!

But I also think generosity comes more easily during a season when we celebrate the greatest act of generosity the world has ever known: when the Father sent his Son to make the world right again, overturning darkness with the dawning of light. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son”–not because he had to or was forced to or didn’t have any other choice, but because the Father, in his generous love, is a Giver, giving. Whether fully acknowledged or not, Christmas time is a celebration of the ultimate gift given, from the most generous being ever.

“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.” And into the world of darkness, generosity shone. And it continues to shine, year after year, day after day, season through cycling season.

An amazing army of ready volunteers fill the hampers each year.

So thank you, Creston. Thank you for your generosity. Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for being people of abundance who share abundantly. And thank you for giving in a way that reflects the generosity of our Creator and our Giver. Christmas is a most generous time of year–may you both give generously and receive generosity in the true spirit of Christmas this year, and may we all know the ultimate gift given, on that silent night, for the peace of this world and the good of all humankind.

 

20/20: Lesson #5: The Local Church is God’s Plan

How is God going to pull everything together? What is God’s plan to make his grace and forgiveness known and experienced in the world? Through his people, the church.

The local church is God’s plan for making his reconciliation real in the world. And that’s why I’m passionate about growing a healthy, local church. That’s lesson #5 of my 20 lessons from 20 years of ministry.

What do we have so far? Here’s the first four lessons:

Basic truth: Jesus is committed to reconciling this world back to himself, making everything right again. He loves his creation that much.

And how is he implementing his plan for reconciliation? By one means, and one means only: through his body here on earth, his people, the local church.

cathedral-blueprint-300x274Here’s the deal: There isn’t some other plan afoot for the reconciliation of this world. God isn’t working out some alternative idea to make his good news about Jesus known–like it or lump it, his people are it. In the words of Paul, God has committed to us, his people, his message of reconciliation, as though he were making his appeal through us.

This is both incredibly encouraging and deeply daunting. We’ve been empowered as God’s people to be his kingdom agents, so that his kingdom might come and his will might be done, here on earth at it is in heaven. We do that through service, through prayer, through witness and through worship. We do this by letting Jesus lead in our lives and love his world through us. We do this in the most practical, neighbourly sort of ways, living as Jesus’ hands and feet.

Political programs, educational initiatives, policy changes and community efforts can all be very good. But real and lasting change, the kind of transformation Jesus is aiming at, will not happen outside of full reconciliation with God. And that won’t happen unless people come to know Jesus, join his family, and follow him in his mission.

There are Christians who feel the church is peripheral or optional, a bygone institution of dubious value. They say they can take or leave it. Which is kind of like telling God you’re happy to get his inheritance money, as long as you don’t have to be part of the family or bear any family responsibility. But following Jesus means, by definition, being part of his family–it’s just a question of whether or not we’ll live in relationship with the family or attempt to follow from a distance, estranged from God’s people and the mission God has given us.
Over my 20 years of ministry, the local church has become more central than ever to my theology and practice of ministry. In the words of Bill Hybels, there’s nothing like the local church when the local church is working well. And though she isn’t perfect, I’m more convinced than ever that the local church is God’s basic strategy for making Jesus’ love and grace real in the world his loves.

This truth motivates me and clarifies my work. It inspires my heart and fuels my soul. And it’s why I give my life to see the local church flourish.

What else is going on that is bringing God’s freedom, grace and forgiveness into his broken yet loved world? Nothing. The local church is God’s plan A-Z for making his love real in the world he loves.

The local church is God's plan