God Gave the Gift of PRESENCE

The story of Christmas is foundational for understanding Christianity in so many ways. God sent his very best, his own Son Jesus Christ – the God-man – on a daring rescue mission. In need of rescue was the human race including you and I.

The mission included a display of love that led to the willing death of an innocent Rescuer for the sake of those he loved. In the end, the Rescuer wins the day, defeating all the bad guys, including death, sin, guilt, and Satan (Colossians 2:13-15, Hebrews 2:14-15).

Here’s the real kicker: Now God desires that we repeat the process of being sent, loving, sacrificing, and rescuing through announcing/retelling this story to all (John 21:20, Acts 1:8, Philippians 2:3-5).

When God wanted to save the world, he sent himself. He gave PRESENCE. Today, he continues to give presence to the world through those he has rescued.

Here’s three lessons we learn about life ON MISSION from God’s giving to us at Christmas. These can become filters for our lives and our churches as we seek to live with a missionary posture toward our community.

1. God gave the gift of PROXIMITY.

John 1:14 in the Message paraphrase says, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Jesus laid aside the privileges of deity to draw near to us, walk in our shoes, and die in our place.

One of the great promises of Christmas is that we do not serve a God that’s distant, that’s removed from our problems and trials. He experienced them and He overcame them (Hebrews 4:15, John 16:33).

Does your current lifestyle allow you to live in proximity to the needs of others? Does your church live out its mission in proximity to the needs of the community?

Jesus went so much further than, “They know where we are if they need us.” He was always touching those he wasn’t supposed to touch and sharing life with those he wasn’t supposed to share life with. In a world filled with lonely hearts, we need to give presence and live out the gift of proximity.

2. God gave the gift of RESPONSIVENESS..

God gave in response to our deepest need.

To respond to the needs of others requires you to forget about yourself a bit. That’s exactly what Jesus did – Philippians 2:7 says, “He made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.”

Jesus didn’t have an entitlement mentality – and if anyone was ever justified in feeling entitled to privileges and perks it should have been the Son of God – but he had a slavery mentality, becoming the lowest of the low in response to my need.

Does your current lifestyle and church culture allow you to be responsive to the needs of others? The priest and Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan most likely had legitimate excuses for not responding to the needs of the man lying in the road with huge needs. They had busy schedules – there’s no time for this; they were in a bad part of town; they had no training in basic life support.

It was the Samaritan that demonstrated to heart of God and responded to the needs, laying aside self and becoming a servant.

3. God’s generosity was RADICAL.

In the Christmas story we learn that God is a radical giver.

John 3:16 says it best, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” And we see in Philippians 2:8, that Jesus willing became a radical giver for you and I – “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

God held nothing back for you and I. He gave it all.

What aspects of our lives can be considered radical? Is it the area of generosity? Desire for God? Desire for others to know the truth?


Presence, proximity, responsiveness, radical generosity – the story of Christ and Christmas.

Simple Holiday Outreach Ideas for Churches

Here’s a few simple holiday outreach projects that any church, small group, family, or individual can afford. I can testify that these make a big impact with a small investment of time and money.

1. Gift cards for ICU waiting rooms. At any given time in your community there are people reeling from traumatic events or devastating illness. Their families can be found in waiting rooms at your local hospital.

Pick up a handful of gift cards to the closest restaurants and coffee shops, drop by and give them out with a “praying for you” card from your church. Offer to pray for anyone you get to talk with.

This simple act of kindness can breathe life into someone that is overwhelmed with bad news. If no one is there, give them to the nurses desk and they’ll pass them out for you. These nurses could also use prayer and encouragement.

Call ahead and find out when visiting times are so that you know when people are in the waiting rooms.

Cost: $100 for 5-10 gift cards.

 

2. Care packages for the homeless. If you live in a metro area or near the interstate, you probably get an invitation to serve the homeless every day at area red lights. “Should I give them money?” is a constant question.

Few of us carry cash anymore but doing nothing is not desirous for most believers. How about making up some simple care packages with some goodies that that can be passed out the window of a car? Keep 3-5 in your car at all times.

Cost: $10 per bag.

 

3. Christmas decor for nursing home residents. Go to your local nursing home and ask for a list of residents with no local family. The reality for these residents is often few visits if any, few seasonal decorations for their walls, few convenient items like warm socks or lotion.

Offer to pray for them. Find out what they want or need and plan a return visit. Spend some time listening to their story.

Cost: $25 for a few Christmas decorations and simple cards colored by kids.

 

4. Fruit baskets for elderly shut-ins. Local shut-ins are lonely. They often feel trapped. They often have simple to-do’s around their home that can be taken care of in less than an hour.

Making up fruit baskets to deliver to them gives you a reason to encourage them with a visit and find out other needs that your faith community can take care of on their behalf.

Cost:$25 for a bowl or basket & fruit & other goodies to go in them.

 

5. Weatherization for local widows. In every community there are widows and widowers who can no longer take care of simple things like wrapping their pipes or preparing their home for winter.

A great project for the men’s group could be spending one Saturday per year wrapping pipes.

Cost:$100 worth of weatherization supplies.

 

6. Holiday treats for local teachers lounges. We often hear laments about churches not being able to “get into the schools.” Most of the time, we’re trying to get in on our terms instead of thinking of ways to be a blessing.

One way that is enthusiastically accepted 100% of the time at our local schools is stuffing snack baskets full of goodies for teacher’s lounges at the beginning of the school year, holidays, and end of school.

Christmas is a great time for this. Shoot for the week that school is getting out. There’s probably a party going on!

Cost: $50 per Teacher’s lounge.

 

What other similar outreach ideas have you or your church done at Christmas?

What if…

  • Every ICU Patient family got a gift card and a prayer?
  • Every homeless person got a care packet?
  • Every Nursing Home resident had Christmas decorations?
  • Every shut-in got a fruit basket?
  • Every widow had her pipes wrapped for winter?
  • Every teacher’s lounge had holiday treats and a note of encouragement from your church?

6 Steps to Simplify Christmas

Let’s admit it. Holidays can get complicated. If we don’t pay attention, our debt grows, our peace shrinks and our stress expands. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 6 ways you can make Christmas a simpler, more beautiful season.

1. Heighten your gratitude.

Paul reminds us that anxiety and gratitude don’t mix:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7.

Once you enter the festival of generosity, an amazing sense of peace flows into your soul.

2. Lower your expectations.

Christmas is hard for people because they set their expectations too high when they reunite with extended family members. Very few people have perfectly healthy memories with their family.

Family is hard work so lower your expectations that everyone will behave over the next few days. You’ll be glad you did.

We can’t judge our extended family relationships using the scale of a Hallmark movie where everything is resolved in two hours. We must remember that we are all works in progress.

3. Check your wallet.

You can’t spend your way into reconciliation. I know this will come as a blow to the credit card companies but it’s true. Physical, tangible presents will not change a life, but your forgiveness and unconditional love will.

Jesus knew this about mankind: how you spend your money reveals the priorities of your heart.

4. Slow your pace.

  • Find the Power Button. Every remote has one. Enjoy real people- not the ones on TV.
  • “No” is a complete sentence. You’ve heard it before but it’s worth remembering. You don’t have to attend every party or do everything you did last year. Slow down. Breathe. Rest.
  • Be aware of what you consume. Have a brownie – but not the whole pan.

5. Simplify your world.

Most people spend an outrageous amount of time adding to the stuff they already own. Take time to spend less on material goods, give away what you don’t need, and add breathing room in your home.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul.
Psalm 131:1-2

This is a promise to God’s people that less of the unnecessary will quiet your soul.

6. Don’t Miss Jesus.

The arrival of Jesus will change everything if we prepare. He will come to give us something money could never buy.

May we not seek satisfaction in the things we touch. He will come to teach us how to live in dangerous surrender.

May we not seek safety in this life.

May we live our lives by the measuring stick of how well we love each other.

May we be the body of Christ.

May we live with each other in the land of grace.

Don’t miss Jesus as we celebrate His advent with simplicity and love.

7 Declarations to Make Every Day Thanksgiving

If every day was Thanksgiving, I think we’d all be quite a bit heavier! Wouldn’t you agree? There’s a reason we should only celebrate it once a year.

Still, for a moment set aside the turkey, the pies, and the cornbread dressing and make a declaration to make every day Thanksgiving day.

In other words, live a life of continuous gratitude and worship.

It’s hard, especially after the floods, elections, conflict and crises we’ve experienced.

Here are 7 declarations that will send you on your way to Thanksgiving every day.

  1. Today I’ll live a life of celebration. The brooding life is not holy. To many, it might look holy but a grave-digger and skeptic do not a Kingdom make.
  1. Today I’ll simplify to remove distractions. Our inability to hear God is directly linked to the static of modern life. It’s perhaps the greatest plague of the church. We are uncomfortable with silence. The things we place before our eyes, the multitude of messages we receive on a daily basis, even the food that we eat potentially blocks our reception of God’s voice. We often expel the voice of God through texts, emails, Facebook, radio, TV, and music.
  1. Today I won’t tolerate negativity. If you find yourself surrounded by negative, whiney, sarcastic people, consider the architecture of you life and think about doing a little renovation.
  1. Today I’ll meditate on Holy Scripture. Don’t just read it.  Become preoccupied with it! Stuff your self full of holy words and you’ll see it bring a blessing of peace over your life because your eyes and ears are open to His Word.
  1. Today I’ll follow God’s heart and not my own. Keep in mind what God thinks of your heart: it is deceitful. Culture says, “Follow your heart.” Please don’t. It’s a dead-end proposition. Discover the heart of God and follow His.  Stop all self-promotion campaigns. We are all involved in a throne battle. Ask yourself: “Who will I place on the throne of my life? To which king will I bow down?”
  1. Today I’ll clarify boundaries in my personal world. The ability to hear God is directly related to our ability to say ‘no’ to lots of things in your life- even a few good things. We understand that we are not capable of doing everything for everybody. Your closest friends will not understand it. Some will be disappointed in you and others will think you are a prude, but celebrate your boundaries. If you understand the purpose you have been created to achieve, saying NO (sometimes in bold and all caps) is not just recommended, it is required.
  1. Today I’ll seek discernment regarding my day. Every morning, ask for wisdom and courage.  You need them both in order to discern the voice of Holy God and to do whatever He tells you to do.

Remember…

The very best moment in life is today. Today is a gift which is moving forward faster than thoughts or plans. Today is where I am right here and right now. Today is an opportunity to change the little things.

Today is closer. Tomorrow is a promise and yesterday is an eternity from anything I could attain.

Today is most noble.

Today is most daring.

Tomorrow hopes but today is.

God holds the future and redeems all of yesterday but today is closer and today is where I find God.

I hope when you read this you will be grateful for this moment … grateful for where you are and what an amazing concept today, right now, really is. I hope that today you aren’t planning a siege on your enemy. I hope you aren’t wasting this moment trying to prove that you are right. I hope you aren’t swallowed up in regret. I hope you aren’t poisoning your time with trivial, toxic thoughts of wealth, vanity or revenge. None of that really works, anyway.

I hope you are in the moment because this moment is sculpting your destiny.

I live therefore I am … here … TODAY!

No matter what the day brings, if I rest in these declarations, thanksgiving becomes a lifestyle – not an annual event.

2016 Convention Recap

Here are the videos from the 2016 Convention.

2016 LBC – Monday evening

2016 LBC – Tuesday AM

2016 LBC – Tuesday PM

Operation Homecoming

Imagine shepherds living out in the fields. It’s not just a Christmas phrase. We have spiritual shepherds who have struggled through the heartbreaking floods of the past year. About 50 pastors are still displaced. No, they aren’t homeless, but they are trying to return and reset in their own homes. As an association of Louisiana Baptists churches, we believe that this is an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of these committed servants.

This is a call for churches to partner with displaced pastors to help them get back in their homes as soon as possible. We are encouraging interested churches to contact the following for assignments:

 

Operation Homecoming will be promoted at LBC Annual Meeting, November 14-15 and also on Monday afternoon, November 14 at the Pastor’s Conference.

January Bible Study

Dr. Archie W. England

Dr. Archie W. England

Year after year, churches across the country discover that a great way to start the new year is with the annual January Bible Study. These short-term studies bring the entire church together around one biblical topic. And it isn’t just for January. In fact, it’s flexible enough to use any month, any day of the week, with any age group.

DR. ARCHIE W. ENGLAND is Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, occupying the J. Wash Watts Chair of Old Testament and Hebrew. He also serves as pastor of Grace Community Baptist Church

Resources:

jbsbutton-lifeway

jbsbutton-scriptures

jbsbutton-complacency

Weighed & Found Wanting (E4 Resources)

Steve Gaines Speaks at E4

Louisiana College hosted Steve Gaines, the Keynote speaker for E4.

Dr. Steve Gaines has been the Senior Pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee since 2005. Since 1983 he has pastored churches in Texas, Tennessee, and Alabama. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Preaching from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, as well as a Master of Divinity. He received his Bachelor of Science from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.

He presently serves as President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Steve and Donna are both authors, and Steve recently published two books, Pray Like it Matters and Share Jesus Like it Matters.

 

“Standing for the Lord in a Culture Collission”
Lessons from Daniel

 

“When One Person Prays”
Lessons from Daniel

150 New Churches

Today we celebrate a significant milestone for Louisiana Baptists: 150 churches planted since 2010! Our goal is 300 by 2020, so this puts us at the half way mark. Proud of our planters & their families who have risked much for the Gospel in some hard to reach Louisiana communities. Grateful for sponsor & sending churches that have given of themselves to help new works start. Also grateful for Southern Baptist churches who have given generously to the Cooperative Program & state & national mission offerings to help provide resources & training for these 150 church plants. We look forward with great anticipation to the next 150! Join me in praying today for laborers, partners, & planters for the next 150 new churches & beyond!

Here’s a breakdown of the 150 that shows a bit of the impact of church planting in our state:

  • The 150 churches were planted in 75 Different Louisiana towns or cities,
  • 21 of the 32 Baptist Associations in Louisiana have been involved in church planting since 2010.
  • Church Plants engaged 13 different people groups in Louisiana since 2010.
  • The 150 churches included 31 in North Louisiana (21%) & 119 (79%) in South Louisiana where the majority of population is.
  • The 150 church plants include 58 Anglo (39%), 49 African-American (33%), 25 Hispanic (17%), 8 Asian (5%), 10 Multi-Ethnic by design.
  • 17 of the 150 (11%) churches planted were Multi-Site Campus Multiplication of other healthy congregations.
  • 20 of the 150 (13%) churches planted were RePlants located on Baptist properties that had been or were very near closure.
  • 12 of the 150 (8%) closed after 1 year.
  • 129 of the 150 (86%) received cooperative funding through the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
  • The 150 church plants have baptized at least 2,535 new believers. That’s 37 baptisms per month since 2010!

Praise God for the work He is doing through our church plants & our together giving through Cooperative Program & State & National Missions Offerings.

Too Many Churches?

Every now & then, someone comments to me that we are planting too many churches in Louisiana. My answer:

  • Church to Population Ratio. South Louisiana is well above national levels of church to population ratio with some communities, like the Lafayette area, near 1 church to every 10,000 residents. Our state goal is to get every association to our state average of 1 church to every 2,850 residents. Many north Louisiana communities are well below that. Church planting helps us close this gap.
  • Percentage of the population actually attending churches are sinking across our state. This reflects the fact that many churches are in decline &/or churches are not growing as fast as their populations. Church Planting is needed to help close this gap, create more capacity for evangelism, & reach every people group & population segment in our community.
  • 3%. Bill Easum has said that denominations & networks must plant 3% of their total population annually just to keep from being in decline. For us as Louisiana Baptists, with 1,600 churches, that would mean having a goal of 48 new churches each year. At that point our goal of 30 is quite conservative & reflects a priority to reach other areas of our nation with much lower levels of evangelical population.
  • Saturating Our Communities with the Gospel. Our Southern Baptist strategy & that of other Evangelical partners, has always been a SATURATION strategy. We’re committed to doing ALL we can to get the gospel to EVERY person in our communities. Church plants are evangelistic by nature & by necessity. Existing churches tend to grow less evangelistic over time. We need church plants in every community to stay on the evangelistic edge & saturate every corner of our state with the Gospel.

Check out these resources to help you get started on your church planting journey:

SEND Relief Cargo Trailers Available

NAMB is offering a new way for your church or ministry to lend a hand during disasters. You can purchase a SEND Relief cargo trailer.

Whether you are ministering to those you serve through evangelism block parties, participating in collegiate outreach, assisting in Disaster Relief or providing community food ministries, this trailer can be a beneficial tool to assist you in reaching those who need help and hope.

To purchase a trailer, complete this application.

This is a joint effort between NAMB and Louisiana Baptists to provide trailers to help with relief efforts across the state.