Happy New Year! We begin 2018 with great hopes for good things ahead. Questions come to mind, though, of what will transpire and what major events will shape our individual lives, the lives of those around us, and our culture as a whole. What will we face? How will we respond? What will occur on the national or global stage? The truth is that we do not know what lies ahead, but we can have this resolve: although we cannot control events or decisions others make or how others respond to or treat us, we can control how we respond to whatever comes our way. Hopefully, our responses and the mindsets that determine so many of our actions will be rooted in the truths lived and taught by the One we follow who is Truth—the very One for which the Magi journeyed to behold and to worship, Jesus the Christ.
I encourage you to celebrate Epiphany with your church family in worship this Sunday.
This week is a period of “in-between” time. Advent 2017 is behind and we anticipate the New Year 2018. All sorts of thoughts flood my mind as I think of the new year and reflect on 2017 as it draws to a close. Thoughts come to mind of the many good things experienced, the accomplishments achieved, and in all candor, the missed opportunities and even the failures.
Yes, something within us prompts a mental review of the previous twelve months to evaluate what we have done with the time, talents and resources with which God continues to richly bless us. Each year brings new challenges, and 2017 was no exception. Much was achieved, yet there is much more to be done still.
God has entrusted each of us followers of Christ to use our gifts faithfully and wisely. Please give consideration to your commitment of support (whether that be contributing of your hours or expertise or finances) to glorify God and His church in 2018. As such, we all must acknowledge that the wise use of financial means is only a part of living faithfully and responsibly.
I am sending this hoping you will take the opportunity to renew your commitment to faithfully use your time, talents and resources in the new year. Additionally, since this is the last week of the calendar year 2017, you may want to review your financial support of Southside Baptist Church, and make an additional gift for this tax year. This is extremely important this year since the tax reform bill recently signed into law may significantly impact the charitable giving received by Southside Baptist Church in the years to come. Your gift, whether great or small, is needed for Southside Baptist Church to continue on and to increase our efforts to be the “Presence of Christ” we are called to be.
It is my prayer that you will most certainly feel the joy and the fullness of our Lord, Jesus Christ, as the closing of the 2017 year approaches and that you will know the hope and the grace of our Lord in the dawning of the new 2018.
The experiences of worship this Advent season continue to be wonderful! The Advent and Christmas decorations carefully arranged add to the beauty of the sanctuary and enhance the already worshipful atmosphere. Excitement and anticipation of this season lift our spirits as we hear the timeless promises of God found in scripture, beautiful music, homilies and prayers. Corporate worship is always important, but it is especially so in times when we open ourselves more to God’s activity in our lives and in the world around us. Someone told me recently that the circumstances in her life this Christmas prompted her to focus on individuals close at hand that needed to experience the love of God and the presence of Jesus in their lives. This led her to look for ways to be an instrument of God’s love to people within her sphere of influence rather than looking at what was lacking in her own life this Christmas. This adjustment in perspective produced unexpected joy, and for this individual, a reclamation of the true meaning of Christmas. We all know the season of Advent and Christmas is really about much more than all the superficial activities we engage in, many of which leave us feeling empty and even a bit depressed. This season embodies the hope, peace, joy and love that we have because God became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus. Jesus, God in flesh, who sacrificed himself that we may receive and experience His unfailing love today and for eternity. Celebrate this season and experience the greatest joy through loving acts toward others as the Spirit of Christ guides you.
Missions education and missions giving are major emphases during Advent and Christmas. We give to various missions organizations in response to the love, mercy and grace of God that we experience, hoping that through the efforts of these organizations others will come to know the grace of God experienced in and through the person of Jesus the Christ. Southside Baptist Church is receiving the annual offering for Global Missions this month which will be used to sustain Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel around the world. These individuals are working in many different capacities; however, the primary focus is building “beloved community.” These individuals share God’s love as they work to supply very basic needs along with teaching many life skills necessary for displaced refugees to assimilate into another culture. Please prayerfully consider how you will support these efforts.
Another mission effort supported, in part, by Southside Baptist Church is the Good News Children’s Education Mission in Kolkata, India. Tonight at 6:00 p.m., Subir and Eunok Roy, will share with us some updates and tell us a little about the vision they have for further ministry efforts. Make plans to be present to hear their presentation and to fellowship around the table together.
The weeks of Advent are a paradox. We live each day with a heightened sense of expectation and anticipation as we wait. However, our waiting and watching for the Lord’s appearance in everyday events is easily pushed aside as we engage in all sorts of holiday events intended to make the season more special. Our efforts to experience more leaves us actually experiencing less. In these weeks of Advent, look for and anticipate the subtle ways that God moves among us and experience them to their fullest. Consider ways that you can bless others and be an instrument of God’s peace.
The Columns this month contains a list of ways to bless others through your contributions or direct involvement. Our Advent Missions Offering for Global Missions is one very important way that you can help. One hundred percent of this offering is used to keep CBF field personnel on the field meeting physical, emotional and spiritual needs as they share the Gospel around the world. One example of the ministries this offering supports is the work of Shelah and Jade Acker, founders of Refuge and Hope in Uganda. The center is not a shelter itself but through it, social workers provide counseling, education, job training, life skills training and help in resettlement of refugees in Kampala, Uganda. Many of the refugees that make their way to Refuge and Hope from South Sudan. An estimated 300,000 people have been killed and four million South Sudanese displaced as a result of the civil war that erupted in 2013. Many of these refugees find their way to Uganda where they are willingly accepted, but where life is very hard due to lack of education, training and resources. Centers like Refuge and Hope provide the love, care and community needed by these refugees. May we all remember that in this season we celebrate the birth of Jesus who, soon after his birth, along with Mary and Joseph, became refugees themselves as they escaped to Egypt. Jesus taught when one demonstrates the love of God by loving and caring for one of the least of these you have done it unto him. Prayerfully, consider how you will give to support this and other efforts around the world.
Advent begins this Sunday, December 3, and it is also the beginning of the Christian Year. Advent is a time of celebrating and waiting, of remembering and anticipating. It is a time of great tension in experiencing the “already” and anticipating the “not yet” that is promised. It is a time for spiritual renewal and of growing deeper and stronger in our faith. Each Sunday is an opportunity to experience the presence of Christ as we worship together and each weekday an opportunity to experience the presence of Christ in our neighborhood, community, work or play.
On Thursday evenings at 5:30 p.m., we gather in Memorial Chapel for a time of prayer and meditation, followed by Holy Communion. During Advent, the meditation and prayer focus each week will use the text for the upcoming Sunday. Hopefully this will further enhance our experience of Advent.
This Wednesday, we resume the weekly mid-week schedule for Fellowship Supper, Prayer and Bible Study. Dr. Roxburgh will continue the study on Peter as he presents a study entitled, “Failure and Forgiveness.” I hope to see you there for a great time of fellowship and study.
What will you do this Thanksgiving Day?
Will you be traveling to see family or friends?
Is there a tradition to which your family always adheres on this holiday?
Wherever you are and whatever you do tomorrow, take some time to give thanks for all your blessings. Find a few minutes and take an inventory of all the wondrous sights, sounds and fragrances surrounding you in this wonderful creation God has brought into existence. Look for the good things evident in events and in relationships. Speak words of thanks and appreciation to your family and friends for being present and enriching your life through their love and kind deeds. And above all, give thanks to God for the love, mercy and grace that we experience through Jesus the Christ and the constant and abiding presence of Christ that brings meaning, purpose and joy to our lives.
I hope you have a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving!