My Resolutions…More or Less

The start of a new year is usually perceived as a season for clean slates and new beginnings. Depending on your perspective, you might consider New Year’s Day as a time to turn over a new leaf, a time to start that post-holiday diet, or a time to generally clean up your act and put your life in order.

I am not usually inclined to compose a list of New Year’s resolutions, but in 2009 there are some specific goals I want to work on personally and professionally. As I prepare for 2009, here are my big five resolutions…more or less:

1. Eat less and exercise more. My physician keeps reminding me that I can increase the probability of enjoying prolonged good health if I begin now to eat a little less (reducing 200-300 calories per day) and to exercise more (30-45 minutes per day).

2. Talk less and listen more. Several times in children’s sermons I have emphasized that God created us with two ears and one mouth so that we could listen twice as much as we talk. As I grow older, I am discovering the need for me as an adult to limit my speech and to be more intentional and focused in my listening.

3. Meet less and minister more. In recent months, the church I serve has taken some strategic steps to minimize the number of meetings we ask leaders and workers to attend, and to increase the number of ministry opportunities we provide. Even as a church staff member, if I am not careful, my time can be consumed in meetings where my presence is not really needed. In 2009, I want to spend more time engaged in ministry action.

4. Criticize less and encourage more. Maybe it’s the after effect of an election year or maybe it is a side effect of the recession, but I have heard enough criticism in 2008 to taste its toxicity. While constructive criticism may be of great value, negative and petty criticism tends to be contagious and demoralizing. Our local and national leaders, our ministers, our colleagues and our neighbors need our prayers and encouragement more than they need darts of criticism flying their way.

5. Spend less and save more. As I experience the challenges of the current recession, and as I think about retirement possibilities down the road, I am persuaded that I need to spend a little less this year on frivolous things and to put a little more in savings to provide stability for the future.

As I prepare to ring in the New Year, there some things I need to do a little less often and others I need to do a little more frequently. How about you?

I Am Grateful for the Role You Play

Last week one of our energetic nephews, Jacob, was in the Christmas play at his school. He was excited about his role. Parents and grandparents were in attendance with videocameras in hand. When they reported to Aunt Amanda and Uncle Barry about the good job Jacob did, I asked, “What part did he play?”  I was surprised when they answered, “He was the donkey that Mary rode into Bethlehem.”  Then came the remark, “Somebody has to do it.”

It’s true that many of us play a lot of different roles in God’s church and God’s kingdom.  No matter what role you play, I appreciate the servant heart, the spiritual gifts, and the growing faithfulness you offer to the Lord through the ministries of First Baptist Church.

On behalf of our support staff and ministers, “thank you” for the encouraging notes, Christmas cards, and various goodies you have shared with us during the holiday season.

We wish for you and your family a meaningful and merry Christmas, and true joy and peace for the New Year!

A Tale of Two Attitudes

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way. Charles Dickens

In 1859 Charles Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities, a historical novel set in London and Paris detailing the social and economic challenges experienced during the French Revolution, a conflict that impacted most of Western Europe. Dickens’ novel has the recurrent theme of resurrection, chronicling how several individuals faced the challenges of those days with perseverance, determination, and resilience.

Though we are definitely not living in the worst of times, we are certainly experiencing the toughest economy in recent years…a challenging time to keep your business afloat, a challenging time to maintain your job, a challenging time to make ends meet. But the worst of our times can bring out the best in us. Challenging times can fortify our faith, strengthen our character, and deepen our resolve.

Your faith and your attitude can determine whether you view your challenging times with pessimism, hopelessness, and despair, or whether you muster your courage and confront your challenges with perseverance, determination, and resilience.

In your Advent journey, as you progress toward Christmas, remember that the babe in the manger was born to bring Light to your season of darkness.

On the next two Sundays, December 21 and 28, we will begin Bible Study at 8:45 and share in combined services of worship at 10:00. Join in the fellowship in the Atrium from 8:15-8:45. Be encouraged to wear your Christmas colors to each of our remaining December services.

Christmas is a great time to invite a friend or neighbor to join you as we gather for worship and Bible study.

Holiday Schedule

Dec 21 8:45a.m. Bible Study

10:00 a.m. Worship in the Sanctuary

Dec 24 5:00 p.m. Candle and Carols

Dec 28 8:45 a.m. Bible Study

10:00 a.m. Worship in Chipley Hall

Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum

Advent comes alive with candles and carols, prophecy and promise, friendship and faith. On recent Sundays we have lit the Prophecy Candle, reminding us of the messianic promises rendered by prophets long ago, and the Angels Candle, highlighting the angelic announcements to Elizabeth and Zechariah, to Joseph and Mary, and to Shepherds watching their flocks by night. This Sunday we will light the Shepherds Candle, a reminder of our responsibility to spread the good news about the child born in Bethlehem

Surrounded by colorful seasonal décor, we will sing the carols of the season and we will focus on the importance of Marching to a Different Drummer from Romans 12:1-2. Then on Sunday evening, we will gather at six o’clock for In Excelsis Deo presented by our Festival Chorus and Orchestra.

Speaking of décor, for many years we have enjoyed an outdoor nativity scene on the southern front lawn, a scene provided by Elliott and Frances Dobelstein in memory of their son, Wayne. We are grateful that the Dobelsteins have provided a new indoor nativity scene in memory of Wayne, a crèche symbolizing the hope, love, peace and joy of the season, now on display in the atrium window of the ROC.

By the way, this week, in addition to our tithe, Amanda and I are writing our check for our annual Christmas Offering for Global Missions. We invite you to join us as we prayerfully and financially support those who serve as missionaries around the world.

Advent is an opportune time for spiritual reflection and spiritual commitment. After each worship service, counselors and ministers are available to speak with persons who are making commitments regarding faith in Christ and membership in the church. And as we prepare to embrace the opportunities of a new year, we encourage every member of our church family to take a spiritual gifts inventory, either online or on paper, and to connect with a ministry team that most closely matches your spiritual gifts and your personal passion.
I look forward to seeing you this Sunday as we gather for worship and Bible study.

Marching to a Different Drummer

The holidays typically usher in a shopping frenzy and frantic pre-occupation with gift giving, but this year both will likely be tempered by the current wave of market anxiety. As Advent begins in this new social and economic context, and as I reflect on the approaching celebration of Christmas, I am focused on the juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated Bible texts. The first summarizes the journey of the Magi who traveled from the East in search of the mysterious child of promise: When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh (Matthew 2:10-11 NIV).

The second text, which I readily confess does not typically invoke Yuletide emotion, is Romans 12:2 which boldly challenges believers to live out our faith with subversive authenticity: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (NIV).

Treasures construed to be the contemporary equivalent of gold, incense, and myrrh are not the only gifts you can present in honor of Jesus. As you embark upon your Advent journey, perhaps you might also consider offering something that cost you a little more of your self, a contribution from your own lode of talent or giftedness.

Do you recall the legend behind the musical story of “The Little Drummer Boy,” the song about a boy who gave of his meager talent by playing the drum for the Christ child? Introduced in the U.S. in the 1950’s, this memorable holiday carol made popular by Bing Crosby, was actually based on a Czech tune, “Carol of the Drum,” composed by Katherine K. Davis in 1941 and later recorded by the famed Von Trapp Family Singers in Austria. The more familiar “drummer boy” version details the fictional but meaningful tale of a young boy who approached the manger with nothing to offer but his drum. However, as the boy began to play his drum, his unique gift brought a smile to the face of the infant.

Throughout this holiday season a variety of colorful and thematic decorations will adorn many of our church campuses, iconic symbols such as a Christmas tree, an Advent wreath, or a manger crèche. Peculiar in the décor of the church I serve is a drum tree which is constructed annually in our church atrium. Vick Vickery, our veteran Scoutmaster, assembles this drum tree each year out of 34 percussion instruments from different eras in history. Included in this menagerie are replicas of the rope drum used in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Historically, these instruments were crucial for conveying instructions and maintaining morale, for in the days prior to advanced telecommunication, soldiers were trained to listen carefully for strategic commands encoded in the resounding beat of the drummer.

Now, stacked and configured in the form of a Christmas tree, our drum tree serves as a holiday reminder that God calls us to march to the beat of a different drummer, receiving our formative cues and motivation from the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus. While the default values of our culture may prompt us to spend irresponsibly, to consume disproportionately, and to hurry frantically, our faith calls us to march to the rhythm and cadence of a different percussionist, to be cheerful in giving, gracious in receiving, and intentional in living.

During this festive season of the year, believers of all ages are invited to invest our best spiritual gifts and our prime tangible gifts in ways that express our allegiance and alignment with the One born in Bethlehem.

(Dr. Barry Howard serves as Senior Minister at the First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida.)