Re-thinking Christmas Giving

By The Deacons

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WATCH THIS VIDEO (It’s Short!): 

On Christmas Giving

Take 2 minutes and watch this video from Bob Lupton (author of Toxic Charity) & Marvin Cannon (former Executive Director of FCS Ministries)

We are called to care for others, give generously, and pursue satisfying the needs of the poor. But what does that look like practically? If you’re like us, we can sometimes “give,” just so we can check the box. Yet, in so doing, we miss the opportunity to do this WELL.

As discussed in this video, our “giving to the poor” can sometimes end up insulting the recipient or robbing them of their dignity.  So when you give, take the time to put yourself in their shoes and think how you would want to be served.

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Prov 11:25)

Here are some ideas and opportunities to REFRESH others over the next month:

  • Invite a person or family over for dinner
  • Volunteer at an event at Hope-Hill Elementary in December (contact Katelyn DiGioia or Tessa Pickren)
  • Donate children’s books to Hope-Hill Elementary (contact Katelyn DiGioia or Tessa Pickren)
  • Volunteer for Pride for Parents (the organization featured in the video) throughout December Their Sign Up List
  • Give a higher end toy to Pride for Parents (like a toy found at Rhen’s Nest Toy Store in Grant Park)

St. Paul’s Members Share Their Holiday Traditions

 

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“We have three children: Kristen, Erica and Matthew, all adults now.  When they were young we used to pick names out of a hat with all our names in it a few days before Christmas dinner.  We would then pick out a bible verse that we thought was appropriate for that person.  We wrote them out and put them under their placemat at the table, and they couldn’t read it until they sat down to dinner.  Our kids seemed to really enjoy selecting the verse, and of course we were all interested what verse the other family member selected for us.  Pretty sure this was my wife’s idea as a way to help encourage one another and lean meaningful bible lessons while enjoying the many blessings of Christmas.”

Steve Lynott

“One of our favorite Christmas traditions with the boys is telling the Christmas story to them each night in December. Noel Piper wrote a fantastic story that builds upon itself each night, and it makes my heart so happy to hear them telling the story because they’ve heard it so many times over the month!”

Lauren Ellen

“As a preteen, I would help my mother in the kitchen during the day on Christmas Eve by prepping various dishes, including chopping onions, celery, and green peppers for her legendary dressing (stuffing). I loved the smell of these vegetables, however the challenge for me would be to use enough fresh lemon to scrub my hands so I would not smell like an onion medley when singing in the youth choir later that evening at Midnight Mass!”

Caroline Davis

“One tradition we have is to read through our Christmas Advent calendar and devotional book and sing christmas carols together. We try and do it at least a few nights a week at dinner. Also we started going caroling to our neighbors and friends houses a few years ago when the kids got bigger. The kids really love it!!”

Emily Truong

“I grew up going to Catholic Mass every Christmas morning and Jonathan and I have continued this tradition with my family, either going Christmas Eve or morning to worship. I didn’t realize until recently that not everyone goes to church on Christmas day! I’m excited that this year Christmas is on a Sunday and that we’ll get to worship together at St. Paul’s.”

Katelyn Digoia

“If you are like my family, you grew up having special family traditions. Some of the traditions in my family growing up included making gingerbread houses (and no kits here! My mom made all the pieces of the house!!), attending our church’s candlelight Christmas Eve service and reading the Christmas story before bed on Christmas Eve. It was what the Bell family did every year!

When we got married and Pat and I began a family of our own, I was intent on starting family traditions. Due to the importance in my home growing up, I wanted my children to have those special things as well for my family during the Christmas season. One of those traditions, which started early, was a family outing with our good friends and neighbors, the Gordons, for to visit Santa and have dinner together. We had kids the same age and this was something we valued each year. It was so much fun. In the last two years, I’m sad to say that this tradition has not happened. As kids grow up and life gets busier this time of year with school work, school concerts and just life, this event has just been hard to make happen. I have lamented this until Pat reminded me that this was a wonderful tradition for many years but traditions can change. Now we look for ways to come together with the Gordons in a less busy time of year!

But some traditions will never change in our household. I want to make it ever present in the minds and hearts of my kids why we are celebrating Christmas. We are celebrating and waiting on the coming Savior! Having Advent readings and devotions leading up to Christmas have been a treasure for our family and something my children have come to expect each year. These few minutes we come together to read, reflect and pray can often be chaotic with kids fighting or running around; however, we push through and trust that seeds are being planted and one day they will take this family tradition into their own families.”

Tessa Pickren

A Christmas Poem

By Ashley Brittingham

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christmas.

the week of flying paper and rolls of tape.

hidden presents surfacing from cupboard depths–

littering areas

falling deeper and deeper into

the tumult of traditions.

the giving effort

more like an exhausting marathon

of colors and things.

standing in pews singing carols–

hymns i grew up with

the words fall from my mouth effortlessly

the meaning lost–stunted

amid the jumble of traditions and mindless repetition.

the reason for this time is close

but surrounded by already full

hearts and minds.

it lays listlessly by our swollen organs.

the purpose of the celebration:

a birth of one whom angels announced.

lights dressing the trees

angels sitting magnificently from up top

garlands and boughs adoring hearth and rail

numerous lists and to-dos and shopping–

these hardly seem relative

to a story upon which we base

the fury and arranged decor.

but what about our “joyous strains” (1)

and our “jubilee” (1)?

how are we to

“come and adore on bended knee/Christ the Lord the newborn king” (2)?

the “incarnate deity” (2)?

to give thanks for “sinners reconciled” (1)?

thankfulness.

rejoicing.

coming together for a common theme:

praising the “Lord descending”(3) this season

and worshiping the Lord or Lords–

our Emmanuel.

  1. hark the herald angels sing
  2. angels we have heard on high
  3. angels from the realms of glory

Life In The Dead of Winter

By Troy Thomas

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I’m one of those people that love the warm, even hot, weather of Spring and Summer.  One of life’s greatly under-appreciated pleasures is feeling the sun on my face for the first time each spring after a long, cold Winter.  There is something infinitely exciting about the promise of Spring that excites the soul.  Yet, in God’s economy, there is also an equal importance in Fall —and ultimately the dead of Winter.

Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 NKJ

  1. To everything there is a season,

   A time for every purpose under heaven:

  1. A time to be born,

      And a time to die;

   A time to plant,

      And a time to pluck what is planted…

Each Fall, as I think about the seasonal death that we see all around us, I am reminded of the teachings of Christ.

John 12:24-25 NKJ

  1. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.
  2. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Even though Fall and Winter are not my favorite seasons, I have learned to enjoy them as a metaphor for eternal life.  I am again drawn to the paradoxical words of Christ.

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If I die to myself, only then will I truly experience life.  If I give away my life, only then will I gain life that cannot be taken away.

Paul echoes the teaching of Christ in I Corinthians 15:35-36 NKJ

  1. But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up?  And with what body do they come?”
  2. Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies.

Finally, as I wonder about this death and life paradox, I realize that each rebirth is granted from God Himself.  Just as dead leaves do not choose life, they are granted life from the Giver of Life.

John 15:16 NKJ

  1. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, and whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.img_4162

For the Marys and Marthas: Jesus In Our Grief

By Kate Seat

On September 19, 2015, a dear colleague of mine passed away in a hiking accident. He was 23, newlywed, talented, and big-hearted. He’d just begun his second year of teaching high school English at the school where we both worked. Last year I wrote some thoughts to share with our students. Here they are, emended.

Everyone hurts at different speeds. In John’s Gospel, Mary and Martha had a brother, Lazarus, who died. Famously, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, but a subtler part of the story astounds me even more than the resurrection. It’s the intimate way Jesus meets the two sisters in their grief. He doesn’t come to them with one-size-fits-all platitudes: he tailors his compassion to each woman.

When Martha hears Jesus is coming, she immediately goes out of the house to meet him and basically says, Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died. BUT I know you are in control, and I know everything will be okay on the day of the resurrection. Martha needs hope and a game plan and assurance of good things to come.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” – John 11:25-27

Martha responds to death with hope, and Jesus gives her an even bigger, more attainable hope than the one she first had.

Mary, though, sits in the house when she hears Jesus is near. She doesn’t come out until Martha tells her that Jesus is asking for her. So already, we can see a difference. Martha runs to Jesus, but Mary has to be drawn out. When she does go to Jesus, she just falls at Jesus’ feet, crying, saying “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She’s not singing hymns or quoting Jeremiah 29:11 – she’s not ready for that. She’s just grieving. And I get that. I’m totally a Mary. There’s no way I’d spend my energy cleaning when I could be listening to Jesus, and I would not be ready for positive thinking four days after my brother’s death. Last week, I had to leave any conversation where the “Marthas” were talking, where anyone said anything along the lines of “everything happens for reason” or “God has a plan, His ways are not our ways”. When I was alone, I didn’t listen to praise songs – I listened to Aretha Franklin’s blues recordings, because I needed to feel sad. And it’s okay that I felt like that.

It’s tempting for the Martha types to tell the Marys to pull it together, and then it’s tempting for the Mary types to lash out against the Marthas. But Jesus greets Mary as perfectly as he greeted Martha. When she falls at his feet crying, Jesus doesn’t say anything to Mary. The Scripture says when he saw her weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. Another translation says he was indignant in his spirit, instead of deeply moved. The verb in the Latin text means he growled. And then Jesus wept.

I am so grateful for this Jesus. The Jesus who’s mad about death. The Jesus who understands that everything is not okay. The Jesus who enters my pain before he redeems it.

God Still Does Miraculous Things

By Sue Jones

When I decided to move to Atlanta about 4 months ago, I was a little nervous because although I have several family members here, I didn’t have any friends, and knew I would need some. I didn’t want to be totally dependent on my family.

My first Sunday in town I decided to look for a new church online. I love Tim Keller’s sermons and books so wanted to try a PCA church. Well, St. Paul’s was the first one I saw that was relatively close to where I’d be living, so Sunday morning I drove there.

I arrived early, and saw a young woman sitting in a pew by herself.  I went over and sat one seat away from her. She immediately leaned over and said, “Hi! I’m Lynette, come sit by me.” Her name took me by surprise because I have a life-long friend named Lynette, and haven’t ever known another. We laughed about that, and started talking about my move to Atlanta. Lynette asked where I was going to be living and when I told her North Decatur, she said, “Oh, that’s where I live!” She then asked if I had a townhouse or a house, and I told her that I would be living in an apartment complex. Again she said, “Oh, I live in an apartment too.” Of course, she asked which apartment complex, and when I told her, she immediately started tearing up and said, “Oh my, that’s where I live, and I’ve been praying for a Christian friend to move into my complex!”

She then asked me to go to lunch and I looked up and said, “Okay God, I get it. This is where you want me to be!”

Other things almost as amazing have happened since I moved here, and my nervousness about adjusting to life in the big city is gone. St. Paul’s has welcomed me with open arms, and I already feel like it’s home. Thank you, Jesus, and thank you, St. Paul’s!

Thank you, God, for taking me right where I needed to be at just the right time!

 

Bring Depth to Your Prayer Life: Four Ways to Pray The Psalms

By Rebecca Duff

There are so many ways and methods in which to pray, but sometimes we can get in a rut. Do you ever find yourself getting a little tired of praying the ‘grocery list’ of needs?

Sometimes our hearts need a spiritual injection to add depth and richness to our prayers. One way to do this, is to turn a Psalm into a prayer. There is no situation or human emotion that hasn’t been experienced somewhere in the Psalms. You can immerse yourself in the Psalms, and turn them into rich prayers. The Psalms also lend themselves to teach our hearts how to pray in accordance with God’s character and will.

Do you realize that Jesus would have actually sung and prayed the Psalms through his entire life?

As you consider a particular psalm, imagine how he would have thought about it, knowing who he was and what he came to do.

Here are four easy ways to pray a Psalm:

  1. Verbatim: simply pray the words as they are. Psalm 90 works well as an example.
  2. Paraphrase: this involves rephrasing and personalizing a Psalm. You can change the meanings of some words to fit your life. For example: “Deliver me from my enemies” could be paraphrased as: deliver me from being impatient with my children (or any other area that you may be struggling with)
  3. Responsive praying: Take a look at some of the longer Psalms, where it is more a ‘teaching’ format. In this case, look for themes such as: adoration, confession or supplication, and then include that into your prayer. The theme will often lead your heart into deeper, sweeter time with God. 
  4. Messianic Psalms: There are a number of obvious Psalms that give a rich view of Christ. See which ones describe the Messiah, and contemplate the greatness and beauty of Jesus to adore and rest in Him.

I challenge you to include a Psalm into your prayer life once a week to start, see what riches it will unlock when you learn to pray the Psalms.

Videos From Deacon Training that Everyone Should See

By The Deacons of St. Paul’s

What is Poverty? (Click for video)

In this 3 minute video Brian Fikkert (author of When Helping Hurts) examines poverty as more than simply being materially poor. He presents poverty as fractured relationships with God, self, others, and Creation. Fikkert gives a beautiful picture of how we are all poor and in need of a Savior.

We’d love to start a dialogue with the church about this.

Church, what do you think?

What hit you most from this video?

How does this affect the way you think about poverty?

Relief in a World of Chaos

by Joseph Davis

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”  – Psalm 46:1-7

Last week, in an unexpected and unprecedented political move, the United Kingdom became the first country to withdraw from the European Communion after being a member state for 43 years.  The shock waves of the national referendum were immediate as the uncertain future of Europe caused stock markets to fall sharply across the globe.  Experts speculate that this may lead to the withdrawal of Ireland and Scotland from the U.K. as well as threaten the existence of the European Union.  Whether you find yourself a supporter of Brexit, opposed to it, or generally indifferent, everyone can agree that this is another example of the fragility and uncertainty that seems so potent in our world today.

The Brexit vote only replaces the leading news of the worst mass shooting in American history leaving 50 dead in Orlando.  The current Presidential race in the U.S. reveals a country that is polarized and hurting.  Suicide bombings overseas are as common as the weather report.  Just a few days ago, a suicide bomber detonated himself in Somalia killing innocent bystanders.  Words like ISIS, racial division, and Zika dominate the news.  

When the Psalmist describes his own chaotic world as a mighty earthquake (“mountains quake with their surging”) we can relate to him.  It’s hard enough for us to keep our own personal lives from feeling like an earthquake, much less global events.

However, the Psalmist then contrasts this chaotic description with a peaceful scene, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.”  This is not just a description of a future reality – it’s a present reality where peace, trust, and confidence flourish – despite circumstances.  The Psalmist has come to understand that the life lived in the presence and protection of God leads to a stability and peace that overcome the anxieties that plague our world.  

In God’s family, living as part of His Kingdom, fear and anxiety do not have to be the obvious result of chaotic circumstances.  Because of the Holy Spirit at work in the hearts of His people, words like stable, confident, peaceful, and joyful can mark our lives.  After all, through Jesus, we have access to the presence of God Himself.  He is sovereign, faithful, and true.  No terrorist or suicide bomber can thwart his eternal plans.  

For Christians, he has promised to work everything for our good, even painful circumstances…no, especially painful circumstances.

They are God’s way to help us become more like Jesus. So, as the Apostle Paul writes, “We are always of good courage!”  Let us live in the middle of the chaos by the power of the Holy Spirit.  But let us also look forward to a Kingdom that will one day fully come, and a King who will wipe away all our tears.