Eugene Peterson says that it is the role of the pastor to keep the community attentive to God. In speaking of community here, I think that he means the church. He is right and I take that role very seriously, however imperfectly I carry it out. But, I also think that it is the role of the church to make the larger community attentive to God. God is always working (John 5:17) and He works through us, His body. So, every Christmas season, we have begun looking for ways to be attentive to God ourselves and to call our community to be attentive to God as well.
This year, we have seen some amazing things happen. We had our annual Thanksgiving Dinner where the place was packed and we had 19 nations represented. Two weeks later, we had our annual Christmas Extravaganza, where we joined with Family Life Bible Fellowship, a predominately African American church for a night of worship, singing, dance, instrumentalists, food, and fellowship. It was amazing to see people from different churches and cultures come together as one in Christ. Christmas is about the Incarnation and we got to experience Christ in our midst through this gathering. I really feel that when we do these things, we are prophetically saying that we live differently from the world. The world divides according to all kinds of things. In Christ, we come together. Where there is strife and struggle in the world and peace is usually false, in Christ, all dividing walls are taken down and we are one. This is our lost witness and it must be reclaimed. I am not talking about oneness based on nothing, but oneness based on Christ and the unity that He has already provided for us. If Christmas is about Jesus being made flesh to bring us salvation and redemption, then the best thing that we can do is to herald the reconciliation that we have in Christ. We are reconciled both to God and to one another. Praise God!
A few years ago, we also started doing "A Time to Serve." I actually read about a church in Colorado that did this and ripped the whole thing off from them, so I am not claiming originality. Each year, we develop 8 or so service oriented projects and get people to lead them. Then, others in the church sign up for them and carry them out. We will wrap presents for people for free at the local Wal-Mart, have children sing at retirement homes and homes for disabled children, adopt needy families and buy presents for them, pass out Christmas cards in the neighborhood around our church, etc. Each year, the projects vary, but the point is that we encourage people to serve someone else and to share the real meaning of Christmas. It has gone well again this year and I praise God for all those who are taking part.
Last night, we danced, ate, laughed, and laughed some more. And, we ate. Our LIFE Group had our Christmas Party at our house. We had almost 40 people come over (adults and children) and we had a great time. Christians don't seem to have a lot of parties, or if we do, we tend to be pretty stiff about it. But, not this group. I love our group because they are made up of real people that know how to share life together, laugh, cry, give, and minister to one another. We have seen God do miracles in one another's lives and we have been able to intervene and intercede for one another. There is little pretense. Basically, this small group of people acts as the church within a larger church and it is a blessing to be a part of it.
I really do want to brag about my church. Gateway Baptist is the finest church I have ever been a part of. It is not perfect and it is not made up of perfect people. But, they know that they aren't perfect and they depend on God's grace. They also really want to follow God and make Him known to others. I have a lot of friends that are pastors and I hear stories about the struggles with their churches. Honestly, I can say that Gateway does not struggle with the vast majority of things that other churches do. We give God the glory, but I think that the reason is that we have kept following hard after God a top priority in our fellowship. People who have other agendas or who don't want to do that either repent and live for God themselves (that is always what we work toward and there is much love and grace for people to do just that), or they don't stick around very long. I was telling some folks last night that it is a blessing to know that there is a church that is supportive in what we are trying to do so that we can all face a broken, needy world together, instead of us all having to focus on unnecessary problems within the church. Jesus living through His people is a beautiful thing.
I just wanted to praise God and thank Him that in this time of Christmas celebration, He causes us to be attentive to Him and enables us to represent Him to others. That's about all that I want for Christmas and I have already received it. God is good.