Read

Galatians 5:24-26

Paul reviews his theological foundation as it supports his ethical living.

Reflect

In Christ, we have crucified our self-indulgence. In Christ, we live in the Spirit.  So, if we live in the Spirit, let us live the life of love. And now you know why we’ve been practicing this all week!

Respond

Follow Jesus

Share God’s love today with someone who is hurting (physically, emotionally, and or/ spiritually). Bear the fruit of love in a hurting world. If you’ve already responded in this way throughout the week, respond as God leads you today.

Pray

God, it is so easy to say, “live a life of love” and so much harder to do it. Show me your will and your ways so I can be more loving today than I was yesterday. Amen.

Celebrate

How did you share God’s love today? Was it a challenge or did it come easy?

Use a notebook to record your responses. Share your celebrations in the comments below or in the Facebook group (You’ll find a link to request to join in your confirmation email. Not registered? Sign-up here.)

Galatians 5 Transforming Mission

 

Extra Thoughts

If you haven’t taken a moment to review the “Overview of Following Jesus Every Day: Galatians,” please do so. You’ll find a few tips that will help you start this journey.

Some of you are stepping into new appointments in a few weeks. You will transition from one congregation to another, learn the names and lives of another group of Jesus followers, and develop life-long relationships which will bring meaning to your lives.

Others of you will return to faith communities where you are investing your lives in developing relationships, learning the needs and assets of the congregation, and engaging the congregation with the community.

Whether stepping into a new appointment or returning to a congregation, I want to remind you of three basic practices for leaders.

Three Essential Practices Transforming MissionPractice 1: Prayer

The first practice is Prayer. As a pastor, I learned early that most people wanted something from me or wanted me to do something for them. Early in my ministry, I liked the idea of being needed and wanted. The demand-filled day was welcomed. It was nice to be needed. After a while I realized that all requests for my time and energy were urgent. Even the trivial actions were dressed in words of importance.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but the edge of the flattery began to wear off when I realized no one demanded that I practice a life of prayer. Even though I thought prayer was at the heart of my ministry, I was not praying. Oh, I prayed in worship and in public events, but I was not personally listening to God or guiding others into listening to God.

It was only when I began to intentionally focus upon prayer and to develop a life of prayer that I began to focus upon God’s desire for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of prayer. Please don’t let the urgent keep you from focusing on and listening to God.

Practice 2: Reading, Reflecting, and Responding to the Scriptures

The second practice is the reading, reflecting, and responding to the Scriptures. Again, early in my ministry, I found myself reading, teaching, and preaching the Scriptures more for information than for formation. Although reading and reflecting upon the Scripture was basic to my work, I began to realize that using the Scripture was not the same as listening to God.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but I began to recognize that I was out of relationship with God and with God’s people. I began to understand that a major part of my work was to listen for God in and through the Scriptures. So, I began to study Scripture more for formation. I began to listen for God in and through the Scriptures. I began to ask God to help improve the acoustics so I could reflect and respond more clearly.

It was when I began to intentionally focus upon the reading, reflecting, and responding to the Scriptures that I discovered more of God’s design and desire for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of Bible study. Develop a pattern of reading, reflecting, and responding to Scripture. Improve the acoustics so you can hear God more often and more clearly.

Practice 3: Self-Awareness and Self-Leadership

The third practice is to be who God created you to be. Over the years of my ministry, I have wasted too much time and energy focused upon pleasing people. There have been times when I have lost myself in wanting people to like me. My insecurity showed up when I worked harder for compliments than I did at caring and compassion.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but trying to be all things to all people got old in a hurry. I learned that for me to be my best was to be who God created me to be. So, I surrounded myself with people who loved me as I was but who would not let me stay the way I was.

Through the development of mature and intimate relationships, I learned and experienced God’s love in life-transforming ways. I was encouraged to be who God created me to be which set me free to lead courageously with hope.

It was when I began to intentionally focus upon developing caring relationships that I truly began to trust God and the people around me. It was when I began to be who God created me to be that I began to live the life God desired for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of getting to know yourself. Surround yourself with people who love you and who will clear a space for you to be who God created you to be. It will be in living out God’s design for your life that you will make the greatest impact upon family, friends, and congregation.

You and I have the opportunity to shape the course of our lives. As you enter this next season of your work, develop a life of prayer; and, read, reflect, and respond to the Scriptures. Let’s grow together in becoming the leaders God has created us to be.

Last week, I received a call from my doctor’s office.  The voice on the line said, “Mr. Bias, it is time to schedule your next checkup.  May we schedule your appointment today?”  I wanted to say, “No,” but I knew that my regular checkup helped to keep me physically healthy.

Over the years, I have learned the same is true about effective leadership.  I have not always called them checkups, but I have regularly stopped to evaluate or to take an account of my life and actions.  For me, regular checkups are necessary for effective leadership.

At the beginning of the year, Sara Thomas introduced us to a weekly checkup called TGIF: Trust, Gratitude, Inspiration, and Faith.  She wrote, “…if all leadership begins with self-leadership, there are things that need to improve.”  She continued, “I know the impact reflection has on transformation.  If you want growth, stop and reflect.”

She proposed taking time each week to reflect upon four TGIF questions to assist in growing in faith and in developing as courageous leaders:

  1. What am I TRUSTING?
  2. For whom or what am I GRATEFUL?
  3. Who or What is INSPIRING me?
  4. How am I practicing FAITH?

So today, I am sharing with you my most recent checkup in regard to becoming a more compassionate leader.

Leadership Checkup Transforming Mission

Trust

What am I Trusting?

I am trusting my listening skills.  Over the past several weeks, I have listened closely to the needs, aspirations, and mission of our local churches.  At the same time, I have listened closely to the strengths, skills, and needs of our clergy.

I am trusting what is emerging.  In the midst of listening, what emerges is not exactly what I have in mind.  I am trusting the new things God is doing.

I am also trusting the shift in my prayer habits.  I continue to make the shift from having a prayer life to living a life of prayer.

Gratitude

For whom or what am I grateful?

I am grateful for trusted friends. I am grateful for those so close they not only love me just the way I am, but they give of themselves so I can become who God created me to be. I am grateful for the embodiment of unconditional and unselfish love in their lives. I am grateful that the love I experience in and through them encourages me to be more like Jesus.

Because I am surrounded by friends who embody such love, I am becoming a more compassionate leader.

Inspiration

 

What is inspiring me?

Most recently, the Galatians: Following Jesus Every Day reading plan. It is this habit of reading, reflecting, and responding that helps keep me focused and growing.

This past week, to hear the names of the persons participating in the study lifted in prayer was an awe-inspiring experience.

Faith

How am I practicing faith?

By God’s grace, I am working on being clear about what I think and how I act. I know that might sound strange, but I am trusting that God wants me to live in the real world.  There are times that I find it easy to “interact” with God in seclusion, where I can escape from responsibility.  I find it more difficult to follow God into the office, the community, or into relationships I cannot control.

I am practicing faith by stepping away from a fear of failure.  It is my fear of failure that keeps me from taking risks and keeps me in my comfort zone. I am also practicing my faith by not talking about success, but by stepping into the arena to participate in the possibility of success.

It’s time for A Check-up

It is nothing spectacular. But being a healthy leader allows me the opportunity to see the people around me as God sees them, to understand more who I am becoming in God’s work, and to catch a glimpse of God in and through trust and obedience.

So, how are doing with Trust, Gratitude, Inspiration, and Faith?

Church leader, it is time for your next checkup.  Are you willing to participate in it today?

What transformation will you experience this Easter?

Over the years, as I prepare for Easter Sunday, I wonder why the women, in Mark’s story of the resurrection, did not say anything to anyone.  I know the story is that “they were afraid.”

But who else can truly tell the story? They are witnesses to the resurrection. They are involved in it.

Similarly, the late Dr. Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard extends this message to each one of us today. He wrote,

“…the resurrection is a continuing event which involves everyone who dares be involved in it. Easter is not just about Jesus, it’s about you.  Jesus has already claimed his new life. What about you?  Easter is not just about the past, it’s about the future.  Your best days are ahead of you.  The proof of the resurrection is in your hands and in your life.”

So, how can we be involved in the resurrection?  How do we become proof of the resurrection?

Easter Transformation quote Transforming MissionLove as Jesus Loved  

To be involved with the resurrection, you and I must love as Jesus loved. E. Stanley Jones, in his book Gandhi: A Portrayal of a Friend, tells the story of his first encounter with Mahatma Gandhi. Jones asked him, “What would you, a Hindu leader, tell me, a Christian, to do in order to make Christianity a normal part of India?”   

Without hesitation, Gandhi responded with clarity and directness.

“First, I would suggest that all of you Christians begin to live more like Jesus Christ.  Second, practice your religion without adulterating it or toning it down. Third, emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity. Fourth, study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people.” 

The great Hindu leader said, “Your faith doesn’t need to be changed; it doesn’t need to be added to or subtracted from; it needs to be lived as it is.” 

Are you “All In”? 

In other words, to be involved with the resurrection, you and I must be “all in” followers of JesusWe identify, not only with Jesus but, with the people with whom Jesus identified.

That means we will have to identify with the poor and oppressed, the marginalized and forgotten, and with the uber-religious.  Identification and relationships are essential to being “all in”. You and I will have to have personal contact with people who suffer as well as celebrate.

“All In” Actions

Consider the following actions:

  • serving meals, visiting the sick and lonely.
  • assisting those who are physically or mentally disabled
  • befriending a neglected child
  • leading your church into the community to engage with the people in your neighborhood or city

These actions are ways we can identify with the people with whom Jesus identified. As we do, we can discover the humbling joy of receiving more than we give.  Through identification with persons and involvement in their lives, we can become the proof of the resurrection.  

To be involved with the resurrection, you and I, must not only love like Jesus, be “all in” followers of Jesus, but we must listen to the witness of those who have been with Jesus themselves.

Read Mark’s story,

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him…And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” 

Are You Listening?

The greatest clue to being involved in the resurrection is in the witness of the women at the empty tomb. When the women do speak, when they find their tongues, when they witness, I will listen.

Will you?  

Maybe the greatest proof of the resurrection is seen in the transformation of our living.  We don’t even have to say much when we are loving one another as we have been loved. But we do need to listen for the ones who know Jesus personally. That’s where we’ll hear, see, and experience the power of the resurrection. That’s where we’ll claim the new life. This Sunday, my prayer for you and all who gather is this: Easter transformation. May it be so!

Tom Wiles, while university chaplain at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, purchased a new pickup truck.  While the truck was parked in his driveway, his neighbor’s basketball post fell against the truck leaving dents and scrapes on the passenger door.  The scratches looked like deep white scars on the new truck exterior. 

A friend happened to notice the scrapes and asked, “What happened here?” 

Disciple-making involves building relationships. Growing in love with Jesus is at the heart of discipleship. But, we have a challenge in western culture. #jesus #disciple #discipleship #faith transforming mission

Tom replied with a downcast voice, “My neighbor’s basketball post fell and left those dents. I asked him about it. He doesn’t feel responsible for the damage.” 

“You’re kidding! How awful! This truck is so new I can smell it.” His friend continued, “Did you contact your insurance company? How are you going to get him to pay for it?” 

Tom replied, “This has been a real spiritual journey for me.  After a lot of soul-searching and discussions with my wife about hiring an attorney, it came down to this: I can either be in the right, or I can be in a relationship with my neighbor.  Since my neighbor will probably be with me longer than the truck, I decided to focus on our relationship.  Besides, trucks are meant to be banged up, so I got mine initiated into the real world a bit earlier than I expected.”¹

In Relationship or In the Right?

Wow!  How many times have we sacrificed being “in relationship” for the personal satisfaction of being “in the right?” How many times have we won the argument, but lost a friend or damaged a heart?  

Did Jesus come to teach us “right” theology? Or did he come to redeem our relationships with God and with one another? Jesus’ own prayer in John 17 revolves around the stewardship of his relationships.  He saved the world by teaching twelve individuals how to get along and to belong to one another.  In other words, Jesus saved the world by teaching them how to be in a relationship with one another. 

This should not surprise any of us who call ourselves Christian. Relationships are central to Christian theology because God is love. Love is impossible outside of relationships. Relationships are central to God’s kingdom, the new creation.  From my perspective, we have no choice but to live with, listen to, and learn from one another. 

We have a disciple-making challenge in western, American culture. At the root of the challenge is relationships. #faith #jesus #disciple #discipleship #transformingmission

Courageous Leadership

In our work of developing leaders, we have learned that improving relationships and sharing the stories of those relationships are indicators of courageous leadership. We are learning:  

  1. Nothing takes the place of being a Jesus follower.  Being in a relationship with God and with one another, in and through Jesus, is central to our witness and to our leadership. Relationships are key to Jesus followers and are taken seriously by courageous leaders.  
  2. The Word of God, the scripture, bears fruit, not when it is comprehended, but then it is lived. The fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) found in Galatians 5:22-23 is proven in and through relationships. Knowing about Jesus; his life, teaching, and message, is part of being a student of Jesus. But following Jesus, becoming like him, growing in grace and sharing that grace, requires not only thought but a transformation of heart, soul, mind and strength.  No one has ever become more like Jesus by saying, “If I just think hard enough about Jesus, I’ll become more like Jesus.” When relationships are healthy, our lives, our work environment, and our congregations become healthier.   
  3. Developing healthy relationships is hard work. Because it is hard work, it is hard to identify quantifiable behaviors (relational ministry), so we end up focusing on what we can count (membership, attendance, finances, etc.). When relationships are healthy, there are stories to back up the relationships. Relationships, not numbers, show if growth is biblical, healthy, and truly fruitful.  

Evidence of Spiritual Fruit 

So, maybe it is time to declare a moratorium on statistics in the church. What if the one thing we reported on was the answer to this question: “What is the evidence that spiritual fruit being produced in my church?  Give us the stories, not more statistics.    

When we are focused more on being right than upon relationships, our disciple-making conversations are reduced to what we do not have in the church.  It is at that point we begin to protect what we have and yearn for the “good ole days” when we had children, youth, young families, people involved in church activities, and money for ministry. 

It’s Not a Scarcity Problem

It is difficult when the focus is on shrinking resources and lack of people who want to engage in the mission. But the disciple-making challenge is not a scarcity problem.  More money and more people will not fix it.  If we go back to the “good ole days” and project forward, we don’t have a scarcity problem, we have a disciple-making problem.   

Read more or listen to Episode 051 of LeaderCast: We Have a Disciple-Making Problem

The disciple-making challenge is not focused upon getting more people into the church building, although we all would welcome more people. The disciple-making challenge is focused on leading and assisting people in becoming Jesus followers. And that begins with relationships.

It’s a Relationship Problem

We don’t have a scarcity problem, we have a relationship problem. We are convinced that when God’s love is lived out in our relationships: reaching out and receiving new people in God’s love, offering God’s love in Jesus, practicing God’s love in relationships, and engaging our communities in God’s love, our greatest focus will not be upon “do we have enough money or people,” but will be upon “are we breaking God’s heart?”  

There is no quick fix program for our disciple-making challenge.  We can’t expect to fix it overnight. But we can start today. Ready to get started?

We invite you to begin the experiment introduced at the end of LeaderCast Episode 050 and Episode 051 of LeaderCast. No time to listen? Download the Sqaure Sqaud experiment here. Whatever you do, take a step toward building new relationships with people in your community.

In Christ, 

Tim Bias and Sara Thomas

 

  1. Story adapted from Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, by Leonard Sweet. Chapter 7, Loving the ‘One Anothers’: When Being Right Is Just Plain Wrong, page 91. 

Is it possible for the church to be a center of hope and healing in your community? If so, what needs to happen to make it so?

Consider the people in your community this week of Thanksgiving and beyond. When we pause to reflect on how the church can be the center of hope and healing, we consider engagement with people in our communities all year.

Penny Lernoux described engagement in the community and the world this way, “You can look at a slum or peasant village, but it is only by entering into the world, by living in it, that you begin to understand what it is like to be powerless, to be like Christ.”

hope transforming mission

What is Engagement?

  • It is living grace and truth in the communities in which we live.
  • Engagement is reaching out and receiving people, offering Christ by living and loving as God in Christ has loved us, growing in a Christian community, and living out our faith in the communities in which we live.
  • Engagement is the weaving together of Wesley’s “personal piety and social holiness” in the development of relationships with the community. Wesley modeled care and compassion for the hungry and hurting. He knew at the center of life-transformation were relationships with people in a variety of life circumstances.

What would happen if your congregation began to “enter the community” to develop relationships with local schools, with people living in poverty, with health care facilities? What would happen if you began to pray with people from your congregation, “What do we need to do that no one else is doing?”

We believe you would take a giant step toward, not only offering hope but, by becoming hope.

Extend the Table Throughout the Year

As we celebrate the ways we bless people from Thanksgiving to Christmas, we also pause. What we do at the end of the year offers hope to our communities. We celebrate the connections we make with people, the ways needs are met during the winter, and the joy that comes from being a blessing to others.

We also know hope is needed the entire year.

Perhaps what you do this week and in the weeks to come to engage with people in your community will be the spark for a quarterly, monthly, or occasional experience with your community. Said more directly, our hope is the relationships you nurture in the coming weeks will be seeds of hope for your engagement in the community in 2019.

Whatever this week and the weeks ahead bring for you and the church, may you consider how God is inviting you to be an agent of hope.

Hope for A Blessed Thanksgiving

Tomorrow we will celebrate with family and friends. We will serve meals in our communities and perhaps enjoy a football game on television. There will be laughter and conversation, new connections and reunions. While we gather, we ask you to consider how we can intentionally extend the table throughout the year.

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.”

-Philippians 1:3-4

It is our hope that as you continue leading people to follow Jesus by engaging in the community, there will be one who will say to you, “I thank my God every time I remember you…”

We give God thanks for you and your leadership. We are grateful for how God has shaped and enriched our lives through you. May each of you be as blessed as you have been a blessing.

O God, by your grace, shape us into your loving presence in the world. Thank you for the opportunity to be partners with you in your work of transformation in Jesus’s name. Amen

-Tim Bias and Sara Thomas

Oswald Chambers in his book, My Utmost for His Highest, wrote, “Prayer does not fit us for the greater works; prayer is the greater work.” Over the past 4 months, we have focused upon the great work of prayer. As I stated in the beginning, it is my hope, my desire, to raise up a new generation of Methodists who will do for our day what John and Charles Wesley did for their day.

I am writing to invite you to continue this prayer journey with me. I want to provide you with a weekly prayer and with prayer resources between now and the conclusion of the Special Session of General Conference in February. If you are willing to take this journey with me, click here to receive the prayer for this week. Please enter your first name, email address, and click submit. You will immediately receive the prayer for this week via email. Then, every Sunday afternoon, you will receive a prayer for the week.

Prayer Resources

This invitation is in relationship to Bishop Palmer’s invitation to pray daily for the Special Session of General Conference, February 23-26, 2019. I want to use our Bishop’s invitation as another point of raising up a new generation of Methodists.

Below are several suggestions and resources for your use.

  • Pause and pray daily for our church’s mission and way forward. For four minutes every day, from 2:23 through 2:26 PM, stop and pray for the Special Session of General Conference. (Notice that 2:23 to 2:26 coincides with the dates of the Special Session). I will be providing at least one prayer a week to assist you. You will receive a weekly email with prayers and/or prayer resources.
  • Engage in a weekly Wesleyan 24-hour fast from Thursday after dinner to Friday mid-afternoon.  Those who have health situations making food fasts undesirable might consider fasting from social media, emails or another daily activity.
  • Consider using the weekly prayer calendar that is posted on the UMCPrays.org website. The calendar will be there through the end of February 2019. We will have the opportunity to pray for a unique group of names each week. The names will balance United States bishops and delegates with Central Conference bishops and delegates. It will also include General Secretaries, Commission on a Way Forward members, the Commission of the General Conference and the staff of the General Conference.

If you are ready and willing to take this prayer journey with me, just click this link, to receive the prayer for this week. Sara Thomas and I have provided a considerable amount of prayer and leader development resources for you and your church on www.transformingmission.org. Please let me know if you can’t find what you are looking for.

The Invitation

It is through prayer that you and I keep our focus upon God’s plan and purpose for our lives. It is easy to give into doing good things, even if it is for all the right reasons. It is easy to lose our focus upon God’s call upon our lives. It is easy to switch our allegiance from God to working for the “common good.” It is easy to lose our identity even in midst of spiritual activities and social action. It is easy to give into the “this must be right” feeling when the crowd agrees. It is difficult to speak up and act when it is against the crowd. The power to focus upon and live out God’s plan and purpose come through prayer.

There is a difference between a prayer life and a life of prayer. It is the life of prayer that keeps us focused upon God’s desire for the church and all of creation.

Let us become more who God has created us to be by praying together for one another and our church.

We’re expecting you at Spring Training…whatever the current season is!

Only there won’t be baseball bats and hotdogs. (Sorry to disappoint you ;))

There will be parables, prayers, and a reason for you to pause. This is Spiritual Spring Training!

“Parables: Reflections of Reality” is a seven-week journey of reading and praying the Parables, reflecting on the parable, and responding to God. It’s for individuals and/or groups.

That means this spring training is for YOU!

The Process:

  1. Read a Scripture.
  2. Reflect on a question.
  3. Respond to one question.

We’ll include a Deeper Dive into parables several days of the week. But, most of all, here’s your opportunity to engage the Scripture.

Head over to our Facebook Page to follow Transforming Mission. Then, request to join the Parables: Reflections of Reality Facebook Group. And make sure you “see first” to follow along.

Who is the For?

Individuals

Parables: Reflections of Reality is for anyone wanting to practice the disciplines of the faith, seeking to grow closer to Christ, and/or follow Jesus in an everchanging time.

Leadership Team/Church Council/Small Groups

“Parables: Reflections of Reality” gives groups a chance to practice talking about their faith. While it sounds simple, it’s not a practice most of our leaders embrace. What would happen if over seven weeks you practiced naming and listening for God’s movement together?

We’re certain you’ll grow closer to Christ, closer to each other, and may even have clarity on how God is inviting you to be a blessing in your neighborhood/community.

For the one looking to engage the spiritual disciplines, this process can provide structure and guidance. For anyone seeking to be faithful today, tomorrow, and the next day, this is a practice of faithfulness.

So, tell us, what spiritual practice are you ready to practice? Sign up below.  Here’s your opportunity to enter a season of spiritual spring training.

See you on the [mission] field!

 

One of the songs I like at this time year is “The Best Gift of All.

Candles glow from frosted windows
Rooms are filled with twinkling lights,
There’s a manger scene, boughs of evergreen,
Someone is singing ‘Silent Night’…
And every gift my heart remembers, of easy laughter, dear old friends
Precious faces and smiles, the dancing eyes of a child,
All remind me once again:
The Best Gift of All is JESUS
His love knows no season or place
You can see Him in the firelight
Reflected on each face…
And though we cherish the blessings of Christmas, When his love seems especially near…
The Best Gift of All is Jesus – ALL THROUGH THE YEAR!

In a world of hidden motives and questionable agendas, there is still hope in what God offers. Because of our brokenness and the world’s chaos, Jesus is the message of God’s goodness. In Jesus there is something pure, something right, something true, Someone good.  The best gift of all is Jesus. He is with us all through the year.

All Through the Year

This week I was reminded of a family that celebrates Christmas all through the year. Through a small white envelope stuck among the branches of a Christmas tree, there is no name, no identification, no inscription. The envelope just peeks through the branches of the tree.

The tradition began 17 years ago when Nancy’s husband Mike stated, “I hate Christmas. Not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it. I can’t stand the overspending, the frantic running, the gifts given in desperation because you can’t think of anything else.”

Knowing how her husband felt, Nancy decided one year to bypass the usual gifts of “shirts and ties.” She wanted to do something special for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Their 12-year-old son, Kevin, was a junior wrestler at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, Kevin had a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. Most of the wrestlers on the team were boys of little financial means. They were dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together. There was a sharp contrast between Kevin’s team in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and new wrestling shoes. As the match began, Nancy was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without protective headgear. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Kevin’s team won easily. Although Mike was happy for Kevin, he was sad in his heart. He said, “I wish just one of them could have won. And I wish something could be done with their uniforms.”

A White Envelope

That’s when Nancy had the idea for Mike’s gift. That afternoon, she went to a local sporting goods store, bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, Nancy placed a simple white envelope on the tree. Inside was a note telling Mike what she had done and that this was his gift from her.

His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year. The next year Nancy sent a group of Special Olympics children to a hockey game, and another year she sent a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned the week before Christmas.

The envelope became the highlight of their Christmas celebrations. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning. Their children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure.

The story doesn’t end there. You see, Nancy lost Mike six years ago to cancer. When that first Christmas after his death came, she was still so wrapped in grief that she barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found Nancy placing an envelope on the tree. And an amazing thing happened. On Christmas morning, there were four white envelopes. Each of Mike’s children had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown for that family, and now Mike’s grandchildren stand wide-eyed around the tree as their fathers take down the envelope.

One Last Gift

Now, what happened in that family?  They experienced God’s incredible gift of love. That love is our hope and it is rooted in God’s gift of Jesus.

So before you pick the paper off the floor, or serve your Christmas meal, or start the thank you notes, be sure to look in the tree one final time. There’s one last gift there. It’s a message waiting just for you.  It won’t be in an envelope.

It will be wrapped in swaddling clothes…

God so loved…God gave…The best gift of all is Jesus…all through the year!

I pray that you do not miss the joy of Jesus this Christmas!

 


Where is prayer leading you?