Thursday, December 23, 2010

the loveliest night of the year

Tomorrow night, Christmas Eve, with candles and carols we will celebrate the gift that changed the world, Jesus Christ.  Walt Gerber, who for 28 years was the Senior Pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and was a mentor to scores of pastors including me, always referred to it as the loveliest night of the year.  If you'd like to join us and see why, you can find all the details at Christmas@Grace.

Tomorrow promises to be amazing, and tonight, on Christmas Eve Eve, as I sit in my study looking over the services I am profoundly grateful for everyone who helps to make it the loveliest of nights. 

I am humbled by the talents of people like Brian Mann, Angela Simpson, Santry and Ivy Rush, Ben and Jenna Kuykendall, Dave Leestma and Aaron Wilson. 

I am blessed to serve alongside gifted pastors, Melissa Brown, Katie Cummings, Chris French, Mike Fry and Jane Pettit. 

I am grateful for the amazing support of Hardie Morgan, Mike Krocak, Michael Elliot, Tami Snell, John Sutherland, Ann Stewart and most of all my assistant Charlotte Tait. 

I am indebted to people who over the years invested their lives into shaping me for ministry: Russ Stevenson, Walt Gerber, Doug Lawrence, Scott Dudley and John Ortberg.

There are too many people to name (and even by starting to I’m sure I’ve left too many off – Doug G., Laura M.. Narda W., Mayda M., Terry L., Wally H.. Howard E. and scores of others come quickly to mind – not to mention Kim, Kelli, Jennifer and Jamie – there I just did).  

Most of all I am simply amazed by the truth we will celebrate and Jenna will sing about tomorrow evening.

It’s true.  There’s a God who came down to find us.  So angels on high sing alleluias throughout the loveliest night of the year.

As we prepare to join the angels singing you might find the following prayer by Kenneth Phifer helpful in preparing our hearts to worship our newborn King.

Merry Christmas!

Eternal God, I wait now for Christmas
I want the Christ to be born anew in my heart.
I hope it will all mean more to me than ever before.
Do not let it slip away into the night
            after the songs have all been sung
                        and the stories told once more.
I know we cannot keep the expectancy alive the year round,
            but can I not keep the meaning warm?
Knowing myself, I ask now
            that the Christ Child may be real to me,
                        tot only in the days immediately ahead,
            but in the days that follow the celebration of His birth.
Let me so receive Him that I may believe
            in His continuing Presence.
Le me not let love go.
Let me not let faith fade.
Let me not let hope slip away.
May the openheartedness be my way of life,
            and an abiding joy be an aspect of my very being.

So involve me in the Coming this year
            that the going will not be quite as complete
                        as it has been in the past.
Help me to remember what it is all about.
Keep my life from being so crowded with things
            that there is no room for Him.
Keep me from pushing Him aside and from being so busy
            that I lose Him in the clutter and the clamor
                        of these hectic days.

I am glad that Christmas means parties and decorated trees,
            wassail bowls and candles in the windows.
But let me remain aware that it also means
            generosity and forgiveness,
                        openness and renewal
It means commitment and restoration,
            worship and wonder.
It means the birth of our Lord
            and the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory
                        of Your love for all people everywhere.

So make me ready now,
            and then when the candles have been extinguished,
            and the trees taken down,
            and the wreathes put away,
May the memory of the Lord Jesus remain
            a present and transforming reality in my life.
For His sake I pray.  Amen.

Monday, December 20, 2010

23rd Annual Dad and Daughters Christmas Shopping Day

In 1988, when Kelli was eight months old, I took her with me to the mall to shop for Kim’s Christmas presents.  I discovered that nothing in the world attracts shopping assistance than a cute little baby so the next year I did the same.  The following year, 1990, Jennifer (at ten months) joined us and two years later so did nine-month-old Jamie.  That year I had two in a double stroller and one in backpack but I was determined to take all three because by then it was a five-year tradition of Dad and Daughter Christmas Shopping Day.

The tradition began in Orlando when I was still practicing architecture. It continued in Atlanta while I was in seminary and most of the shopping was done at a Dollar Store.  We’ve spent the day in Baton Rouge, Charleston, San Francisco (Union Square is a great place to shop) and since 2005 right here in Houston.

Today will be our 23rd consecutive year to shop together.  There are important tasks to accomplish. Stocking stuffers for Kim (since we began practicing an Advent Conspiracy shopping is much easier) and the all-important “Sister Gifts.”  Over the years the gifts our daughters give each other, “Sister Gifts,” have become the highlight of Christmas morning, far surpassing anything the Santa or Mom and Dad may have placed beneath the tree.

But shopping really isn’t the purpose of the day.  Today is less about the gifts of presents and more about the gift of presence.  Today we will remember that the first gift of Christmas was God's presence with us.

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.
John 1: 14

It was the gift of a relationship built on love and it reminds us that the best gift we can give to those we love is time spent together.  You can’t purchase that gift at the mall – though you can experience it there – and it’s about time to head out and enjoy that gift!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Come and See a Simple Christmas

Though I am constantly surrounded by some of the most amazingly talented people that I know, the Christmas Season provides a great reminder.  David Leestma, Ben and Jenna Kuykendall, Brian Mann, Aaron Wilson and so many others are making the entire season at Grace the loveliest of the year.

Year’s ago I recognized that the number one requirement for a worship leader was a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Other talented musicians can present good music, often really good music.  But when there is a relationship with Jesus the music comes from the heart and that makes all the difference in the world.

Two great examples are Christmas projects that Grace had a part in over the last couple of years.  Come and See by Matt and Cameron Hammon (Olivette) is incredible (and if you are in Houston you really ought to come and hear them live this Wednesday night at Ecclessia).  Brian Mann’s Simple Christmas is simply beautiful (and I’m pretty sure I heard it being played as the prelude at First Baptist last Thursday night).  Though both projects are amazing musically they are even more testimonies to hearts that know and love Jesus Christ and are offering their gifts to His glory.

If you don’t have them – here’s a shameless plug – you really need to download them right now.  Both are available at iTunes (Olivette, Come and See – Brian Mann, Simple Christmas).  I promise these projects will add a little more of heaven’s gift of great joy to your Christmas!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Stranger in the Manger

December 12, 9:00 and 11:15 a.m., Sanctuary
Don’t miss an exciting morning as our Grace family experiences Stranger in the Manger performed by our Grace Kids Music choirs. Our kindergarten through fifth graders have been working hard all fall to present an unforgettable musical that is fun for the whole family! Dress in your favorite Christmas casual attire and prepare to be blessed by our fantastic kids! Invite your friends, family, and neighbors; they won’t want to miss it! We will not hold our 9:00 a.m. Chapel service this day; please join us in the Sanctuary.