Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare him room,

And heaven and nature sing,

And heaven and nature sing,

And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Tonight with candles and carols (and a little drummer boy) we will celebrate the good news that the angels proclaimed to the shepherds:

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2: 11)

Services are at 4:00 and 6:00 (arrive in plenty of time to find a parking space and a seat – especially at 4:00) and it’s not too late to do what the shepherds did:

When they had seen Him, the shepherds spread the word concerning what had been told them about this Child (Luke 2: 17)

Invite someone to join you this Christmas Eve as you help to spread the word of this good news of great joy.  Tonight, on the loveliest night of the year, we celebrate that Christmas changed the world and still changes the world.

To the glory of God and Merry Christmas!

PS:  and don’t forget our Christmas and New Year’s Holiday Schedule

CHRISTMAS EVE:  Tonight, December 24
Christmas Eve Services at 4:00 and 6:00
Wednesday, December 26
No Services
Sunday, December 30
One Service at 10:30
Wednesday, December 2
No Services
Sunday, January 6
Worship at 9:30 and 11:15
Wednesday, January 9
Worship at 6:30

Church offices are closed until January 2, 2013

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Story Worth Sharing

The right gift, generously given, will change the world.

Back in 2002, when I was on staff at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, we came up with the idea of using CDs of Christmas Music as a “tool” to equip our members to invite someone to come and join us for our Christmas Eve Services.  I brought the Christmas CD Invitation idea with me to Grace Presbyterian in Houston and last year here to Mountaintop Church in Birmingham.

Over the last decade I’ve heard some great stories about how people use the CD to make invitations and how far they have spread.  Some of my favorites include:  passing them out from a hospital bed, handing them out whenever you go through a fast food drive through lane and recently, offering one to the State Trooper who has pulled you over for speeding!  I know that the music has also spread and the “Simply Christmas” version (that the amazing Brian Mann recorded in 2007) was even played in the White House that Christmas.

But yesterday I received what has now become my favorite Christmas CD Invitation story.  It was shared with me by the mother of an incredible 9 year boy, Elijah, whose along with his family worship here at Mountaintop.  It’s the perfect reminder to the truth we focused on last Sunday:  The right gift, generously given, will change the world.

Elijah’s mom gave me permission to share this with you so here in her words is a story worth sharing:

My 9 year old son, Elijah, took to your Christmas Eve service invitation challenge like a moth to a flame! The first Sunday the holiday CDs were being distributed Elijah tried to grab one for every child in his school. I told him that may be inappropriate, but that he could grab a few for his teacher and the principal. Everyone in our family took 5 CDs and we left an extra offering in exchange. Elijah went to school the following morning, with a well rehearsed script, and distributed the CDs to his classroom teacher as well as the other 4th grade teachers on the hall at his school. I received an email from his teacher within the hour thanking me for the CD and saying that she was playing it aloud in the classroom for all of the children to enjoy as they completed their morning work. That afternoon Elijah snagged all remaining CDs that the rest of us didn't have the chance to hand out, so that he could give them to other teachers (PE, art, etc.). 

The following Sunday, Dec. 9th, Elijah grabbed 10 CDs after church. This time I wasn't as hesitant, because I knew he was serious about this task. After church we went to Sam's Club and Elijah convinced his sister to help him give CDs out to random people in the store. The first was a young man pushing carts. I tried to catch up to the children to tell them that giving CDs out to people on the job may not work because they wouldn't have anywhere to put them. But I was too late. Elijah was already talking to the young man who listened to his speech, looked the CD over, and thanked him as he stuck it in his back pocket and continued on his cart journey. 

Monday afternoon when I arrived in carpool my son didn't come to the car when he saw me pull up because there was one more teacher he had to reach out to. I had to pull to the side so that he could finish talking to her about Mountain Top and all the great music that was on the CD. When he got in the car I asked what was going on and he said that the teacher had actually asked him for a CD and he had to dig in his book bag to find an extra copy (guess she wasn't on the list). He went on to explain that the teachers were talking to each other about the CDs and were approaching him. A teacher that he had already given a CD to approached him to say that her copy was already scratched from playing it and that she not only needed another copy for herself, but wanted a few extras to give out to her children as well. 

That brings us to this Sunday! Once again, Elijah grabbed a stack of CDs with a whole new list of teachers that he wanted to talk to and invite out to Christmas Eve service. Tonight Elijah sang with his school choir at a senior living facility and a teacher from his school approached us to say how thoughtful Elijah was and how he made her feel special by choosing her to be the "first" to receive the now coveted Mountaintop Christmas CD. She said "all the teachers" are talking about the CD and asking if they got one from Elijah. She said it actually struck up a conversation among she and her colleagues (Elijah nowhere around) about Mountain Top and if anyone went there or intended on attending the service. This teacher said that among them they could think of one teacher in the school that went to Mountain Top, but that they all knew of Mountaintop's involvement in the community. She said that they recalled the story of a former student who died of cancer a few years back. Her family was financially exhausted from years of medical care and couldn't afford the funeral. As they spoke of the Christmas CDs, someone recalled that it was Mountaintop that paid for the child's funeral expenses in full. 

As the mother of a 9 year old boy who likes to do random things, I believe on the surface that he is clueless of his impact. But as the mother of this particular 9 year old little boy who likes to do random things, deep in my heart I KNOW that he KNOWS his impact. My son has struggled to find his space and his voice at this school. He has struggled with teachers getting past his quirky ways in order to see him for who he really is and to teach him in spite of themselves. Giving out the Christmas Eve invitations has allowed a few outsiders to see within him the sweet, innocence that we all see and more importantly it has allowed him to shine. The conversation I had with this teacher tonight started off about the CDs, but turned into a 2 hour long conversation about who Elijah is as a person and as a student. This teacher has the wherewithal to change my son's academic life for the better in ways that no other has even considered. This conversation started about the Christmas CDs, but ended up changing our life...many more ways than one. 

I am so proud of my son for taking this on as a personal challenge, and I am thankful to you, your staff and to the Mountaintop family for allowing us this opportunity...really for this season as a whole. We are fully embracing the spirit of "giving less presents and giving more presence." In addition to the CDs, we adopted an angel from the Angel Tree and have made (are making) donations to the Hands and Feet party.

The right gift, generously given, will change the world.  Often its just one life at a time, so we will keep making invitations and proclaiming that Christmas still changes the world.

To the glory of God!

PS:  If you'd like to do what Elijah's doing and make invitations by sharing our Christmas CD just click on Mountaintop Christmas CD 2012.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Prayer for the Day I Begin My Christmas Shopping

Thanksgiving Dinner is over – our family scavenger hunt through downtown Charleston complete and now the planning for our Black Friday (or is it now Black Thursday) attack strategy is underway.

As we head into the busiest shopping day of the year I am grateful for the Advent Conspiracy – which we will be introducing to Mountaintop this Christmas and for a prayer that’s become something of an annual tradition for me as I begin my Christmas shopping.  The prayer was written by Kenneth Piffer and appeared in a book he published of Uncommon Prayers.  I pray it might help you have ears to here the real things of Christmas and remember that it is possible for Christmas to still change the world.

A Prayer for the Day I Begin My Christmas Shopping

O God, I do like real things like money and houses, fast automobiles and diamond rings.
Forgive me that when I think of Christmas, I often think of real things like that.
I teach my children to think of bicycles and dolls, of toy trains and airplanes, of sugar and spice and everything nice.
Forgive me for my foolishness.
These things I spend so much time playing around with are not bad, I can even use them creatively.
They make up much of my world and occupy a great deal of my time.
But You know what my problem is?
I get so involved in accumulating them that I forget who I am.
I get so surrounded by them that I end up tangelfooted, stumbling along from thing to thing, falling down at times, bruising my shins upon them.

Can You clear away some of the clutter of my life this year, O Lord?
Can You help me pick my way through the crowded stores?
Can You make me quiet long enough to hear angels?
Can Your Word about life break through the blare of tawdry commercials,
The commercials that insist life can be bought if I will only go deeply into debt?

Lord, do You understand me?
Can You help me to understand myself?
Do I really substitute gifts for self-giving too often?
Would I do better to say “I love you” as I pass out the presents?
Would I come closer to someone by spending as much time listening as I do shopping?

These thoughts bother me at times.
It may be that in my busyness I am losing touch with the things that are most real
It may be I am losing touch with You and with the Child whom You sent to grow up to be a Man, whose word was Your Word and whose love was Your Love.

I like real things, and I know if I will listen, I may hear of the most real things of all, things like hope and love and faith, that can change lives, even mine, and renew them in the image of Christ my Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Give thanks in all circumstances; 
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tomorrow our nation will pause to give thanks.  It’s a tradition dating back more than 400 years when Governor Bradford, of the Plymouth Colony gave these instructions to the citizens:

"Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscious.

"Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings."

170 years later, George Washington made a public proclamation establishing:

 ….a day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God. . .

In 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln appointed a national day of Thanksgiving to be observed on the last Thursday in November.

A Proclamation.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth. - President: Abraham Lincoln

Every president after Lincoln, has issued an annual proclamation, to set aside a day of national Thanksgiving. In 1941a joint congressional resolution officially set the date as the fourth Thursday in November.

Yesterday President Obama continued that tradition:

On Thanksgiving Day, Americans everywhere gather with family and friends to recount the joys and blessings of the past year. This day is a time to take stock of the fortune we have known and the kindnesses we have shared, grateful for the God-given bounty that enriches our lives. As many pause to lend a hand to those in need, we are also reminded of the indelible spirit of compassion and mutual responsibility that has distinguished our Nation since its earliest days.
Many Thanksgivings have offered opportunities to celebrate community during times of hardship. When the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony gave thanks for a bountiful harvest nearly four centuries ago, they enjoyed the fruits of their labor with the Wampanoag tribe – a people who had shared vital knowledge of the land in the difficult months before. When President George Washington marked our democracy's first Thanksgiving, he prayed to our Creator for peace, union, and plenty through the trials that would surely come. And when our Nation was torn by bitterness and civil war,  President Abraham Lincoln reminded us that we were, at heart, one Nation, sharing a bond as Americans that could bend but would not break. Those expressions of unity still echo today, whether in the contributions that generations of Native Americans have made to our country, the Union our forebears fought so hard to preserve, or the providence that draws our families together this season.
As we reflect on our proud heritage, let us also give thanks to those who honor it by giving back. This Thanksgiving, thousands of our men and women in uniform will sit down for a meal far from their loved ones and the comforts of home. We honor their service and sacrifice. We also show our appreciation to Americans who are serving in their communities, ensuring their neighbors have a hot meal and a place to stay. Their actions reflect our age-old belief that we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, and they affirm once more that we are a people who draw our deepest strength not from might or wealth, but from our bonds to each other.
On Thanksgiving Day, individuals from all walks of life come together to celebrate this most American tradition, grateful for the blessings of family, community, and country. Let us spend this day by lifting up those we love, mindful of the grace bestowed upon us by God and by all who have made our lives richer with their presence.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 22, 2012, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage the people of the United States to join together – whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place of fellowship for friends and neighbors – and give thanks for all we have received in the past year, express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own, and share our bounty with others.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh. – Barack Obama

We are still thankful for the blessings of Almighty God and mindful of the Grace He has bestowed upon us..

I pray that all of you are enjoying the gifts of family, friends and home this Thanksgiving.  Give thanks!