One of the benefits of not being able to sleep is to see a spectacular sunrise. God’s glory in on display.
“But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.”
Growing up, I scoffed at churches engaged in a “social gospel.” They are not “true evangelicals,” I concluded in my high-minded ways. “They have compromised the Scriptures,” I stated as I looked down my nose at them.
I have since grown up and discovered that a “social gospel” is a valid approach to ministry, provided it comes with a few caveats. (1) It is a supplement rather than substitute for the gospel. (2) It is part of a holistic approach that meets physical, spiritual, emotional, and other needs. (3) It is an entry point that demonstrates caring and earns us the right to be heard when we address spiritual issues.
Christ taught and demonstrated a balanced approach to ministry. Jesus gave us the Great Commission, to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). He also said that when we give a cup of cold water to someone, we are ministering not only to the individual but to Jesus himself (Matthew 25:31-40). Jesus preached repentance and healed people of their diseases. We are to preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2) as well as live as salt and light, doing good works to glorify God (Matthew 5:13-16).
This philosophy of a multifaceted approach to ministry explains why First Central Bible Church offers a tutoring program to neighborhood children in addition to our Awana program. This approach illustrates why we preached the gospel and celebrated communion during our Good Friday service and then served coffee, snacks, and water at the City of Chicopee’s Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday and then preached about how to move from skepticism to belief during our worship service on Easter Sunday. A balance of spiritual and social is why we have Bible studies for seniors and why we pull weeds and help with gardening at the Chicopee Senior Center. Taking a holistic approach to ministry is why we sent a short-term ministry team to Ghana to do evangelism and also sent work teams to camps in Shutesbury, MA, and Warsaw, OH, to help reroof several buildings and build a deck. It is why we offer Camp KidConnect and Awana Camp in the summer and Trunk ‘R Treat in the fall.
We want to be like Abraham in Genesis 12:2, to be a blessing to the world. We seek to bless the community by preaching the gospel and making disciples. We seek to bless the community by teaching children to read and succeed in school. We seek to bless the community by helping people grow deeper in their faith. We seek to bless the community by building camps and adding beauty to senior centers.
We want to fulfill the Great Commission, to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20), as well as practice the Great Commandment, to love God and love people (Matthew 22:34-40).
In past years, First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, held an Easter outreach on our property. We had train rides, puppet shows, and food. This year, we decided to participate in a community event, the Chicopee Easter Egg Hunt at Szot Park. The parks department coordinated the egg hunt, had a bunny foot contest, and provided balloons and an appearance by the Easter bunny.
The city gave us permission to have a refreshment table and put our labels on the coffee and water. Robin Dolbow put together a team that served coffee for adults and provided snacks and water for kids. We also had brochures about our children’s ministry and church programs. It was a ministry of presence where we could serve the community. Rocco, the husky/lab mix put on a T-shirt and dressed for the occasion. Our presence naturally led to conversations about who we are and why we were there. Thank you to the team who made it all happen and to those who donated the snacks and drinks.
We live near Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, MA. Normally, the sound of C5 and F15 aircraft is a welcome reminder of our military protecting us. However, when the F15s take off at 4:00AM heading for Europe and sound like they are flying through your bedroom as they did this morning, not so much. We understand, but it is hard to get back to sleep afterwards.
How do you celebrate Christmas?
Do you put out Christmas lights and try to have the brightest, most colorful house on the block? Or do you have trouble just getting the lights untangled?
Do you attend Christmas activities like the Nutcracker Ballet or drive through the Bright Nights at Forest Park? Or do you approach the season with the “Bah, Humbug” of Ebenezer Scrooge?
Do you use NORAD’s Santa Tracker to follow Santa Clause’s deliveries? Or do you have the conviction that Christians should not promote Santa at all?
Do you use an Advent calendar, a story like Jotham’s Journey, or a Nativity set to teach the meaning of Christmas? Do you enjoy a festive family feast with traditional delights on Christmas Day? Or do you skip the meal and instead serve at a homeless shelter or the Springfield Rescue Mission on that day?
Do you exchange gifts with others? Or give donations to a cause such as Angel Tree or the Salvation Army instead?
How do you celebrate Christmas?
The story of Anna in Luke 2:36-38 provides us with a model of how to celebrate Christmas. Her example teaches us that we can celebrate Christmas best by praising God for Jesus and telling others about him.
Anna was a godly senior citizen. She was married for seven brief years and was a widow for the rest of her life. Anna chose a lifetime of service over remarriage. She was known for teaching the Scriptures.
Anna lived with a sense of expectation. She was part of the remnant looking for the Messiah. Anna knew her only hope was in the mercy and grace of God.
Anna demonstrated single-minded devotion. She made the temple her permanent home. Anna was not idle, but made worship, prayer, and fasting her chief occupation.
Anna was in tune with God. In God’s providential timing, she was in the temple near where Simeon stood as he blessed Joseph, Mary, and Jesus (Luke 2:25-35). Without an invitation, Anna approached the baby Jesus just as Simeon had done. She recognized what God was doing in the person of this child.
Anna responded with praise. She gave thanks to God. Anna’s long years of passionately petitioning God gave way to an outburst of joyous praise.
Anna responded by telling the good news to others. She did much more than sing praises and give thanks. Anna turned to the other worshippers and announced that the Messiah had come. She could not stop talking about Jesus.
Like Anna, we can celebrate Christmas best by praising God for Jesus and telling others about him.
Look for opportunities to praise God during the season of Advent. Consider making the commitment to not criticize or complain during December. Instead, look forward with confidence to what God will do in your future. Find something new each day to give thanks for. Give praise each day for a different aspect of God’s character. Study the prophecies about Jesus and give thanks for how God kept his promises. Read the five songs of praise in Luke 1 & 2 (Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, angels, Simeon). Celebrate Christmas by praising God.
Look for opportunities to tell others about Jesus. Consider hosting a birthday party for Jesus and inviting the neighborhood children to attend. Deliver cookies to your neighbors along with a gospel tract. Go caroling to shut ins. Ask God to open your eyes to someone in need. Give a gift without expecting one in return because of what Jesus did for you. Celebrate Christmas by telling others about Jesus.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 11, 2016. It is part of a collection of messages on Christmas. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.