Enter the Story

This Sunday is the third Sunday of our Advent Conspiracy at Ball Camp Baptist Church. This is the Sunday for us to more fully enter the story of Christmas, the story of God coming into the World. This Sunday, as we worship, we will seek to enter this amazing story by giving more; giving more of our time, our gifts and our resources. By more fully entering the story of Christmas, we become participants. More than listening to the story, we want to live it. In living it, we want to join with other followers of Christ sharing the story so that others can hear it and experience the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.

Chaouki & Maha Boulos share and live the story of Christ’s birth in the country of Lebanon. As we give more this Sunday, we enter the story of Christmas alongside the Bouloses as they tell the story of  grace and mercy in the region of the world where Jesus was born.

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Your Christmas Story

Rhode Island Governor, Lincoln Chaffee, was met by vocal opposition this week at the tree lighting ceremony for his state’s official holiday tree.  That is right; he called it a holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree.   After he lit the tree, a few dozen protesters started singing “O Christmas Tree.”  Their contention was, of course, that calling the tree a holiday tree rather than a Christmas tree diminished the religious significance of the season.  Yet, I wonder if it is possible for anyone to do anything that will diminish the religious significance of the season any more than it has already been diminished.

Governor Chaffee defended his actions by noting that his predecessor had referred to the tree as a holiday tree, and in that sense, he was just following precedent.  He referred to his state’s founder, Roger Williams, who fled religious persecution in nearby Massachusetts, and founded the Rhode Island colony as a place where individuals could exercise freedom of conscience.  At the unveiling of the statue of Roger Williams at the US Capitol in 1872, Rhode Island Senator William Sprague observed that Roger Williams, “successfully vindicated the right of private judgment in matters of conscience, and affected a moral and political revolution in all governments of the civilized world.” Williams was no antagonist toward religion.  In fact, just the opposite was true. Shortly after founding the new colony, Williams organized what would become the First Baptist Church in the new World.

Ironically, Williams likely would have been at a loss for words regarding what to call a tree used to celebrate or commemorate the Christmas season.  Why?  Well there simply were no trees, Christmas or otherwise during William’s day.  They are later additions to the way we observe Christmas, and likely did not appear in this country until the 1700s or early 1800s.

Therein, lies a deeper irony.  Christmas, what it is and what it means, has become a muddled dispute about what to call a tree.  Trees, wreaths, lights and lawn ornaments are, for some people, a helpful way to enter into the story of Christ’s birth.  For others, they add no particular inspiration beyond the festive brightness they add to an otherwise barren winter landscape.  To the extent that they are helpful, they ought to be encouraged. To the extent that they become a distraction, they ought to be set aside figuratively, if not literally.

God is coming.  We as Christians have a hard time getting our minds around that reality.  The very idea of God taking on flesh and dwelling among us is something we know as wonder and mystery.  Our capacity to embrace it and celebrate it is a part of God’s gift of faith to us.  How, then, can we expect an unrepentant world to celebrate what we ourselves only know of because of God’s gracious gift to us? Such expectations seem unreasonable, even as such disputes diminish our testimony and lessen the impact of that first Christmas on the world today.

There really is nothing about which to argue.  Christmas has happened, is happening, and will happen. God is coming.  There is nothing anyone can do or say that will change that reality.  What is essential for us is to enter the story of God’s coming more fully, leaving behind whatever keeps that divine child from being born anew in our lives, and taking hold of whatever causes his presence to be more real in our lives and be more evident in our living.

The story of Christmas is a story of good news. It is a story to which we are not merely meant to listen to, but to enter.  If all we ever do is listen to the story, the carols, and the sounds of the season, we have missed God’s intention for us.  We are invited to join the story and to let our lives be shaped by it so we become a part of the good news God so wonderfully and miraculously proclaimed that night long ago in Bethlehem.

CBF’s New Budget: “. . .no missionaries are called home. . .”

CBF Coordinating Council adopts budget

ATLANTA (ABP) – The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Coordinating Council voted by e-mail May 26 to recommend a 2011-2012 budget of $12.3 million at the group’s June 22-25 General Assembly in Tampa, Fla.

The amount is $2.2 million less than this year’s budget, which at last report was running at 84 percent of projected revenues. The council was prepared to vote on a $12.9 million budget prepared by staff in February, but based on shortfalls in contributions decided that projection was overly optimistic and sent it back for more trimming.

A cover letter from CBF moderator Christy McMillin-Goodwin explained the $662,491 trimmed from the budget since February. More than half of the reductions — $350,000 – were in global missions, although no missionaries will have to be called off the field. Non-global missions cuts totaled $312,491 and included reduced funding for four seminaries labeled “identity partners” to the CBF.

A copy of the budget summary obtained by Associated Baptist Press showed reductions of about 17 percent for two partners: ABP and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Funding for ABP is reduced from $77,000 to $64,000 and the BJC from $126,000 to $104,000. Funding levels are unchanged for the Baptist World Alliance ($45,000), Christian Churches Together ($2,000), Church Benefits Board ($50,000) and North American Baptist Fellowship ($1,000).

McMillin-Goodwin, minister of education and missions at Oakland Baptist Church in Rock Hill, S.C., said in the cover letter that staff sought to implement suggestions from roundtable discussions held by council members in the February meeting.

“For example, no missionaries are called home because of these reductions,” she said. “There was real effort to continue to focus on investing in younger Baptists. Although we did reduce funding for the four partner seminaries, we only cut four CBF Leadership scholarships. We were also fortunate to have a designated gift ($100,000) that could fund some budgeted ministries in Missional Congregations.”

McMillin-Goodwin said significant cuts were achieved in global missions by shifting categories of service for some field personnel. That included changing a policy that now allows one spouse in a unit to move to self-funded status while the other spouse remains fully funded. While no one is losing a job, she said, jobs currently vacant in global missions will remain unfilled.

The Fellowship, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, reduced staff in Atlanta and satellite offices by 16 positions in January, saving – with program cuts – about $1.1 million in the current budget year.

Ball Camp’s Response

Our first response ought to be to keep doing what we have been doing.  Since CBF is our primary partner as we seek to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission, we support CBF in our budget.  That means that a portion of every undesignated gift that you place in the offering plate goes to share the love of Christ through the ministries of CBF field personnel in the United States, and in the uttermost parts of the world.  Your giving to the Lord’s work this year has been commendable.  In these difficult economic times, your faithful support of what God is doing in and through our church is a testimony to your commitment and desire to see others experience the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Our operating budget is not the only way that we support CBF.  Two times each year, at Christmas and at Easter, we receive an offering for Global Missions.  These offerings go to support our CBF missionaries as they tell the story of God’s love, and as they demonstrate that love in meaningful ways among some of the most neglected and least evangelized people in the world.  Our second response ought to be to start planning now, well before Christmas gets here, to do something special when it is time for the Christmas Offering for Global Missions. What better gift can we give at Christmas time than to give Christ to someone who has never known him?

Our third response is our most important one — prayer.  Use the phrase from the above report, “jobs currently vacant in global missions will remain unfilled,” as a prompt.  Pray that current vacancies can be filled.  This is a vitally important prayer concern when we consider the way that CBF prioritizes needs on the mission field.  CBF always tries to go where there are no or few missionaries already at work.  They target people groups that have had little or no contact with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, if a position is vacant, it is a position among people that have limited or no opportunities to hear the message of God’s love for them.  Some of those people may have to wait for those unfilled positions to get filled before they can be introduced to God’s saving grace.  It is truly a vitally important prayer.  Please pray it with me and be thinking of what you can do to make your Christmas Offering for Global Missions extra special this year.