THE COLUMNS – DECEMBER

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COMMUNITY PARTNER HIGHLIGHT: VOLUNTEERS OF AMERICA BY CAROLYN HAMMOND, VOA DIRECTOR OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
FUMC and its congregation help to make the Travis Street LightHouse a quality program. First UMC provides a building and, most recently, furnishings to give our youth a safe and decent place to come every day. Additionally, the congregation has provided volunteers to help our youth have success in school, but there is always room for more. Volunteers do not have to be math or English experts. What we really need are volunteers who are genuinely interested in trying to help a youth. Sometimes that one-on-one attention can make all the difference. Volunteers are needed to help with homework, read or be read to, share a talent, or mentor a youth.

In America today, 11.3 million children are alone and unsupervised after school. After-school programs keep kids safe, help working families, and inspire learning. They provide opportunities to help young people develop into successful adults. The Lights On After-school event, which was hosted at First UMC, is intended to bring awareness of the good work being done every day in after-school programs across our country. The Shreveport-Bossier event included students reading personal essays about why they participate in their after-school programs and also performances from ten participating programs! Children shared how they are blessed by the efforts of the teachers and volunteers who give their time each afternoon to make sure they are safe, cared for, and growing academically. This was initiated by the Coalition of Out-of-School Time Services (COSTS). COSTS is working to bring awareness and implement quality after school programs in our community.

The Travis Street LightHouse children come to First UMC every Wednesday for Wacky Wednesdays, led by Staci Zeagler, where they play games, make crafts, have a snack, and enjoy worship time. The 7th-12th grade students have begun participating in TNT on Thursdays with the youth, and they love it! I encourage you to work with these great kids through either of these programs or through tutoring or mentoring.

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COMMUNITY FUN HIGHLIGHT: COMMON GROUND COMMUNITY FUN FEST
Common Ground hosted their Community Fall Fest, providing a safe, Christian, family environment for the Cedar Grove community! With a block party atmosphere, including a band, games, cake walk, and yummy grilled dinner, all ages came together to see what the Common Ground program has to offer. This fun night couldn’t have happened without the support of First UMC. Thanks to all who supported them!

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MINISTRY SERVING HIGHLIGHT
Circle One, led by Toya DeBeaux, served the Hub Urban Ministry, collecting more than 100 cans of soup and by making 100 care packets. These included such items as warm caps, socks, toiletries, and snacks. The Hub exists to walk those in poverty through a process that gives them hope, friendship, community, a place they belong, and the skills needed to become self-sufficient, which brings them value and worth. Thanks to Circle One for helping them meet their mission with these gifts!

SOMETHING TO READ: TOXIC CHARITY by Robert Lupton
First UMC helped sponsor a community discussion led by Robert Lupton, author of Toxic Charity. It is highly suggested reading material for all who serve. He wants our churches and agencies to remember that developing people is different than serving people. It was an eye-opening event that helped define people in crisis situations versus chronic situations. Our mission is to care for people in a transformational way while helping our membership live missional lives, so we will carefully evaluate our volunteering and giving to make sure that “above all, we do
no harm”!

THE COLUMNS – DECEMBER

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Later this month, I will be going to Uganda for the third time, and I could not be more excited! The first time, I went because I had always dreamed of serving at an orphanage in Africa. Now, it is because I have completely
fallen in love with the people I met and the beautiful country. I did not know I could love a place and people as much as I do.

I love going to Uganda because I have fallen in love with the people there.

I love going to Uganda because the people I have met, including everyone at Agape Christian Academy, inspire me; they have so much faith, love, and trust in God.

I love going to Uganda because it allows me to build meaningful relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I love going to Uganda because the children at Agape Christian Academy are incredibly welcoming and loving.

I love going to Uganda because my family now sponsors one of the children at Agape. Phiona is a part of our family. We love her as our sister and daughter.

I love going to Uganda because it gives me the confidence I sometimes lack; traveling half way around the world and meeting so many new people can be intimidating and scary, but I have come out of it stronger and more confident.

I love going to Uganda because it exposes me to some of the harsh realities of the world and drives me to do something about it.

I love going to Uganda because worshiping the Lord with the children at Agape is one of the most incredible experiences. It’s freeing. It’s exciting. It’s real.

I love going to Uganda because it has been the most life-changing experience of my life. The Ugandans I now call family are people who have risen out of the ashes of their bleak pasts and they are such an inspiration.

Can you tell I am a little excited to return to Uganda?

THE COLUMNS – DECEMBER

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One of the simplest forms of prayer involves nothing more than listening. For some reason we seem to think that prayer is all about talking…our words being spoken to God in private, in small groups, and in the larger worship community. There are times that God brings so much to us, by way of messengers and friends and even scripture, that we forget there is another way to respond. Even when we receive prayer requests that seem urgent in the moment, we sometimes need time to process things. I love the words in scripture when Jesus has just been born, and we see a glimpse of the holy mother Mary needing such a moment in Luke 2:

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

I hope this Christmas season, in the hustle and bustle of the holiday, that you find joy in making moments of your own to simply ponder and treasure the Gift of God Himself.

TOP TEN PRAYER REQUESTS FOR DECEMBER 2015
1. Spiritual awakening in our nation and conversions to Christ throughout the world
2. Healing from infectious illnesses and prevention of flu
3. Cure for cancer
4. For friends and families who have lost loved ones
5. For prosperity and success at work; stable economy
6. Godly wisdom and guidance in decision-making
7. Strength and energy for parents
8. For the spirit of Christmas to invade our hearts and be lived out in our lives
9. Safe travel during the holidays
10. For a ministry of reconciliation to be at work in our families.

THE COLUMNS – DECEMBER

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December is the busiest and most distracting season of the year. People are preoccupied with shopping, parties, and long lists of things to do; I know I am. In all of the rush, how can we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ? One Advent tradition that we have made just might help your family focus on the Christmas story during Advent.

“This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:12

When my boys were little, it was so hard to decorate with beautiful blown glass ornaments, crystal crosses for the tree and ceramic figurines of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus that just beckoned little hands to touch, grab and then break. UGH!

Reading the Christmas story to the boys was a family tradition and each time we read it to them they then wanted to go grab all the ceramic figurines out of the nativity crèche and play with them…then break them…again UGH!

Since the Nativity figurines were so tempting, I found soft fabric ones for them to play with when they were little and they we moved on to plastic ones. Every year as they grew they had their own Nativity set to play with and they could begin to play with the characters of this wonderful story of Jesus’ birth. I would find baby Jesus left in the bathroom after brushing teeth or cows and donkeys under pillows on the couch. The best was finding the wise men in the crisper drawer after small hands grabbed an apple and left the poor wise men to wander in the cold of our Whirlpool fridge. As the boys got older and outgrew plastic action figures, we found a nativity that had all the characters attached along with a red button that once pressed began to narrate the story, “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem there came three wise men saying, we have followed his star in the east, “we three kings of orient are bearing gifts we traverse afar.” While shepherds were guarding their flocks at night the land suddenly became bright with God’s glory, an angel told them this is the most joyous news ever announced, the Savior the Messiah has just been born in Bethlehem (it goes on to tell more of the story, but I’ll stop here). Today, taking this nativity out of the box is one of the boys’ favorite events. Each Sunday during Advent and even on random days during the Christmas season it brings a smile to my face when I can faintly hear the story playing because one of them has pushed the button to hear the story of Jesus’s birth, no matter how old they become. I encourage you to find a tradition that helps you prepare your hearts for the coming Messiah.

THE COLUMNS – DECEMBER

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What is the best gift you could give your wife and children this Christmas? When our kids were little we would give them lots of interesting toys that wound up in the toy box. As they grew up, electronics became the staple gift. Now that the boys are older, we tend to give gifts that they need. But, truth be told, the best gifts we give are non-tangible. I think the best gifts we can give are the words, “I love you”, “I’m proud of you”, and “Thank you”.

The first gift we can give is the expression “I love you.” The deepest need of all people is to feel that they have a place in life, that they are acceptable and accepted. “I love you” expresses that kind of unconditional acceptance. It is telling the other person that they have a special place in your heart. When you feel loved you feel at ease with who you are, peaceful, joyful and safe. Those in your house need to hear “I love you” every day so that they know they are home. Whenever we express this kind of love we are reflecting the image of God who so loved the world that he sent his only son so that we could return home to him.

The second gift we can give is the gift of noticing a job well done. “I’m proud of you” lets people know that you have seen the efforts and work of the person and that it is good. Just like when God pronounced his creation good, we are called to notice and exclaim what is good in people’s lives. We think about this often for our kids, because we want to encourage them with affirmation. However, our spouses need to be noticed and praised as well. When Mary Kay tells me about her adventures at work, I look for things that I can affirm – how well she handled a difficult situation, how her students learned so much because of her skillful teaching, or kindness shown to a fellow teacher or student. “I’m proud of you” provides fuel to keep going in the right direction.

Another gift we can give is appreciation. You and I know how much it takes to run a household – laundry, dinner, homework, vacuuming, cleaning, mowing the lawn, taking care of cars, etc. The list seems endless, and we can easily take each other for granted. It is easy to go through a weekly routine and forget to say “Thank you.” A rule at our house is that no one can leave the dinner table until they compliment the chef. And even if I tell Abigail to do a chore, when she does it I take a moment to tell her how I appreciate her work. I want her to know that she is an important, contributing member of our family. Most of what we do in life no one sees, but it feels so good when someone appreciates our work and says, “Thank you.”

What gifts are you giving this Christmas? Prepare for Christmas by giving these three gifts to your family each day of Advent: “I Love You!”, “I’m Proud of You!”, and “Thank You!” If you give these gifts for a month, I guarantee that you will have the best Christmas ever.

THE COLUMNS – DECEMBER

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Again, Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ – John 20:21

Interestingly, this Bible passage often reminds me of Christmas as much as it reminds me of Easter. I remember what a big deal the incarnation was—bright stars, heavenly hosts of angel choirs singing, shepherds walking away from their flocks to go to the manger, wise men traversing to Bethlehem from far-off exotic places. God the Father was sending his only son, Jesus, to become one of us! He is the most special gift we have ever received…the gift of God Himself in the form of a human being. It was a really big deal!

Sometimes it is really hard to see anything peaceful about Jesus’ days here on earth. He was constantly busy, always on the road; he was perceived as a threat to the establishment—a challenger of the status quo; he was an embarrassment to His family and a nuisance in some people’s eyes. People tried to stone him, run him out of town, and unceasingly looked for opportunities to catch him opposing the Sanhedrin. They accused him of being a drunkard, a keeper of low company, and even claimed that He was demon-possessed when He was healing and performing miracles. His life was full of controversy! He was misunderstood and wrongly convicted, but his death obtained eternal life for us all.

Yet, today I am sitting and reading scripture, totally at peace in his presence. I realize that he may not bring peace to all of my outward circumstances, but he brings the peace of his unfailing love and salvation into the deepest most inward parts of me. I think how awesome it will be when I reach that place of maturity in my faith, that point of sanctification in my life, when all my thoughts and actions are guided from the core of that kind of unconditional love and acceptance.

I have to remind myself, I am sent! Even in the broken, unsanctified corners of my life, Jesus sees something good in me. I hope the world can see him in me! The great gift of his Holy Spirit resides in me and in you. IT’S CHRISTMAS! There’s a better life being born in us over and over again with every progressive step in our becoming his disciples.

Let your light shine! We are to re-present Christ to the world! We are sent to re-gift the love of God to everyone we meet. May His peace be with you as you go.

THE COLUMNS – DECEMBER

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Did you know that Advent is not the same as Christmas? At church, Christmas begins on Christmas Day and is twelve days long (like the song!), and Advent is the time that begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. The word “advent” means “coming.” It’s the time that we prepare for and wait for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Things to talk about and think about during Advent:

• God’s people waited a really long time for Jesus to come to earth.
• The wait was worth it because God gave us Jesus to save us from our sins.
• We are waiting for Jesus to come to earth again.

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Another way to learn about Advent is to make an Advent Wreath with your family. It’s very easy and fairly inexpensive to make your own like the one pictured. Use the following information to guide your conversation while making your wreath.

• The circle of the wreath reminds us that God is so great that He never had a beginning and will never have an end. It also reminds us that God’s love for us will never end. 1 Chronicles 16:34
• The first candle that we light on the first Sunday during Advent is purple. It represents HOPE. Romans 15:13
• The second candle that is lit on the second Sunday during Advent is purple. It represents PEACE. John 16:33
• The third candle that is lit on the third Sunday during Advent is pink. It represents JOY. Psalm 66:1-3
• The fourth candle that is lit on the fourth Sunday during Advent is purple. It represents LOVE. John 3:16
• The fifth candle that is lit on Christmas Eve is white. It reminds us that Jesus is the LIGHT OF THE WORLD and that we can share that light with others. John 8:12

I hope these conversations will add to your family’s Christmas experience this year. It is so wonderful to see how
excited they get to learn more about our wonderful Savior!

THE COLUMNS – DECEMBER

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DECEMBER 9TH • DINNER AT 5:15PM ($5 for children/youth & $8 for adults) • PROGRAM AT 5:50PM (Free)
This year’s Church Night will include; “Tails from the Manger” a marvelous Christmas Musical as the birth of Jesus is described by the animals gathered about the stable. The story will be told on a wonderful set, by delightful children, with full orchestra. This is a joint venture of the children and music department of the church.

The story of “Good King Wenceslas” will be told by Dr. Donald Webb and orchestra of the church. Everyone knows Dr. Webb, and his engaging voice, and the orchestration is by the noted American composer, Morton Gould.

Joining in the “Cast of Thousands” will be the Youth Choirs of the church presenting “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” the Texas Street Singers and “For Unto Us a Child is Born” and the Chancel Choir singing “Christmas Bells are Ringing,” all accompanied by the Orchestra of First Methodist. The dancers from Carol Anglin’s “Dancenter” will be here to quicken our spirits to their lively and graceful steps.

More importantly, this is the church family gathered around the Christmas Dinner Table with members of the family, children through senior adults providing after-dinner entertainment. Make your reservations and purchase your dinner tickets for this wonderful evening at the church. $5 Children/Youth, $8 Adults for dinner tickets. Program is free to the public!

THE COLUMNS – DECEMBER

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Why not compare a filled Christmas stocking to how God fills our lives with good gifts?
May this be a new tradition for your family using a familiar decoration. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care…

As a family, read the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah from the Bible (Luke 1:5-14). Note Elizabeth’s joy at the upcoming birth of her child and the birth of Jesus. Share with your children how we want them to be filled with joy and that you have a new surprise in store for them this year.

During the season of Advent, purchase gifts to fill each person’s stocking – parent(s) and children. On Christmas Day, holding the stockings
filled with treasures, gather around the tree. Ask everyone to tell how the gift-filled stockings remind them of God’s love and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Then have each person pull out one item and share how it shows them the love of God.
Here are a few examples:

• A girl might hold up a watch and say, “Look, my watch tells time. God loves me all the time!”
• As a little boy pulls a toy car out of his stocking, he might say, “God goes with me even in our car.”
• Mom might show a mirror and say, “I want to be a reflection of God’s love.”
• Dad would say after pulling a tool from his stocking, “God loved us so much that He gave us Jesus who became a carpenter.”

Sometimes a person might be puzzled over how an item could help us think of God, but creativity will make it fun. It’s those moments of laughter and sharing that will help keep God in the celebration. If you keep the tradition, as the children grow, the comments will change,
adding more depth.

THE COLUMNS – DECEMBER

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and darkness did not overcome it. – John 1:1-4

HOPE The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Advent, therefore, is celebrating the hope of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to the God the Father. This is a process in which we now participate and the fulfillment of which we anticipate. This double focus on past and future symbolizes the spiritual journey of both the individual and the community of faith as they affirm that Christ has come, He is present in the world today, and He will come again in power. We see in Jesus the beginning of God’s kingdom, and we hope for the day when it comes fully “on earth as it is in heaven.”

PEACE When we look around our world, too often we see chaos and the effects of evil that cause pain, fear, and suffering. Peace is what we long for. It is what we need personally, communally, and globally. Advent remains a season of expectation; a season of longing for God to restore all things; to set right the injustice and pain we see and experience; and bring everlasting peace to our world, our communities, our homes, and our hearts. We believe that Jesus is the true Prince of Peace, and we pray for God’s peaceful kingdom to emerge in and through us as we seek to faithfully love God and neighbor.

JOY This season invites us to experience the joy that comes to us through knowing Christ as our Lord, the One who forgives, heals, and restores to life. Because Christ has come to us, we have received a newfound joy in our lives. No longer do we need to live in fear of the past, the present, or the future, for light has come and filled our dark lives with the joy of knowing we are accepted and loved by God. The joy of Christ’s coming is that we are no longer alone, for God is with us. God has shown us favor. God has done great things for us. And we are blessed and filled with joy.

LOVE The nativity and the Incarnation cannot be separated from the crucifixion, the journey to the cross. Jesus came and dwelt among us in order to reveal God’s grace and truth by his life and ultimately through his suffering, death and resurrection. We are reminded that the way of Christ is the way of love. It is love that redeems, shows mercy, saves, gives hope, offers peace, and produces joy. It is love that shows the way to true life. St. John reminds us, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son,” and in his words we have the full understanding of God’s love for us—a deep, abiding love that reaches out to us in the midst of our chaotic lives and envelopes us and redeems us. This is the love that comes down at Christmas.

LIGHT Jesus is the light of the world that comes into the darkness of our lives to bring newness, life, and hope. We are called to be a light to the world as we reflect the light of God’s grace to others. The darkness of fear and hopelessness recede and the shadows of sin fall away, as more and more light is shed into the world. This light that we see in Jesus stirs our hearts as we rejoice that the promise of long ago has been realized.

Let us remember that the birth of Jesus was the beginning of the Christian life and the unselfish joy at Christmas shall start the spirit that is to rule throughout the New Year. In our church and in our homes, let us experience the true meaning of Christmas. Let us work together to build a better world. Let us receive and give the gifts of hope, peace, joy and love at Christmas and throughout the year.