When I was a child I loved traveling during the Christmas season. It meant experiencing the holiday even more special to do it with people I only saw a few times a year. I have plenty of stories I could share about those few days with family during the Christmas season (and on Sunday you will hear a great one!!!).
We associate Christmas with simpler times. We even make the journey home, to those places and relationships that signify simpler times. We go home to Grandma’s, see family, and talk about the last year. We relax in the company of those we love and care about.
Part of the spiritual season is celebrating the coming of Christ to our world. Since we celebrate a God who comes to our world both fully human and fully divine, God himself came home for Christmas. Another dimension to our reflection and worship during the Christmas season is at the center of Christian belief–that Jesus Christ is coming again and we are looking forward to it. Christ is coming home, to relationships and an environment with people he loves.
Coming Home for Christmas is our conversation theme this Advent at New Song. We are going to do some silly things, some serious things and some things for others. But the big thing is us thinking about what does it mean for Jesus to come home, here on our earth for Christmas.
Our Scripture for this first Sunday is a prophecy from Isaiah.
Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
“Clear the way through the wilderness
for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
for our God!
Fill in the valleys,
and level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves,
and smooth out the rough places.
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
The Lord has spoken!”
O Zion, messenger of good news,
shout from the mountaintops!
Shout it louder, O Jerusalem.
Shout, and do not be afraid.
Tell the towns of Judah,
“Your God is coming!”
Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
He will rule with a powerful arm.
See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.
God wants to come a clear a path through all of the mess of our life straight to him. He wants us to be making this path as well.
Clear hearts create clear roads.
Scripture tells us of a God who is making a straight path for His people to follow. His people are also called to begin clearing that path themselves. The best way for us to encounter God is to begin preparing ourselves for when he comes.
It is easy to blindly celebrate Jesus during this season. I imagine Christmas is probably the easiest time of the year to be outwardly Christian. We have baby Jesus in mangers, wisemen, angels…the whole nine yards. But how often to we take a moment to actually pray and think over why each of us desperately need Jesus to come into our world. How often do we let God tell us the areas in our life where Jesus needs to come and live.
When we truly know exactly where we need Jesus to come, both for all of humanity and how he has in the past as well as how we need him to right now for us as well as for the full salvation and redemption of this world, we will understand what it means to hope. We will understand what we need to be doing to clear this path.
So we start off this advent thinking about the coming of Christ. The coming of God into our world. About that time in the past and the time in the future when God Himself will be coming home for Christmas.
Why does scripture talk about giving more than many other parts of the spiritual life? This month we are looking at abundance coming as something God gives to us, gives us the freedom and privilege of having and the ability to respond abundantly to his love.
*What is a sermon preview? Sermon previews are released on Friday’s. They are to give YOU a short glimpse of what the conversation is going to be like on Sunday morning. On Monday, the preview is updated with some discussion questions, scripture guide and an mp3 of the sermon. I do these for 2 reasons. The first is so God can continue working in your life throughout the week. The second is for you to share this with a friend. I invite and encourage you to share the preview on Facebook/Twitter and through email.
On the third episode of The Productive Pastor Podcast we tackle the topic of priorities and their place in your weekly routine.
I have found my week runs smoother and I feel I have accomplished more when I consistently am able to work within my priorities. Every part of this episode, from The List to the Toolbox focuses on what it means to routinely accomplish priorities and how this action gives us more time for what we care about and what we are most effective at.
1. Scripture and Prayer.
The most important part of your schedule is regular scripture and prayer. This must be the cornerstone you schedule everything else around. If this is only happening during teaching preparation you will not be able to adequately be the spiritual leader you are called to be.
2. Your focuses points and goals.
If you can’t rattle off your top 3 priorities at any given moment you will struggle to accomplish anything. Focus brings clarity and clarity brings about completion.
You can designate these privately or (I suggest) with a board or committee. These goals need to be public and measurable goals focusing on a specific objective. Focused energy is what you are shooting for here.
3. The Job at Hand.
There will be tasks you need to do but do not fit in your priority area. Some of these might be recurring or one time items. They need to be done but do not get priority status. I find it easiest to just block out chunks of time and do these all at the same time. This is what some of us call busy work.
4. The things that matter to you the most.
You might have a project that isn’t currently on your priority list but matters deeply to you. For me, I put sermon preparation in this. It gets a big block of my time and is related to my priorities, but isn’t a specific measurable goal.
This podcast is another one of those projects. I make the time for it because it matters to me.
Give yourself margin. This means time to relax, to think or read as well as time to makeup work when you find yourself in the time bomb. When you schedule margin intentionally you will always have the time to get things done.
My Weekly Schedule
I like to block out my time as well as realize certain days will be geared towards certain tasks. If you look, my Tuesdays are almost all given over to meetings. I try to get some prep in towards the end of the day, but I realize this normally doesn’t happen. I let Wednesdays and Thursdays be directed towards more study work, but I also build in discretionary (or margin) time. These are the blocks I am able to make things up. This is a really broad idea of a week and this schedule morphs every few months. This is probably the 5th revision of my weekly schedule.
Our toolbox tip this episode comes from my Dad, Dr. B. David Brooks of Calvary Baptist Church in Alexandria, La. He gives us a great, short idea for how to make sure we are consistently accomplishing the task at hand.
Losing weight has possibly been the hardest and most transformational thing I have ever done. For as long as I can remember I was bigger than most guys I hung around. It began to be out of control around 8 years ago. In the last few years I realized my body was holding it differently and I needed to do something about it. I never managed to make a dent though. I had no idea how to start and I truly believed anything different was out of the realm of possibility.
A friend of mine, who works in weight loss, cared for me enough to say he wanted to help.*
This Monday I transitioned off my diet from the last 90 days or so. I have lost 70 pounds and I have never felt better. What used to seem impossible is now my new reality.
Three “anythings” that changed by losing weight
I learned anything is possible.
I had resigned myself to being a large man. I prefer the word large to fat because I felt it more accurately described me. I used my inherited family frame as an excuse.
Dropping this weight taught me so much about persistence and the value of measurable change and proper goal setting. Those two things give every one of us the ability to make anything possible. When we look at something impossible and divide it into bit sized chunks, we can chip away at it. Easily.
I learned that anything can be changed.
This summer I privately admitted to just learning to be fat. I wasn’t large. I was fat. I no longer looked like a former athlete (which I never was) who had just let things get a little lax. I looked like I came off a 3 month waffle house binge. l needed to learn to deal with my weight and find a new way to get around the tough issue.
When I dropped the first 30 pounds in 30 days I started to see things differently. I was lighter than I had been my entire marriage. Pants began to not fit. I was actually beginning to change something I thought was permanent in my life.
Anything can be a new reality
At this point I am still in the honeymoon phase of my weight loss. I still get scared and write down everything and weigh 2x a day. I love who I have become. I caught myself craving asparagus earlier this week.
I actually have a hard time remembering what life was like only THREE MONTHS AGO!!! I have a new reality and it is one I never could have imagined. Many times we think the dangerous and destructive parts of our life are just something we need to live with. I thought for ages about the planned meal I would have the night after my final weigh in. When it came, it was good, but it no longer was a “dream meal”. What my mind and body craved in my former (fat) life is no longer satisfying in my new reality.
This doesn’t apply to just weight. Any part of our lives that hold us back from becoming everything God made us to be doesn’t have to be permanent. I will tell you it took every bit of discipline across every part of my life to make this sort of categorical change. I prayed many prayers as I was out walking at night to get used to a new level of fitness. I learned to lean on God in new ways these last 3 months.
Anything is possible, can be changed and anything can be a new reality.
The early Methodist revival was fast moving and organized behind a single purpose, saving people into a radical and transformed life with Jesus Christ and characterized by holy love. Highly organized (hence the name Methodist), the class meeting played a pivotal role in the longevity of the people called Methodist.
Possibly the largest conversation current in the United Methodist Church focuses on renewal. Whichever side you are on regarding other debates, everyone appears to be in a fervent search for a solution for church decline. There are many opinions and solutions offered up.
I think Kevin Watson has given us a game changer in his book The Class Meeting.
I never intended on doing many book reviews on this website, but I also never intended reading a book like The Class Meeting. Instead of looking at what many believe to be a historic, but dead practice, Kevin digs down into the functional goals of the original Methodists and brings a highly successful core strategy back into the future. He gives a convincing case of the importance of the recovery of the class meeting and leads us into the practical aspect of beginning one.
Here are 3 reasons Class Meetings change the game.
Class Meetings were the secret sauce in the Methodist Revival.
Part of the general concern between the early Methodists was a deep love for one another and participating in a life together with God. The were coming together and putting themselves in a situation to be changed by grace (pg141). The structure and relationship the class meetings provides gave a practical framework for the mobilization of thousands of people into living examples of the perfecting love of Jesus Christ.
It means taking your faith into your own hands
The Christian life is not passive. When people take faith out of the passive role it has previously occupied (and not given any tangible benefit) they are unleashing the love of God and the changing power of the Holy Spirit into real life. In real ways. Christians are made, not born. John Wesley knew the power of the Class Meeting and how it taught individual ownership to its participants.
How to sustainably manage a small group
Many churches know they need small groups. Sunday School as an enterprise is slowly not working for large masses of people like it did in the past. Their are plenty of explorations about how and why to do small groups. Let’s also be honest, many churches have been doing modern styled small groups for almost two decades. Your average Methodist church is just beginning to think about them and is behind the times. We don’t have the infrastructure to raise up and organize a large mass of teachers. The beauty of the modern small group movement is how much it took from the Class Meeting and inside the very DNA of Methodism is a practical and sustainable and lay-led small group model. Class Meetings are who we are.
The fourth hidden tidbit is the genuine ecumenicism of the book. John Wesley himself was known to cooperate with anyone who genuinely loved Jesus and wanted to see his kingdom advance (read the catholic spirit). No matter what your denominational affiliation, The Class Meeting can be a dynamic resource to grow people closer to God.
Kevin does a tremendous job teaching us to love the idea of a class. He makes it easy to understand the necessity and historical side of class meetings as well as how to functionally begin class meetings. I honestly believe this is the beginning of a new wave of Methodism.
In episode two we talk about plenty of great productivity practices for ministry leaders. Chad shares three great blog posts found around the internet and interviews Jonathan Andersen. Jonathan is a pastor in Georgia and is a person to learn from! Jonathan shares some of his practices for sermon preparation, how he keeps in contact with people and strategies of working in team based ministry. I really appreciate how Jonathan understands the theological and pastoral call to time management. I even have some great conversation I didn’t include that will come to light during a special “extras” episode.
As always, we dig into the toolbox and share a favorite productivity tip. The Productive Pastor Podcast is also giving away a 3 pack of the brand new Pitch Black Field Notes Brand notebook, Chad’s preferred brand of pocket notebooks for daily use. To win this three pack, just share the Productive Pastor on twitter and Facebook (make sure to tag me @revchadbrooks) or you can leave a review on iTunes (make sure to let me know your username if it isn’t easily understood).
As always, THANKS for listening. You can be part of the conversation on twitter by using and following #productivepastor. You can find me on all the usual social networks as @revchadbrooks. I would love to hear from you. If you enjoy the podcast, please leave an iTunes review and rating!
Chad Brooks is a United Methodist Pastor serving in Louisiana. Married to Meredith, he is currently starting a new church in northeast Louisiana. Host of the Productive Pastor Podcast and lover of motorcycles, Chad would love to find Bigfoot one day.