Saturday, December 31, 2011

Beyond church

...they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes, and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.  And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Acts 2:46-47
There is God, lying in a manger.  Wrapped in cloth, sleeping peacefully.  Then waking, crying for food.  As the baby Jesus is held, cuddled, burped, and changed — so is God.  What  a mystery!  What a surprise!  What an honor — to find God right here among us, under the same roof and in our world.  But then, isn’t it his world?
             Our faith has always taught that God cares for and comes to his people.  Even before Christ came, this was the message of the prophets and the experience of the patriarchs.  This was the good news — that instead of turning away from us and leaving us to fend for ourselves against hunger and disease, against death and the devil, that we have a Savior, a Father, a friend and defender who fights with us and for us.  Instead of loneliness and isolation, we have the promise and the presence of a God who you’d never think would want to give up heaven for the meager delights of a world like this.  But here he is.  With us.  Immanuel.
So in this incredible time of year with the one and only Christmas story fresh in our minds and hearts, we are set to begin a new year by taking that message to the world.  The trees will come down, but the message of hope is “ever green,” always spring-like and fresh.  What new ways will we find to grow in God this year?  How will that Bethlehem baby become our living reality in 2012?
We think you may have some great ideas about how to share the good news in your neighborhood.  We have noticed that each subdivision, mobile home court or development has its own personality and its own special kind of community life.  Each little pocket of people presents its own challenge in how to reach those people, but we think you might have some great ideas on how to reach out to people in your own area.  We will be asking for your help in 2012 to get better organized to reach out. 
When the first Christians wanted to reach out to their friends and neighbors, they met together in homes each week in addition to attending formal worship at the temple.  Their house meetings were social gatherings where fellowship, prayer and bible study took place.  As I look at where the Christian community is strongest, it seems that home groups like these are the best way Christians can reach into their communities.  Some of you may be willing to host just such a gathering in your home or at some other meeting place in your community.
             Some of you may have other ideas for ways we can impact the many neighborhoods that make up the area we serve.  That area is huge and diverse, stretching from Zephyrhills to Lutz and from Dade City to New Tampa.  This year, we will be calling people together from different parts of this large area to brainstorm ideas and help us get organized for outreach.  I’m anxious to hear your thoughts and ideas, and to join you in blazing some new trails into our communities with the message of God’s love, grace, and peace.