The Most Wonderful Time

The Most Wonderful Time
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...." So begins Charles Dickens' timeless novel, "A Tale of Two Cities." I remembered that line as I was thinking about what it means to celebrate Christmas in 2008 -- and how often it is the "worst" around us that allows us to see the "best" within us.

Many of us are reeling from the impact of one of the worst economic downturns in our nation's history. While some have suffered "only" the loss of retirement or investment funds, others have lost income, jobs, and even homes. We have also felt the impact as a church -- having already cut 10% of our annual budget in response to a drop in our collective giving. Yet, in the midst of the economic bad news, we see expressions of faithfulness, generosity and good news. Our offerings last weekend totaled over $87,000 which is very encouraging because December is a critical month in our giving cycle. Food donated in this weekend's food drive will enable us to share with dozens of struggling families through the ministry of our Food Pantry. And our Benevolent Fund continues to minister aid to those in critical need. We are also planning to offer a Financial Workshop after the holidays that will provide an opportunity for families to acquire the necessary tools and information to weather this economic storm. Some of the "best" things come into view through some of the "worst" of times!

Through the recent TCI survey of the congregation we have also begun to understand some of the "best" and "worst" things about FBCG! We have learned that we are pretty good at providing quality programs, preaching, worship and financial leadership. Yet we have also learned that we aren't so good at providing a sense of fellowship and connection to the church as a genuine community of care. But because you have been willing to share your experiences and opinions, we believe we will be able to work together to address these issues and become just that kind of community - and that is a very, very, good thing!

And as I think about all these things it is impossible not to see the connection to the story we celebrate at this time of year. It is, of course, the story of the God who chose the worst of times to do the best of things. It's the story of the God who chose to do the unthinkable; to take on human flesh, to step out of the glory of heaven and into this sinful and broken world. The Apostle John said he came like a light to a dark place. The angels announced that his coming would bring good news and great joy to a world full of bad news and deep sorrow. The prophets told us he would come so that we would know we are never alone - because he is, and always will be, Immanuel, the God who is with us. We know him as Jesus, who was born so long ago, but is born again in our hearts by faith, that we might bring his good news to our world.

As you celebrate this Christmas; as you observe family traditions, exchange gifts, sing carols and enjoy all the special events at FBCG; take a moment alone somewhere along the way and ponder again how Jesus transforms even the worst of times into the best of times - and transforms even the worst in us into his best for us!

Have a merry and blessed Christmas season! Pastor Brian

Fun of Giving

The Fun of Giving

Quick question: Which is more fun – to receive a great gift on Christmas morning, or to watch the face of someone you love as they open a gift you have given that you KNOW is the perfect gift? I think most of us would agree that giving the perfect give is WAY more fun than receiving the perfect gift! But why is that? What is it about giving that brings such joy to our souls?

I believe giving produces joy because that’s the way God made us. I also believe that giving produces joy because it is an expression of love. Think about it: we tend to give gifts to people we love. We tend to give generously toward causes that we are passionate about. It is the combination of love and generosity that always generates joy!

At FBCG we celebrate generosity because we know that our generosity not only produces joy but pleases the heart of God. About 6 weeks ago we, as leaders, communicated that FBCG had begun to feel the downturn in the economy. We let you know that our weekly offerings were running about 10% behind our budget and that we were preparing to make cuts in our ministry and operational budget as a result. Since then our church family has responded with the strongest giving we have seen since the spring. During the month of November, our collective giving EXCEEDED our budget needs for several weekends, with the result that we are now running behind by 8%. While this number is a significant concern, the fact that so many of you have continued to give generously through this difficult time is a powerful testimony to your love for your Lord as well as a great encouragement to us as leaders!

While we have exercised our responsibility as leaders by trimming back our budget some 10% through:

• reducing costs of many ministry programs
• eliminating expenditures deemed unnecessary at this time
• going to a four-day work week at both campuses
• eliminating the shuttle but between campuses on Sunday mornings

we are very hopeful that with strong year-end giving we will not have to cut back any further!

Historically, year-end giving has provided a large percentage of our annual budget. We know that, for many of you, the current economic situation may have impacted the way you are approaching your personal year-end decisions. We simply want you to keep the ministries of FBCG in your mind and heart as you allow God to lead you in those decisions – and to know that we deeply appreciate your continued faithfulness and generosity!

Finally, as you move through the celebrations and traditions of this joyful time of year – take a few moments to reflect on the gift God the Father chose to give so long ago. Think about the joy he feels as each one of us receives the perfect gift of his Son and our Savior!

Have a wonderful celebration of Christ’s birth!