Christmas All Year Long

The Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, says, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

Nazarene Image HostIf you are a Christian, you understand that Christmas is all about Jesus and His birth. There’s a great deal of history that goes along with the holiday. Most scholars say that the date of December 25th was first celebrated around the middle of the 4th century.  Most will agree that Jesus was probably not born on December 25th and was probably not born in December at all, but that is the day that the Church, around 350AD, agreed to celebrate and remember His birth. For more than 300 years, the early church did not celebrate Christmas. The reason for this, many scholars say, is that it was considered to be a custom of pagans to celebrate any birthday or anniversary of an event. So in an effort to avoid what the pagans were doing, the early Christians did not celebrate Jesus’ birth. Has the celebration of Jesus’ birth ever been broken since then? Actually, yes.  During the rule of Oliver Cromwell, in Britain, the celebration of Christmas was banned from 1649-1658. No Christmas celebration was allowed except for special church services on Christmas Eve.

With all of these fascinating historical details, we learn much about the early church and ourselves as followers of Christ. In the end, the back-and-forth nature of Christmas celebrations reminds me that the most important thing about the birth of Christ isn’t the day or season in which we celebrate it. There’s a much deeper principle at work.

An unforgettable celebration of Christmas happened one year in February when I visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and it was one of the few moments in my life I will forever remember. Our guide led us down into the cave-like space under the church to see the place that many believe was the exact spot where Jesus was born. Our group was silent as we stood there. Then, almost in unison, we broke out singing, “O Come, All Ye Faithful”.  I remember tears were flowing in my eyes as we reached that chorus, “O come let us adore Him!” No, it wasn’t December 25th and it wasn’t that we were worshipping the place that it was believed that Jesus was born. We experienced the reality of His presence with us that day.

That experience in Bethlehem reminds me that we need our lives to radiate the reality of the presence of the King. The realness of the light and presence of Christ in our lives is what sets us apart, not just in December, but all the year through. This Christmas, even though our world seems filled with daily acts of terrorism, hatred, violence, racism and fear, we must shine the light and tell the world that Jesus was born to bring peace, love and forgiveness to the lost and broken world! It’s all about Him.

cl42pon9l3pj33wtsxm.jpg~Kevin Koker

The World Evangelism Fund – Five Reasons to Give

As members of the Church of the Nazarene, we are zealous in our desire to give toward a common goal. We have challenged ourselves to work together and be part of something bigger than we could accomplish alone. As Nazarenes, we believe that God has called us to take the message of salvation to the ends of the Earth.

Fall is just around the corner, and the changing season brings us beautiful colors and a reminder to be thankful for God’s blessings. Nazarene Image Host It is also time for many of our churches to give to the World Evangelism Fund. Why are mission offerings so important? Here are 5 reasons that we should make the World Evangelism Fund a priority.

1. Our dollars reach six different world areas, including Africa, Asia-Pacific, Eurasia, Mesoamerica, South America, and North America.

2. The fund gives missionaries around the globe financial support, medical insurance, pension funds, and other valuable benefits.

3. Our resources, through the World Evangelism Fund, enable and promote church plants by training pastoral leaders to serve in these churches.

4. Funds produce resources in over 90 languages for churches everywhere to use, including resources for pastors and Bible-teaching materials for all ages.

5. World Evangelism giving develops pastors for ordination in the Church of the Nazarene and makes holiness education possible worldwide through Nazarene institutions of higher learning.

The World Evangelism fund is not an option for us; it is the heart of our mission “to make Christ-like disciples in the nations!”

cl42pon9l3pj33wtsxm.jpg~Kevin Koker

Five Ways to Connect to Ministry through Funding the Mission

God never meant for each Christian to live a life that was isolated from others. We are made to be in community.  For this reason, we value what happens when we come together and worship God. As we worship together, we celebrate and rehearse God’s mighty act of salvation on our behalf. We pray together and lift up each other as we “work out our salvation” (Phil. 2:12). God calls us, as followers of Jesus, to do these things.

Together, we call ourselves a part of the Church of the Nazarene because we believe in the call to be in community. In this church, we are all connected to one another. We share values, goals, and vision. In fellowship, we join together to make Christlike disciples in the nations. We feel a deep calling to funding ministry everywhere. So, following God’s calling, we pool the resources that He has given us. Through the Funding the Mission plan each Nazarene church is given the opportunity to give a portion of their resources to global ministry.

Nazarene Image HostStewardship Ministry is charged with the responsibility to teach congregations, pastors, and leaders about this plan and how their churches can share in these common goals. If you have never visited FundingtheMission.org, we invite you to see how this site can help you in many ways. We talk to many pastors and church leaders who are excited to discover this powerful tool.

Here are five ways that FundingtheMission.org can help your church join the common vision:

  1. Keep track of your giving goals by simply updating your income. FundingtheMission.org makes it easy to see at a glance the status of your goals.
  2. Make contributions online, and save time and money compared to mailing in your checks. Giving online is a convenient and cost-efficient way for your church to give.
  3. Get giving credit for giving you sent to approved Mission Specials, but not through the General Treasurer. Report that giving via Point-to-Point giving.
  4. Project goals as you plan your church budget each year. Funding the Mission has a planning calculator to help look at “what-if” scenarios.
  5. View your electronic monthly statement for easy record keeping. Simply select the monthly statement tab and you can download and view any monthly giving statement in the last 5 years.

FundingtheMission.org is a tool to make your life easier and help you feel a little more connected to the Global Church of the Nazarene and its mission. If you do not currently have access to your church’s page, contact Stewardship at stewardship@nazarene.org, and we can help you join the family of users!

cl42pon9l3pj33wtsxm.jpg~Kevin Koker

Loving Our Pastors

I was privileged to grow up in a Nazarene parsonage and experience the life of a pastor’s kid. There were many good memories and a few bad ones. My dad did not make the largest salary in town, but I never wondered about how the utility bills or rent was paid. I just rested in the faith that my parents had in God, who graciously supplied all their needs. Nazarene Image HostNow that they are retired, I find myself being much more concerned about their future and their care than ever before.

Philippians chapter 4 is one of the most loved chapters in the Bible. In it, Paul encourages this new church to trust God and not worry so that they can experience a deep peace. (vs.6-7) Paul stresses to these young Christians to think on things that will make their faith stronger. (vs.8-9) But the part of this chapter that we sometimes fail to stress is Paul’s words of thankfulness for the financial gifts that the church at Philippi had given to him.

13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. 14 Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty. 15 As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this. 16 Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once. 17 I don’t say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness.18 At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:13-19 (NLT)

Back in Acts chapter 16-17 we read that Paul preached the gospel in Philippi. We also see how this church wanted to give him practical proof of their love and appreciation for his ministry. No other church gave Paul financial support the way that this church did. This church and their generosity made Paul very glad, but not because of his own benefit. Paul knew that a generous church was a loving and connected church.

I have become very thankful for the act of love that this Philippian church showed to its pastor, Paul. They gave us an example of how to take care of our pastors, in love and in practical expression. I have been in pastoral ministry in the Church of the Nazarene for over 20 years. My father served the Church of the Nazarene as a pastor for well over 30 years. Support and love for our pastor does not always take on a monetary expression, but the monetary gift reinforces the relationship. Paul was moved by the relationship of love this wonderful church showed to him.

I’m so grateful that the Church of the Nazarene believes so strongly in loving its pastors that we have agreed together to give to a fund that helps our pastors in their retirement years. The Pensions and Benefits Fund is an affirmation that we are a connectional church that understands the importance of loving our family of pastoral leaders. Thanks be to God!

cl42pon9l3pj33wtsxm.jpg~Kevin Koker

Every Tongue Confess

Several years ago I was privileged to go on a Work and Witness trip to Nicaragua. Our assignment was to help build the frame of a church outside of Leon in a small village called LNazarene Image Hosta Paz Centro. I had the honor of taking my daughter with me on the trip as we worked alongside the people of Nicaragua.

Although we didn’t speak the same language, we learned so much from the people there and, my life will never be the same because of the trip.  Work and Witness group members often share about the profound change in their hearts as they return from trips like these. I felt much like everyone else; the people of La Paz Centro had given me much more than I had given to them.

I will never forget the last day we were there. We all brought chairs into this new space for a service of celebration. The people wanted to thank our team for the progress that had been made. The members of the church gathered on the platform to sing songs of praise and to give thanks to God for this newly framed building that we had built together. Nazarene Image HostThe frame of the church was constructed, the metal roof was attached, and the concrete floor had been poured. It was a wonderful feeling to know that God had used each of us in small ways to help complete this part of the construction. As the music played and the people sang, tears began streaming down my face. I wasn’t sure why I was crying at first, but I realized it was the Holy Spirit reminding me of how much God loved me. Our team went with a desire to share, to love, and to give. But God, through the Holy Spirit, was filling our hearts with the assurance of His presence and His love.

In Philippians, Paul reminds the church of how much God gave when he sent His Son, Jesus.

5” Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

Paul says that Jesus emptied himself of his rights as God, and became a man and a servant. That thought alone is hard to grasp: that God, the Creator of everything came to serve us. But there is more, Paul says. Because of the obedience of Jesus, who gave up his own life for us, we can be reconciled with the Father. Before this passage, Paul urges the Philippians to serve each other like Jesus served us and gave His life for us.

On my trip to Nicaragua, my intention was to serve the people there, and through the giving of my time and effort, God reminded me how much He loved me. When I serve – when I give – I come more in line with the heart of God for the world. It is only through His resurrection power that I can serve others with the love of Christ.

Church, during this glorious Easter season, may we continue to serve and to give until every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord!

cl42pon9l3pj33wtsxm.jpg~Kevin Koker

The Bond of Love

Every Sunday we meet in the same room in the fellowship hall of our church, a small group of about 15-20 people coming together to study God’s word. We have recently finished walking through the book of Acts together. We have been challenged, inspired and convicted by the life of Paul and the history of the early church: how God made it grow.

In the early stages of our study, we had a new class member join us. Her name is Terry. Terry was new to our church. She lives in an apartment close by and rides her electric cart everywhere she goes. She is not able to walk well. She has been diagnosed with cancer and is struggling with the multiple physical complications that accompany that diagnosis. Nazarene Image Host Because of the difficulties thrown her way, she has shared with our class her discontent almost every Sunday. I will admit, this has resulted in many discouraging class periods in which we did not know how to help her.

Although Terry has gone to church for periods of time throughout her life, she had never diligently studied her Bible. As you can imagine, the numerous names, places and characters in the book of Acts can be confusing, and this has led to humorous questions by Terry from time to time as the Jews get mixed up with all the Gentiles and vice versa. But the class has been loving and patient with her as we do our best to explain some the details of the scriptures.

One Sunday, not long ago, Terry came to class in a terrible mood. She interrupted class, as she usually does, with a cranky statement. She said, “I have to ask for prayer today for my attitude, it’s horrible, I just don’t want to try anymore.” She was referring to the challenging medical treatment she had ahead of her. She added that she read somewhere that all of her sickness was the result of her sinful choices in life.

As we struggled to respond and share with her the love of Christ, something wonderful happened that day. The Holy Spirit came into that small classroom. We were prompted to gather around Terry to offer a special prayer, and we prayed for physical and spiritual healing.  One person in the class felt led to ask Terry if today was the day she wanted to come to know Jesus Christ and have Him help her with her attitude. She said, yes, she would like that very much. And so, Terry became a new creation in Christ right there in the middle of a bible study class; the small group became a living continuation of the book of Acts.

Anytime someone comes to know Christ it is a miracle because only God can save a soul. But I also knew that the class I was a part of and was privileged to teach was faithful to show Terry the love of Christ and allowed the Holy Spirit to work in her life until the time she was ready to respond to Him. It was a miracle of love!

“They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity -all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” Acts 2:46-47

cl42pon9l3pj33wtsxm.jpg~Kevin Koker

The Blessing of Generosity

I had the wonderful privilege of gaining a new family member over this past Christmas. I gained a new son-in-law!  I feel so blessed to know that he is a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ.  Not only is he the kind of husband I had prayed my daughter would have some day, but he is the first “son” of my family. His family and our family have been close for many, many years.Nazarene Image Host It seemed much like it could have been an arranged marriage, but God put it all together with His hands. The wedding happened a few days before Christmas which made for a special, memorable and busy time around our home during the month of December.

Weddings usually cost more than you budget for, that’s not a bad thing, it’s just what happens. I received a lot of advice from other dads that had married off their daughters. Many of them just chuckled to themselves and then reminded me to keep my checkbook close by and be ready to be generous. Their advice was accurate and kept me free from frustration if things didn’t match the budget the way we thought they would. Nazarene Image Host It was really a great exercise for me. In fact, I remember there being a point in the wedding planning process that I wished I had more financial resources I could share just because of the overwhelming sense of joy and thankfulness I felt for God’s new blessings.

As I grow older, I realize that God gives me opportunities to grow in the area of generosity. How tightly do I hold onto the resources that God has given me to steward? This is a question that God can present to me in different forms. My daughter’s wedding was one of those new ways.

Proverbs 11:24-25 says, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”

These verses remind us of the principle in scripture that we know to be true, but often refuse to obey. God wants us to be sharers of the resources that He provides. If you have ever tried to protect and hoard God’s resources, then you know that joy is not found there.  Verse 25 repeats to us that if we use our resources to refresh or bless others, we ourselves will be refreshed.

You know the old saying, “it is better to give than to receive”?  I know it to be true. I have seen the more people give, the more God provides resources for them to share. I think they have found the secret of Proverbs 11:25, by blessing others, we ourselves, are abundantly blessed! God, help us all to learn that same secret.

cl42pon9l3pj33wtsxm.jpg~Kevin Koker

A Shepherd’s Point of View

The shepherds are the people that I identify with most in the Christmas story. They were people with very little influence or power. They were simple blue-collar workers; they probably did not even smell good. There was nothing unique about them that would warrant an angelic announcement that the Christ-child had come into the world. But God saw fit to send this astonishing message to a group of people that had nothing of great value to give to the world.

Nazarene Image HostAs I see myself in a global society, with many needs and many hurts, there seems to be little I can do. I feel much like the shepherds; I don’t have much influence or money. If you stacked up all the good things I have done in my life and measured them, they would not amount to much. But God reached out to me with the same message of joy the shepherds first received: that the Christ-child has come to be my Savior. I have not earned the love of God; I have been given a precious gift.

I am intrigued by the reaction of the shepherds. First, they were scared to death. I have no doubt that I would have responded the same way to an angel visiting me, and even more so with a large group of thousands of angels.  Secondly, after somehow gathering themselves together from their great state of fear, they decided to hurry on to Bethlehem to see the reality of the message they had been given. They were not going to miss this! Because of their obedient response to the message of salvation, they got to see the baby Jesus.

What a joy it is to know that this same Jesus comes to us in the midst of fear, hatred, disease, and political upheaval and speaks peace to us. It is the good news that goes out to all people of the earth, a Savior has been born!
 

“When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2:15 (NLT)

Stewardship Ministries wishes you and your family a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year filled with the presence of the Jesus!

cl42pon9l3pj33wtsxm.jpg~Kevin Koker

A Sincere Thank You

One of my greatest joys in life is being able to speak the words “thank you” to a friend. A sincere thank you is one of the most grace filled and welcoming statements we could share with each other. I was reminded of this simple truth yesterday as I attended a chapel meeting with employees and friends of mine. Many people in this group had been told some troubling news a few weeks prior to this chapel service meeting about their future. Before we gathered around the Lord ’s Table for communion, the speaker was able to voice these simple words to the employees, “thank you”. Of course, it was communicated from a sincere heart and it was received with great emotion as tears flowed from many of their faces. It meant so much for them to feel appreciated for what they had done and the difference their sacrifices had made.

We wish that Stewardship Ministries could send you the same sincere “thank you” that those wonderful friends of mine received during those brief moments together in that chapel service. Nazarene Image HostThis time of Thanksgiving is filled with gratitude for what the Lord is doing all around the world. Through the sacrifices of modern day disciples like Nazarenes, God is using our obedience to bless and reach others. We want to say thank you for giving to the World Evangelism Fund through your local church at Thanksgiving. Please know how great a blessing you have been in accomplishing the goal of making Christ-like disciples in the nations. Our commitment in the Church of the Nazarene to this mission of God in our world is stronger than ever. We want to open new works and new places of opportunity as God leads and opens doors. Your gifts to the World Evangelism Fund make that possible.

10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.11 Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. 12 So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalemwill be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.

13 As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. 14 And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you. 15 Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words! 2 Corinthians 9:10-15 (NLT)

cl42pon9l3pj33wtsxm.jpg~Kevin Koker

Thanksgiving Transformations

In November, we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States. We love the time that we spend with friends and family and treasure the memories of gathering around a table to share a meal. Thankfulness is a natural overflow as we sense the warmth of our families love, but also the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Psalm 107:21-22 says, “Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind. Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.”

I love to share what I am thankful around the table with family and friends. But, I also love to tell about what God is doing around me and how lives are being transformed by His love. This year has been a wonderful time to see God working all around the world through the Church of the Nazarene. If you have given to the World Evangelism Fund at your local Nazarene Church, you have been a part of how God is moving.

Nazarene Image HostYesenia grew up in a family that was far from God, and then she found Christ in 2013 at an Extreme Nazarene Missions event. As God transformed her life, she also reached out with the light of Christ to her own family. You can read her story by clicking here. Yesenia is thankful to God for the leaders and pastors of her church who were obedient to share the gospel with her!

Nazarene Image HostBilly was living a life that was enslaved by alcohol and drugs. He showed up at a baptism service thinking that he might go for a swim. Surprisingly, the pastor called on him to be baptized. Billy came forward as the pastor called, and as he emerged from the water God did a miracle in Billy’s life. Now he is a new person. Read his story by clicking here. Now Billy is sharing his new found faith with his friends.

Nazarene Image HostSergo Slavchov and his wife Daniella Evdokimova found Christ in a Nazarene church in northwest Bulgaria. Through the radical transformation that happened in their lives, God gave them the chance to have a child, start a business and share with others,even though their lives were not filled with riches. Click here to read about their story.

I am thankful to be a part of the Church of the Nazarene and a commitment to reach out with Christ’s love to people all over the world: to carry out the mission of God to make Christ-like disciples in the nations. Let me offer you a sincere thank you for being obedient this Thanksgiving and giving to the World Evangelism Fund. Through your sacrifice, Christ is transforming lives like Yesenia, Billy and Sergo and Daneilla!

cl42pon9l3pj33wtsxm.jpg~Kevin Koker