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Thoughts on getting Christmas right

December 18, 2014

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

There are many Christmas traditions in the world. Some are very familiar such as the Christmas tree and decorations, as well as a gift-giving, jolly Santa. Others are not so familiar such as Krampus, an evil Santa Claus in Austria who is supposed to beat and punish so-called bad children, and in Japan, Kentucky Fried Chicken is enormously popular as a Christmas dinner with people lining up early to pick up the greasy delicacy.

One Christmas tradition that I love and see growing every year in almost every church is the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. I see families, couples and singles who plan into their Christmas season presents, trees, food, maybe a Christmas parade and a Christmas Eve Candlelight Service (a time to get it right as we come together around the simple theme of the season — Christ is born.) We sing, act out and read the Christmas story and share the candles symbolizing Jesus as the light of the world. I see this moment becoming a growing, connecting time for families, churches and communities around the country.

It is a great way to focus on Christ, the light of the world, in the midst of so many other fun and sometimes odd traditions. I love seeing it become a lifelong tradition for children. It is part of Christmas they will never forget and bring their children back to when that time comes.

I hope you can join us for one of our services this year. We have two on December 23, 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. Then December 24, we have services at 2:00, 4:00, 6:00, 8:00, 10:00 and 11:30 p.m. If you want to know more check out christmasinmansfield.fmcm.org. I hope to see you at one.

I would add one more thing as well. There are just a few more days before 2014 ends. The end-of-the-year gifts from the First Methodist family to the life and mission of First Methodist Church are always welcome and needed. Few churches anywhere make the impact this church family does, locally and beyond. In the season marked by giving, please remember gifts to and through First Methodist really do make a difference. In fact, dollar for dollar, I don’t believe you can make a bigger difference anywhere than in the comprehensive, faith-based way we do.

Mike Ramsdell
Senior Pastor

Thoughts on Christmas

December 11, 2014

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

I am not a person who deals much with anxiety, but I have to admit I can get a little anxious going to the mall to do any Christmas shopping. I don’t know why, but I do. And as a pastor, the Christmas season is always pretty overwhelming — not only do I have to do everything I normally have to do, but we add church and home Christmas to it.
 
Sometimes Christmas seems like a moving train with its whistle blaring and the wheels rumbling down the track, an unstoppable force. The season is not really by choice; after all, it is on the calendar. The stores begin their sales. The music of Christmas is on the radio, TV, at offices and in stores everywhere, along with the decorative lights of the season. There are also the expectations — the ones others have of us, the ones we have of them and the ones we have of ourselves. Parties, food, presents, events, gatherings, all seem to drive us to December 25.
 
And then . . .
 
One pastor said it well, “Nothing is so over as Christmas when it’s over.”
 
So, it can be a real let down, often failing to live up to unreal expectations and leaving a hangover of disappointment when those expectations don’t connect with the happiness and joy the songs seem to promise.
 
What do I do?

  1. Remember it's about the people in your life, not the stuff.
  2. Remember it's about Jesus in your heart, not the stuff.
  3. Remember it’s about giving yourself away, not the stuff.
  4. Remember it’s about worship, not the stuff.

The angels had it figured out. “Born for you in the city of David is Christ the Lord.”
The wise men had it figured out. “Let’s go find the Christ.” The shepherds had it figured out. “Let’s go see the Christ.”
 
December 26 is not to be an end to a holiday or season. It was intended to be a beginning.
 
Happiness and joy is in Christ. It’s in the people we love. It’s in a generous life. And, it’s in bowing before the God we worship. It’s finding the kingdom of God, something so easily missed but so readily available.
 
I hope to see you this weekend in one of our worship services, Saturday night at 6:00 p.m, Sunday morning at 8:15, 9:30 or 11:00 a.m. or at 5:00 p.m. And remember, at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday we will celebrate with our Christmas program, Noel Christmas Cantata, in the Sanctuary. Come, bring the family, bring your friends and celebrate the beautiful story that is Christmas.

Mike Ramsdell
Senior Pastor

Everything is a miracle!

November 26, 2014

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

In this meaningful, Thanksgiving week and with this coming weekend being the beginning of Advent (yes, the Christmas season tidal wave is coming), I wanted to offer what I consider a life-changing idea.
 
Everything is a miracle!
 
Certainly Christmas is that, as we thank God together for the birth of a Savior into our world. Our Christmas message series will speak to that, Christmas in the Holy Land.
 
Thanksgiving says something about it as well. We have miracle after miracle for which to give thanks.
 
Last week during the freezing cold weather, a middle-aged woman who has a long-term relationship with the Wesley Mission Center came to see one of our care counselors. She occasionally asks for help and also occasionally brings items to donate, often items she discovers in the dumpsters at the trailer park where she lives.
 
But she had a different story to tell that day, a miracle story. While dumpster diving she found a full gallon of ice cream, still frozen because of the weather. She was (the words of our care counselor) jumping for joy because she had not had ice cream for years. And, this was Neapolitan with all three of her favorite flavors. She was so excited about the miracle of the ice cream that she just had to share, not even imagining some might hear her miracle story and think “dumpster” or “sad” or “I will go buy her a crate of ice cream.” She was not asking for any of that, she just wanted someone to celebrate the miracle with her. In the light of our Be Rich campaign, this is an inspirational story of wealth and Thanksgiving and Christmas and miracles.
 
I think everything in life is a miracle. After all, God created life to begin with. We can be so overwhelmed with the "stuff" and abundance of this world, sometimes so abused by our own unreasonable expectations of life, that we miss the daily miracles that God gives us. Certainly the incarnation of Christ is a miracle. But so are the tables covered with our traditional Thanksgiving foods. Everlasting life and salvation are miracles. But so are our next breath and the sound of a baby’s giggle. God’s grace is a miracle, but so is a bowl of ice cream.
 
I hope you are preparing to join us for the Advent season, Christmas in the Holy Land. It begins this weekend. Sixty-five members of our church family made a tour of the Holy Land, including many sites of Christmas. We are excited to take you with us this December. Christmas decorations went up at the church on Monday as well. If you have yet to be able to turn in your Be Rich Estimate of Giving Card, know you can still turn it in this coming weekend or the next. And, don’t forget this year’s special Christmas program is Sunday, December 14, at 6:00 p.m. in the Sanctuary. You can also catch a sneak peek of the sacred part of the program in our 11:00 a.m. Sanctuary worship service that morning.   

Mike Ramsdell
Senior Pastor

The happiest life is the one that is generous

November 20, 2014

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

Early on a Sunday morning, June 8, 2008, Meredith Hatch was riding her bicycle (training for a triathlon) in Grand Prairie. There she was killed by a drunk driver, leaving three children and a loving husband. Meredith was a member of this church family. I had the honor of presiding at her funeral service a few days later.
 
Meredith lived life right. I would often see her in church and got to know her through her community service. She was President of the Mansfield Rotary Club, on the Board of Directors of the Mansfield Education Foundation, served with the Mansfield Chamber of Commerce, owned and operated Primrose Schools, was an accomplished triathlete and the mother of three energetic boys.
 
For Meredith, faith, family, love for children and her commitment to the community she lived in was a driving influence for her. She inspired, motivated and challenged others. Her faith was not a private thing. It was lived out in the things she did — in her drive to be the best she could be as an athlete but also in the impact she made upon children, her family and in the community she felt it was her task to build and make better. She knew something about what a Christian was supposed to do because she went to the places Jesus did — into the world around her.
 
The year after her death, I was asked to say a prayer at a 5K that was put on by her oldest son to raise money for bicycles for needy kids. There were a handful of runners. I was not one of them back then. At her death, a foundation was created to serve the community, just as she had done in life. Since then, the run has grown to 2,000 runners, and the foundation has raised over $100,000 and has given out over 1,000 bicycles.
 
The signature fundraiser for the Meredith Hatch Foundation is the Miles for Meredith 5K that is scheduled for Saturday, December 13. It is usually held the Saturday before Thanksgiving at Mansfield High School. This year the time has been moved because of potential bad weather. If you are interested in serving this way, go to the foundation’s website and sign up today. There is a 1K run at 8:00 a.m. and a 5K at 8:30 a.m. It is a great cause as Meredith was a great example of a life that makes a difference, even now extending that difference. If you have an In the City for the City shirt, wear it — red, gray or even the pink one I have seen.
 
I hope you are preparing for a special Thanksgiving and Christmas season. We are especially excited about the Christmas emphasis, Christmas in the Holy Land, and our Christmas program, the Noel Christmas Cantata, on Sunday, December 14, at 6:00 p.m. in our Sanctuary. Our Chancel Choir, Chancel Orchestra and the Jubilate Children's Choir, along with soloists and dancers, will tell the story of Jesus' birth through dramatic narration, songs and special effects. You can catch a sneak peek of the secular portion of the program that morning in our 11:00 a.m. Sanctuary service. Make sure you mark your calendar.  
 
I told Meredith’s story for a reason. She led a life of impact  faith, family and community. It was cut short on this earth, but in that time, she had made a difference. I think God expects all of us to make a difference. Jesus challenged us to be the salt and light wherever we are. Jesus does this through us, in simple ways such as being part of the run, serving our family and church, being generous financially, volunteering in our community. The happiest life is the one that is generous. This is especially true when we realize that Jesus was the most generous person who ever lived — generous with who he was, what he had and the life he lived.

Mike Ramsdell
Senior Pastor

Living a life of generosity

November 13, 2014

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

I had a friend for more than 30 years. We walked through ministry together. I remember when I was the pastor of a small church in Bangs, he was the pastor of a small church in Cisco. Our lives in ministry paralleled in many ways. As we journeyed through ministry together, we would often talked about the church and learn from each other. I appreciated his wisdom as did many, but especially his persistent spiritual focus.
 
Ken had a very clear focus when it came to money, something he began as a young man while at Oral Roberts University and something he continued throughout his life. He saved 10% of his income, gave 10% and lived on the rest, also very carefully avoided debt.  He did this when he made very little but also when he made more when he became the pastor of First Methodist Grapevine. In many ways, as a Methodist pastor, he was the best of us.
 
A few years ago he was preparing for a weekend sermon on Super Bowl commercials, something that had become a tradition for him. He began to have a headache and was taken to the hospital. It was quickly discovered that Ken had undiagnosed Leukemia. He died that night. At the funeral thousands grieved his loss as we celebrated his life. But there was another part of the story. Even though he was only 52, his family was well taken care of, as was his soul. The simple decision to live as he had done had already paved the way for his sudden death. I know few who are prepared as he was at such a young age. But Ken was ready for death, spiritually and financially, just past 50. His priorities guided his life, and his example still speaks to many.
 
I think this biblically-informed way of living has great rewards. Ken’s life proved that, not only in that saving is a wise thing to do but that generosity builds life — a walk with God, a changed and growing heart, a balanced existence, a standard that informs the rest of one’s choices, even opening the door to a supernatural component in life where God blesses the giver.
 
This weekend First Methodist is celebrating Commitment Weekend, where we each get a chance to place our 2015 Estimate of Giving card in a special offering or celebrate that we have already made that commitment. All pastors enter these seasons with some fear and trepidation. First, pastors believe in giving and the mission of the church, our heart and soul is wrapped around both. Second, the church cannot be successful in the life and mission God calls us to be about if the church family does not support the mission with presence and generosity. Third, most pastors, me included, are worried that people will think that all we care about is money. It is ironic that few complain that all pastors do is talk about prayer or the Bible or ministry, which pastors and most churches talk about a great deal. It seems most of us are relatively sensitive about money. Why? Because it is very important to us. This is why giving, being generous, making a commitment are equally important and why Jesus talked about money so much.
 
Be rich. Being rich is living a life of generosity in all the ways generosity is lived out. Jesus was the richest man who ever lived because he was the most generous. 

Mike Ramsdell
Senior Pastor