Special Christmas commentaries from The Alabama Baptist (click to read) …
The start of a new year always brings the opportunity to begin again, turn over a new leaf and release what’s behind us to stay behind us.
And if you’re like me, the freshness of it all provides the exact confidence and energy needed to give it a try.
Does it mean we’ll accomplish all we might dream up for the coming year? Not at all.
Is it possible something significant will derail us along the way? Likely.
But God calls us to continue growing deeper in our relationship with Him and to seek to become more and more like Jesus every day.
So with the primary goal for our new year already outlined for us, we technically can remove the pressure because if we give our primary energy to the main goal, then everything else we need to develop, remove, sharpen, repair, learn or polish will surface.
Focus on Jesus
We’ll have an opportunity, or maybe multiple opportunities, we could have never dreamed up for ourselves — and in some cases never wanted to experience. Either way, if we keep our focus on Jesus, we’ll find our way through as we tackle some with sparkling competence and others more diligently one difficult step at a time.
As you settle into this new year, what are the areas you already know need a little smoothing out?
Do you have a plan in place for how to get started? What resources will you need?
Will you need to find more space in your day (specific time set aside), your mind (expanded mental capacity) or physical location (less clutter)? If so, what are your first steps to find that extra space?
How have others made a difference in your life through the years? Be sure to let them know.
Also, reach out to your church staff and let them know you appreciate all they do for members and ministry efforts as well as the community at large.
The past two years required a good bit of adapting for those serving in ministry, and a kind word goes a long way toward them maintaining the strength needed going forward.
If by chance you aren’t able to genuinely share appreciation, then it’s also important to share those concerns as well.
Consider writing out what upset you this past year. Then, summarize the points and prioritize them to use as your guide for explaining your concerns.
Editor’s Note — Enjoy this special Christmas post by my mentor and friend Terry D. Newberry. Be blessed! ~Jennifer Davis Rash
By Terry D. Newberry Ok, Ok, Ok… Before you start, hear me out. I know I go overboard at Christmas. It is well documented. Newspaper stories have been written. TV specials have aired. Heck, the White House even called one time and asked if I was trying to upstage them. It is a character flaw. Even my kids fuss at me about it. It all started a long time ago. When I was a kid, like many of you, we didn’t get much at Christmas, and usually what we received was used; donations from some well-meaning charity. But that was cool, I appreciated the thought. I had no idea what I was missing until That Day. That Day. That fateful day. I was 14. It was Christmastime and I was hanging out with one of my brothers from the foster home I where I was living. We went to his girlfriend’s house. Her name was Beth. She invited us in and took us to the den, and WHAM! It hit me like I’d been kicked in the head by a reindeer or smacked by the Abominable. The den in her home was amazing. There was a fire blazing in the hearth, bathing the room in a warm yellow flicker. It provided a soundtrack to the experience as the logs sizzled and popped, sending showers of sparks up the flue. The mantle was festooned with evergreen garland decorated with small ornaments and holly berries, all intertwined with tiny twinkling lights. I’m here to tell you, the room was decorated to the nines. Lights, tinsel, garland, the whole works. Santa Clauses and reindeer and snowflakes and angels and you-name-it. I’m pretty sure there was even a Grinch. Every surface was decorated. Every wall had Christmas art. Every table had Christmas figurines. There were Christmas rugs on the floor. And down at the far end of the room, in the place of honor, right by the front window so the whole world could see, was the tree. Exactly where it should be. It was probably a 6-footer, but to me it looked 50 feet tall. It filled my eyes and my mind and my heart. The fragrance filled my nose with a scent that to this day I associate with Christmas; bright and piney and crisp and fresh. The tree was perfectly decorated and surrounded by more gifts than I ever imagined could be found in one place. They filled the space under the tree and around the tree. They were stacked on the furniture. They were stacked on the floor. And around the walls of the room. They were stacked on the mantle. They were piled next to the couch and the chairs and the ottoman. They were everywhere. There were large gifts and small gifts, square ones, round ones and rectangular ones. There were boxes and bags and ribbons and bows and wrapping in bright Christmas colors. It was a child’s Christmas paradise. Right then and there I made a decision. It wasn’t even a conscious choice — it just happened. I decided that one day, I was going to have a Christmas like that. A tree like that. Decorations like that. And gifts like that. Gifts everywhere, all over the place. Not used gifts – new stuff. New stuff for everyone I knew. And so it began. True to my promise, every Christmas I go just a little crazy. I think about what the perfect gifts might be, and wrap them in brightly colored paper with matching ribbon and sometimes add a little decoration, like a drum or a bell. And have a blast doing it. There is a workstation set up in our home with dozens of paper choices, a ton of ribbons and bows, gift bags and tissue… it’s like we hijacked a Hallmark truck around here. I put on some Christmas music and wrap while listening to everyone from Bing to Casting Crowns. I imagine the look on the faces of my friends and family when they open their gift. I hope to give them, for one brief moment, the joy that I felt that day at Beth’s house. Because once they feel that, Christmas comes alive. Now before my Baptist friends get all up in arms and start calling me to tell me about the real meaning of Christmas, I get it. I know that presents and gifts and bows are not what it is about. Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. I understand. And because of that, I try to celebrate my faith every day. When Christmas comes around it allows us all to share the joy that is in our hearts. As Charles Dickens put it so well. “I have always thought of Christmas as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely….” That’s how I feel. My faith births a joy that began that Christmas in Bethlehem so long ago, and which is cherished and celebrated in my stubborn heart every day of the year. But then Christmas Day comes around and that joy spills over and becomes a splendid madness with giving at its center. So, I hope that you, gentle reader, you, my dear kids, (and the White House) will forgive me for my indulgences during the season. I promise I am going to be more responsible and not give so many gifts. Starting next year.
A straight-line decline in membership for more than 50 years should sound an alarm for Southern Baptists, something several ardent researchers and ministry leaders in the convention have attempted to do in various ways for many years.
What could be the reason for the consistent decline?
Did we get so caught up in growing the numbers for numbers’ sake that we forgot to focus on making disciples?
Have we spent most of our energy recruiting church members rather than sharing Christ with those who don’t know Him and helping individual believers grow in their faith?
Do we use the church statistical data to judge each other unfairly and thus push people away?
Have we overcomplicated and overextended what it means to be part of a church family?
The Church and politics
In his 1997 book “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” author Philip Yancey noted, “In the 1950s and 1960s, mainline denominations moved away from proclaiming the gospel toward a more political agenda, and the pews began to empty, cutting membership by half.
“Many of these disaffected churchgoers sought out evangelical churches, where they heard messages more directed to their spiritual needs. It would be ironic indeed if evangelical churches repeated the error.”
—Jennifer Davis Rash
Graduates, the nugget I want to leave with you today is the importance of holding on to the capability to learn.
As the Class of 2020, you are being touted as the class above all classes because of what you experienced during your final semester. You know, that little pandemic thing.
You’ve proven you’ve got what it takes.
You learned in only a few months what most of us had the luxury of a few decades to learn — how to adapt and still flourish when life doesn’t work out like we planned.
But with this praise comes a great deal of pressure and responsibility, which can be managed with success if you maintain a spirit of teachability.
The ability to continue learning at every step of your journey will always serve you well.
Some days, good enough truly is good enough, but most days should be about excellence, no matter how insignificant the tasks of the day may seem.
Part of being excellent is owning up to mistakes.
Mistakes are part of the journey so being mature enough to own yours will lighten the load for everyone involved, including yourself.
It’s also important to learn from them — yours and others.
One mistake we all make at some point is to believe the world revolves around us.
And while today is rightfully all about each of you — most days are not.
In fact, the more we focus on helping others instead of ourselves, the more at peace we will be.
Being a graduate of a religious institution of higher learning means you know a bit about the Bible, so you already know Scripture teaches our greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
And the second greatest is to love our neighbor as ourselves.
As you leave the college nest and prepare to tackle the world, clinch tightly to those commandments.
And recognize that to achieve both, you must also love yourself.
Scripture is clear that each one of us is created in the image of our Father, the almighty God, so humbly loving ourselves reflects our love for Him and teaches us how to love others.
You only have one life to live here on earth, and you’ve started well.
I urge you to commit today to also finish well — with confidence in who you are and assurance of Whose you are.
The fact is, we need you.
We need your light. We need your kindness. We need your smarts. We need your energy. And we need your teachability.
A few ABCs for the road …
A — Always be honest but be kind in the process, and always give people the benefit of the doubt as your first response.
B — Be forgiving and able to let go of past hurts.
C — Calm the chaos around you by giving more than you take and being part of the solution.
Congratulations, Class of 2020. You are beautiful. You are valued. You are loved. You are strong.
And remember, we need you — the very best version of you God has in store.
Editor’s Note — Commencement address delivered by Jennifer Davis Rash at Judson College in Marion, Alabama, on June 27, 2020.
By the time we realized March Madness for the year 2020 would not describe basketball brackets, rivalries and surreal roundball moments, the normal activities of life as we know it had practically shut down.
COVID-19 became a household term, and our homes, offices, schools, churches and devices might just be the cleanest they’ve ever been.
Online screenings and drive-thru testing centers emerged seemingly overnight.
Many conferences, classes and church services were canceled, rescheduled or moved online.
Airlines and hotels removed all rescheduling and cancellation fees. They even made it super easy to go online and click through the necessary items in a matter of seconds.
Leaders at all levels assessed, reassessed and worked hard to make the best decisions they could for the people for which they were responsible, as well as for the businesses and organizations they lead.
And when Alabama’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced this morning (March 13), the assessments narrowed to an even more laser-focused stance.
While our team at TAB Media is working to stay up on all the latest reports and announcements, we also are performing appropriate assessments related to our staff and office as well.
Crisis management plan
Past experiences of unforeseen difficult events, such as the Snowpocalypse winter storm of 2014, the April 2011 tornado devastation in Alabama, the H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009 and other experiences through the years, provided opportunities to develop crisis management plans we still use today.
As crises emerge along the way, we always try to dust off our existing plans and put those into play while also adapting as needed to the current situation and accounting for new techonology and resources available to us.
Learning from each experience makes us better and more prepared for the next event sure to come our way. Having a crisis management and communications plan prevents panic and uncertainty because team members trust the leadership and are informed early, consistently and with clarity about what to expect and how to prepare.
Even a basic plan such as knowing who is in charge during a crisis and naming one person to handle all outgoing and incoming communications gives an advantage in focusing quickly on determining priorities.
Opportunity to shine for Jesus
As we find our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m confident history will report amazing stories of people of faith shining for Jesus.
Volunteers trained in medical missions and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief will undoubtedly be on the front lines.
Believers with a chaplain’s heart will work to calm the masses, and people of prayer will unite across the globe to call on God to lead us through this journey.
And I believe the best of each of us will surface as we come together.
Take this opportunity to calm your heart and mind and sling some Jesus all around.
—Jennifer Davis Rash
We are at the front end of a pristine new 20s. Whether we refer to our new decade as the “twenties” or the “twenty-twenties,” we have been handed the opportunity to blaze a new, yet healthier, path by learning from the past.
What will history write about the 2020s one day? What statement will we make? How will we be branded?
We truly can shake off the past, let go of whatever is holding us back and make this our decade. Why not make it our goal to see and live with the clarity of 20/20 vision in the decade of the 2020s?
Read the full My Rashionale piece here.
—Jennifer Davis Rash
When I sorted through the mail a few weeks ago and discovered a four-color Christmas catalog for toys — Amazon’s Ultimate Wish List — my mind jumped immediately to my childhood when we received the annual Sears Christmas Wish Book.
Everyone received the Wish Book back in the day. It’s how we made our list for what toys and gifts we wanted for Christmas — that and the commercials on Saturday morning of course. The Wish Book had all the latest toys displayed in four color.
The Sears Wish Book is no longer printed but even if it were I can’t imagine it would have the same impact as it did then — with no internet and no mobile devices with which to compete.
While it seems ironic that in this high-tech, digital age an online sales company mails out print catalogs, it does make sense as a way to stand out. Children and their parents are bombarded with digital screens in every part of life now so the promotions and ads all kind of run together sometimes.
‘Strength overdone becomes weakness’
Multimedia offers countless positive aspects and we at TAB are excited about ways we will continue growing our digital presence. But the saying “strength overdone becomes weakness” applies in the area of multimedia as much as any other.
Too many hours a day looking at a screen, especially without proper body alignment and rest breaks, will cause physical issues that come with any type of overuse situation. And emotionally and mentally the scars from overuse will no doubt run deep.
A few moments talking in person rather than texting and silencing the nonstop dings around us might just be our new “apple a day” remedy for the negative side effects of too much screen time built up over years of use.
—Jennifer Davis Rash
My coworker and friend asked if I had ever tasted “these” as she pointed to a package of scuppernongs at the farmer’s market.
I didn’t recognize the look nor the name so I answered no — until she said the name aloud. Once I heard it pronounced I knew exactly what it was and realized how long it had been since I had seen, tasted or even thought about a scuppernong.
We had scuppernongs in our backyard when I was growing up and mom and dad would let my brother and me taste them from the vine.
That memory flooded back to me the minute I heard the name but I couldn’t remember what they tasted like so I bought some the next day.
And the same thing happened — as soon as I tasted one of these muscadine grapes I was right back there in our backyard with mom or dad pulling scuppernongs off one at a time, hoping the sweet flavor wouldn’t vanish as quickly as it always did.
The same thing happens to me with figs. Memories of the fig tree we could see out Papa and Granny McCaig’s kitchen window becomes front and center in my mind when I taste a raw fig.
We always had our fill of figs when the tree was producing — and Granny spent hours making a winter’s worth of fig preserves.
She loved that fig tree and because of that I always think of her whenever I’m around anything related to figs.
Our senses help us hold on to special memories. Let’s all be known for something endearing in our sensory legacies.
—Jennifer Davis Rash