Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas 2013 . . . A little different for our family

Christmas has taken on a different feel for our family this year. Every year, we are reminded that Christmas is not a joyous time for those whose despair and despondency are magnified when all around them are celebrating, singing carols, partying, shopping . . .

This year, our family has struggled as we almost lost Travis in April. It was only through the grace of God that Travis's life was saved, but - as he rehabs and slowly recovers the ability to do things that we all tend to take for granted - we are reminded daily of those frightening moments earlier this year.

We've also dealt with the news that Joanna's kidney disease has progressed, the prospect that she will likely need to begin dialysis in 2014, yet have hope in the possibility that she will soon be added to a kidney transplant list.

It's been a year of downs and ups, followed by more downs, then ups, and so on - a rollercoaster if you will.

I don't know what Christmas means to other people and families experiencing pain at this time of year - whether illness, injury, hunger, loneliness . . . because everyone's circumstances are different and, even within the circumstances, everyone experiences them differently.

So I can speak only of what Christmas means to me this year, as I've worried about the health of my son and my wife, as we've made the difficult adjustments involved in bringing Travis and his family into our home while he recovers, and even as we were introduced - in November - to our fourth grandchild, the third child for Alison and her husband Adam.

Because of Travis and Christy's travel plans, our family gathered Sunday afternoon to celebrate Christmas and open presents. Before we opened presents, I read a passage from Luke's Gospel, as usual, then gave a brief (after all, there were four squirming grandchildren in the room) testimony of what Christmas means to me this year.

In a nutshell, this is what I told them . . . the only way I've made it through this year without despairing has been God's presence. One of the first things I did, after arriving at the hospital that night and getting Travis's prognosis from the doctor, was to begin texting friends & family to tell them about Travis and ask for prayer. This is because I've learned through many experiences in past years that God wants to hear our concerns and wants us to ask Him to share in those concerns.

I don't know how I would have made it if I hadn't had the constant assurance that our gracious and loving God is with us, caring about all that we are experiencing, even experiencing it with us, holding us close, carrying us through it.

Through the years, I have learned that I can trust God for what I need - and that I DO need Him all the time. As I write this, I'm reminded of the words of a beautiful song that we sang 50 years ago in Joe Dell Rust's Youth Choir at Bethany Baptist Church in Kansas City . . .
I’ve seen it in the lightning, heard it in the thunder, and felt it in the rain; My Lord is near me all the time, My Lord is near me all the time. When the thunder shakes the mighty hills and trembles ev’ry tree, Then I know a God so great and strong can surely harbor me.
Another song comes to mind as well, my dear friend George Gagliardi's In the Shelter of My Father's Loving Arms, which says all of this much more eloquently and beautifully than I can.

I've experienced that safe harbor - that shelter - of the Father's loving arms over and over again. This presence of God isn't something that's theoretical or even theological; it's real. Not just in the frightening moments of life but in the joyous ones as well.

God was just as surely with me in that hospital room in November when I held my new grandson as he was with me in another hospital room in April when I looked at my son, fearing for his life. God is with me every day as I build and nurture relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and others. The challenges of my work - both for TBC and the Maston Foundation - are, honestly, beyond anything I can do on my own, so I confess that to God daily and ask Him to do His work through me; if it's my work, it fails; if it's God's work, it's glory.

That's what Christmas is really all about. It's about God coming into the world to live with us and care for us. It's about God's presence in our lives today, consoling . . . moving . . . motivating . . . instructing . . .  counselling . . . equipping . . . caring . . . loving.

Christmas . . . God's presence in us through Christ . . . so that we can be Christ's presence to others. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15, NIV)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

CHARLES FOSTER JOHNSON: Pastors for Texas Children: People of faith supporting public schools

(NOTE: The author is pastor of Bread Fellowship of Fort Worth, executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, and a member of the Texas Baptists Committed Board of Directors.)

Pastors for Texas Children (PTC) is a new organization that mobilizes local churches to provide both wrap-around care for local schools and advocacy for adequate funding to support those schools.

Launched in October 2012 by the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, we already have over 500 community faith leaders from all denominations recruited, with dozens more signing up each week. We now have a statewide organization with PTC directors in all 20 education service regions. Many county directors in those regions are already positioned. We have conducted meetings in dozens of local communities already, and intend to have a PTC chapter in every Texas county. Our web address is
The close partnerships that we forge between local congregations and local schools will help provide both the resources that our children need to receive quality public education and the support that our teachers deserve. We are asking pastors to make an appointment with their local school principal and/or superintendent to offer prayer and encouragement, as well as to host a teacher appreciation event in their congregation, recognizing the dedicated teachers, coaches, and staff who shape our children's lives. Furthermore, we are challenging churches to provide tangible support for those schools and children in the form of after-school mentoring, school supplies, food security, etc.
After this partnership is formed, we ask pastors to contact their legislator and inform him or her about the needs of their schools and to join together in arranging a meeting with that legislator in their own community to discuss the imperative for adequate funding for their community and neighborhood schools. Lastly, we ask that our pastors and faith leaders be willing to make at least one trip to Austin during the legislative session to advocate face-to-face for public education.
The local church and the local school are two significant institutions in every community and neighborhood advocating for the public good. Our goal, quite simply, is to help cultivate a strong bond between those two institutions and to bring that partnership to bear on education policy in Texas government.

Charles Foster Johnson, Pastor
Bread Fellowship of Fort Worth