Keep Christ in ME

23 12 2013

Ok…so I don’t normally do ‘themed’ posts but I couldn’t get away from this one either. Well…I should say God wouldn’t let me get away from it. There seems to be a widening gap between those that view this time of year as a set of holidays and those that view it as the Christmas season. I see (and understand) both sides really. If you really want to know, I sort of hold to both at the same time. Let me explain.

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The holiday season (for me) starts at Thanksgiving. It is the beginning of really looking at being thankful for everything. Following that is Christmas. It’s the time to remember Christ’s birth and all that it brings. You can read more on that in my previous post. Following closely behind that is New Year’s Day. It reminds us to look toward the future rather than the past, and to embrace new beginnings with confidence. That’s why I can say either phrase to anyone. I’m not offended when people say, “Happy Holidays” to me. Although I normally respond with, “Merry Christmas.”

Ok…now that I have explained that part it brings me to the real point of this post. The disconnect between popular culture and Christian culture. I have friends that have had heated (really heated) arguments on this point of view. I see signs, banners, cards, and a host of other things that say things like, “Jesus is the reason for the season” and “Keep Christ in CHRISTmas” While I agree with all of these statements, and at the risk of upsetting some people, I think that we Christians have lost sight of this season too.

Why is it that people (including Christians) only bring out the glad tidings and good cheer at this time of year? Could it be that Christians are just as guilty of moving Christ to the margins during this season as the rest of the culture? Before you get really angry and stop reading, please understand something. I am not trying to upset anyone. I’m simply asking a question on something that I see.

I had a friend that worked as a server in a restaurant. She liked her job but dreaded one particular shift every week, the Sunday afternoon crowd. I asked her why and her response shocked me. “The people who come in after church are the worst. They are demanding, sometimes downright rude, and never appreciate anything. Few say, ‘Thank you.’ and most leave little or no tip.” As I heard that my heart sank. We, as Christians, are supposed to be the different ones. We’re supposed to be the ones who smile and offer love, compassion, and kindness because that’s what Jesus did.

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What the Christmas season (or holiday season…depends on your viewpoint) really needs is a focus shift. Paul nailed it when he wrote, “…And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. (Colossians 1:27 — NLT)” When we make our focus one of passionately pursuing Christ and the relationship between us and Him…then Christ will automatically be in Christmas because He is in US. We won’t have to worry whether people know the real reason for the season because they’ll see it resonating out through US.

We have all heard the songs that talk about making Christmas (the feelings, attitudes, and actions it brings) last throughout the entire year. Well it’s really possible to do that. How? By keeping Christ in US. He’s not only the reason for the season…He’s the reason we have abundant life. He’s the reason we have a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). He needs to be in this season…but he needs to be in us more.

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They’re connected

20 12 2013

It’s Christmas. The trees are up and decorated. The music is playing on the radio. People are more cheerful (most of them anyway). The kids look forward to this time every year. They look forward to the gifts, candy, and parties. Houses are lit up to display their ‘Christmas Spirit’. It’s a great time.

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As I read an article posted on Christmas from a fellow blogger (and friend) I remembered something that God revealed to me a couple of years ago. It’s not really revolutionary. In fact it should be something that we remember all the time. Yet in today’s culture some of this has been replaced. I personally don’t want to ever forget this thing.

What is it? Oh, I’m sorry…you don’t know what I’m talking about. As I prepared a couple of years ago for the ‘traditional Christmas sermon’ from Luke 2…God dropped one of His small, life-changing revelations into my heart. Simply put He reminded me that Christmas and Easter are connected. You see we tend to separate holidays, especially ‘religious’ ones. At Christmas time we talk about Christ’s birth. At Easter (or Resurrection Sunday) we talk about his death and resurrection. But the two never intersect. God reminded me that we need to talk about BOTH at the same time.

There are stores and malls that are packed with shoppers trying to find that perfect gift for their loved ones. Some of them buy out of obligation. Others buy out of tradition. Still others buy because their heart is so big that they simply want to give. I believe that attitude mimics the heart of God. We have all quoted John 3:16 more times than we care to imagine. I’ll refresh our memory though. It reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Have we stopped to think about when we quote this the most though? Yep…you guessed it. Easter. Of course we would. It’s the perfect salvation, Easter, Resurrection scripture. It fits that holiday so well. Why wouldn’t we quote it then?

Now…in an effort to be fair we do the same thing at Christmas. Do you remember these verses? “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ (Luke 2:10-12 — NIV)” These verses will be read in countless plays, programs, and houses this Christmas season. They will then be tucked away until next year.

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Do we realize though that the verses in Luke are the prologue to the verse in John? Without the birth there could be no death and resurrection. Without Christmas we wouldn’t have Easter. The gift of the baby Jesus was just the wrapping on the package. The ultimate gift is when Jesus declared, “It is finished.” At that moment the gift was complete. Our redemption was final.

So I challenge you this season to connect the holidays. Don’t do what we have always done and separate them. It’s good to remember and celebrate Jesus’ birth. But take a moment to remember WHY he was born. Remember that while the gift of the baby is a good one…the purpose of that gift was the death of the man. All of these gifts were given for one purpose. “…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 — NIV)” Jesus was born so that He could die…for us.





Technically Obedient

3 10 2013

Technicalities…humanity loves them. I’ve heard friends tell me of how they got out of a traffic citation because of a technicality. My kids try to invoke them all the time to get out of something. We excuse our (sometimes) misbehavior with them. It’s done all the time without a second thought.  We celebrate what we can get away with and still be inside the lines.

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Unfortunately we let them [technicalities] spill over into our life with God too. We become so accustomed to the loop holes that technicalities create that we sometimes, without thinking, use them instead of really selling out to God. “God, why aren’t You moving in this situation? I’m going to church!”  “I’m giving to the church!  Shouldn’t that count for something?” We list the commandments in order and follow them as closely as we can but as a checklist rather than out of a heart that wants to please God. We forget that even though we’re following the letter of the law with our head our heart is not in it.

I heard a story one day that just makes me chuckle when I think of it. One day little Billy was acting up in class. The teacher repeatedly scolded him and asked him to settle down. He would but then he started up again. Finally the teacher was fed up with him. “Billy, you go sit in the corner for time out!” Billy walked over to the stool in the corner and plopped down on it. He folded his arms and replied, “I’m sitting down on the outside. But I’m standing up on the inside!”  How many times have we done this with God?  He asks us to do something and, though we do it on the outside, in our heart we aren’t doing it willingly.

The writer of Hebrews really nailed this when he wrote, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 — NIV)” We’re technically obedient to God.  We’re giving to the church. We’re reading His Word. We’re praying. But when we do all these things we do them with a resistant heart. Or maybe our heart is saying, “I’ll get what I want if I do what God tells me.” All the while God sees, hears, and moves based on the attitudes of our heart.

love

In reality this boils down to following God’s lead in giving and doing. “For God so loved the world that He gave…(John 3:16)” He didn’t give because he had to. He wasn’t working a technicality but He was giving and doing out of a heart that desired relationship with His creation. He does for us not because He HAS to but because He WANTS to. It’s a revelation of His love.

When we understand God’s example of giving and doing it sheds an entirely different light on things. We begin to examine not only WHAT we do but WHY we do it. Am I giving in the offering to get something from God or am I giving because I love Him?  Have I attached conditions to my service hoping to get God to work in some situation? These are hard questions to answer but they must be addressed.

When we truly forget about the technicalities and do and give with our head and heart the rest follows. “…no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. (Psalm 84:11 — NIV)” So my prayer on this (and hopefully yours as well) is:

God, forgive me for the technicalities. I want to follow you with my head and heart. I’m putting it all on the line. No longer will I do things just to get by. I want to give everything to You like you gave everything to me.





What’s Missing — Give What You Need

11 09 2013

Gifts. We all like to get them. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s basic human nature to like getting something from someone else. I especially enjoy watching my children receive gifts — whether on their birthday, Christmas, or any other occasion. The question is, though, whether we like giving as much as getting.

Getting stuff is a big part of our culture. It’s so big, in fact, that most of America is in debt up to their eyeballs to get that stuff. But what do we do about the stuff we can’t get in a store? It’s not stocked on any shelves or listed in a catalog or on Amazon. You can’t put it on lay away. It can’t be wrapped up in pretty paper. Well…you get the idea. While many of us appear to be living the high life…we’re actually living in poverty because we’re missing the things that we really need.

I was listening to Dave Ramsey yesterday and he was talking about living generously. While the focus was mainly on money (because that’s what he deals with)…I believe that we can live generously in other ways as well. Jesus even taught this. He said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Luke 6:38 — NIV)” What is it? Well…it is what you need. If something is missing maybe you need to give that very thing so that it can come back to you. If you’re needing some kindness…try giving a little first. If you’re needing some encouragement…try giving some first. If you’re needing some guidance…try giving some first.

When I was a teenager one of my summer and after school jobs was working in a 7-11 store. One of my favorite things in the store was the banana Slurpee. Wow…are they good! If you’ve never had one…there’s something you need to know about them. When you pour them into the cup they expand. If you’re not careful what looks like enough will quickly overflow and get all over the place. It’s no different with generosity. When we begin to apply this principle there is a promise. What we give will come back in measures that are more than we need. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that God “… is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…(Ephesians 3:20 — NIV)”

We can’t, however, ignore the last part of the verse in Luke. “…For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Remember that we’re talking about being generous. We can’t expect God to use a snow shovel to pour out His blessings when we give with a teaspoon. Don’t be afraid to be generous with the kindness, guidance, encouragement, or whatever else is that you need. When God sees that he begins to heap those very things back on us in immeasurable quantities. And then we can give away the excess and the process starts all over again!

So…what is it that you need? Maybe it’s missing because God is waiting on you to give it out first. Go ahead…try it. You may find that “…It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35 — NIV)”








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