4 Ways to Resemble the Whos from Whoville Instead of the Grinch

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” sang the Whos from Whoville. Even the happy little tots of this euphoric town belted it out joyfully. It wasn’t about the stuff, the lights, or the decorations. No, their joy was not dependent on what they saw when they woke up Christmas morning. They had joy in their hearts.

I wouldn’t mind living in Whoville this time of year. Where is it? Can anyone tell me? Most of what I see seems to be about the shopping, the stuff, the decorations, and of course, the peppermint mochas.

If you came to my town and took away our Christmas decorations, our trees, and our presents, you probably wouldn’t hear singing on Christmas morning.

Every year as I get older, the month of December seems to get harder. Is it just me? As I look in the mirror, it is Scrooge looking back at me. Or, is it the Grinch? Is my heart two sizes too small?

My Christmas challenge every year is to exude more joy and peace, and less frustration and doom. More of the positive, less of the negative. The more my eyes are opened to the truth of God the more my eyes are opened to the truth of this world. And it is hard not to let the darkness overwhelm me. Baby steps, I tell myself.

If I remember to do four things this holiday season maybe I can still inspire joy despite the darkness inside.

Christmas is loving

Christmas is about loving. Honestly, everyday should be about loving. How well am I loving my neighbors? How well am I loving my parents, siblings, spouse, or kids? How well am I loving the homeless guy on the street? The waitress at the restaurant? The guy at the toll booth on the freeway? The baggers at the grocery store?

Jokingly, I sometimes refer to myself as the grim reaper. I know I have a dark side. However, I can’t be loving and the grim reaper at the same time. They don’t go together. I have to choose one or the other.

So, I will choose love.

Christmas is giving

If you get annoyed with the materialism of Christmas, I feel your pain. A great way to combat the negativity is to give, then give, then give some more. Channel your irritated energy into passionate and wildly generous giving.

I will choose to give.

Christmas is inviting

If I invite someone into my home, as a gesture of goodwill and compassion, my heart and attitude change. I am not talking about Grandma Nibby, or the family I expect to see at Christmas, unless I am trying to reconcile an estranged relationship. I am talking about someone that doesn’t belong.

Invite someone to Christmas that isn’t necessarily your favorite person. Invite someone into your small group of friends that you haven’t wanted to include, but could use some friends. Give someone a chance that isn’t necessarily the most polished candidate.

I will choose to invite.

Christmas is letting go

My daughter is home sick from school. When she isn’t feeling good, she reverts back to her four-year-old self. This morning she was on the couch watching Frozen. “Let it go” echoed around the house.

What can I let go of this year? I can think of a few things. I can let go of anger, let go of judgement, let go of complaining, and do my part in letting go of division and alienation. Why wait until January to let go of the sin that weighs us down?

What are you holding on to?

Do you need to let go of that fight that caused you not to speak to your sibling for the last decade? Or, let go of political views for the holidays for the sake of peace? Or, do you need to let go of being right?

Let’s make a pact to let it go. Whatever your “it” is.

Merry Christmas and bah humbug! It’s a package deal this year.

 

Tis The Season of Night

It’s three o’clock in the afternoon and the sun is going down. The shadows loom long behind me. Tis the season when the sun goes down before it is actually up. Tis the season of night.

I used to be cheerful around the holidays. I used to love the carols, cookies, candles, and the warmth of the season. I used to like decorating. I liked the tree and the lights and the celebration and gift giving.

Now, its mostly darkness. It’s mostly night.

I get why this season has the most suicides. There is something about intense jubilee and celebration over presents and a fat man in a red suit in the midst of a dark, troubled world that seems wrong.

But without darkness, what good would the light be?

I am so grateful to God. He has been so good to me, yet I can’t shake the darkness. I can’t shake the night.

Part of the difficulty of the season for many people is reconciling family with joy around Christmas. So many movies and commercials show joyful and magical families and traditions. Take for instance the inevitable Christmas Hallmark movie. It would be wonderful if everyone’s life was filled with a warm loving family, a passionate and fulfilling romantic relationship, and wonderful friends and the perfect job.

However, not everyone’s story has a happy ending . . . or a happy beginning, or a happy middle.

And it struck me. What about people who did not or do not enjoy a warm family and loving relationships? Their wounds are opened afresh in the name of Christmas. What they did not or do not have is dangled in front of them. And they are wounded all over again.

Who doesn’t long for peace on earth? Who doesn’t long for unity in their family? We all do. However, some people know they will never have it. How does one reconcile that?

Unity and peace on this earth are a luxury not a guarantee.

Even Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas was depressed at Christmas time.

charlie-brownI just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.”  ~Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Christmas

I, and many others, sympathize with good old Chuck.

I am glad that Christmas is over. I always look forward to the holidays being over. Maybe that makes me a negative person. But, I know I’m not alone.

We are told that we should be happy because of Christmas.

I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus, Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.  ~Charlie Brown

However, being depressed at Christmas might mean that you are more in tune with the reality of the world than those who are happy. And it might mean, that you see how we have turned Christmas into something that has nothing to do with Jesus. And that should make us sad. There is such a thing as Godly sorrow.

Jesus came into a dark world. A world of night.

He left the glory, beauty and light of Heaven and the love of His Father to save our sorry souls. He came to a place of darkness and perpetual night for us. Wow! It’s amazing! Would I have done the same thing? Probably not.

If the holidays are difficult for you, I’m right there with you. Your family might not see your hurt, but God does. And He blesses you.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
     for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
     for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
     for they will inherit the earth.  Matthew 5:3-5

Where We Went Wrong

I often wonder where we went wrong as a society in America. A majority of our kids are walking away from church and the faith when they get old enough to make their own decisions.

I have spent a lot of time in thought over this issue. And I have done much research for my book on the topic of passing on faith in Christ to our kids.

While on the treadmill the other day, a commercial came on about kids asking Santa to bring them their favorite toys. A scooter for $1,000, a princess carriage for $400, an American Girl doll and accessories for $120, etc.

It hit me that this is one of the ways we, as a society, have gone wrong.

Christmas is the story of Jesus coming to the world to save us. He was a King, yet there has never been anyone more humble than Jesus Christ. His crown was made of thorns not adorned with jewels. Jesus came with a message of love, grace and hope. He was the very picture of humility and selflessness.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,  Philippians 2:5-7

He taught us to love our enemies, take care of the poor, and turn the other cheek. He taught us to focus our attention outward, on others.

Yet often, at Christmas time, we send the message to our kids that causes them to focus inward. The message of Santa Claus is to focus on me. What do I want for Christmas? How many presents will I get this year?

Parents spend and spend on Christmas presents for their kids. And the holiday season becomes about selfishness, not selflessness.

At a pivotal age, we teach our kids the rituals of Christmas. We teach them to work hard and be nice, so they will get presents. God forbid they be on the naughty list! We teach them to focus on “what will get me stuff?” We teach them to focus on themselves.

Selfishness is human nature. We are born with it. Parents, little by little, have to teach kids to change their nature and to become selfless.

What if we had never introduced Santa Clause, Rudolph or Frosty? What if our observance of Christmas had always been about the message of Christ? What if we taught our kids selflessness at Christmas?

As I write this, A Charlie Brown Christmas is on TV. The message of Charles Schulz in this show is brilliant. He saw the materialism and all the silly things we focus on during the Christmas season back in 1965. He tried to portray the true meaning of the birth of Christ, and show us how we have strayed from it.

Schulz illustrated beautifully how we were, and still are, valuing the wrong things during the Christmas season. The money, the stuff, the decorations, the lights . . . .

Charlie Brown:  “I am in sad shape.”A-Charlie-Brown-Christmas-image

Lucy:  “Wait a minute, before you begin I must ask that you pay in advance. 5 cents please.” (Charlie Brown puts a nickle in the can)

Lucy:  “Boy what a sound! How I love hearing that old money plink! That beautiful sound of cold, hard, cash! That beautiful, beautiful sound! Nickles, nickles, nickles! That beautiful sound of plinking nickles!”

How we handle Christmas speaks volumes to our kids about our faith. If we treat the birth of Christ like it is no big deal, or ignore it completely at Christmas, our kids will see that it is less important than the ‘American Christmas.’

We must get back to teaching our kids the message of Christ at Christmas.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  Matthew 25:35-40

Christmas is one of the ways that we, as an American society have gone wrong.

3 Words that Capture the Sacredness of Christmas

A manger rests in the middle of a musty barn. A beam of moonlight shines through the window as I strain to see. I don’t smell a scented candle in the night. No, the stench of barn animals, hay, work and sweat overwhelm me. The people around are not wearing bright, matching pajamas with their initials on it. Their clothes are made of sackcloth and ropes.baby-jesus-2 Worn out sandals adorn their feet. And the candles aren’t fancy, they are functional.

A tiny fist thrashes up into the moonlight as dust swirls against the darkness of the barn. Could it be? Could it be the savior?

The woman looks down at the baby with such love and almost awe. What is she thinking? She tenderly picks Him up and holds him close. He looks up at her with such peace. There is something about Him.

When I think about what it must have looked like when Jesus was born, I don’t think about shiny or sparkly things. I don’t see bows, candles or ribbon. I don’t see red or green.

I see a baby. I see a savior. I see the hope of the world kicking about in a manger.

Today, the scene is not quite so ethereal. The exquisitely divine nature of this miraculous event can be so easily missed.

Three simple words can help you focus on the sacredness of Christmas.

1) Advent

Advent in Latin means arrival. It consists of four Sundays starting with the Sunday closest to November 30th. This year it began this past Sunday, November 27th.

It is believed that Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany. Advent begins the new Christian year with the twelve-day celebration of Christmastide.

Did you know that the twelve days of Christmas actually begins on Christmas Eve and lasts until early to mid January?

And Thanksgiving is the perfect springboard for the season of Advent. What better way is there to prepare our hearts and minds for the arrival of our Savior than focusing on thankfulness?

2) Epiphany

Epiphany means appearance, manifestation, or revelation. It is the 12th day of Christmas and the official end to the Christmas season. It is also known as Three Kings Day because the wise-menWestern world associates it with the visit of the wise men to the baby Jesus.

The feast at Epiphany celebrates the appearance and manifestation of God among us. The idea of God in human form through Jesus Christ is breath taking. How can it be?

Unfortunately, most of us have heard the virgin birth story all our lives, and it no longer thrills us. However, I pray that God will restore awe and reverence in His people this Christmas season.

If we focus on the appearance of Christ and what the manifestation of God in human form means, we can experience His power and presence this Christmas.

3) Immanuel

Immanuel means God with us.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.  Isaiah 7:14

Seven hundred years before Christ lived on earth, the prophet Isaiah first used the word Immanuel when he predicted that Jesus would be born of a virgin and dwell among the people.

If I think about who God is and who we are, it blows my mind. How could HE be with us? God and man are diametrically opposed to each other in so many ways. And sometimes I wonder how He can even stand us.

God with us.

There is such power in these three little words. Knowing that God wants to be with us can change everything. It gives us our worth. It gives us peace knowing He will always be there. And it gives us assurance of our future.


To the follower of Christ, Christmas is all about anticipation and preparation for the coming of our King.

How do we let these concepts dominate in our hearts and minds this Christmas season?

Close your eyes.

Imagine the black stain of sin in your life. In your mind, picture the darkness of humanity. As a species, we have lied, slandered, lusted, murdered, raped, abused, molested, tortured, and perverted everything God has made. Think about a world where everyone is out for themselves.

Imagine being cold and alone, so cold it hurts. And there is nowhere to go to ease your discomfort, and nobody to help you.

Now imagine seeing light off in the distance moving toward you. It takes over the darkness a little bit at a time. You feel warmth as the light grows nearer. This warmth eases the pain of the cold and comforts your soul. The pain turns to pleasure and the cold to warmth.

You start to see a face and the form of a man. You are no longer alone, there is an extraordinary presence with you. Pain, discomfort, fear, loneliness, and despair melt away. You are left with a peace unlike any you have never known.

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:17-19

Bask in that for a while.

We have to be intentional about setting our minds on the things above (Colossians 3:2). That is how we keep our minds free from distractions during the Christmas season. If we meditate on Advent, Epiphany, and the concept of God being with us, we will truly have something to celebrate.

Living Differently at Christmas

Will we have the heart of Jesus during the upcoming Christmas season? Will we be radical about Christ at Christmas as well as the rest of the year? “Lord, forgive me for indulging myself in the entitlement of being an American at Christmas. Forgive me for being so distracted from your mission this times of year.” We don’t get a break from following Christ because it is the holiday season. We must choose, either we are ‘all in’, or we aren’t.


“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” Luke 14:12-14 

As I put our pumpkin away a couple of weeks ago, I thought about all the money that we spend on holidays in this country. It was estimated that Americans would spend $6.86 billion dollars this year on Halloween, according to an annual survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation. For Christmas, however, The average American will spend $700 on holiday gifts and other goodies totaling more than $465 billion. Wow!

There are 3 billion people in the world who make less than $2 a day. If those 3 billion people work every single day for a year they will earn $730. We, in this country, spend almost that same amount of money for Christmas day on things that we don’t need.

“Its crazy!  But it becomes normal to us. I hope that we as believers take these things into account and live differently.”  – Francis Chan

Christmas is not about family

For some reason Americans have bought into the mistaken notion that Christmas is all about family. The story of Christ’s birth has nothing to do with family. In fact, Jesus was not even born into one. Mary and Joseph were not yet married.

Christ’s birth has everything to do with God and His amazing love for us. Christmas is about 1 person . . . . Jesus Christ.

Christmas is the beginning of the greatest love story that ever was or ever could be. It is our redemption story. Christmas is about the transformation from us being condemned in our flesh to being redeemed in Christ. The storyManger with crown of thorns in barn with light coming from above is beautiful; every part of it. He is an amazing God, and there was no better way to save us.

How do we repay Him for this wonderful gift and respond to this beautiful story? We become even more materialistic than we were the rest of the year. We become more distracted by shiny things and great deals.

We build up the idol of Christmas and shrink Jesus in the process. That is the ‘thanks’ we give to God.

We spend money that we don’t have on things that people don’t really want or need or could easily buy themselves. Being a good steward of money goes out the window until January.

It is like a nation-wide overspending frenzy. I buy you what you want, but don’t need, and you buy me what I want, but don’t need. It is a fool’s paradise.

What does Jesus want from us?


 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’   Matthew 25:35-40


 

AMBOSELI, KENYA‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ – are we getting that? That is huge!

Most of our moms and dads, brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles are not the ‘least of these.’ Why are we spending our time and money giving things to each other at Christmas?

How can we ignore the 3 billion people in the world who have nothing? How can we be so focused on ourselves and our families when half of the world’s population lives in poverty?

Orphan children in Africa don’t have food or a decent place to sleep. They can’t afford to go to school, or have proper medical care. They don’t even have clean water. They are alone and hopeless, and we are over here tearing through our piles of presents.

It doesn’t make any sense.

We have so much

I can’t think of the last time that I was starving, because I never have been. I can’t imagine being sick and not being able to just go to the drug store, or a doctor’s office, or the hospital.

I wake up everyday in my 68 degree bedroom and get up out of my sleep number bed. I have a refrigerator and pantry full of food. I live in a house that has way more space than we’ll ever need. I don’t have to get wet when it rains, or be cold on blustery winter days, or sweat in the extreme heat of summer. I don’t ever have to hunger or thirst.

Every single physical need I have is met.

We Americans, are the ‘greatest’, not the ‘least’. Therefore, we have a great responsibility to care for those less fortunate than us.

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”  1 John 3:17

Living Differently

If we are believers, then we need to live differently. Either we are living for God and doing what His Word says, or we’re not.

“Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers.”
― Francis Chan, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God

We can’t go through the year listening to stories of the poor children in Africa, praying for the oppressed on missions Sunday, and forget about it at Christmas time.

We can’t just forget about ‘the least of these’ because it is November and the start of ‘our’ holiday season. Hunger and poverty do not take a break.

Following Christ is a full-time gig! If we are not living radically for Him, then what are we doing? Why are we going to our churches? Why are we singing our praise songs? Why do we call ourselves Christians at all?

God doesn’t just want our Sundays, or our tithe, or our prayers alone. He wants us to give Him everything.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21


God has been so good to me! The amount of love and grace that He has shown me is unfathomable. He has saved me from death, which is what I deserved. How can I not give Him everything?

How can I not be moved by His many blessings and endless mercy? How can I not respond to His loving ways?

“Freely you have received; freely give.”  Matthew 10:8

What if we all took what we normally spent on Christmas and gave it to the poor?

What if we gave all of our gifts to people that we will never even meet? What if we gave gifts to orphaned children halfway across the world? What if we gave it all to the downcast and lowly?

God, I pray, make me better than I am without You. Make me more like You. I give everything to You, Abba Father, because YOU are everything. Teach me to be humble and live a life of simplicity. Help me to separate myself from the materialistic things of this world. Change my nature to be more like yours.

When people look at me, I want them to see Jesus.

“Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did.”   1 John 2:6

Watch the first 10 minutes as Frances Chan talks about gaining perspective about Christmas in the following video clip . . .