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.

My Thanksgiving Resolution; WWJD

I am not big on New Year’s resolutions. I figure, if I want to better myself, why wait until January 1st? Why not not better myself on March 1st, August 24th, or today for that matter?

“But, it’s only Thanksgiving,” you may say. I know that it isn’t officially time for resolutions, but bare with me.

When pride isn’t blocking my view, the Holy Spirit convicts me of the many offensive ways in me.

As I pray the scripture, “See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting,” (Psalm 139:24) He promptly obliges. There is no shortage of material in that regard.

However, I choose to change on the Holy Spirit’s terms, not the world’s. Therefore, my resolution needs to start now, right before Thanksgiving. So, here it goes . . . .

I resolve not to be bitter this Christmas season. I resolve not to have a spirit of anger or judgment. I will not be snarky or walk around with a self righteous attitude. I resolve to shine with the kindness, love, and grace of Jesus Christ this Christmas season.

This is a tough one for me.

Each year I grow more annoyed with Christmas. Sometime in October, the soft, subtle sounds of jingle bells can be heard somewhere in the distance. And, once those jingle bells start ringing, we all go a little nuts.

I don’t have the shopping gene. There isn’t anything I would rather do less than go to a shopping mall. Especially in November and December.

I have nightmares of shiny and sparkly things. The scents of holly berries, apple crisp, Pumpkin spice, Christmas Cookies, and Balsam & Cedar candles mix into a nauseating odor. How do they know what Christmas Eve smells like anyway? Or Home Sweet Home? Or Sparkling Snow?

I dread being asked the question, “Do you have your Christmas shopping done?” With it comes pressure, so much pressure!

We are victims of Christmas. We are doomed to suffer; doomed to shop incessantly; doomed to bake candies and cookies unceasingly; and doomed to endlessly decorate our homes. We are gerbils spinning in our wheel, getting nowhere. Using up our usefulness on useless things.

It just seems like this is the season to celebrate anything and everything except Jesus Christ.

Okay, now it is out of my system. Whew! Sometimes changing starts with purging.

From now henceforth I resolve to see the best in people, not the worst. I resolve to show girl-prayingthe kindness and love of Christ no matter what goes on around me. And, I resolve to carry thankfulness in my pocket long after the leftover turkey is gone.

Why?

God has been so good to me. But more than that, it’s because God has given me life when I deserved death. How could I ever stop being thankful for that?

According to Priscilla Shirer’s Bible study, The Armor of God, “Trust fuels thanksgiving and thanksgiving activates peace.”

Trust is a choice. Having an attitude of thankfulness is a choice. And peace is our reward.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Colossians 3:15

Do I trust God regardless of my circumstances or feelings? Will I choose to be thankful among the chaos of the Christmas season and the seeming pagan worship?

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.  Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NKJV)

Jesus Christ is Lord and He has overcome the world. Even though everyone gets a little wacky at Christmastime, nothing has changed. God will be worshiped, and He will be victorious.

A tiny baby was born in Bethlehem who came to save the world. And, He did!

Our mission as followers of Christ does not change because we feel we have the right to be bitter and angry. Some of the callous ways that people treat Christmas feel like a slap in the face. However, we are told to turn the other cheek.

Let’s not be offended at something that is not an offense to us. The offense is to Jesus and He isn’t worried about it. In the face of insult, He responds with love, kindness, and grace. If He can do that, then so can I.

We must trust God with everything we have. We must be thankful always, everyday and in every way. And if we do these things, we will have peace this Christmas season.

The road to peace is paved with thankfulness.

Thank you so much for reading my blog post!

Giving what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  1 Peter 1:3-5


“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
-Jim Elliot

 

Eternity has been on my mind lately.

Among the pile of books that I am currently reading is Money, Possessions, and Eternity by Randy Alcorn. In addition to being an excellent read, it is profoundly changing my thinking . . . . profoundly! He speaks boldly of this world.

“Someday this upside-down world will be turned right side up. Nothing in all eternity will turn it back again. If we are wise, we will spend our brief lives on earth positioning ourselves for the turn.”

I have been a Christian for thirty plus years. Every time I have given money to a mission organization, supported a child living in poverty, sacrificed for my family, or loved and offered hope to someone in need, I considered it an act of obedience. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior and He has commanded me to love and give sacrificially.

Even though compassionate plays into it, my attitude toward these practices has been, “I have lost something for the benefit of another” (money, time, etc.). I thought of it as my loss. Making sacrifices for God is what we are supposed to do. It is the right thing to do.

“ . . . . and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”   Luke 14:14

Most Christians think of serving, sacrificing, and giving as losing something. If we give $100 to the children’s hunger fund, than we now have $100 less than we did before. We are losing something, so that someone else can gain. It is the selfless thing to do.

But . . . is it really selfless? Is it really a loss?

What if we aren’t really losing? What if we are actually gaining when we sacrifice for others?

What if I was actually gaining whenever I lost something for Christ? What if I was actually receiving something whenever I gave something away? What if everything does have an eternal reward?

What if eternity is perfectly just?

Sacrifice is defined as, the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim (dictionary.com). What if there was a higher and more pressing claim in eternity?

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.   2 Corinthians 4:17

If every good thing that I do either gets a reward that I cannot keep here on earth, or a reward in heaven that I can enjoy for all eternity, that changes everything!

Eternity changes everything!

“View the present in light of the future; see time in light of eternity; look beyond sacrifice to reward; bear the cross while anticipating the crown.”
-Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity

 

Is it selfish to focus and take joy in our future treasures in heaven? Maybe it is. However, the one thing that we are allowed to be selfish about is storing up treasures in heaven.

railway to sunny horizonBut store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.   Matthew 6:20

We tend not to think with an eternal perspective. It is all about the here and now. Most of us would say that we believe in eternity, but don’t really understand what it means. Eternity seems like some abstract idea that we can never fully grasp. The concept is hard to wrap our brains around.

If we did believe in eternity in heaven, and took it seriously, our lives might be drastically different. Our priorities might change. We might think differently about our time, money and treasures. The things that we worry and stress about now might fade away into the distance.

As the hymn goes . . .

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the Light of His glory and grace

Money and how we spend our time doesn’t just affect the here and now. It affects eternity. And, if we are thinking about eternity, there really should be no limit to our generosity.

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.  Malachi 3:10

Gone are the days when we were fixated on these concerns.

Do I have enough? and,
How can I get more?

Focusing on eternity causes us to ask these questions instead.

Am I doing enough for others?
Am I being generous enough? and,
How can I give more?

When we are living for eternity, we are truly free. We can have freedom from the worries of the here and now.

So, it is almost December. Christmas is coming. Sometimes I think that there isn’t any time when Christians resemble the world more than at Christmastime.

What if we viewed Christmas in light of eternity? Would we do anything differently?

It all comes down to, do I want my reward now to enjoy for a short time and then lose it, or do I want to wait and enjoy my reward eternally in heaven? When we look at it this way, it’s a no brainer. If we delay our gratification there is a huge payoff! And the payoff is guaranteed . . . . we all die eventually!

Are we willing to give up a little of what we love so much about Christmas to store up eternal treasures in heaven?

What we usually do at Christmas time:

  • Run around frantically shopping for giftsStriped New Year's Ball With A Red Tape.
  • Decorate our homes in the Christmas spirit
  • Give and receive presents from friends and family
  • Throw parties with our friends and neighbors
  • Listen to Christmas music and enjoy Christmas concerts
  • Participate in a live nativity scene or go caroling
  • Tell the story of baby Jesus
  • Eat a Christmas feast and gobs of Christmas cookies
  • Spend time with family around a Christmas tree in the warmth of a roaring fire
  • Watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman

None of these things are wrong. I love the sights and smells and warm fuzzy feelings of Christmas as much as anybody. I love being with my family. I love a roaring fire in the fireplace and the smell of cookies in the oven. I am not saying that we shouldn’t do these things.

What I am saying is . . .

Why would we forfeit eternal treasures for just these things? Eternity with God in heaven will probably have these wonderful Christmas things times 100 . . . maybe times 1,000,000! And we will get to keep them forever!

What I am saying is that the fun, ‘Christmas-y’ things shouldn’t be the only things that we do this Christmas season. We need to help the poor and serve others. We must focus on blessing others this Christmas more than we expect to be blessed ourselves. We always need to be caring for others. Not only because Christ commands it, but also because Christ will reward it.

If we are celebrating Christ’s birth, how can we celebrate it any other way than to ‘do unto the least of these’?

And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”  Acts 20:35

If we are serving the poor and oppressed, we can still enjoy the other stuff while at the same time being expectant of our future treasure. But when we skip over the commandments of Jesus to celebrate Christmas ‘our way’, we are being ‘of’ the world not just ‘in’ it.

Christmas can be a huge distraction from His mission. If you are like me, it doesn’t take much to distract me. Wave shiny objects in front of me and I am gone –Squirrel! So, we must see beyond the lights and the tinsel. Our focus must remain on Christ and His mission even during the Christmas season.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many   Matthew 20:28

As disciples of Christ, we put Him above all. And putting Christ above all requires that we put others above ourselves. This is how we are going to store up treasures in heaven.

As we look toward the coming holiday, how can we ‘store up treasures in heaven’ with our money, gifts and time?

child living in Mondesa slumWhat if we 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?

There are many things we can do. You don’t have to give 100% of your Christmas budget. Maybe think about what you could do without. Try giving a portion of what you normally spend on each other for Christmas to the homeless in your city . . . just a portion. And, see how God blesses you, and next year give a little more.

Here are some other ideas . . .

  • Take a portion of what you normally spend on each other and give it away instead
  • Spend part of your holiday handing out food at a bread pantry
  • Invite an elderly neighbor, or someone who doesn’t have family to Christmas dinner
  • Celebrate Christmas simply so that you can give more money to those in need
  • Hand out blankets to the homeless
  • give money to the bell ringers for The Salvation Army outside of the grocery store
  • be generous in your tipping

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 YOU, Jesus.