Tag: depression

I’m So Exhausted

I’m so exhausted.

There are no other words. 

There’s no way around it, and I refuse to hide as if it’s shameful or indicative of some kind of deviance or weakness. 

So much hate everywhere. There is almost nowhere where it is not. Every crack, seam, crevice, platform, and instance. No more gowns and hoods. No more gloves or inside handshakes. No more concealment, embarrassment, brake pumping, or situational empathy. All out in the open, proudly parading in the light of day, longing for open spaces and closed minds. Zero to sixty at the drop of a hat. The curtain has been pulled back. The scab has been picked. The cancer has metastasized. The cover has been opened of the American sewer. Unrestrained, unchecked, and unabated hate of every kind, spewing everywhere. 

Sensory overload, news overload, trauma overload, opinion overload. “Do this, don’t do that” overload. Billboards, screens, “breaking news,” and algorithms raping our minds for every moment of our attention.

The rich get richer, the poor get poorer.
The oppressors keep winning, the oppressed keep suffering. Heartbreak and heavy lifting.

We’re all getting screwed. Everyone of us.

Only the few that hold all the cards are immune, drifting in yachts built by slavery ships and wooden canoes.

System after system designed to keep us dependent, compliant, and functioning just enough to serve their seven-deadly-sinning. Rats in a rat race designed by wolves. We are but cogs in the clock of those who rule our time.

The more we awake, the more they seduce our sleep. Distraction after distraction, dragging us around like dogs on a leash and spinning truth like a breakdancer on crack. 

 

Lies are approved. 

Violence is budgeted.

Oppression is focused-grouped.

Power and privilege are hoisted, legislated, and canonized as Scripture. 

 

I’m tired of face-slap debates, knees on necks, and people-erasing.

I’m tired of trucks with confederate flags flying and spiritualized patriarchy.  

I’m tired of Monday morning quarterbacking, Bible masturbating, and Transgender suicide legislating.    

I’m tired of “don’t say gay,” don’t see slavery, don’t learn history, don’t trust science, don’t question systems, don’t report abuse, don’t deny men, don’t read books, don’t resist injustice, don’t free think, and don’t believe the truth that you are truly seeing.  

 

Everywhere we turn. Every breath we breathe. It’s inescapable.

 

I’m so exhausted. 

You’re exhausted. We’re exhausted. 

It’s where we are, it’s who we are. 

It’s our teary-eyed, tired-eyed communal lament. 

It’s the closing of the blinds. The curling up into the fetal position. 

 

So, I’m listening to jazz again, returning my soul to a simpler time.

Taking in stories of enduring value, goodness, and humankind.

I’m turning off the news, the screens, and the voices wasting my time.

I’m protecting the streams stirring within me, welling up within me, and opening the door only when it’s time.

I’m resting more. Being careful more. Listening to me, more. 

To the blips on my own radar screen.

To my own pulse, presence, and people.

 

So, let’s rekindle, recalibrate, and renew together, that we might reconnect and resist all the more.

Cause I’m so exhausted, and I’m guessing you are too.

 

.

Grace is brave. Be brave.

 

Check out Chris’ latest book, Stupid Shit Heard In Church available on Amazon (link below)…

What people are saying:

“After reading just a few chapters, I had to schedule an appointment with my therapist, it’s that good.”

“This book is changing  the world.”

“Profound, life-changing; that says it all!”

 

 

I’m Progressive, And I’m Walking Away From “Deconstruction”

I was a conservative Evangelical pastor of 20+ years.

Racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, Republican, hell-preaching, bible-weaponizing, hateful, and hurtful; that was me.

Until I came to a moment of suicide.

It all started with my collision with honesty. An honesty that wrecked me. Coming forth from within, it forced me to realize and admit that the conservative Evangelical faith simply doesn’t work. Not even close. Everything that I had devoted my life to revealed itself to be a scheme. I had memorized the Scriptures, prayed the right formulas, and performed all the to-do steps. Yet, faced with the Light of truth breaking free from within me, I was confronted with the reality that nothing in my life had become any better, only worse. My faith was a fraud. Fake, empty, and cruel. I had become a monster far removed from the example of Jesus. 

At the height of those moments of devastating inner clarity, I told my wife to find a better husband and my children a better father. I was a broken down man. Beat to the pulp of my very core. Death, seeming to be the only way out. It was a darkness beyond darkness. 

There was much that was uncertain back then, but I can certainly tell you this now, not a single “deconstruction” sage, book, or conference could have talked me off the ledge upon which I was standing. “Deconstruction” could never have rescued me, nor turned back my desire for the ending of me. It could never have given me a new beginning from what I thought was an inescapable tragedy. 

And so, I’m here; alive, changed, progressive, affirming, inclusive, and empowered. But not by “deconstruction,” but rather by something far greater.

Please hear me well. I deeply love all my “deconstruction” friends. I love all “deconstruction” people, and I desire no conflict with you. We are all taking a journey of faith. Furthermore, I’m not writing to condemn “deconstruction” or those whose lives have benefited from it. I’m just telling my story, the lessons I’m learning, and what I’m discerning.

In reality, I have never been an intentional part of the “deconstruction” movement, though perhaps many would say that my writing has played a significant role in their “deconstruction.” 

For that, I am truly honored and appreciative. 

Yet, though I have no desire whatsoever to disconnect with anybody, I find it necessary to “walk away from deconstruction” in the sense that my path is increasingly moving in a different direction from what I see “deconstruction” increasingly becoming. And, here’s why.


First, in truth, there’s no such thing as “deconstruction.”

This is what I’m learning and this is what I’m discerning.

This whole faith “deconstruction” thing, it really isn’t about deconstructing at all.

In fact, there is no such thing as “deconstruction.” White, conservative Evangelicalism has already deconstructed all of us. There’s nothing left to deconstruct.

Piece by piece, they’ve taken all that was already holy, pure, beautiful, and divinely created about you and I and smashed into pieces.

We were perfect from the beginning, affirmed by the Universe, innocent from eternity. There was nothing wrong with us, yet they whispered such accusations into our ears and we believed them. And not just believed them, we believed them all the way

We bit the apple. Sucked in by the tractor beams of the white, conservative Evangelical Death Star. With Jesus as the hood ornament of their world bulldozer, they plowed over all that is good and of God with lies, manipulation, shame, guilt, and fear.

Seduced by their evil wizardry, we became less than human. Haters, judgers, bullies, and fakes. Nothing like Jesus.

See, we don’t deconstruct, we are the deconstructed.

They told us that we’re depraved, an evil blemish at birth.

They told us that we’re lost sinners in need of the salvation of a fire-breathing God who would joyfully drop-kick us into hell if we don’t repent in all the conservative Evangelical ways.

They told us that we’re not good enough, incapable of spiritual discernment, and that we need their guidance, discipleship, steps, formulas, discipline, and accountability to draw closer to God and keep Him there, lest we err and block the gleam of God’s eyes and summon the withdrawal of His favor.

They told us that if you are a woman, you’re hopelessly inferior to men and incapable of the same leadership, discernment, value, and authority as they.

They told us to prequalify people for love, abandon our LGBTQ children, and believe that they have the one and only true faith—a faith that God exclusively approves and ordains to take control of all of society, at any cost.

They told us that the Bible is the perfect Word of God, church is our home, the world is the enemy, they know all the answers, and we should never think or believe without them.

They told us that Jesus is a warrior, God is a Republican, progressives are going to hell, and racism is best served with “thoughts and prayers.”

They substituted trust with fear, Grace with conditions, inclusion with exclusion, divine affirmation with divine wrath, equality with privilege, social justice with selfish selfishness, peace with violence, integrity with hypocrisy, the Gospel with self-righteousness, and Jesus with the devil.

They deconstructed us all like Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck, spiritually policing the life out of us.

Make no mistake, everything that white, conservative Evangelicalism touches is deconstructed into ashes.

For we are the deconstructed. 

We are the deconstructed.

I repeat, we are the deconstructed.

It’s not something we do or can do, it’s who we are. 

That’s why there is no “deconstruction,” there can only be “resurrection.” And the difference between the two is cosmos-quaking and life changing. 

It’s resurrection. 

It’s the moment, like Lazarus in the tomb, that we hear and respond to the call of Jesus screaming from within our soul to, “get the hell out of there!”  “You’re alive, you’re good, you’re whole, you’re holy, you’re secure, you’re saved!” “Always have been, always will be!”

It’s resurrection.

The moment that the Light within us breaks free and pushes away the stone, kicks over tables, and shakes the conservative Evangelical dust off our feet. 

It’s resurrection.

Yet, like Lazarus, there’s a holy and sacred process of being unwrapped from the conservative Evangelical burial clothes that long entombed us and covered from our eyes all that was and is good about God, ourselves, and the world around us. 

It’s resurrection, not deconstruction. 

One bandage, one shroud at a time. Unraveling the layers of brainwashing, condemnation, and hate that strangled us.

It’s resurrection, not deconstruction.

One lie, one half-truth, one fear at a time. Peeling away the twisted images we believed about God, ourselves, and all of humanity.

It’s resurrection, not deconstruction.

The revealing and reclaiming of our true self, the good that was already there and already enough. 

Scales being resurrected away. 

Learning to breathe anew, learning to believe anew.

Learning to love anew, learning to be loved anew.

Learning to know ourselves, love ourselves, and be ourselves anew.

It’s resurrection, not deconstruction.

We were always beautiful, always loved, always affirmed, always included, always secure, forever and forever.

It’s resurrection, not deconstruction.

For we once were the deconstructed.

But now, we are the resurrecting.

The difference is night and day, and that’s why I’m walking away.

Second, “deconstruction” is just another spiritual treadmill.

It’s hard to say, but I believe it to be true. 

Please hear me well, yet again. I deeply love all my “deconstruction” friends. I love all “deconstruction” people, and I desire no conflict with you. We are all taking a journey of faith. 

Yet, I can’t deny nor hide what I’m seeing. So much of “deconstruction” has largely become conservative Evangelicalism wrapped in shiny new “progressive” paper. It has all the Evangelical components. Do this, don’t do that. Study this, read that. Try this, try that. Attend this, pray for that. Quote this Scripture over here, use this commentary over there. Listen to this podcast here, go to this conference there. It’s all so Evangelicky. 

Much of “deconstruction” isn’t about working out a God-driven “resurrection” from within that reveals and reclaims who we are, who God truly is, and seeing the world anew. Instead, it’s about a human-driven effort to “reconstruct” ourselves, “reconstruct” our faith, and “reconstruct” God. What is Jesus rolling away Evangelical stones from around our soul, “deconstruction” has turned into a human effort to tumble down walls through “better” exegesis and “better“ creeds.

It’s just conservative, Evangelical, performance-driven, behavior-management, belief-conforming religion with progressive make-up plastered on.

Truly, I mean no disrespect and desire no harm, but the term “deconstruction” reduces a holy, sacred, miraculous, and Spirit-driven process into a journey of human effort, steps, and measurements. 

In fact, I have never had so many people reach out to me in tears when they began to see their journey away from conservative Evangelicalism as a sacred-centered “resurrection” and not just a human-centered “deconstruction.” For them the pressure was removed, the divine was revealed, the process was given room to breathe, and real, lasting change could emerge.

The difference is night and day, and that’s why I’m walking away.

 

Third, many progressive “deconstruction” voices have turned a holy, sacred, and miraculous process into a monetized program of profiting sages pimping their books, talks, conferences, and ministry empires.

It’s all so triggering. It’s like going backwards instead of moving forward. Not just going backwards, but even worse, it feels like a falling from Grace. 

I’ve even heard the idea of starting a “deconstruction” worship service. 

What’s next, a “deconstruction” Bible?

I’m reminded of Joshua’s “stones of remembrance” described in the Old Testament. It is said that God instructed that they be placed to remind the people of Israel entering into the Promised Land to never go back to the slavery of Egypt. God knew that some would actually not be satisfied with the Promised Land and would either want to return or try to have one foot in both worlds. 

Sadly, I fear this is already happening. Much of “deconstruction” has taken on the empire-building, franchising, profiteering, legalism, churchiness, and religiosity of Egypt and brought them into the progressive Promised Land of “resurrection.”

The telling of “resurrection” stories has been polluted with ”deconstruction” to-do steps.

Listening to the mind of Christ within has been polluted with intellectualism, “new” biblical scholarship, “woke” exegesis, and the wisdom of wise “deconstruction” sages. 

The self-revelation of “resurrection” has been polluted with the self-improvement of “deconstruction.” 

Jesus’ statement, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you” has been polluted into a “deconstruction” call to somehow read the Bible in front of you better, instead of a call to read the mind of Christ within you better. 

One reveals the real you through “resurrection” and the other tries to change you, through you, through your “deconstruction.”

For me, the difference is night and day, and that’s why I’m walking away.

 

Fourth, it’s easy for Evangelicals to dismiss and condemn “deconstruction.”

Why? Because it’s filled with human effort. And human effort always and eventually breaks down.

It’s so easily criticized, and perhaps, rightly so. Why? Because it all boils down to their opinion versus ours. Their interpretation versus ours. Their understanding versus ours. Their beliefs versus ours. Their mind, versus ours. Their scholarship versus ours.. 

Yet, how much more difficult is it to discount, disarm, and disqualify a person’s “resurrection?”

How much more difficult is it to discount, disarm, and disqualify a community’s “resurrection?”

A resurrection that begins and ends through and with the power of God alone.

A resurrection that is ”worked out,” and not “worked on.”

A resurrection that flows like a river welling up from within, not franchised like a business.

A resurrection that is an experience, not an exegesis. 

It’s far more difficult, I would say.

Because the difference is night and day, and that’s why I’m walking away.

But not without leaving some suggestions for the “deconstruction” movement, if you would allow me…

1) Consider not calling it “deconstruction.” 

2) No more steps, only stories. Tell your story, and let that be enough. 

3) Refrain from enabling “deconstruction” consumerism, conformity, and gated community.  

4) Take the needle out of your veins of becoming or being a “deconstruction” sage and building a ministry empire.

5) Be a team player. Value all voices, not just your own.

 

Grace is brave. Be brave.


 

 

Thankful For Nothing

In a world of everything, I am thankful for nothing.

I know, it feels like everything—that thing that you did…

You made a mistake, you screwed up—words you said, choices you made, plans you created. The moment got the best of you, it wasn’t supposed to happen that way—everything spiraling out of control. The crack on the ceiling became the whole house falling. It was bad—really, really bad.

So now, you run, but you can’t run fast enough—the medication, can’t medicate deep enough. Your success, can’t be successful enough. What you want to let go, won’t seem to let go—the guilt, the shame, the cost, the regret. At times, it’s all so overwhelming. What you did, it feels like—everything.

In your mind it’s haunting you, certainly this is all reason for His doubt, reason for His questioning—reason for your one-eye-open living. Will you get the ax? Will God storm out of the heavens like a drunk out of a bar—put you in your place under an angry thumb? Is this the time you pushed Him too far?

I know, it feels like everything—that thing that happened to you…

They stole your innocence, betrayed your trust—said terrible things, did terrible things. It wasn’t fair, wasn’t right—completely wrong in every way—stealing things that can’t be replaced. The hurts run deep, straight to the arteries of your soul—you’ll never be the same. Tragedy has many faces—some innocent, some not. You weren’t suppose to be alone, but now you are—the chair where they sat—now empty. No greater pain you have ever felt than being without, being alone—once loving in the physical, to now love in memory only.

So, you run, but you can’t run fast enough—the medication, can’t medicate deep enough. Your success, can’t be successful enough. What you want to let go, won’t seem to let go—the bitterness, the anger, the revenge—the hurt, the loss, the emptiness. What happened to you, it feels like—everything.

That’s why, in your mind, the questions pound you—is He real, was He asleep at the wheel? How could this ever happen under a God who’s supposed to be so loving? Beating His chest, crying every tear, feeling hung out to dry—perhaps these doubts should have been doubted long before. What you thought was a trust now seems so un-trustable.

I know, it feels like everything—what you are doing, who you are becoming, the life you are living…

The real you, the fake you, something in between—your secret thoughts, insecurities, desires, dreams. Passions in your heart—if only to love and be loved in return—declared of value, overflowing with worth. Fully accepted—never to die with your song still inside. You’ve got one life—air to breathe, breaths to take. Am I good enough? Am I like-able, love-able? Do I qualify “as is,” or something different? Status, labels, “likes” on Facebook—I don’t want to waste anytime. Fit in here, fit in there—maybe have no fit at all. Am I getting this right? Doing this well?

And so you run, but you can’t run fast enough—the medication, can’t medicate deep enough. Your success, can’t be successful enough. What you want to let go, won’t seem to let go—the insecurities, the uncertainties, the voices in your head—the naysayers, fair-weather players—the push to be seen, heard, affirmed, believed.

What you are doing, who you are becoming, the life you are living—it feels like—everything.

That’s why, in this world of everything, I am so thankful for nothing.

For nothing can subtract from God’s love for you. Nothing can change His mind, reduce His delight—kink the garden hose of His favor drenching you.

No mistake, no miscue, no atrocity—nothing of you can edit anything of Him.

All decided, once and for all—God’s perfect, unconditional, unrestricted love. Always has, always is, always will be, for there is nothing more pure and more sure than God’s heart—His love, His affections for you—nothing.

There’s nothing for Him to reexamine, to revaluate, to retract—nothing from Him withheld, reserved, restrained.

Nothing.

Nothing else is God but love—perfect, eternal, unconditional, unlimited love. All, poured out for you, for me, for everyone.

In a world of everything, I am thankful for nothing.

For nothing can improve upon the you that God has already finished—there’s nothing of blemish, nothing of sin, nothing of darkness in you within. Nothing to work on, nothing to strive for, nothing to earn—you are whole, complete, righteous, forgiven, forever pure. It’s nothing of what you do, only everything of what He did—there’s nothing left to do, only everything to believe, in Him

It’s not about what people think—not what people say. Not the height of your attitude, not the depth of your gratitude—nothing half empty, nothing half full. Nothing of your religious effort, believing, or work—nothing at all.

Nothing to fear, nothing of which to be ashamed, nothing of tarnish upon your name.

You are righteousness, when you get it all wrong—you are success, when failures go on and on—you are whole, even as it all unravels to the ground.

As He is, so are you—nothing less than the beauty of Jesus—nothing.

In a world of everything, I am thankful for nothing.

For nothing is the sum distance between you and God—He is beside you, within you, all around you, as you. Nothing closer, nothing thicker, nothing more real than the realness of His hand holding yours—you have never been alone.

He is your strength when yours is nothing—He is your guide, when your sight sees nothing. He is your hope, when hope seems like nothing.

Grace is awakening to the hug God has always had around you—a Grace that nothing can remove.

So, in a world of everything, I am so thankful for nothing.

Absolutely… nothing.

For in the nothing, I find everything for which to be thankful…

Nothing.

 

Grace is brave. Be brave.

Check out Chris Kratzer’s new book getting rave reviews… Leatherbound Terrorism.

In Leatherbound Terrorism, Chris chases the evils of conservative Evangelicalism out of the shadows and gives powerful voice to the cries of the religiously oppressed. Confronting issues like racism, sexism, homophobia, religious greed, hypocrisy, nationalism, white supremacy, privilege, and the weaponizing of the Bible, Leatherbound Terrorism pulls no punches. Endorsed by best selling authors Steve McVey and Baxter Kruger, Leatherbound Terrorism will challenge you, inspire you, and most certainly cause you to rethink your faith and life.

Pressure: Surviving Christmas

For many people, Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year.  Instead it’s filled with a lot of pressures; the pressures of family visits, being happy, presents under the tree, and the list goes on and on. Truth be told, for some, it may just well be the worst time of the year. For them, it’s the loneliest time of the year, the most depressing time of the year, the most expensive time of the year, the most stressful time of the year, and the most anxious time of the year.  The fact that the suicide rate is the highest during Christmas, the fact that between Thanksgiving and Christmas we go into credit card debt as Americans to the tune of 131.1 billion dollars, the fact that 35% of people say they are most depressed and stressed during this time of the year than any other is indicative that it really is true, Christmas for many people is the most wonderful time of the year for pressure.

So, in this post, I am unplugging the Christmas machine and getting back to what Christmas is really all about, because the truth is, the pressures our culture has put on Christmas as bent and twisted what Christmas is truly all about to the point that it’s true meaning is virtually unrecognizable in how we celebrate Christmas in our culture today.  More than that, I want to spend some time giving some wisdom on how to survive the pressures of Christmas.

The Pressure of Memories

Behind all the decorations and office parties, there are people who are not so excited and euphoric about Christmas. All this season  does is unearth and magnify a lot of sadness for them. Maybe you lost somebody you loved and so the chair they sat in last year at the Christmas table will be empty, or maybe it’s because you got divorced of separated this year, and the “I love you” you heard last Christmas you’re not going to hear this Christmas, or maybe you have lost a child, and though you still put up their stocking, Christmas is just another reminder they aren’t there to open it up.

One of the ideas you hear a lot about during Christmas is the idea of getting into the “Christmas Spirit.” And chances are, the moment we hear the idea of getting into the Christmas Spirit we immediately think of having feelings of joy, excitement, fun, hopefulness, love, and having a “Holly Jolly, Christmas” If you are having those kind of emotions, that’s great, be really thankful for that and hold onto it. Sure, Christmas is a season of joy. But what might be surprising to you is that it isn’t just about having joy.

See, for some people, there’s a ton pressure to be “on,” to be happy, to be joyful, to walk around in their Santa hat singing cheerful Christmas songs all the time. But that’s just not how they feel. For some people this season is something more to be endured than to be enjoyed. For many, Christmas is not so happy and jolly. And because everybody else seems to be all holly and jolly, and every Christmas commercial paints the perfect family with perfect smiles, it leaves them feeling like they belong on the island of misfit toys. For some, they feel like the boy in the movie Polar Express, “Christmas just doesn’t work out for me”

So let me tell you, if that sounds like you, there is nothing wrong with you, you are not a misfit. No, believe it or not, no matter what the commercials show you, there is more to Christmas (the true meaning of Christmas) than just having some euphoric, warm fuzzy feelings all the time. Believe it or not, this constant state of joy and bliss that you see everybody having on t.v. isn’t a complete picture of what having the Christmas spirit is all about.

In fact, if you truly tell the Christmas story, un-commercialized, the un-americanized, unedited for our ears, the emotional response that matches up with the real story of Christmas just can’t be one sided, it just can’t be about feeling joy, hope, excitement, or love, because that’s not the whole story.

Take a look at this…

Matthew 2:13-18 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, 
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Though this passage doesn’t get made into any Christmas specials on t.v., this is part of the Christmas story. Just think of this scene in Bethlehem that day, it must have been gut wrenching. Mothers must have clung desperately to their little boys when they heard the soldiers marching down the street going from door-to-door. Fathers must have tried to hide their sons in secret hiding places. But all to no avail. When the soldiers were done with their bloody massacre, sobbing mothers were holding their dead babies and powerless fathers were screaming in rage.

Some of you are saying to yourself, “I didn’t know that happened, I didn’t see that scene displayed in the Hallmark window.”

So let me ask you, what kind of feelings do you think came over all those mothers and fathers every year at Christmas who’s children were slaughtered on that first Christmas?

Yet, believe it or not, the pain of that scene even goes deeper than that, because what happens here with Herod and the babies evokes deeper painful memories of the past, that’s what the whole reference to the woman named Rachel is about.

Check this out…

Genesis 35:16-20 6 Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. 17 And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” 18 As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.

So not only do you have a Christmas scene of boys being slaughtered by Herod, but then this event also resurfaces memories of a mother’s mourning from the past. But the painful memories go even deeper than that, because this whole scene of the Christmas story is even connected to something deeper…

Exodus 1:15-22 15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” 19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” 20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. 22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

Are you seeing it? With Herod killing these little boys, it opens up a flood gate of other painful memories!

Unfortunately, we have been made to think that Christmas is supposed to be all happy and jolly.  No, for some people, Christmas is at least (in part) a painful experience, and the truth is, it was that way from the beginning.

See, if you and I are going to have the true Christmas Spirit, there has got to be room for feelings like sadness, struggle, and anxiety. There has to be room for things like tears, quietness, and pain… that’s part of the story.  Right now, let me give you some permission this Christmas season, don’t buy into the pressure to “cheer up and snap out of it.”  If you have sadness this season, there is a place for that, and it’s not under the carpet. Don’t be afraid to tell the story  -don’t buy into the lie, “well, people already heard it, I don’t want to be downer.”  Christmas time is a great time for stories, and the Christmas story at points is a story of tremendous tragedy and sorrow, so your story of sorrow fits perfectly.

Some people go into Christmas feeling under pressure to sweep the past aside and pretend it doesn’t exist, but if you take the scriptures seriously, if you let Christmas be what Christmas was, that stuff is part of the story too, and you can’t take it out of the Christmas story, and you can’t take it out of your story.

The Pressure of Family

For many people, the combination of family and Christmas stresses them out a bit.  Christmas is a time where more than ever, for some, it heightens their wish they had the family they don’t have or they wish they didn’t have the family they do have.  When it comes to family and Christmas the pressure is on, because many of us our going to have the “family visit” for Christmas this year. And already, you are wondering, you are preparing yourself for how it’s all going to go down.

What do you do when there’s tension in the room that you can cut with a knife because cousin Ed who’s 48 years old has decided that the Christmas dinner table is the best time to announce that He’s marrying his 19 year old girlfriend?  Or what do you do when the guilt trips come, “Oh, so we’re not going to see you at all this Christmas, the very parents who raised you and changed your diapers?” What do you do when cousin Lou decides to have a little too much egg nog and in a voice that everyone can hear she begins to tell you just what she thinks of your husband?  What do you do when that family member says those words, or does that thing that has a way of just getting under your skin and causing your neck veins to pop out? Or what do you do at that family visit when you feel more like an outlaw than an in-law.  There is a lot pressure that comes when you put family and Christmas together.

Mark 6:1-3 1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Apparently Jesus has a family, he has His mom Mary and some brothers, so he has family. And I’m sure  that because he’s the Son of God, he is going to have a perfect family, right?

Mark 3:20-21 20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Wait a second. So Jesus has been out healing and casting out demons. Crowd after crowd gathered to be healed and to figure out who this Jesus guy is, and then he runs into his family. But, instead of coming inside and hearing what Jesus has to say and encouraging him, his own family stands outside and joins in with the cynics as they try to make excuses for their son’s behavior?

John 7:1-5 1 After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. 2 But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.

Wait another second. So his own brothers, the people that should have his best interests at heart and know him better than anybody else, first of all they are trying to turn him into a political figure and then underneath it all, they don’t believe in him? Apparently, Jesus who is the perfect son of God doesn’t have anything like a perfect family, no instead, from the very beginning Jesus is misunderstood by the people who should understand him the most, his own family.

Now let’s go back to Mark 6, because in those verses Jesus decides to go home and make a little family visit. Kind of like perhaps you are going to do this Christmas.

Mark 6:1-6 1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Now there are some important things I want you to notice about those verses….

o.o1 Jesus utilizes the support of his spiritual family

In verse 1, we notice that to this family visit, Jesus brings his disciples with Him. What are the disciples? Well, in one aspect they are a kind of spiritual family. I almost imagine Jesus getting the guys together and saying, “hey guys could you come with me, because I am going home to my family, and this isn’t going to be easy.”

One of the things I think Jesus is showing us right off the bat is that if we put all our expectation onto our biological families alone to fulfill all those longings we have for unconditional love, for a sense of belonging, approval, and support, we will probably be let down, disappointed, and frustrated. Some of the pressure of family and Christmas comes from simply having unrealistic expectations. We see those commercials around Christmas where people are all honky dory, everybody is getting along, no problems, everybody is happy, and we’re thinking “o.k. that’s the way my family is going to be,” and if it’s not we’re going to fix it all in one family visit. But chances are, if it’s not  going to happen for Jesus, then it’s probably not going to happen for us.

No, apparently for Jesus, when He got around family, he didn’t go it alone.  He’s not leaning on his biological family to be the everything in his life, for it to all be so perfect. He brought his disciples with Him. They were His spiritual family, they shared a common belief and cause together. They connected at the spiritual, core level, and His disciples apparently knew him better than His family did.

Mark 3:31-35 1 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” 33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. 34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

If you are reading this post and you have a great biological family, and all your needs for acceptance, belonging, self esteem and approval can be met there, then great! Praise God for that! But for many people that just isn’t how it happens.  And so God creates this thing called a spiritual family that you can have, with God being your heavenly Father, and brothers and sisters in Christ, where there’s a bond that goes deeper than flesh and blood. And some of you know exactly what I am talking about, you have discovered within a church a spiritual family where the bonds, the love, the support, and the sense of belonging go far deeper than DNA. That’s the way God designed it.

When you have developed a spiritual family, closeness with your Heavenly father, and some bothers and sisters in Christ, you can go to that family visit with the mindset, “Hey you know what, my biological father may not be all the things I have needed or hoped for, they may never change, they may disappoint me during this visit, but I have a heavenly Father who meets all of my needs.”

You can go into that family visit thinking, “I may not get along or have the kind of brothers or sisters that I would hope for, but I’ve got some brothers and sister in Christ that I can turn to that can help fill in the gaps.”

You can sit at the Christmas dinner table and think to yourself, “My child or my children and what there are doing with their lives may not be to my wishes, right now, I may not be seeing the fruits of my labor, but I have got some people who are young in faith, who are children spiritually to me, that I am being a spiritual father or a spiritual mother to, and I can see God moving in their lives.”

o.o2 Jesus didn’t bend under the pressure to conform

Let me ask you, when you go home for a family visit during Christmas, by the time you leave there do you feel like a child all over again?

Yah, it’s weird isn’t it, you can even start finding yourself regressing back into some of those old family roles, and by the time you leave, you don’t know what’s happened to you. It’s so easy when we make family visits to get all unraveled and lose ourselves and what we have become, or feel like we need to in order to fit in. Yet, for Jesus when He goes home, He didn’t change who He was and what He was about.  No, instead, he kept on doing His thing and being Himself, teaching in the synagogue.

You know one of the hardest thing to do when you make a family visit, is to truly be yourself, the person God is creating you to be. It’s not easy. As a matter of fact, listen to how they reacted to Jesus and his teaching. (verse 2)  “Where does this man get these things?”  In other word, “who does this guy think he is?”

Truth be told, being around family can be like superman being around kryptonite, you feel like you loose yourself and all your power.  The moment you walked in the door, all that courage you had, all that self-control, all that confidence you had, all those convictions you had, it just all somehow gets sucked right out of you.

However, notice Jesus doesn’t back off his game plan, He doesn’t compromise His convictions. He’s being straight forward, and straight up with them while telling them like it is, not holding anything back. Do we need to be tactful? Yes. Should we become a bull in a china shop? No.  But so often, especially around family, we error on the side of caving in at times. Under the pressure to conform and water down our convictions, we sell out.

o.o3 Jesus doesn’t buy into their belittling

For example, in verse 3 , it’s a little subtle, they kinda start belittling him, there are like, “Isn’t he just the cute little Joseph’s boy, the kid, isn’t Jesus just that little child we knew many years ago, our little carpenter boy.”

Apparently, no matter what Jesus had done or become, no matter even how others grew to respect him and understand him, his family still sees him as just a child. Doesn’t it make family visits really fun when even though you’re like forty years old, your parents still criticize the way you hold your fork at the dinner table.  “Come on hold you’re fork like a gentleman.” It’s hard because it’s really easy to get unraveled by that. I don’t know about you’re mom, but my mom makes it pretty clear that she’s always going to be my mom, and I’m always going to be her little boy.  I’m not sensing I’m going to change that anytime soon.

Yet, Jesus doesn’t let it get under his skin, and he doesn’t even try to argue, because parents are going to be parents and families are going to be families, and there probably isn’t much you are going to be able to do to change it.  But what we can do, is what Jesus did, He didn’t internalize it, He didn’t go crawl up into the fetal position somewhere.  No, he went into that family visit, encouraged by his spiritual family, confident in who He was and what God was doing with His life.

o.o4 Jesus was prepared for challenges

Jesus knew the scripture verse, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”  He knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so he went into his family visit in the mindset that it was a ministry visit.  He wasn’t going into it in terms of what he was going to get out of it, he had his spiritual family for that, but he went into thinking “I am going to try to make the best out of this, to be a blessing if I can, and to be a source of wisdom and encouragement if I can.”  “I going to do my best and trust God with the rest.”

You can just tell, Jesus was prepared, and he was prepared for the fact there may be some awkward, weird, tense moments.

Maybe for you, when it comes to that Christmas visit with family this year, preparedness is your best chance of survival too. As a matter of fact, here are some tips for preparing for that family visit this year…

1-Pray for you family and your visit, and pray with your family before you go on that visit.  Bring a taser just in case. (Just kidding)

2-As best you can, try to be fair with family visits.  If you are married and you have relatives on both sides, try to be fair about that. The Bible says, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

3-If you have kids, before you go on that family visit, clearly share with them your expectations of them and the consequences that will incur if those expectation aren’t met.

4-Try to foresee issues that may surface during that family gathering, and in advance prepare your response or a plan of how you are going to handle it. That’s proactive, if you wait to the moment it happens that’s reactive. As a matter of fact, if you are married couple and are going to visit family for Christmas, it’s a good idea to talk about things that may come up with your family ahead of time to discuss and decided how you are going to respond or answer those issues, so that you are both on the same page. And if you are a parent that is having your kids over for a Christmas visit, you may want to talk about how you are going to handle certain issues that may come up with your kids.

When it comes to conflict, awkward moments, and tensions in family around Christmas, preparedness is your best chance of survival.But here’s the deal, even when you prepare, when you try to be fair, when you try to please everybody don’t be surprised when you don’t.  As a matter of fact, let’s take this even further…

o.o5 Jesus couldn’t fix his family

If you are like most people, the moment we see something wrong, especially in our families, we want to fix it.  We feel like “can’t we all just get along and behave.” “Can’t we just for one visit, one weekend, one hour around the dinner table, can’t we just put some stuff aside. “If you’ll just do this, you change that, you become this, you do that, we could all be fine.”

Yet, look at what happens for Jesus in verse 5, you can just hear Jesus’ heart… ” I can’t do any miracles here, I can’t fix this, I can’t make this go away”  Don’t be surprised that when you go to try to fix things, that you may feel exactly like Jesus,  “I can’t save Dad, I can’t fix mom, and can’t rescue sister, or brother, or this situation.”

Now, make no mistake, there are times God calls us and says, you need (can) to do something about this (forgive, listen, compromise, be patient, bite your tongue), but there are other times, when God says, “The battle is mine, that issue is mine”  “Only I can fix this.” We all want to have the perfect family, the perfect family visit, and for people to be just as excited about what God is doing in our lives as we are. We all want people in our families to love Jesus as much as we do, for people to get along, to forgive, to set aside their differences, to play fair, to give some respect, to soften their attitudes, to wear some deodorant for crying out loud, or to put whisky down, if for just a few hours on Christmas day.

But you know what, it may not happen. It didn’t happen for Jesus. That visit this year, it may be disappointing, it may break your heart, but you know what, whether you like it or not, whether you want to claim them or not… they are still your family,

In fact, for Jesus, when all is said and done, take a look at this..

John 19:25-27  Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Picture this, there is Jesus hanging on the cross and His concern is for His mother’s care.

Regardless of all the drama, Jesus loved His family.  It may have to be from a distance, it may have to be from behind some serious boundaries that are absolutely necessary.  But even when you can’t fix it, you can still do your best to love your family.

The Pressure of Presents

Did you know in 2010, the average American family spent $870 on Christmas gifts, $33 in cards and postage, $51 on decorations, for a total of nearly $1,000?

Did you know that between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Americans rack up more than $131.1 billion dollars in credit card debt?

Did you know that 45% of people say that buying presents is more a chore than something they enjoy?

Think about this for a second, we have so identified Christmas with presents bought in a store and put under a tree, that you will hear people say, “we just aren’t going to be able to have Christmas this year,” or “we are going to give this person Christmas this year,” and what are they talking about? Presents.  For many people Christmas hinges on the presents.

As a matter of fact let me ask you something, would Christmas be as special to you if there with no malls involved, no shopping involved, no ribbons and bows, no presents under the tree, no getting up in the morning to unwrap them? Or think of it this way, could the Grinch come into your life this year and steal Christmas? Is the meaning of Christmas to you something that could be taken away from you? Would you feel like less of a mom or a dad if there were no presents under the tree this year? Would that get at you? How hard would it be for your kids?

It’s hard to be honest about that, because I would say for most of us, to some degree or another, we feel the pressure of presents, the unwritten, unspoken expectation of presents.  Back in the corners of our minds there is a minimum standard of presents that would be acceptable for you to have for your kids or your family, there’s the list of all those people you  feel obligated to buy presents for. And soon into this Christmas thing, the pressure starts to mount, the count down to Christmas starts.

And so the question becomes, what do we do with that pressure?  Because deep down we know there is something pure about this giving thing, it’s at the very heart of who Jesus and is and what God has done for us, the reason why we have a Christmas at all is because God gave us the gift of Jesus, born in a manger.  We all get that. But when fathers and husbands are committing suicide because they can’t give their family the material kind of Christmas they think they have to, when kids start screaming at the idea of not getting the present they want under the tree, when families are going into debt to get presents, when we associate the whole idea of Christmas as to whether it’s a good Christmas or a bad Christmas with how many presents are wrapped in a box under a tree, when 45% of people find it to be a chore to buy the presents that are giving, when our culture loves the cash making opportunity behind Christmas much more than the Christ of Christmas something is seriously out of whack. Wouldn’t you agree?

Here are some thoughts about how to handle the pressure of presents…

o.o1 When it comes to your children, give them what they really want… you.

When the presents we give to our kids are merely the icing on the cake of how we love of our kids, great. When presents become the cake of how we love our kids, not good.

For some parents in our culture, they make presents such a big deal, they buy this and that, anything the kids want, they find a way to get it, all to some how in their mind make up for the lack of a parent they have been the other 364 days of the year.  For some parents it’s a way of removing the guilt, buying, in a sense their kids love, or buying a way out of the guilt for not being the parent you know you should be.

For some, buying the presents isn’t really for the kids, it’s for the parents to feel better about their parenting.

It’s interesting around the Holidays, that many parents spend extra time away from home, long hours into the night, all to make that extra money for Christmas, under the pressure to buy presents for Christmas, when ironically what that child really wants is more time and attention from their parents.

It’s interesting that fathers work extra hard at having the money to buy the action figures of the heroes their children aspire on t.v. when really what their children want is for their dad to be their hero, for their dad to be that active figure in their life.

It’s interesting that moms go out and earn all that extra money to buy their daughters dolls that are beautiful, make up to make their faces prettier, clothes and jewelry to boost their self-esteem, when deep down what their daughters really want from their moms for Christmas and what would really boost their self-esteem is to know their moms think they are beautiful just the way they are.

Here’s a good question for those of us who are parents or grandparents, do you want your children and grandchildren to associate your love exclusively with something that can be bought at store, or with something that a few weeks later they don’t want to play with anymore? Do you really want them to associate your love solely with something that can get taken away from, do you want them to associate your love with something that later YOU are going to take away from them as a punishment?

See, what our kids really want from us this year is us. For some kids, they want their parents to finally start showing up as parents. For some kids, they want their parents to love them enough to discipline them, not let them get and do whatever they want to and get away with it. That’s why they are acting out, because they are wondering if you love them enough to discipline them. For some, they want their parents to finally pay attention to them. For others, they want their parents to stop fighting with each other and get their marriage on track. For some they want their parents to stop over eating and smoking. For some they want their parents to finally get serious about Jesus. That’s what they really want, and they would trade all the presents in the world if they could just get that.

So much of what our kids want this Christmas doesn’t involve something that can be bought in a store, it involves you. Any parent can buy a gift at a store, but it takes a special parent to give their kids what they really want… you.

o.o2 Give the way God gives.   Take a look at a couple passages with me…

John 3:16 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.

John 10:30  I and the Father are one.

Here’s the simple idea… when God gave his son Jesus Christ to us, he was giving Himself.

And you say, “but the wise men gave gifts.” Yes, but they didn’t buy them at the Super Target or at the local Mall, they were giving from what had been given to them.

See the super cool thing about God is when God gives, he doesn’t look for the blue light special, he doesn’t get up on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, load himself up with a liter of Starbuck’s coffee and go on all day shopping frenzy.  He doesn’t say to himself, “Well, I haven’t been such a good God to all those people down there this year, so I better make it up with a blow out Christmas filled with presents.”

No, Gods gives of himself, He sacrifices something of Himself. And, I know what some of you are thinking, well I give of my money, that’s me, that’s part of me.  Really?  Listen, don’t reduce the miracle of you to a dollar bill, you are not your money.  Money doesn’t make you the man or the women. That is not a pressure God has designed you to bare.

Truth is, for some people, the pressure of presents is an issue of their entire identity, their whole identity as a mother or father person, or friend is all wrapped up (literally) in the material side of Christmas. And God says, “No, don’t get caught up in the lie, you are so much more than that!”

Matthew 6:19-2119 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Part of what Jesus is saying is if you wrap up your identity, the way you feel about yourself in stuff, in material things, you are going to be all over the map in yourself esteem. You’ll be like a candle in the wind, when money is good, you’ll feel good, when money is bad, you’re out of luck, where ever the wind of money is blowing that’s where you and your self-esteem will be, but if you see that you are of heavenly worth, priceless, in and of yourself, no matter your material possessions, there’s no pressure.

Let me tell you something, I promise you that what the people in your life want the most from you for Christmas is not your money or anything your money can buy.  They may say they want material things, but deep down, it’s not what the really want. What they really want is you.

It’s easier to give someone a nifty tie, it’s easier to whip out the plastic and buy them a key change with their name engraved on it, it’s easier to push a few keystrokes on line and order them a gift basket of every kind of lotion known to man because it’s easier to do that than to give that person something of yourself.

Yet, what God gives, you can’t buy in a store, check this out…

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life inChrist Jesus our Lord.

Try to pick up eternity-with-God at the dollar store, you can’t do it.

Or imagine you’re this guy Peter in the Bible, you love Jesus, you and him are tight, but when push comes to shove in a moment of weakness you choke, when it mattered most, you denied that you ever even knew Jesus, and everybody’s heard about, you screwed up big time, you betrayed your best friend to save your skin, and it’s all over the papers, “Peter the Coward.” Now imagine you are Peter, and you see Jesus at a little breakfast gathering, and your expecting to get the third degree, and everybody is watching, but instead he simply asks you three times, “do you love me?”  And you are thinking, “of course I do,” and Jesus looks at you and says, “o.k., let’s let the past be the past and move on”.    You can’t wrap that kind of Grace and love in a box.

Or imagine you are Abraham, you and your wife have been trying to have kids for a very long time, the whole thing has gotten so complicated, it all seems so hopeless, and you are frustrated.  But then God shows up at your door, and even in the midst of his busy schedule, he comes just to spend time with you and to personally let you in on what He’s up to in your life. God is just coming to be a friend to you, and then to top it off, he tells you that you and your wife are going to have the child you have been hoping for. You just can’t buy that kind of friendship, those words of encouragement, that kind of hope, or that kind of guidance.

As a matter of fact, let me kick this up a notch.

If this is the kind of stuff God gives, and the true meaning of Christmas is what God gives us, namely His son Jesus Christ, Himself, and all kinds of things that you can’t wrap in a box, than maybe the question of the day is, “what are you giving for Christmas?”

If you can’t wrap up any of these things in a box that are so priceless, then why are you putting so much emphasis on giving things that can be?  If what you need most can’t be wrapped up in a box, then why are you giving the people you love the most gifts that can be wrapped in a box?

James 1:17   Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

What Harrison, Cailyn, and Madelyn needs for me is not just for me to be the father God has called me to be, but for me to introduce them to their heavenly father, for my kids to see Christ in me. As a matter of fact, if the very best gift I have to offer Harrison, Cailyn, and Madelyn at Christmas (or any other time of the year) is just MY love, they got real problems.

Galatians 2:20a  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

See, if you are a Christian, you  are much more than just you, which means you have something more in you than just you to give. The real deal behind Christmas is to realize there is so much more to give than just presents. You can give you, and even deeper than that, you can give the Jesus in you.

o.o3 Christmas is a great time to show children that true love can’t be bought, and that money shouldn’t be able to buy or influence their hearts.

Part of whether or not your children get the true meaning of Christmas is by how much emphasis you put on the gifts or you put on the giving. So if you really want to know how to make sure that Christmas means the right thing to your children, you have to ask, “does Christmas mean the right thing to me?”  Children don’t where the shoes you give them, they wear the shoes you wore….

What is really the meaning of Christmas to you… can we see that by how you celebrate it?  Is it the gifts or the giving that the pure impulse of it all, or is the whole deal about all the stuff you can buy, or is it something in you that you can give.

Is there a place for bikes wrapped with bows and matchbox cars, Barbie dolls, and train sets? Sure, but only when those things never get in the way of you and your family experiencing the true pure impulse of Christmas.

So, maybe in addition or even in substitution for exchanging presents at Christmas…

-You could give your child a picture of you and your child doing together your favorite thing with them, and when they open it, tell them why that is the favorite you like to do with them.

-Give them a gift that they will give to somebody else at a time other than Christmas.

-Give them a letter from you telling them all the things you love about them the most.

-Have a present-free Christmas one year, and rather give gifts to another family or to a service organization instead.

-Give a gift to a charitable organization in their name.

-As a family, take the $1,000 that you might have spent on Christmas presents and buy a well for the people in India or Africa who don’t have clean water. One well can give a village of 1,000 people the clean water they need.

-Spend your Christmas money on groceries for the local food bank or soup kitchen and then go down and help distribute food to people in need.

-Visit the elderly in nursing homes or spending time with others who don’t have family and friends around for the Holidays.

The key is to realize, the greatest things that you can receive in life and you have to offer other people can’t be wrapped in a box. The very thing people need from you and deep down want from you, can’t be wrapped in a box. And when you realize that, the pressure of presents can be reduced to a non- issue.

At the end of your rope?

If your life has been at all like mine, there have been times when you have reached a dead end. The situation seems hopeless and you wonder how things will ever work out. You may feel trapped, abandoned, or just totally zapped.  Every effort you give to solve or move past the situation brings with it more confirmation that the challenge is above and beyond your strength and understanding to resolve, remedy or explain.  Is there anything you can do when you come to the end of the rope? How should we handle the times when we come to a dead end? Is there any hope when we find ourselves in hopeless situations?

Here’s a few words of counsel when you find yourself holding on by the threads…

1) Consider that what appear in life to be “setbacks” are often “setups” from God

Sometimes when we feel backed in a corner with no way out, the situation can be daunting and very intimidating.  So naturally, we first think of it as a negative, not a positive.  We imagine the worst possible outcomes and conclude that life is unfair and the situation will never turn out for the good.  However, what we may not immediately realize is that God is trying to correct our path or even set us up for an entirely new course, and if He didn’t force the issue, we would have never considered nor traveled down the path of His desires for us.  

Consider that maybe God is testing your faith, or drawing you closer to him so that He can move you to a new chapter in your life.  Or, maybe God is protecting you from greater harm or disappointment.  Maybe God is positioning you to impact and influence people whom you never would or could have if He didn’t allow the situation you are in to come to pass. 

Or, maybe just maybe, God is simply giving you a real, true-to-life story to tell of God’s faithfulness as He leads you, walks with you, and takes you from tremendous difficulty to tremendous triumph.

Instead of seeing your circumstance as a sure “setback”  try asking God to show you what He is trying to “setup” for your life and future through the challenging circumstance you are in. You might just be amazed at what He shows you.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

2) Wait on the Lord

Typically, when it feels like we have been left hung out to dry in life, our first impulse is try to quickly get away from the pain, solve the problem, make a decision, move things ahead somehow, or find a way out.  The problem is, those impulses are often emotionally driven and impulsive.  Who could blame us? We are hurt, spent, tired, disillusioned and the list goes on and on.  But that’s all the more reason to “wait on the Lord.” When we find ourselves feeling hopelessly trapped in a dead end, we aren’t usually as stable and sober in our thinking and judgement.  And most of all, waiting is the last thing we want to do.  But waiting, is actually one of the most important things we should do.  The times when life throws us a curve ball and the unexpected happens are some of the times when we are the most vulnerable and apt to take a mistake and make into a bigger mistake, or a difficult situation and make it into an even more difficult situation.   The scheme-artist Satan would love to do nothing more than exploit you and your situation.

Waiting on the Lord doesn’t mean you do absolutely nothing, but it does mean that you make every effort to take each step with the clear leading and nudges of God, and not before. Remember, God is very likely setting up something, but if you rush ahead, you’ll miss it.   You never know what God is up too, and the last thing you want to do is to give up too soon.  Is there a time to “give up?”  Is there a time when you may realize, God is closing one door and opening up another? Sure.  But if you don’t wait on the Lord, you will never know what was His will as compared to what was merely you getting quick in the saddle and moving before God blows the whistle. Unfortunately, the only thing that can come as a result of that is found in one word you should do everything you can to avoid experiencing…  regret.

If you wait on God, he will show you, lead you, and nudge into His purposes and plans. Waiting on God assures that you don’t get ahead or behind what God has been working towards all along.  

Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. Psalm 27:14

3) Remember, when you reach the dead end, you are actually closer to deliverance than you have ever been before.

It’s hard to see, it’s hard to believe, it’s hard to feel, but it is absolutely true!  When you are at a dead end, you are actually closer to the possibility of things truly moving forward and new doors opening up than ever before.  Like a doctor will tell you, sometimes a fractured bone needs be completely broken before it can be healed. And furthermore, when it does heal, it will then be stronger than ever before.  Sometimes God has to bring us to our knees before we are willing to wake up and seek His will and wisdom for our life.  In a sense, he has to break us so that we can be truly healed.

Dead ends have a way of opening us up to real life, the life only God can give us.  Dead ends have a way of showing us how much we need God and His supernatural power. We often think we are the masters of our own universe and that we don’t need anybody but our own smart selves. Dead ends shows us how desperate, insufficient, and in need of God we really are.

God-given deliverance never comes without coming first to a God-planned dead end.   Dead ends have a great way of showing us where we end and God must begin if things are to ever truly move forward towards healing and wholeness.  Unfortunately, many come to a dead end only to give up too soon, or never turn to God to be and do for them all the things in their life that they can’t and never will be able to on their own. What happens? They never graduate. 

Think of every dead end in your life as a classroom from God where most of the time, the ticket to graduate is turning to God in faith and faithfulness at a level you have never before.  If you never turn to God in faith God will allow you to either turn away from Him or keep bumping your head into the wall.  With God’s classrooms, there is only one grade, “pass.” And he will allow you to stay in that classroom until you do.

Sometimes God uses dead ends to press you towards repentance (turning to God for forgiveness and salvation, and turning away from sin).  Other times he uses them to press you towards faith and trust in Him.  The bottom line is, what God might be trying to deliver in your life is a bucket load of forgiveness, hope, healing, salvation, supernatural blessings, and the list goes on and on. But God can’t deliver what you don’t desire and turn to Him for in your life.  If you feel like you have been in a dead end and nothing is moving forward, it isn’t because God doesn’t desire to deliver you through it, it maybe that you haven’t sought out His deliverance because you want it, realize you need it, and know you can’t truly move forward without it.

The Bible says that without faith we can’t please God, dead ends have a way of pressing us towards faith and dependance on God.  So often we think we can deliver everything our lives need for fulfillment, peace, and happiness, and wholeness.  Dead ends teach us that only God can deliver what we really need and long for in life. 

I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4

4) Listen closely for God, and if He is silent, it may be because He wants you to learn to trust what He has already said or shown you.

The Bible counsels us that in times of crisis, we need to “Be still.”  Listening closely for God is one of the most important things to do when you get the end of a rope and it feels like there is no way out.  Yet at the same time, it will be harder and take longer to hear God if you haven’t been in a good habit of listening to God prior to when you ran into a dead end.  That is not to discourage you, but to say that listening to God before the storm comes reaps a lot of benefits for your life when a storm finally does come.  As a matter of fact, I have found that God will prepare me and even warn me of rough waters ahead if I am willing to listen to him when the skies are clear and the sun is shining. 

If at first, you don’t sense you are hearing from God, be patient.  Yet, God may remain silent. Why?  There are several reasons, you could have an unconfessed sin mudding up your connection with God, you can be too busy and scattered in your life to hear Him, etc.  But one reason may be is that God has already spoken into your life what you need to hear from Him and you need to simply trust in what He has already said or revealed to you.  God isn’t opposed to repeating Himself, but sometimes His silence is a message to you that you haven’t been listening.

Whatever you do, make sure you take time to slow down, be still, and listen to God.  In the passage below, Elijah didn’t hear God until he was willing to listen.

11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.   1 Kings 9:11-12

5) Seek out counsel not advice

Anybody can give an opinion from their best take on a situation, but not everybody can give good counsel.  Advice comes from the opinions of people, counsel comes from the wisdom of God.  When you come to a dead-end level situation, you are going to want expert counsel from the expert of life, God.   God created you, He knows His plans for you, and He knows you better than you know yourself.  If there is any wisdom you should seek out, it should first and foremost be God’s wisdom.  Where do you find that?  Two primary places…   1) God’s Word (The Bible)  2) People who are wise in the ways of God

If you don’t have one, get a good study Bible and some Christian books on the subject of your dead end.  Read your Bible everyday and apply what you read.  If I can understand it and make sense out of it, trust me, you can too.  If you don’t go to Church, find a healthy, Bible believing and teaching Church that suits your personal preferences. Finally, seek out the counsel of Christian, faithful people who love the Lord and believe in the Bible as the absolute truth. 

There isn’t a more important time to avoid advice and seek Godly counsel then when you reach the end of the rope and you are clueless as to what to think, feel, and do. 

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.  Psalm 119:105

6) Present yourself totally available to any direction God might desire to take you, then watch for what God is anointing and what God is closing down.

Sometimes, even in the desperation of a dead end, we can have our own preconceived, stubborn ideas as to what direction our lives should go.  There is nothing wrong with that unless of course it keeps you from allowing God to overhaul, change your plans, rework you expectations,  or redirect your life completely.  

Behind every dead end is an opportunity to take a time-out with God and reevaluate where things are going in your life.  It’s a great chance to present yourself to God as an open canvass upon which God can erase, redraw, and repaint whatever He desires for you future.  Though this may sound like a bit of a frightening proposition, it really is a win, win.  God will confirm what is headed down the right path and gently correct what needs better alignment with His will. Regardless of what God does, you can trust and know for sure that it will be for your ultimate good. 

As you completely open up you life for evaluation and possible renovation, start looking for what things God is blessing and what He is closing down in your life.  From bringing into your life new friends and closing down old relationships, to giving you new passions and desires and shutting down old ones, follow the path God lays before you of closed doors and open ones. It may not be the easiest thing to do, but you will be blessed as you take on new God-dimensions for your life.

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me into foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise. Psalm 51:7-15 (The Message Translation)

7) Finally, walk by faith, not by sight. 

God doesn’t allow you to get to the end of the rope for you to spend the rest of your life there. It may feel that way, but it is not the case.

At some point, after you have done what is listed above, God is going to nudge you to move forward in faith.  You will know it when it happens.  It won’t be exactly clear what the future is going to bring, but that is why it requires faith.  God will give you enough to follow and yet leave enough undisclosed so that you can do so in faith.  That way, God gets all the glory.  

God will go with you, but He won’t go for you.  At some point, you are going to have to pick up and move on towards God and His will for your life.  And if at first, you are a bit off course of His perfect will, He will gently correct your path, so don’t feel like every decision you make is do or die. The first step is the hardest, but once you get going, God will direct you and steer you into His purposes and plans for you as long as you keep the connection lines wide open between you and God and seek to honor and please Him in all the you are and do.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

© 2022 Chris Kratzer

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