Month: December 2012

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.

Grace-Centered Leadership

A Foundation Misplaced?

If you are into leadership, there are a lot of fast food leadership troughs from which to consume.  Six steps to this, five principals to that. Talking point after talking point. A pithy tweet here, a 45-characters-or-less quote there. Well intentioned and valuable I am sure. But have you ever just thrown up your hands and said, “How am I suppose to remember (let alone do) all that in the real world?”  To be sure, the functions and behaviors of leadership are and will always be critical and worthy of much study and internalization. But if the foundation of leadership is faulty or malnourished, there is more going on than fast-food-leadership can remedy or redirect.

In fact, I wonder if our foundation for leadership within the realm of church ministry isn’t whole-heartily askew. For example, in relationships and organizations, the less trust there is, the more rules are created. Rules become remedies to what’s broken or missing. Pretty soon what was a foundation of trust and shared vision becomes replaced by a foundation of rules, policies, and procedures.

In the same way, I wonder, with all the rules, principals, techniques, steps and do’s and don’ts of leadership being articulated in waterfall proportions, if this is perhaps indicative that the foundation of ministry leadership has been misplaced.  Whether it has or hasn’t is a topic better suited for another post, but what is critical to articulate is the foundation of ministry leadership.

The Gospel of Grace

In simple terms, the foundation of ministry leadership is the Gospel of God’s Grace.  It begins and ends with the Gospel established through Grace.  The Gospel provides everyone, through faith in Christ, what they need. They need to become a completely new person, with a new identity, that they may have a new life. The foundation of leadership is not what you do, but who you are. Who you are is determined and defined by your belief (trust) in the pure Gospel of God’s Grace in making you into a new person, with a new identity, and thus a new life. Ministry leadership is from the Gospel, by the Gospel, for the Gospel.

Yet, for many in ministry leadership, their trust is not fully in the Gospel of Grace, but more in their skill, capacity, and insight.

“Grace is a gift only the non-religious can accept. They’re the only ones who can understand it, and put it to use. ‘Religious’ folk see grace as soft and weak, so they keep trying to manage their junk with willpower and tenacity. Nothing defines religion quite as well as attempting impossible tasks with limited power, all while pretending that it’s working.” -John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, & Bill Thrall

My sense is that the sentiment of this quote is easily and additionally applicable to “religious” leaders and segments of the current state of ministry leadership.  Much of today’s ministry leadership focuses largely on willpower, tenacity, skill, principals, strategies and alike while pretending it’s all working as we create large, multi-campus ministries of primarily relocated, re-baptized, or rededicated Christians who are commissioned to try to live better lives by following the rules, all while America becomes the only country in the world where Christianity is declining.  Our ministry mindset concludes that Grace doesn’t work in leadership nor discipleship, so we’d better focus on willpower and skilled leadership. Indeed, we live in the age of performance-driven church and leadership culture. The sad reality is we think it’s working.

Here again, nothing wrong with skills, principals, churches with large multi-campus ministries etc. as long as the foundation is the Gospel of God’s Grace. Leadership is a serious calling and should be taken very seriously with a desire to steward the gifts and calling of leadership vigorously. God loves excellence. However, foundations in leadership matter. The only foundation of which can be…  from the Gospel, by the Gospel, and for the Gospel of God’s Grace.

What does that look like? Here are a few thoughts…

Grace-Centered Leadership

Believe it or not, ministry leadership is actually about you, that is, who you are in Christ. It isn’t about what you bring to the table, but it is about your trust in Who God has brought to the cross and what God brought to you through the cross on your behalf, received through your faith.

We say leadership isn’t about us, but “do” leadership as if it is.  The truth is, it is about us. That being our faith in the Gospel of the Grace of God. When it becomes about our faith in God’s grace, it is our work and skills that no longer matter, but His. The focus shifts as faith turns our eyes onto Jesus, away from our old selves, and onto who we are in Him (provided and protected solely by Grace).

Faith is not a work, it is a trust.  Through the Grace of God, by faith we can look at ourselves and see Him. If we don’t see Him, we do not believe, nor can we truly lead.

Grace-centered Leadership is leading from primarily three things…

From Righteousness

When we lead from righteousness we are leading from Christ. He is our righteousness. Further than that, we have become righteousness through Him and of Him.  Don’t rush past that last sentence, it’s gold. By God’s Grace, the moment we believe, our old self is killed with Jesus on the cross, our sins past, present, and future are put to death, we are no longer worthy of shame or guilt, our sin no longer defines us, and we are partakers of the divine nature, because He lives, and now lives in us and as us.

As leaders, because of Christ and Him making us into our newly created self, there is nothing wrong with us. We don’t lead from any nuance of depravity whatsoever.  We aren’t leading to become, we are leading from. Cosmic difference.  We are trusting in the quality of the new person God has made us into by trusting in the quality of  the One who remade us, Jesus.  We are leading from our identity not for our identity. Don’t rush past that last sentence either, it’s leadership changing.

Personal assessment changes into Christ assessment. We will never be any worse or less than Him.

From Blessing

In addition to a new identity, through faith, a genuine believer has been given every spiritual blessing. And by the way, everything is spiritual. You lack nothing. Not one thing. Your “Strength Finders” (if you are familiar with this assessment tool) assessment has become a riches-of-Christ assessment. He is your strength, and all His strengths have become yours. Through the Holy Spirit, you have been graced with a mix of spiritual gifts, especially crafted for you. These gifts compliment the wholeness you already have. They are a kind of grace upon grace. The grace of spiritual gifts upon your life position and empower you to fulfill God’s plan for your life to help others discover and live the Gospel of God’s grace. From God’s blessings, everyone has the capacity for leadership and is created to lead, some in different ways, settings, and platforms than others. If you have the Gospel, you are a leader. We don’t lead for blessing, but from blessing.

From Rest

In Christ, you are already as great as you can and need to be. The moment you believed, the highest level of greatness in your life was realized and established. The true work in your life was finished, and now it’s time to rest as God accomplishes the work of your life for His Kindgom through your faith. Rest is a posture of the heart and soul that is satisfied with trusting God, not the presence of inaction. When we rest, God works through us. When we work, God rests. He is willing to let you muscle and burst ahead unproductively. Faithfulness is responding to God’s action in our lives, it is not work. Work steps ahead and in place of God, faithfulness steps with God initiated by His movement. Laziness is not rest, it is the absence of rest. Rest is trusting God to work and expectantly waiting on the moments and opportunities of faithfulness. Rest convinces our heart that we don’t have to do anything for God, we get to do things for God. It is a privilege nor a performance. In the same way, we don’t have to be faithful, we get to be faithful.

Our highest leadership job is to trust and to be faithful, anything more or less, is founded on doubt. We don’t lead in order to rest, we lead from rest. We don’t rest from leadership, we lead from rest.

Grace-centered Leadership is leading for primarily three things…

For the Gospel

When we lead for the Gospel, we speak it and live it, trusting in Jesus to be our message in word and action. The Gospel is our success, not a means to it.  Don’t blow past that last sentence, there is a lot of meat on that bone. It is for the Gospel of God’s pure Grace that we were created to lead. We are to promote it, give it, live it and protect it first and foremost it.  The Gospel of God’s Grace is the answer for all of life and living. It is not a theology, confession, strategy, or idea, it is a person… Jesus. It is God’s unmerited favor, forgiveness, and future freely given for all, received through faith. When people become a new person, with a new identity, living a new life, free from guilt, shame and rule keeping, everything changes. This the Gospel of Grace.

What the world needs now is the experiencing of the pure Gospel Grace of God, seldom trusted by modern ministry leadership.

Like the manger was to Jesus, the Church is to the Gospel. It is the carrier of the Savior from which Christ is to be born into people’s lives providing new birth to the spiritually dead and lost. The Church is the package, not the present. We are not church leaders first, we are Gospel leaders first.  Leadership is not about the church first, it’s about the Gospel first. Our churches are not the Savior, Jesus is the Savior. Ministry leadership is not for the church first, it is for the Gospel first. We become faithful carriers of the Gospel only when we first become leaders for the Gospel. The Gospel is not for the church, the church is for the Gospel.

These nuances of distinction shift foundations, values, strategies, approaches, and vision. Far too much of ministry leadership is church-success-minded and far too less, Gospel of Grace-minded.  When we lead for and from the Gospel first, effective church ministry flows out. God never meant for us to put our faith and trust in “church” to transform lives. It is only the Gospel that can perform the miracle. The church is the very important manger of the Gospel. But we worship and focus on Jesus, not the manger. Our leadership priorities and values should reflect that.

By the Spirit

Grace-centered leadership is solely enabled by the Spirit. It is the sailing vessel on the ocean that doesn’t (can’t) move without the power and placement of the Wind. It’s role is not to create the Wind, replace the Wind, fabricate the Wind, nor deter the Wind, it is to respond to the Wind in ways that best harness its power towards the purposes of God. Grace-centered leadership will not and cannot go where the Spirit does not enable.

Grace-centered leadership trusts the Wind. In it’s presence and absence there is equally present purpose. Grace-centered leadership is the art of sailing the Wind of God as the icing on the cake of our Salvation. It is from Jesus, for Jesus, and by Jesus.


Looking forward to your thoughts…


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