Intentional Christmas

Thanksgiving has come and gone and that can only mean one thing–it’s time to enjoy Christmas!  But do we truly enjoy it? Or do we often end up enduring it? And if we are only enduring Christmas, how do we move from endure to enjoy?  I know lots of people have a variety of thoughts on this.  Some will tell you to just stop sending Christmas cards or to only buy three gifts for your children.  Others talk of not making cookies or of cutting down on their decorations.  But what works for someone else may not work for you. Here are five basic ways that will help anyone enjoy– rather than endure– the Christmas season.

1.  Worry most about what God thinks. Family comes second.  Co-workers, cousins, and others come a distant third. This makes a choice between a work dinner and your child’s program so much easier. It also helps to clarify when choosing between Christmas Eve service at church or a get-together with friends. Oh, I know it’s not that simple and sometimes circumstances dictate certain choices. But this principle can be a helpful starting point.

2.  Examine which traditions you enjoy most and keep doing them. Do you love to bake Christmas cookies? Or perhaps you receive tremendous joy from seeing your house lit up on a dark winter’s night? Others enjoy sending out Christmas cards and making homemade ornaments and shopping for others.  Whatever it is, choose what you love and keep doing it!  Some of you are truly energized by doing it all and there is no detriment to your family life. If that’s the case, good for you!  But if there is something that just isn’t important to you or your family–well, then consider not doing it. The world will not end if you don’t bake Christmas cookies or hang Christmas lights outside.

3.  Ignore the voices around you and mind your own business. You will hear people this time of year start complaining about how much money is spent on gifts or how many lights so-and-so put up or how much food Mrs.______ makes or –you name it–people always find things to criticize. The glorious fact is that the there are truly only a couple of opinions that matter. They are God’s and your family’s. When criticism comes your way, contemplate it for just a moment. If it makes sense, do something about it. But if it doesn’t, just ignore it. On the flip side, provide the same courtesy to others around you. If your neighbor chooses to put up the most beautiful, homemade garland around her door, don’t mutter about the waste of time but, instead, be sure to tell her how amazing it looks! And if the neighbor on the other side chooses not to put out one single decoration, then leave them to make that decision without any criticism from you.

4.  Keep the focus on Jesus. Jesus truly is the reason for the season if we are Christians. But, more and more increasingly, Jesus is not part of the world’s Christmas, where they instead turn their attention to Santa, elves, and occasionally talking animals or angels.  But we have a responsibility to keep Jesus the center of our season.  Whether we are buying gifts or making Christmas cookies or choosing what entertainment to include in our Christmas season, we must remember that we are celebrating because Jesus came to earth to provide a way for us to be saved from our sins. We, of all people, have a true and incredible reason to celebrate!

5. Don’t throw real life routine completely out the window.  We have to be careful we don’t get so busy that we stop having our devotions.  We are not at our best if we are not spending time each day with the Lord. And we need to continue to exercise and eat properly and stick to our budgets. Life doesn’t stop for a month, and if we pretend like it does, we will have consequences to pay on January 1.

So there you have it–a few simple ways to make sure that we enjoy this Christmas season, rather than endure it.  Merry Christmas!

Who Do You Look Like?

When my son was just a little boy, he used to play little league baseball. One day, as I was chatting on the sidelines with one of the moms, she said something like this, “Oh, I know who you look like! I have been trying to think of who you look like and now I have figured it out!” I looked at her, very curious to hear who she thought I resembled. Her next words could have knocked me over with a feather.

“You look just like Cindy Crawford!”

What?? That is the first (and last!) time that anyone has ever compared me to a beautiful model.  But I certainly felt honored. I knew this was a situation where she had no need to flatter or impress me, so I knew she had said it sincerely.

As I remembered this incident the other day, I thought about how my heart’s desire shouldn’t be for people to tell me I look like Cindy Crawford (or any other well-known, gorgeous woman) but, instead, to tell me that I look like Jesus.

Now, while I will never resemble Jesus physically, as he is a man from the middle east, I can resemble him by my actions. As we grow in Christ, we should grow more and more like Him.

Stop and take a minute to think about your life. I know for my own life, there are many areas in which I haven’t resembled Jesus at all.

Here are a few areas for us to think about —

1. Do I look like Jesus in how I love others? Look, anyone can feed orphans or go on a mission trip. I am not talking about the socially acceptable “love for others”, I am talking about the love for others we show in our everyday world.  The reactions and choices we make around our families and in our daily living. When a spouse needs some help and we are lying comfortably on the sofa, do we get up? When there is an interruption to a favorite TV show, do we grow quickly frustrated? When we are in a long line at the store, do we give the clerk an angry look or shower her with frustrated words? If someone criticizes you, do you grow defensive or hold a grudge? All of these are just normal, everyday occurrences, where we have the opportunity to look like Jesus…or not.

2. Do I look like Jesus in what I choose to do with my time? This question covers a lot of ground, doesn’t it? Would Jesus spend so much time on _________? (you fill in the blank with your favorite, time-consuming hobby or pastime). Would Jesus spend so many hours doing this, if there is no eternal value? Of course, there is nothing wrong with hobbies, but we do need to keep it all balanced. It also covers this question: do I spend my precious hours on entertainment that will make others think of Jesus? Or do I waste hours and hours on movies, video games, and listening to music that is against everything my precious Savior stands for?

3. Do I look like Jesus in the area of self-disicpline? This is a challenging question that encompasses two big areas: money and food. I covered the question of food in my recent post entitled The Sin No One Wants to Talk About, so I will move on to the other area– money. This is a challenging one. Money is one of those things where we can hide our true state of affairs. In this age of credit and debt, no one really knows how anyone is doing financially until they completely crash and burn. But, whether we make a little or a lot, we need to ask ourselves if we look like Jesus in how we spend our money. Are we focused on the here and now or are we focused on the eternal? Jesus was very clearly focused on the eternal, which is clear in scripture. So, in order to grow more like Christ, my priorities should be the same.

4. Do I look like Jesus in the words I speak? Words are so powerful. They can cut to the core. I have always thought that the old adage “sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me,” to be one of the dumbest things I have ever heard. Word do hurt– dreadfully. Whether we are talking about someone else behind his back (otherwise known as gossip) or are short-tempered and unkind to someone’s face, words are one of the quickest ways to tell if we resemble Jesus.

 

I don’t know about you, but I see much room for growth in many areas of my own life. In fact, I feel like the older I get, the more work I see ahead of me. But when I look back, I also see that I have come so far. And so, I will keep on going. I know I may not look like Cindy Crawford anymore — it is my guess that, to most people, I never did in the first place — but oh, how I hope I resemble Jesus more and more as I grow older.

I Peter 2:5-11

 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Trading for the Trivial

Do you remember Esau?  Yes, the guy in the Bible.  He was the older twin brother of Jacob.  One day he came in from the field weary and hungry.  His brother was in the midst of making a delicious red stew.  When Esau asked for some, Jacob saw his opportunity.  He told him that he would give him some stew in exchange for his birthright. In those days, this was a big deal.  The older son was much more privileged than the younger son and by trading his birthright for a bowl of stew, he was giving up his inheritance. You can read this story for yourself in Genesis 25.

I have always thought of Esau as very foolish!  What man in his right mind would exchange something so important for a bowl of food?  And then it hit me.  I do that almost everyday.  I am in the habit of regularly exchanging self-control and a healthy body for a bowl of ice cream or a serving of french fries.  When I think about it like this, I realize that I am not all that different than Esau.

We also do the same thing when we trade:

–our financial well-being for a car we can’t afford

–our spiritual well-being for 2 hours of ungodly entertainment

–a healthy marriage for a moment of griping and complaining about something trivial

–our children’s well-being for the temporary moment of peace that comes when we don’t discipline them

–our Christian testimony for a glass of beer or an hour at the gambling table

–our integrity for a few bucks on a tax form

–a healthy body for an hour of laziness and tv-watching

Most of us are trading what is most important for what is trivial almost every day.  We wile away our entire lives on the unimportant, never realizing the great sacrifices we are making to do so.

Quite frankly, I can’t even relate to what Esau did because it is not part of our culture.  We couldn’t trade a birthright in our culture, even if we tried.  And so this story has always remained rather an enigma to me.  And, then the other day, as I was reading it once again, it was made so clear to me.  I can see how I am just like an American style Esau.  Trading what is most important to me almost every day for something really stupid.

Some of the things I am trading aren’t even sinful in and of themselves.  A bowl of ice cream or an order of fries isn’t sinful.  Buying a new car isn’t sinful.  But it is the attitude.  It is the habit.  It is the lack of self-control.  It is the desire of self-gratification over the desire for doing what is right.

I don’t know about you, but I will never read that story in the Bible the same way again.

 

 

“Enough” Day

Perhaps it is time to let the Joneses know that the war is over and they have won. Perhaps we should declare Enough Day. Enough of keeping up with the Joneses, enough gadgets, enough clothing. As I browsed through a New York City store on Saturday, I became aware of how important this declaration is. As my daughter and I walked through the store and saw the expensive earrings, the amazing dresses, and the stylish shirts, the gnawing of “if only” started in our hearts. If only we could afford this. If only we could buy that.

But if we buy it we are only going to want something else. We realize that, right? It doesn’t solve the “want it right now” problem–we just find a different thing to want. I have first-hand experience with this, so you can trust that I know what I am talking about.

So what are some ways to help curb our appetite for “stuff”?

1)  Go shopping as little as possible. You really don’t even know what you are missing if you don’t pay too close attention. It isn’t until I walk through a store that I realize what I can’t (or shouldn’t) buy.  It isn’t until I walk through the store that I even care.

2) Realize that we don’t need the next best thing. Technology is the place where we really struggle with this insatiable desire. And Apple and Microsoft play off of this, don’t they?  We buy the latest and greatest and within a few short months it is outdated and old. I found this true with my iPad 1.  I was so excited to get an iPad.  And I do use it quite a bit for both business and personal use. But shortly after I bought it, iPad 2 came out. Oh well, I don’t really need a camera on my iPad. Then iPad 3 came out. Wow, they keep talking about the incredible retina display. Perhaps it is time to upgrade? But after a few minutes of thought, I realized I don’t need an iPad 3. It was that unhealthy desire creeping in. In the world we find ourselves in, a cool new thing is introduced every few months. Oh, how we need to learn to be content with what we have.

3) Stop making our stuff such a priority.  Have you ever seen someone get angry if they find a tiny scratch in their car? Or perhaps really get upset if someone accidentally breaks their latest gadget? We tend to put too much importance on our stuff. It becomes more important to us than  it should. This is a tough one. Sometimes we value our stuff more than we value people. We often have our priorities all turned around.  We need to get them back to the way they should be.

4) Use our material blessings for the glory of God. We need to remember that, as believers, all we own isn’t ours, anyway. If we have been blessed with a spacious home, then let’s use it for Christian hospitality. If we have some extra money in our budget, let’s give it away instead of buying something for ourselves. Let’s remember that everything we have has been given to us by God to use for His glory. We are to be good stewards of any material possessions that have been graciously provided to us. Sometimes we forget this important fact.

5) Keep our eyes off of others’ stuff. This is true in more ways than one. First, we need to keep our eyes off of others so we don’t covet what they have. If we see that so-and-so has a brand new car, we tend to grow discontent that we can’t have one, too. But we also need to keep our eyes off of others so that we don’t judge them when it comes to material possessions. We need to remember that what someone has or owns is between them and the Lord. We don’t know that person’s heart or their salary. We should never judge anyone for what they do or do not have. Let’s worry about our own lives and hearts and what God is calling us to do and keep our eyes off of others.

The declaration of “Enough” day actually came from a sermon by David Jeremiah that I was listening to the other day. It hit home for me. I truly do need to learn to be content with what I have. Because it is only through contentment that we can experience the true joy and peace that should come along with being a Christian.

Philippians 4:11-12 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.