Christmas is War

“Dad, which is more important: Christmas or Easter?”

“Umm… well.. both are important. They need each other buddy. Without Christmas, Jesus couldn’t have died to forgive us of our sin. But without Easter we wouldn’t be able to be forgiven.”

“I think Christmas is more important, Dad. If Jesus wasn’t born then he couldn’t have died on the cross for us.”

This is a conversation I had with my seven-year-old son the other day. (He’s a pretty sharp kid. Plus, there’s the whole presents thing going for Christmas!) It’s a debate I know many have had before, and I’m not going to settle the debate, because Christmas and Easter need each other.

Christmas wrapping paper Continue reading

Unsung Heroes of Christmas: The Shepherds

My first job was at a place called “Sheep Pasture.” It was a fun job. My favorite responsibility was walking through the sheep pen and pulling thorny weeds. Sheep aren’t very smart animals, and they’ll eat the thorns, so you need to pull them. After working in the animal pens, I’d get home and be told, “Mike, you stink! Take a shower!”

As we continue to consider the Unsung Heroes of Christmas, I want to think about the shepherds who came to visit the newborn Jesus. The shepherds remind us that the gospel is for outcasts.

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Unsung Heroes of Christmas: The Innkeeper

“Unsung Heroes” are those men and women who do often get overlooked, but their actions have great impact on those around them. This Christmas season at Youth Group, we’re looking at some of the unsung heroes of Christmas. Last week we looked at Joseph

Small Decisions. It turns out, they really aren’t small at all. God uses them in huge ways.

Have you ever considered the Innkeeper who allowed Joseph and Mary to lodge in their stable and give birth to their baby boy? It didn’t cost him anything, it was a small decision… until King Herod sent the brute squad to slaughter all the children two years old and under.

The Inn Continue reading

Unsung Heroes of Christmas: Joseph

I ran the two mile slowly and came in dead last. Everyone else finished a few minutes before I did. And I won “Unsung Hero” because of it. Let me explain…

It was one of those track meets where all the teams in the league compete against each other: Boys at one location, and the Girls competed at another. Our team could win the meet if our best runner won the last two races: the two mile and the one mile. The problem is, the races were back-to-back. Normally, the girls would run the two mile after the boys, giving the boys time to catch their breath before the one mile began. This is where I come in.

I was a shotput and discus thrower, not a runner. But since we ran two miles every day during practice the coach knew he wasn’t asking for the impossible, but he also knew that I was way slower than everyone else in the race. So he put me in and said, “Mike, run slowly. Don’t try to finish fast, Andy needs time to rest if he’s going to have a chance to win the next race too.” Andy probably could’ve run the race twice in the time I took. But the plan worked, and we won the meet because Andy was fast and I was slow.

I didn’t win the race. But Andy wouldn’t have won both races without me… I got the “Unsung Hero” award and learned an important lesson about teamwork and setting others up for success.

I believe the biggest Unsung Hero of Christmas is Joseph. I’ve never heard a sermon about him, but think about this: God had the chance to choose his parents, and he chose Joseph and Mary. Clearly, they’re special and heroic people worth remembering.

Unsung Hero Continue reading

Pure Evil…

Is there any way to describe the tragedy that took place in Connecticut yesterday morning? 28 dead, 20 of them children between 5-10 years old. You can call it senseless if you want, you could call it a massacre… I’ll call it pure evil.

I’m not interested in getting into the details of it, and I’m writing this post as much for myself to process what happened as I’m writing it for you who are reading. A lot of people are saying this isn’t the time to discuss the peripheral issues, it’s a time to mourn and grieve and pray. I agree, it’s time to do those things first, but it’s also time to do some serious soul-searching: individually, and as a nation.

I’m reminded of GK Chesterton’s response to the journalist who asked him and other philosophers to write their explanation for evil in the world: Chesterton’s response… “I am.” If this sounds irrelevant or insensitive to the victims then here’s my point: Don’t talk about evil as if it only resides in others. Those who carry out these acts of pure evil are relatively few, but we all are guilty of evil and sinful acts on a far more frequent basis than we care to admit. It may not be murder, but it may be destroying a child’s heart by filling it with hurt or abuse or bitterness or abandonment.

I have two young children whom I love and would go to nearly any length to protect. I want them to be safe. But I need to ask myself what “safety” really means and how safe I really am able to keep them. There’s stupidity which leads to harm, and there’s mere ignorance that leads to harm. But I can do everything in my ability to keep my kids safe and they could still fall in harm’s way because of other people’s stupid, foolish, or evil actions. Keep your kids safe, be wise, but recognize that true security and safety are ultimately and only found from God.

This is why Jesus came… to give hope to the desperate, love to the unloved and the unlovable, joy to the sorrowful, and peace to those who have no rest. Christmas is coming. Let us not forget, in the midst of our many tears and deep grief, that this is exactly why God became a baby boy. To save us from ourselves…

Father in Heaven,
I pray for the families who have been directly affected by this act of pure evil. Be their Comforter, be their strength, be their hope. In the midst of everything they are still only beginning to feel, make your presence very much known to them, so that they would look to you as their strength in this time of weakness. Surround these families with loved ones and others who can lend shoulders to cry on and warm meals to eat.

Our hearts are completely broken over the lives lost, the Christmas presents that are wrapped and will stay unopened. Father, you know what it is like to watch your Son die. Sympathize with these parents. I can’t even imagine… words fail.

I pray that you would turn our hearts to hate sin and evil, not to hate you. Somehow, someway, make beauty come out of this. Make life to spring forth from death, light from the darkness.

Our nation, our families, our schools are broken – purify our hearts by the work of Christ Jesus.

AMEN

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I am not my own,
but belong–
body and soul,
in life and in death–
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

(The Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer 1)

Learning About God From Santa?

Santa and I have an on-again, off-again relationship.  It’s not that I dislike him or what he stands for, it’s just that I find myself so easily loving him while giving lip-service to Jesus around Christmas-time.  Because really… who doesn’t love getting stuff?  I do, and you probably do too.

But for the last week or so I’ve really been thinking about Santa.  Not in a typical “Santa vs. Jesus” type of way, but in a totally new way for me – I’ve been thinking about how Santa can actually teach me something about God.

Santa teaches me that God is just.  Santa has a “nice” list and a “naughty” list (presumedly, not just so parents can bribe their kids into obedience).  Nice and Naughty really do exist.  Some thoughts and behaviors really are good, and some really are bad.  God has instructed us how to live, and he’s made that known through the Bible and through nature in a general way.  Really, if we’re honest with yourself, which list do you truly belong on? If I’m on the “nice list,” it’s only because my righteousness comes from Christ, not from my own nice-ness.

Santa teaches me that God knows me intimately.  He knows when you’ve been sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good… it sounds a bit creepy, doesn’t it?  BUT, it means that he’s watching me and he knows me.  Even when I think I’m doing something in secret, I’m not.  Even when I think I’ve gotten away with something, I haven’t.  I don’t like that.  Isn’t this why we have “privacy settings” and control what we make public knowledge and what we keep to ourselves?  God knows me completely, even the rapidly decreasing number of hairs on my head… and he still chose to love me and adopt me as his child.  I am fully known, and fully accepted.

Santa teaches me that God is generous.  Santa is a giver.  But no one outgives God.  As Jesus said in Matthew 7:11, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

In the midst of all the talk and chatter about Santa vs. Jesus, I’m trying to train myself to see Santa as a shadow and a longing for Jesus.  Santa can serve as a shadow, pointing us to the fullness of God in Jesus Christ.  Of course, Santa can also overshadow Jesus when we make him an idol and love “stuff” more than the Maker.

What do you think?  Am I off my rocker?  Am I just thinking too hard?  Or, am I on to something here?  And if I’m on to something… what are some other ways that Santa can serve as a shadow pointing us to God?

Thanks-giving or Thanks-buying?

How many people will be spending their Thanksgiving day writing up a list of things to buy on Black Friday? How many people will be spending their Thanksgiving day writing up their own Christmas list, carefully mulling over everything they want to get and then ranking them in order by what they want the most? Honestly, probably not too many are literally doing those things… but as Christmas approaches, we increasingly turn our minds into a running catalogue of things to buy for ourselves and for others.

Is the irony of Black Friday falling the day after Thanksgiving lost on you?

I know a lot of stores are advertising that their Black Friday sales are starting on Thursday night this year. Please, I beg of you, don’t let Thanksgiving become another shopping day. What’s it saying about us that even Thanksgiving is turning into a day to buy buy buy.

I understand that for many people, Black Friday is about buying for other people (not about getting) and getting a good deal (hey, I’m all for saving a few bucks), but I’m concerned that it’s doing something much more costly to us. I’m concerned that we are so driven by the stuff, that even the givers among us are becoming more materialistic – just in a counter-intuitive way. Instead of focusing on what they’re getting, they’re so focused on what they’re giving that it overshadows being thankful and it overshadows the generosity of God, who gave us the very first and best Christmas present of all.

In case you need a reminder, here’s a short excerpt from a post I wrote a few years ago entitled “Why We Give Gifts at Christmas“:

As we reflect on the sacrifice that God the Son made in being born as a baby boy, remember that the sacrifice was made out of love. God doesn’t want anyone to remain in their sins, that’s why Jesus was born to die on the cross so that we could be forgiven by repentance and faith in Christ. The verse above (1 John 4:9-11) also gives us a hint as to what the life of repentance and faith should look like: “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

We give gifts on Christmas as a reminder of the gift that God gave us through Jesus Christ. Don’t give gifts this year simply out of social obligation… give them out of joy and thankfulness for what you have received from God.