The Messy Reason for Christmas

In the beauty of the Christmas season, don’t forget the messy reason that it came about. The reason for the season and the savior was to deal with the sinfulness of humanity.

  • 1 Timothy 1:15 – “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…”
  • 1 John 3:5 – “Jesus came to take away our sins…”
  • Luke 7:34 – “The Son of Man came eating and drinking… a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”
  • Luke 19:10 – “the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
  • Matthew 20:28 – “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

These purpose statements of Jesus remind us of the messiness of our lives that can only be cleaned up through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

  • He took out the trash of our lives. Jesus is our Savior and Sacrifice who took away our sin (1 John 3:5).
  • He sits down at our messy table. Jesus is a friend of sinners, with a love that looks past our sinfulness to make relationship with God possible (Luke 7:34)
  • He paid the price to get me out of the mess I was in. Jesus’ life served as a ransom for my sin enslaved soul (Matthew 20:28).
  • He rescued me from the edge of the cliff. Jesus is a shepherd who finds the lost sheep and joyfully takes us into his arms (Luke 19:10)

These purpose statements also should remind us of the mission that Jesus now has us on. Our mission is not about safety, personal achievement, or self-actualization. Our mission is about sin and its impact on humanity. We join Jesus by:

  • Sharing the story of his love and sacrifice that overcomes sin.
  • Befriending, not separating from sinners in order to share Jesus with them.
  • Living sacrificially to serve others and show them the work of Christ in our lives.
  • Taking risk and going after the lost one until he or she is found.
This Christmas, let’s celebrate the reality that God, through Christ, was willing to enter the world to take on the messiness of our sin that we might know Him and join Him on this messy mission for lost souls.

Merry Christmas to All and to Your Church, Too!

“What would the world be like if…”

For whatever reason, that is the question many Christmas novels, movies, and stories ask. It’s an interesting and sometimes haunting question. Perhaps the question encourages us to stop long enough to reflect on what we have been given. In your world, you may have several Mr. Scrooges, Mr. Potters, George Baileys and Tiny Tims. More than likely, we have all had chance encounters with similar life-changing characters and leading players.

Without question, the events of 2020 have fulfilled those roles this year. Yet, alongside all the craziness that is 2020, we have seen the power, persistence and presence of cooperation. We have seen the Cooperative Program at work through Disaster Relief, compassion ministry, pastor encouragement, church planting, and so much more!

Your generous giving through the Cooperative Program does so much! Without it, who knows how many lives would go unchanged? In keeping with some of the great Christmas classics, take a few minutes to watch this fun video that tells the story of Mr. Finch as he gets a chance to see what the world might be like without CP.

Feel free to download and share this video with your church and on your social media platforms. Let’s pray that all the little things we do together will make a BIG difference in 2021!

We Learn to Love at Christmas

“I will tend My flock and let them lie down.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD. “I will seek the lost, bring back the strays, bandage the injured, and strengthen the weak, but I will destroy the fat and the strong. I will shepherd them with justice.” – Ezekiel 34:15-16 (HCSB)           

“For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.” – Lamentations 3:31-33 (NIV)

“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 (HCSB)

He couldn’t do anything for himself. Born with cerebral palsy, he sat in the wheel chair loving every second of the Christmas musical. He faces challenges that I can’t even imagine. His body wrecked by a disease that caused him to be constantly moving. They sat in the back of the auditorium, perhaps wanting not to distract. And sitting next to him was a proud mother, I couldn’t help stealing a glance throughout that evening, to see hear stroking his hair, wiping his mouth, and smiling all the while. She adored him. I whispered under my breath from behind the stage, “That’s it. That’s love.”

I had to meet this amazing mother after the musical. She was a single mom who just moved to Louisiana from Kansas. “How do you do this all by yourself?” I had to ask. “He’s my life. He’s the greatest blessing that ever happened to me.”

This two-person family had an eternal impact on me. I received a glimpse of God’s love for me. Despite my constant battles with the curse of sin and personal rebellion, God loved me like that. Amazingly, you are God’s treasure and if you follow Him, He will be yours.

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” – 1 John 4:10

“But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!” – Romans 5:8

No doubt you’ve already heard the familiar words of “O Holy Night.” Don’t miss the truth of the final verse:

Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace.

If you want to know how to love one another, look at the love that sent Jesus to the earth to live a life of love and pay the price for all our sins. It’s all about love. This isn’t a love of fancy words and impossible tasks. This is a love that says, “I am willing to love you no matter what.”

We can love because He first loved us.

Share: Share a time in your life when you felt most loved by God.

Encourage: Invite a friend to your church’s Christmas presentation or an upcoming event. Most people become a part of a church when they are invited by a member.

Evaluate: Are you striving to love people the same way Christ loved you?

Pray: Lord, teach us what it means to love each other as you first loved us. Remind us our lives are infinitely connect through the love of Christ. Teach us the language of sacrificial love.

Family Activity: As a family, watch a movie that depicts the life of Christ such as “Jesus of Nazareth,” “The Nativity,” or “The Jesus Movie.” Explain the difference in the fictional tales of Christmas and the true story of Jesus’s birth. If you have teens in the home, you might want to view “The Star of Bethlehem” documentary or “A Case for Christ.” Both present powerful apologetics for the historical Christ.

We Wait Expectantly at Christmas

Wait for the LORD; be courageous and let your heart be strong. Wait for the LORD. Psalm 27:14 (HCSB)

Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him. Hebrews 11:6 (HCSB)

What’s the longest you’ve had to wait for something?

I’d imagine almost everyone has a memory of Christmas Eve as a child; squeezing your eyes shut, trying with all your might to go to sleep on Christmas Eve. For those of us with orthodox parents, we knew that even opening one present before Christmas morning was akin to high heresy, so we counted sheep and waited.

Waiting is still difficult for us these days. Everything is expected to be at our fingertips the moment we have the desire for it. It’s a world we are growing into and it’s addicting. We abide in a world of downloads, email, on demand, and Hot Pockets™. Yet God finds ways of making us wait. Waiting and faith go hand-in-hand.

  • We wait for the baby we’ve dreamed we’d hold in our arms.
  • Some wait for a prodigal to come to the end of himself and return home.
  • Many of us in tough economic times are waiting for the phone to ring so we can return to a job with a normal salary and benefits.
  • Others are waiting for a spiritual breakthrough that will open our eyes.

Waiting is the embodiment of faith.

In Hebrews 11:13 we are reminded that faith involves trust in God’s promise even if the promises of God are fulfilled long after we are gone. The writer says, “These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance.” (emphasis added).

Advent is about faith and waiting. What are you waiting on God for this year? Remember the years of silence as God’s people waited for the Messiah. Take time today, right now, to reflect on the fact that God’s timing is quite different from ours.

The story of Christ’s birth gives us assurance and joy because even though the waiting lingered for decades, God broke through at just the right time.

Are you struggling with a lack of faith? That’s okay. It doesn’t take much faith to get God’s attention. Jesus encouraged his frustrated followers this way: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Most of us try to grow a forest in one day. Jesus, however, invites you to begin with a tiny seed. Watch it grow and wait for it to become all that you dreamed it would be.

  • Mary wasn’t given a full-grown son.
  • The Wise Men from the east didn’t get the Messiah to appear at their front door.
  • An entire nation waited centuries before their eternal King appeared.

Are you willing to plant faith and wait upon God?

Nothing seems to be appearing on the horizon today, but just wait! God always keeps his promises, even to those who have little faith. Just wait.

Share: Share with a friend or family member something you are waiting for.

Encourage: Encourage someone you know who is weary of waiting. Remind them of God’s promises.

Evaluate: Take inventory of your relationship with God. Are you struggling with His silence?

Pray: Lord, I remember the years of waiting for a Messiah. I’m often impatient with my life. Please teach me to enjoy You and not just the blessings I see in Your hands. Fill my days with laughter and joy through hardship and uncertainty. Remind me that when I think I’m waiting for an eternity, it really isn’t. Life on this earth is infinitesimally smaller than a second in the light of true eternity.

Family Activity: Create a decorative graffiti poster of things you have faith God will do for your family and your church this upcoming year. If you have kids invite them be a part of the project. This is a great time to teach them about the concept of faith. Display it in a prominent place in your home.

To Celebrate Christmas is to Remember

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. – Luke 2:19

Christmas is expectation and remembrance. We enter the story of a world in need of a new start. It’s as much about the journey as it is the destination. And as we travel on this Christmas journey we remember. We remember Christmases of joy and hardship. We remember the people we love who aren’t around our table anymore. Some memories are sweet. Others are difficult.

The Italian poet, Cesare Pavese, wrote, “We do not remember days; we remember moments.” One man at the end of his life was heard saying, “I’ve had my moments, but if I had my life to do over again, I would have more of them.”

Can you imagine all the moments Mary would have treasured that first Christmas? Luke tells us that Mary kept all these memories and treasured them in her heart.

She’d seen and experienced things no one has ever or will ever see. She wasn’t selected because of her wealth, her education, her royal lineage, or her great deeds. In fact, the Bible is silent about the spec sheet on being the mother of the Messiah. We only know that God favored her highly among women. God’s glory consumed her life from the moment Gabriel visited her. God’s glory and His radiant love transformed her. She held the Son of God that night of which we sing. It was a holy night. God’s glory came to earth and wrote a love letter to the world in the shape of a newborn Baby.

What happens when you catch a glimpse of God? You treasure it. Mary could have had bitter memories about the travel arrangements, the lack of planning, the constant need to improvise. But Mary, in a barn full of visiting animals, horses, mules, stray dogs, camels, splinters, hay and horse manure, kept all these things treasured in her heart.

That night she had to contend with Joseph’s snoring and those shepherds, loudly recounting the amazing appearance of angels. They probably woke the Baby several times that night. But, just before dawn, with all asleep, except Mary and a mule, she gathered from the hope chest of the near past a tapestry of memories —

  • The beautiful colors of Gabriel’s clothes,
  • The look on the face of Elizabeth when she turned and saw Mary,
  • The busyness of packing for the dreaded tax appointment,
  • “No Vacancy” signs,
  • The nervous, frustrated father,
  • The tiny hands of the newborn King.

I would imagine she wept and smiled. She experienced an orchestra of emotions in concert with the breeze that swept through the hills of Bethlehem like a spirit newly released.

We each have opportunities to capture memories of Christ when we follow Him. Knowing that He became our savior gives us a reason for joy. It’s Good News worth celebrating and joy worth finding.

Share: Journal a favorite Christmas Eve memory as a child and share it with a family member(s).

Encourage: Challenge your family and friends to create memories of joy and love this Christmas.

Evaluate: What memories do you wish to make next year? Ask yourself this question: If I were to live just one more year what would that year be all about? Plan to live that kind of year in 2018!

Pray: Lord, remind me of all the ways you have blessed me. Teach me to number my days and leave a mark of love in the lives of people around me and around the world.

Family Activity:

Ask each family member to give one gift that isn’t bought but is created. Place that gift under the Christmas tree. It might be a craft, a recording, a letter of love, or something handmade.

Read together the story of Christmas before bed on Christmas Eve.

Christmas is a Great Time to Share

The holidays are upon us and soon, many people will be taking a little time off to be with family and friends – or simply to use their remaining vacation days before they lose them!

My guess is during this “down-time,” if you will, a good number of folks will spend more time than usual scrolling through their smart phones. As this thought passed through my mind, it was joined by another one – this would be a great time to share the Here for You spots and seed God’s word into people’s hearts and homes as they scroll through their social media platforms looking for something that catches their attention!

So, here is a Christmas invitation – as we get closer to Christmas, and especially during the week between Christmas and New Years, I invite you to join me in sharing the Here for You spots several times via your social media platforms. You don’t want to “over-post” if you will, but if during the course of a week you share 3-4 of your favorite Here for You spots and provide your own intro/comments, you never know how God will use this simple act.

We all know people who need to make peace with a family member, friend, or even God. Why not share Peacemakers or Let’s Talk?

Others know something is missing in their lives, but they’re not sure what. You can share Miss the Bus or Mama was Right and share the truth that “God blesses those who … realize their need for Him.” Matthew 5:3.

And who doesn’t enjoy a laugh or a smile during the holidays? If you’ll share Merciful or Pure in Heart, it may provide a light hearted moment which can help generate that smile and, at the same time, seed God’s truth in their hearts.

Go to www.HereforYou.org and pick out the spots you want to share. Ask God’s Spirit to catch people’s attention as they’re scrolling and share away.

I don’t know how God will use this effort, but I do know this, some of the seed will find good soil and God’s word will not return to Him without accomplishing that which He desires.

Thank you for your willingness to pray for Here for You. I’m praying you’ll accept this Christmas invitation and that God will use it to begin, or continue, to draw people to Himself.

Worship is …

The Christmas story says a lot about the nature of true worship. We can say that God sent Christ into the world so that we could have unfettered opportunity to worship Him. However, worship is misunderstood today as a place and time (“the Worship Service starts at…”) or an experience or element of a gathering (“the worship was great today”). We find a great definition of true worship in Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55.

Worship is humble surrender born out of knowledge of God. 

Mary’s worship demonstrated three things:

  1. Humility – “It’s not about me.”

Real worship starts with the reality that life is about HIS value, and then wonder that I can be accepted, cared for, given to, by such an incredible God. Mary says, “my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant” Luke 1:46-47. Mary demonstrates for us that the proper attitude in worship and in life is, “It’s not about me. It’s about Him.” And, “Who me? I get to be part of this?”

  1. Surrender – “Lord, my life is Yours.”

Mary was a true worshiper because her heart was surrendered. In Luke 1:38 she said, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your Word.” In Luke 1:48, she again calls herself “His servant.” The word here is literally bond-slave denoting one that has intentionally surrendered themselves to be in servitude to another. To surrender is to make your whole self available to God for whatever He desires. It’s to say to God, “Your way is best. I’m listening. I’m ready to respond with yes.” The opposite of surrender is to resist, to fight, to struggle, to run away, to make our way best and essentially ourselves god, which is idolatry. Mary’s worshiped with a heart that was without resistance.

  1. Knowledge of God – “He has done great things for me, and holy is His name” Luke 1:49.

In this song, Mary shows us that she knows God’s word, has a deep understanding of God’s purposes, knows His work in history, and that she’s internalized His promises to be for her and all that has led her to worship Him.

What has God done for you? How has God worked in your life? You can’t worship what you don’t know. Humility and surrender will open your life to know and experience God, which will lead you to a life of worshiping Him.

So, is life all about you? Is there resistance in your heart when it comes to the will of God? Can you point to God’s work in your life? If not, during this Christmas season, humble yourself, surrender your heart and will, and get to know His story. Worship Him.

God Gave the Gift of PRESENCE

The story of Christmas is foundational for understanding Christianity in so many ways. God sent his very best, his own Son Jesus Christ – the God-man – on a daring rescue mission. In need of rescue was the human race including you and I.

The mission included a display of love that led to the willing death of an innocent Rescuer for the sake of those he loved. In the end, the Rescuer wins the day, defeating all the bad guys, including death, sin, guilt, and Satan (Colossians 2:13-15, Hebrews 2:14-15).

Here’s the real kicker: Now God desires that we repeat the process of being sent, loving, sacrificing, and rescuing through announcing/retelling this story to all (John 21:20, Acts 1:8, Philippians 2:3-5).

When God wanted to save the world, he sent himself. He gave PRESENCE. Today, he continues to give presence to the world through those he has rescued.

Here’s three lessons we learn about life ON MISSION from God’s giving to us at Christmas. These can become filters for our lives and our churches as we seek to live with a missionary posture toward our community.

1. God gave the gift of PROXIMITY.

John 1:14 in the Message paraphrase says, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Jesus laid aside the privileges of deity to draw near to us, walk in our shoes, and die in our place.

One of the great promises of Christmas is that we do not serve a God that’s distant, that’s removed from our problems and trials. He experienced them and He overcame them (Hebrews 4:15, John 16:33).

Does your current lifestyle allow you to live in proximity to the needs of others? Does your church live out its mission in proximity to the needs of the community?

Jesus went so much further than, “They know where we are if they need us.” He was always touching those he wasn’t supposed to touch and sharing life with those he wasn’t supposed to share life with. In a world filled with lonely hearts, we need to give presence and live out the gift of proximity.

2. God gave the gift of RESPONSIVENESS..

God gave in response to our deepest need.

To respond to the needs of others requires you to forget about yourself a bit. That’s exactly what Jesus did – Philippians 2:7 says, “He made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.”

Jesus didn’t have an entitlement mentality – and if anyone was ever justified in feeling entitled to privileges and perks it should have been the Son of God – but he had a slavery mentality, becoming the lowest of the low in response to my need.

Does your current lifestyle and church culture allow you to be responsive to the needs of others? The priest and Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan most likely had legitimate excuses for not responding to the needs of the man lying in the road with huge needs. They had busy schedules – there’s no time for this; they were in a bad part of town; they had no training in basic life support.

It was the Samaritan that demonstrated to heart of God and responded to the needs, laying aside self and becoming a servant.

3. God’s generosity was RADICAL.

In the Christmas story we learn that God is a radical giver.

John 3:16 says it best, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” And we see in Philippians 2:8, that Jesus willing became a radical giver for you and I – “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

God held nothing back for you and I. He gave it all.

What aspects of our lives can be considered radical? Is it the area of generosity? Desire for God? Desire for others to know the truth?


Presence, proximity, responsiveness, radical generosity – the story of Christ and Christmas.

Simple Holiday Outreach Ideas for Churches

Here’s a few simple holiday outreach projects that any church, small group, family, or individual can afford. I can testify that these make a big impact with a small investment of time and money.

1. Gift cards for ICU waiting rooms. At any given time in your community there are people reeling from traumatic events or devastating illness. Their families can be found in waiting rooms at your local hospital.

Pick up a handful of gift cards to the closest restaurants and coffee shops, drop by and give them out with a “praying for you” card from your church. Offer to pray for anyone you get to talk with.

This simple act of kindness can breathe life into someone that is overwhelmed with bad news. If no one is there, give them to the nurses desk and they’ll pass them out for you. These nurses could also use prayer and encouragement.

Call ahead and find out when visiting times are so that you know when people are in the waiting rooms.

Cost: $100 for 5-10 gift cards.

 

2. Care packages for the homeless. If you live in a metro area or near the interstate, you probably get an invitation to serve the homeless every day at area red lights. “Should I give them money?” is a constant question.

Few of us carry cash anymore but doing nothing is not desirous for most believers. How about making up some simple care packages with some goodies that that can be passed out the window of a car? Keep 3-5 in your car at all times.

Cost: $10 per bag.

 

3. Christmas decor for nursing home residents. Go to your local nursing home and ask for a list of residents with no local family. The reality for these residents is often few visits if any, few seasonal decorations for their walls, few convenient items like warm socks or lotion.

Offer to pray for them. Find out what they want or need and plan a return visit. Spend some time listening to their story.

Cost: $25 for a few Christmas decorations and simple cards colored by kids.

 

4. Fruit baskets for elderly shut-ins. Local shut-ins are lonely. They often feel trapped. They often have simple to-do’s around their home that can be taken care of in less than an hour.

Making up fruit baskets to deliver to them gives you a reason to encourage them with a visit and find out other needs that your faith community can take care of on their behalf.

Cost:$25 for a bowl or basket & fruit & other goodies to go in them.

 

5. Weatherization for local widows. In every community there are widows and widowers who can no longer take care of simple things like wrapping their pipes or preparing their home for winter.

A great project for the men’s group could be spending one Saturday per year wrapping pipes.

Cost:$100 worth of weatherization supplies.

 

6. Holiday treats for local teachers lounges. We often hear laments about churches not being able to “get into the schools.” Most of the time, we’re trying to get in on our terms instead of thinking of ways to be a blessing.

One way that is enthusiastically accepted 100% of the time at our local schools is stuffing snack baskets full of goodies for teacher’s lounges at the beginning of the school year, holidays, and end of school.

Christmas is a great time for this. Shoot for the week that school is getting out. There’s probably a party going on!

Cost: $50 per Teacher’s lounge.

 

What other similar outreach ideas have you or your church done at Christmas?

What if…

  • Every ICU Patient family got a gift card and a prayer?
  • Every homeless person got a care packet?
  • Every Nursing Home resident had Christmas decorations?
  • Every shut-in got a fruit basket?
  • Every widow had her pipes wrapped for winter?
  • Every teacher’s lounge had holiday treats and a note of encouragement from your church?

6 Steps to Simplify Christmas

Let’s admit it. Holidays can get complicated. If we don’t pay attention, our debt grows, our peace shrinks and our stress expands. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 6 ways you can make Christmas a simpler, more beautiful season.

1. Heighten your gratitude.

Paul reminds us that anxiety and gratitude don’t mix:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7.

Once you enter the festival of generosity, an amazing sense of peace flows into your soul.

2. Lower your expectations.

Christmas is hard for people because they set their expectations too high when they reunite with extended family members. Very few people have perfectly healthy memories with their family.

Family is hard work so lower your expectations that everyone will behave over the next few days. You’ll be glad you did.

We can’t judge our extended family relationships using the scale of a Hallmark movie where everything is resolved in two hours. We must remember that we are all works in progress.

3. Check your wallet.

You can’t spend your way into reconciliation. I know this will come as a blow to the credit card companies but it’s true. Physical, tangible presents will not change a life, but your forgiveness and unconditional love will.

Jesus knew this about mankind: how you spend your money reveals the priorities of your heart.

4. Slow your pace.

  • Find the Power Button. Every remote has one. Enjoy real people- not the ones on TV.
  • “No” is a complete sentence. You’ve heard it before but it’s worth remembering. You don’t have to attend every party or do everything you did last year. Slow down. Breathe. Rest.
  • Be aware of what you consume. Have a brownie – but not the whole pan.

5. Simplify your world.

Most people spend an outrageous amount of time adding to the stuff they already own. Take time to spend less on material goods, give away what you don’t need, and add breathing room in your home.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul.
Psalm 131:1-2

This is a promise to God’s people that less of the unnecessary will quiet your soul.

6. Don’t Miss Jesus.

The arrival of Jesus will change everything if we prepare. He will come to give us something money could never buy.

May we not seek satisfaction in the things we touch. He will come to teach us how to live in dangerous surrender.

May we not seek safety in this life.

May we live our lives by the measuring stick of how well we love each other.

May we be the body of Christ.

May we live with each other in the land of grace.

Don’t miss Jesus as we celebrate His advent with simplicity and love.