Worshipping God like a junkie

They travel from church to church, going from one experience to the next. For some, it’s a liturgical experience. For others, it is contemporary. They are Calvinists, Arminians, and Openness. They chase the next spiritual high—from music to preaching to programming—is what it comes down to. 

The flavour of the month becomes the true spiritual experience. Attractional models, Bethel builds (a fancy name for a crescendo), and Stanley stylizations can become the sacred idols we chase. Or we go after the next greatest spiritual fad, from Taizé to whatever Francis Chan’s into that year.

In one church that I pastored in the youth would go to conference after conference, to whichever church or youth group had it going on. They were seeking experiences, spiritual highs, and emotionalism and had little want for the commitment of a relationship.

We say we are seeking God, but how we determine how something is good says it all. If a sermon was engaging, it is a good sermon, true, but we need content. If the worship music is played well, singing in key, has a rousing feel it’s excellent worship. Yes, musicality helps, but what about the direction of our worship. Is it pointing toward our needs and wants, or is it declaring who God is? If the atmosphere is right, then God’s presence is in the room, when really it’s the dim lights, smokey haze, and the Febreeze air freshener that is pumping through the ducts.

I am just as guilty. I am a part of the problem. I admit I like what feels good. I want a church service to feel good. Unfortunately, this too often becomes the drive of our pursuit. We seek a God whose one aim is to make us feel good—worshipping God like a junkie—trying to get our next fix. Leonard Sweet writes,

“God is already there. It’s not God who needs to show up for us; it’s us who need to show up for God.”

It’s us who need to show up, not God. When we choose to engage, you will be surprised how the mediocre music focused upon our king becomes uplifting. Or how teachings from the scripture, though not eloquent and creative, end up ministering, convicting, restoring, and compelling our heart toward Christ.

When it comes to healthy trees, the mighty oak stands head and shoulders above the rest. I want my spiritual life to be like the oak, standing strong and tall, with roots that grow deep and wide.

But too often we are like the pine tree. The pine tree is the only tree that changes the direction of its crown to reach toward the light. The pine chases the experience—the heat, the light. The problem is it’s reaching and chasing makes it weak. Out of all the conifer trees, it breaks the most. The wind blows, limbs bend and break. As the snow accumulates upon the branches, they fold and snap under the weight. Instead of using its energy to grow deep and wide, it has chosen to chase the sun.

When we chase experiences, we miss the depth of discipline, relationship, and consistency. We never form a healthy roots system, attached to others who are strong in the faith. We need good spiritual food, not to feed on the spiritual equivalent of Redbull and gummy bears.

If we want a spiritual life that stands, we must reject our junkie like mentalities, looking for an emotional and spiritual fix, and dig deep, spread wide and engage our hearts in the local Christ centred church that is pointing people to God.

Check out the resources used in this post

The Grips of Gossip

Loose lips sink ships is accurate. When you share too much about a person or your feelings toward a situation or person, it can sink whatever it is you are trying to get going. It’s an easy way to wreak havoc on a relationship, organization, or a dream.

While gossip can be one of the things that sinks a ship, what it does is cause a much bigger hole in the boat, and it has a greater impact on all involved. 

Gossip grips our heart and distorts it. We may think that we are taking another’s ship down when, in reality, we have surrendered ours.

Most think of gossip as having to do with lying about another person. However, this is only one manifestation.

I like how Timothy and Kathy Keller define it,

“Gossip…is negative information that may or may not be true, designed to make the speaker and hearer feel superior to the object of the gossip.”

How often do we have a conversation and within the midst of it bring up someone who is not there? Whether consciously or not, do we elevate our self. Maybe, we are not elevating ourselves so much as placing the person to whom we speak beneath us. 

I’ve heard the defence,

“It’s not gossip because it’s true.” But as the Keller’s point out,

“Gossip is not necessarily spreading untruths. It is revealing information that should be kept confidential (Proverbs 11:13, 20:19). It is giving news about a person intended to lower him or her in the regard of the listener.”

As I point out in chapter 4 of my book Hidden Faces, gossip is a manifestation of our inadequacies. We wear our brokenness all over our face whenever we allow gossip to slither out between our lips. Each time it tells people that we cannot be trusted, we’re small, we have something to hide.

The problem is that our whole culture’s entertainment builds its empire on gossip. From TMZ to late night, to your local news, is built upon gossip. Afternoon shows built upon who said what. Have you heard politicians speak of each other? So little policy—so much chatter. It has been ingrained in us that this is how we are to interact with one another. I have been apart of many conversations where others were gossipping. I have gossiped too many times to count. It has become natural to us all. It’s Western society’s greatest skill.

In her book, Braving The Wilderness, Brené Brown speaks of the heart-wrenching pain that people experience when hearing gossip about them. Yet we still do it. We know how we would feel, but we don’t stop. We may have experienced it, yet we continue to be guilty of the same sin.

So what can we do about gossip? Are we merely condemned to a fate of slippery verbiage continually flowing from our jowls? Or can we do better? 

I believe we can, and I believe we must.

What if whenever we felt the urge to share a conveniently applicable story about someone else, we instead share about ourselves? What if we decided to only talk about people and that we were in conversation with? No talk about your mom or kids, no discussion about that celebrity or Youtube star, not your neighbour, boss, teacher, or friend. 

I bet it would revolutionize your life and change your heart. It would reveal how many of our relationships are based on what we are against rather than what we are for.

A wise man, named John Wesley, once addressed this issue in his spiritual community. It was a much different time in so many ways in the mid-1700s. Though it was different, Wesley was dealing with broken people just like us—people with hurt, pain, disappointments, inadequacies, seekers of affirmation—in the ways that count. To address the issue, Wesley gave this instruction, an instruction that we need to heed and apply.

1) ‘Now we are to talk of no absent persons, but simply of God and our own souls.’

2) ‘Let the rule of our conversation hereto be the rule of all our conversation. Let us observe it (unless in some necessarily exempt cases) at all times and in all places.

It seems sage advice. Maybe extreme, but a severe and rampid disease requires drastic measures. The grips of gossip need to be broken, and until we can learn to love our neighbour, maybe John Wesley is right. Follow these, loosen the grip. And then move to the phase of fixing your heart.

Check out the resources used in this post

A Lesson From Tannehill

Potential. We all have it, but not everyone lives up to it. Ryan Tannehill, quarterback for Texas A & M in 2011, wasn’t a star, nor is he a star. Due to the lack of quarterback options in the 2012 draft, experts thought he might be a first-round pick. His abilities were rated:

Agility 8.5
Accuracy 6.0
Arm Strength 6.5
Decision Making 5.5
Field Vision: 5.5
Mechanics 6.5
Pocket Presence 7.0
Overall 6.5

There was room to grow. Of course, you would expect a newly drafted quarterback to have to develop. Within Tannehill’s story, there is a lesson to us all that we should never write people off and conditions matter.

Tannehill was drafted in 2012 by the Miami Dolphins 8th overall. They believed he had potential. Tannehill, in six years in Maimi, only had one season with a winning record. He threw between 12 and 17 interceptions per season (that’s almost one a game) with a low of 9 his last season. Tannehill also missed the whole 2017 season with a torn ACL. He only made the playoffs one year in that time and appeared to be a bust.

Ryan Tannehill was traded to the Tennessee Titans to serve as a backup quarterback for the struggling Marcus Mariota. It appeared that Tannehill was destined to be a backup for the rest of his career. He was written off.

How often do we write people off, blinded to their potential due to past performance? We look at metrics, analytics, the numbers, and we determine whether people are worth our time—are worth the chance. While there is merit to our usual behaviour, should we not ask ourselves, what if?

What if we invested the time?

What if their circumstances were different?

How can we change their story?

I like what Seth Godin says,

“The diamond cutter doesn’t imagine the diamond he wants. Instead, he sees the diamond that is possible.”

Can we see the diamond that is possible? Mike Vrabel, the coach of the Titans, did. You see, context is everything. The Dolphins were/are a gong show. Tannehill had three different head coaches during that time.

Vrabel, unimpressed with his star quarterback, benched Mariota. In week six, Tannehill became the Titans starter going 7-3 with 22 touchdowns (second highest of his career) and six interceptions (lowest of his career). This was followed by beating the defending champions in the wild card game and the best team in the league in the quarter-finals.

Ryan Tannehill, who was given up on, traded, put aside, is now thriving in a system that fits him. There is an offensive line that promotes his strength, pocket presence. He has a coach who believes in him.

Is there someone you have written off? 

Maybe it’s you who feels written off, or you’ve discounted yourself.

We need to learn the lessons from Tannehill. Find the right situation and focus on your strengths. 

It’s not about what you can’t do. It’s about what you can do. What is it that you can do? What is the strength that you have to offer? 

Don’t be modest. We all have at least one. 

Skills need to be fostered. Talent needs to be in context.

Einstein did graduate at the top of his class. In fact, he was the only one from his graduating class not to be hired out of college. Instead, Einstein worked for the Swiss Patent office. All the while, he still wrote papers, thought through problems, and never gave up.

Tannehill didn’t quit either. And this is the final lesson from Tannehill, Don’t Give Up.

Check out the resources used in this post

Photo from: https://clutchpoints.com/titans-news-tennessee-eyeing-long-term-deal-with-ryan-tannehill/

See The Stranger

They are everywhere.

At your door. In your school. They are at your work—passing you by in the hallways, streets, and supermarkets. You may even know their name.

Strangers really are everywhere. They are as far as the country that is furthest from where you are right now, in a context that is vastly different, to in your family as you sit next to the child or parent you haven’t taken the time to get to know. The stranger can be as foreign to you as a person that you never have and will never meet, or as intimate as a spouse that you have slowly lost connection to.

It is because strangers are everywhere that we must take our interaction with them so seriously. As the world’s communication significantly deteriorates into a dark abyss, it is more important than ever that we choose to see the stranger.

I recently have been listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, Talk To Strangers (as I have noted in a previous post, it is an essential read). It has truly provoked the question, “How do you see the stranger?”

Due to my training in the Birkman Method (a personality assessment tool), I have come to realize that each and every one of us has a deficiency when interacting with others. We all have personalities, tendencies, and stress responses that determine how we see others.

I think this is why God, in the book of Leviticus, tells the people to love neighbours, take in wanderers, and treat the foreigner as a local. My favourite is in chapter 19.

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 19:33-34

We often say, “Treat your neighbour as yourself.”

I think this is the problem.

We look at others, near or far, and expect them to treat us the way we think we treat people (which isn’t how you think). We expect them to act the way our cultural conditioning has formed us. There’s the assumed reality that we think the same way, have similar cultural values, react the same way in stressful, fearful, sad, happy, joyful—whatever emotional situation you can think of—situation as we do. Then we treat our neighbours how we would want to be treated.

BUT NO!

What we need to do is treat our neighbour the way they want to be treated. After all, we want to be treated the way…we want to be treated. It seems simple. However, it is a necessity we not only put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, shirt, pants, and coat but also in their time, country, family, situations. We cannot do this by assuming their position—assuming the most applicable stereotype.

There is a subtle reminder at the end of the commandeer of Leviticus 19. “Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” How do you want to be treated?

Do you want someone to listen to you? Someone to not assume they know you, but take the time? Maybe to see you as a person—wants, needs, desires, dreams?

We are all complex creatures. We are all creatures God loves and calls children. We thus should treat each other as though we are, and they are.

The reminder in Leviticus that the Hebrew people, too, were once foreigners is a reminder to all of us as we look to the stranger.

We have all been misunderstood. At times others have assumed things to be true about us based on our family, education, skin tone, religion, or nationality. At one time in the late 1500s, my ancestors were foreigners arriving in my country encountering strangers, my other ancestors who had been here for hundreds of years prior. It didn’t go well. There is baggage from these types of interactions that still looms in my country today.

The great news, it’s a new day. You are a new person. We can take the advice that God gave the Hebrew people nearly 6000 years ago. Today, let’s choose to see the stranger.

Check out the resources used for this post

How to deal with that jerk in line!

Coupling.

Have you heard the term? The word has a lot of applications, but I am speaking about the coupling of experiences. I first heard it used this way while listening to the audiobook, Talking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell (maybe the most important book to come out in 2019).

The premise of Gladwell’s use of coupling dealt with how specific circumstances provide an opportunity for people’s actions. Though Gladwell is specifically speaking of suicide and how, say the Goldengate bridge doesn’t have a safety net to prevent people from killing themselves, provides an opportunity for people to jump when they may not have. Gladwell, of course, goes into more detail and addresses the topic to a deeper degree.

It made me think about what other situations have a coupling experience. I thought of the impatient person in a Walmart line or someone difficult at the customer service counter. Of course, there can be an infinite amount of scenarios. Could the aggravated, edgy, rude person be having a coupling experience? To be honest I am very judgemental toward people like that…but then I remember…

Though I work really hard to be super patient, gracious and kind to cashiers, customer service reps, and the like, there was one particular day I wasn’t…

My printer had been acting up so I took it into Staples where I had bought it 13 months earlier. When I told them it was broken they informed me that the warranty was only for 12 months. I sternly informed them I won’t be buying another printer from them again, dropped the printer on the desk and walked out. It was not my proudest moment.

Say I were observing someone else have this same interaction I would think, “What a jerk”. I would apologize to the customer service rep on behalf of the rude customer and cast judgement on the former. Instead of grace, what God has called me to express in all situations, I would offer condemnation. The thing is, this story is about me. I give myself grace because I know what was going on in my life. In fact, if it were not for the coupling of events in my life—a perfect storm if you will—I certainly wouldn’t have left my broken printer (with a thud) at Staples. I still would never buy a printer from them again, they just wouldn’t know why.

I can extend myself grace because I had shingles at the time, the church was going through a very hard season which caused me a lot of hurt, and I didn’t have the money for a new printer. Physical, emotional, and financial pain brewed together to make a bitter tea of discontent that anyone could have upset (although 12 months for a printer…really!).

I can extend grace to myself because I know the whole coupling story of my own life. I know what was going on inside me and all around me. We don’t, however, know what is going on with everyone else. Yes, there are some people who are entitled, angry, cotton-headed ninny muggins. Call me naive, but I don’t think everyone is like that. I do believe that life’s woes can have a coupling effect on people and bystanders end up carrying the brunt.

Instead of assuming the worst of others we need to try and deescalate, seek understanding, and be patient even in the midst of their impatience. I guess this could be part of loving our enemies and why it so important to treat people as we would want to be treated. It isn’t just about us not acting crazy. Sometimes it’s about not responding to other peoples’ craziness. Want to know how to deal with that jerk in line? Love, grace, and patience.

A season to plant—A season to water, but God

And so the war begins. Maybe war is too strong of a word. There is however a clear distinction between two styles of churches and both think that they know the best way to do it.

Are you an attractional church? Maybe a church you can invite your friends to. After all, the church is the hope of the world. Or perhaps you’re a church that emphasizes the Word? Didn’t Jesus tell us to teach people to obey? Indeed, the Scriptures help reveal to us who God is, and if we can’t recognize who God is in the pantheon of gods, how can we have a relationship with him?

There often appears to be two types of healthy churches out there, churches that are good at planting seeds and ones that water well. Of course, there are the dysfunctional churches that keep seeds to themselves, and there is no water in sight, but that is for another blog.

What I have too often seen is that these two types of churches battle between which is the better/more-biblical model. What ends up is a reciprocal argument. “We want people to feel this is a safe place to discover Jesus.” “Yes, we need to communicate the Good News, but they need to know the whole of Scripture.” “But, you can’t disciple if there are no converts.”

It reminds me of the battle in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses the discord in the church where the people were aligning themselves to one person of the Gospel or the other. The Apostle Paul was travelling around and telling people of the Good News that Jesus has come to be their Saviour. The other guy, Apollos, was in the teaching/discipleship vein. Sound familiar?

The Corinth Church began to argue on which was correct. They found themselves in camps. It is like modern-day people saying, “I’m a disciple of Billy Graham,” and another saying, “I’m a disciple of Wayne Grudem.” Or saying that one group are disciples of Nicky Gumble and another is a disciple of N.T. Wright, and allowing it to destroy the Christian fellowship between them. The argument is silly. They all want to point people to Christ. They do it in different ways and are for different points of the journey.

We have puffed out chests—inflated egos, rather than humility, and wanting to learn from each other. What ends up happening is that we create idols out of style, personality, models, and theology. Instead, we should be looking to God first and have the humility to learn from one another.

The Apostle Paul writes it like this, ” I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” 1 Corinthian 3:6

I don’t care what you have done, what you know, how charming, experienced, or connected you are, unless the Holy Spirit is working, your church will never grow.

Sure, we may be able to get people in a room by our marketing savvy, maybe even be able to close the “back door” with our groups and programs, but God requires more of us. On the flip side, there’s a tendency to be so engrossed in the Word, that we miss what it is saying. We can be so busy learning about what God is that we never enter into the relationship to know who God is—to know His heart.

We have planters. We have waterers. Maybe you are either or depending on the season. However, we must always always always remember that it is God who makes it grow.

Instead of the war of words—the whose doing it better—we need to seek how to learn from each other and accept the challenge from each other to do better in what Christ has called the church to be.

Yesterday I sat in Starbuck’s across the table from a colleague who used to pastor in the same town as me. We talked about ministry. We encouraged each other in where God has called us, and what God has called us to. We did it because we are united in Christ. He, a Reformed Presbyterian, and myself a (some would say more liberal in my theology) Pentecostal. Challenging and encouraging. A hardcore Calvinist and me, a hardcore non-Calvinist.

It’s not about who does what. It is about pointing people to Christ. It is about knowing the heart of God. It’s about being united because we are all a part of the same family, the family of God. Most importantly, it is about having the humility to know that we don’t have it all together and that no matter how good we think we are, God is bigger and greater and is the only one who can bring real lasting, life-changing growth.

New beginnings or same old story?

As a new year has begun, change is in the air. Times of resolutions, new days, breaking old habits, and begin again’s has come. Researchers say that we decide to change something in our lives at the beginning of things. Whether it be Monday’s, the 1st of the month, or the start of the year, each is a time we make conscious changes.

Some set easily attainable goals. While others stretch themselves to reach to the moon, yet, no matter where we fall on the easy vs. hard spectrum of “new year, new us,” many will fail to reach the mark.

Goals/resolutions must be three things.
1. Clear (we must know exactly what it is)
2. They must be attainable (can you realistically achieve it)
3. Must be time-sensitive (When is it going to be done by)

There’s a saying my father always says, “Having no plan is a plan to fail.” As much as I hate to say this, my dad is right. We fail with the “new us” because we have no plan!

If we want to change something about our life, a plan is only the starting point. We also need, in the words of the Beatles, “A little help from our friends.” We all need community and accountability. As the old Italian saying points out,

“The one who drinks alone, chokes.”

If we want to reach our goals and not have a repeat of all the years before, it is a must. Jobs had Wozniak; Bill Gates had Paul Allen; Jesus had the disciples; Apostle Paul had Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy. We need people—people who will support us, people who challenge us, and people who love us no matter if we reach our goal or not.

Most importantly, what we need to kick our new beginning off is discipline. You need to want the new more than the old. Jordan Peterson points out,

You cannot aim yourself at anything if you are completely undisciplined and untutored.”

More acturate words haven’t been spoken. When life gets hard, maybe your progress seems stalled. When you feel like there isn’t a point to continuing, you do. Why? Because of discipline.

Discipline says that despite the adversity you continue on. Discipline says that you push away distractions so that you focus on what is essential.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul talks about being disciplined in our pursuit of Christ.

“Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

1 Cor 9:26-27

While I believe that the pursuit of a life in Christ is most important, this passage conveys the essence of what it means to be disciplined. Intention, discipline, integrity are just a few things we can take away.

New beginnings or the same old story? That’s what we need to ask ourselves, and it’s what we need to decide between. Are we going to accept the comfortable—settle into what we know and have lived thus far? Or are we going to push, push toward the prize? Sure, we might not see the goal happen the way we think, or at all, but in the worlds of Coldplay, “if you never try, you’ll never know…”

As you seek to become new you this year, let’s do so with clarity of what we want to be. Let’s be realistic with what we can attain, deciding when we want it done. Let’s invite others along for the journey and let’s be disciplined knowing that nothing that is worth it comes easy.

Check out the resources used in this post

Don't Confuse Goals With Purpose

As 2020 approaches, it’s the season to set your New Years’ resolutions. Lose weight, be the real you, go for the career you always wanted, eat less deep-fried wontons—whatever it may be that is going to revolutionize your life, or at least help you to be a better you.

Our goals can be fantastic! I love setting mine. Maybe, at times, I love them too much.

Goals are crucial because they help you have something tangible that shows progress. If my goal is to lose ten pounds, but I have gone through half the year and gained ten, it tells me that there is something that is amiss between how I live and what I say that I want. Of course, they do need to be clear, attainable, and within a time frame.

Though they are important and though they are necessary, it is all too easy for them to become our god. How many people personally and professionally worship at the feet of almighty goals. It’s a god shaped in the form of their self-interest, yet it makes them slaves to a self-imposed expectation that profoundly affects their self-worth.

We morph ourselves from human beings into human doings.

No longer do we live lives of love or hope. We no longer have time for friends and family. We miss the pleasures that everyday life can bring. All too often, I connect with colleagues who are stressed out, overworked, feel like failures, and are spiralling down a staircase of self-doubt, depression and anxiety. The crazy thing about all of it is that much of the stress is self-imposed. It’s because of their goals. If we cannot enjoy the journey of self-improvement (whether we reach that goal or not), what’s the point?

I’m not saying that goals shouldn’t be hard or that sometimes they are not enjoyable. I believe that anything worth doing has a challenge to it. And if there’s a challenge to it there is a chance of failure. As G.K. Chesterton writes,

“Anything worth doing is worth doing wrong.”

When we tie our goals to our purpose and then fail to attain our goals, our “being” that has morphed to “doing” becomes human-failings. I know I have been there. I have felt my being slip away as my goals—some self-gratifying and others Kingdom-oriented—changed me into doing. When everything is going well, it’s…well, going well. Then as soon as there is a slip, the failing creeps in. Instead of learning from failing, we are dragged down into a vortex of self-loathing due to our incompetencies.

Maybe I’m being dramatic. However, I think it’s not far from the truth.

Jesus once said,

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

Matthew 6:24

While in this context, he was referring to money, this statement is also true when applied to anything. The reality is whether your goals are inflating your ego or leaving you wrecked and ragged, both compete with what God has said about us.

I write about this in my book Hidden Faces,

“We turn our lives into commodities. Yet all we’re selling is our accomplishments, whether they be good, bad, amazing, or delusional.”

And point out,

“Our skills, talents, abilities, looks, intellect are all finite. They’re all perishable. The constant that always remains—that endures indefinitely, the one thing that will never fail us, is Christ. When we define ourselves by who Christ declares we are, we cannot help but live in the future that He has prepared for us.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” Jer 29:11

Don’t confuse goals with purpose. You were created to enjoy the God who made you, the world He’s put you in, and the people that come across your path. God created you to be a being and not a doing.

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Checkout the resources used in this post

Before you spend the holidays with family

Family can be great.

Family can also be stressful.

The issue is that it’s easy to let our guard down when we’re with family. I believe that subconsciously we think that we can say and do whatever we want, and the people that are close to us will love us regardless.

And this is why Christmas can be stressful.

We’ve eaten excessive amounts of refined sugar, we’re secretly dreading the impending post-holiday bills, we’ve stayed up too late watching Boy Meets World on Disney +, the kids have been acting like wild orangutans, and you’re about to have to put on the fake faces of appreciation when you open that sweater.

As much as family can be great, they also can be overly honest (let’s call it what it is, opinionated). “Have you put on weight?” “Have you lost weight?” “Are you ever going to settle down?” “If that were my kid, I would give them a smack.”

As much as family can be great, they can also be stressful.

What we must remember is that we are to be like Jesus. We’re to love indiscriminately. Maybe your family aren’t your enemies, but if we’re supposed to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), then we need to love our family too.

Love is a nice sentiment, but what does it mean?

1 Corinthians 13 spells it out perfectly,

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

While this may be an ideal we may never live up to this entirely, this Christmas when we reflect on what it means that Jesus came to start a kingdom of love let’s keep 1 Corinthians in mind. It may be hard but, this is what love looks like.

When your mother asks you again when you’re going to give her a grandchild, remember, love is patient. When you have to drop the kids off at the ex’s, remember, love is kind. When your husband gives you a spatula for Christmas, remember, love keeps no record of wrongs. When everything is going wrong—things aren’t adding up—remember, love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

When we can remember that love is a choice—a choice that is sometimes hard with those close to us—it can revolutionize our relationships.

Maybe your parents, spouse, kids, aunt Ruth, or grandma give judgemental stares and weighted nuanced comments that drive you completely nuts! You just want to react. I know I’ve been there. I’ve even done it. But there is a better way.

That better way, is to choose love. We choose to be patient and kind. We choose to love because it is what God chose for us. Romans 5 says it,

“While we were still sinners, Christ gave up his life for us.”

In a small part, we are now to do the same. Essentially, while your mom still judges your life, love. When your grandma comments about your weight, love. When you Dad disapproves of your life choices, love. When your ex is being difficult about seeing the kids, love.

If God does it when we oppose him and gave up his life at that, we can at least try this holiday season to pass the gravy in peace, loving despite the family drama, and demonstrate why there is good news for all people.

Why Jesus is better than Santa

My kids are all in on Santa. When I was their age, I was all in too.

I’m not down with those curmudgeon Christians who feel the need to destroy the folklore of Santa and flying reindeer.

Saying this, I don’t want them to get lost when it comes to the meaning of Christmas. I love that my kids love Santa, but I want them to love Jesus more.

I wanted to explain this in a way that even my youngest (who is four) would understand. So, I began to think.

Santa comes once a year on magic reindeer, magically slides down your chimney and leaving presents—like actual tangible, ready to open and use gifts that fulfill a young child’s lusts. Plus, he does all of this while you sleep.

That is pretty hard to compete with when it comes to the mind of a young child.

I began to think a little more…

“You better watch out / you better not shout / you better not cry I’m telling you why?”

Basically, you better be on your best behaviour, or Santa will rescind your gifts! And that’s when I realized that Santa is the exact opposite of Jesus.

They both bring free gifts (unlike your inlaws). The difference lies here in the simple fact that Santa’s gifts are based upon your behaviour. Jesus comes to bring a costly gift that has nothing to do with my good behaviour. Instead, it has everything to do with whom I belong. Jesus took our place and took the eternal consequences of our misdeeds upon himself.

I like how the Apostle Paul put it in Romans 5:6-8

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

When we had no power to save ourselves, while still rejecting God, He gave his life for us. It is the often-overlooked verse 7 that really sets poor Santa up for the fall, though. This verse points out the harsh reality of sacrifice. You probably would never give up your life for another just because they are a really good person. However, you might if that person has been good to you.

Here is where Santa falls. Santa requires our belief. Santa requires us to be on our best behaviour before he brings us a gift.

BUT GOD.

That’s all that needs to be said. But God.

Here’s the thing. Santa is a lot like us. Do good, and you will receive good in return. Jesus gives good because it is outside his character not to be.

But God shows us that He loves by giving up His life in our place, not because we were right in our thoughts and deeds, not because we have done something for God.

No, while we rejected him, denied Him, were complicit or active in crimes against Him, He gave His life for us.

Do you know what I said to me kids, “Do you know why Jesus is way better than Santa? Because it doesn’t matter whether I’m on the good list or the naughty list, Jesus loves me and gives grace to me no matter what.”

Yeah, there is more to it. But that is what is most important. Though I deserve a big lump of coal in my eternal stocking, I’ve been given unbounded relentless love. As the Apostle Paul says later in Romans.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:38-39

Sorry Santa, but it isn’t even close.