It’s Dark Outside

Home with Christmas LightsOne of my favorite Christmas activities is driving around with my family to look at Christmas lights. I especially love the houses that go all out and decorate their entire house with flashing lights, blow-up characters and fancy displays all coordinated to Christmas music. I always wonder what the families that live in these decorative extravaganzas are like. Are they eccentric and over-the-top? Are they kind and nurturing? Obviously they love Christmas, but why? Are they drawn to the materialism, the symbolism or the reality of Christ’s birth? Do they want to announce to the world that Jesus is King and their way of doing so is by decorating every inch of their house as a public declaration of their love and faith?

Every home on my street has a sprinkling of outdoor Christmas decorations. Some have elegant displays of lights and greenery. Others have fun and playful decorations capturing the childlike essence of Christmas. Then, there’s this one house that always throws me off – it’s completely dark. No lights, no greenery, no blow-up figurine. On the outside, it would appear that the family that lives in that house is pretty “humbug”. The darkness of the house implies that the homeowners are anti-Christmas. But, the reality is actually very far from the truth.

The family that lives in that house are indeed really good friends of mine. They’re incredibly strong Christians and love the Christmas season. If you knew just this much about them, you could guess that they don’t want to decorate because they don’t want to buy into the materialism of the season. Or, maybe you would guess that they find it more important to spend their time and money serving the Lord directly rather than spending it on lights and decorations. Whatever the reason, the house’s outside appearance doesn’t necessarily match the personality of the people who live in it.

Looking Into a Warm home at ChristmasHow often do we interact with people whose beliefs, outlook, personality, etc. doesn’t match their outside appearance. This is pretty common. Maybe someone looks all put together on the outside, but on the inside is a total mess. They feel horrible about themselves and compromise every part of them to feel validated. Or, there’s the other side of the spectrum with the person who looks all rough and tough on the outside, but on the inside they’re the most gentle and sincere individual you’ve ever met. Christians run into these stereotypes a lot. A lot of people think that Christians are supposed to look and act a certain way and only have certain interests. But, in reality, Christians represent a very diverse God and we’ll reflect His majestic vastness in a variety of ways.

When we find ourselves stereotyping others, or find ourselves being stereotyped for looking or being different, then we need to do two things:

1.) Ask God are we really being the person that He designed us to be?

2.) Ask God who He made the person who is different than us to be?

Are we really being the fullest person God designed us to be, or are we getting caught in our narrow human perspective? Are we becoming too stagnant on our own idea of who we are? Being open to someone’s difference doesn’t mean that we need to change and be more like that person. We can learn something from them and it’s dangerous to view ourselves as correct and their perspective as inaccurate. When we learn why someone acts a certain way, dresses a certain way or feels like they need to be a certain way, we can embrace our great God more graciously.

When we take a moment to look beyond the surface of someone and try to engage in their personal identity, then we’re opening up doors for God to reveal more of who He is. When we open ourselves up to seeing more of God than we’re allowing ourselves to see the vastness of His nature. We can learn something from every single one of God’s creations, no matter his or her outside appearance. If we disregard the other person and refuse to see them for who they are, then we’re refusing to see God’s fullest desire for His world.

Since God cares more about the heart rather than outside appearance, we should as well (1 Samuel 16:17). What a delight it would be to walk through life knowing everyone’s heart and beautiful personality. If we take the time to get to know those we interact with frequently, then we’ll revel in a gratifying life. So, go into that dark house and find out why it really doesn’t have any decorations up this Christmas.

Our Standards are Higher

Christmas with MelindaThe Christmas season presents extra time to spend with family and friends… people who know us the most. Often when we’re around people that we’re really comfortable with, we let our guard down and the worst side of us comes out. This was the case for me this last weekend.

My sister-in-law and I were having a conversation in her kitchen while the rest of our family was hanging out after a big dinner together. We were both complaining about our stress level and what frustrated us the most about this past year. We were both incredibly negative.

The next morning at church, my pastor made a comment that got me thinking. So, I apologized to my sister-in-law for being so negative that Saturday night. She said she didn’t understand why I was apologizing because she didn’t think that I had been all that negative.

It then dawned on me that my standard of acceptable ways to act greatly differs from the rest of the world. As a Christian, what I see as being negative is hardly negative compared to someone who doesn’t know the Lord. My definition of beauty is totally opposite to how a non-believer views beauty. Actions that I deem entirely unacceptable are normal for people who don’t have the Spirit guiding them.

If we’re following the ways of the world, then we aren’t doing anything to set ourselves apart. The average person should see us as being different; we should be more positive, supportive, encouraging and affirmative. Our actions and approaches to situations and circumstances should be inspirational to others. We should be role models, influencing others to act according to the Holy Spirit. We should be confident and graceful, acting with dignity and integrity. We shouldn’t get stuck on the doom and gloom of the world, but instead we can hold on to hope with a bright countenance.

Okay, so this sounds like a long list of “shoulds,” which is never a good thing. There’s no need to feel guilty if you’re falling short. There’s no need to place yourself in a box and force yourself to act out of character. But, as your relationship with the Lord grows, these habits and characteristics will grow as well. And, you’re not alone in this journey.

Naturally, I’m still growing too. This Christmas season is a demonstration of my lack of confidence in my relationship with the Lord. But, tomorrow is a new day and together, you and I can learn to seek Him more faithfully than we did today!

Praise Him for His glory and grace!

Christmas To-Do List

Elf tangled in a listThe Christmas season is filled with obnoxious To-Do Lists. We all have them, and they all differ dramatically. And, in the midst of scrambling to accomplish our To-Do Lists, we find ourselves grumbling at how we just want to center ourselves on Christ and focus on Him this Christmas.

I don’t want to add to your To-Do List, but I do want to help you resume your focus to where it needs to be. So, this Christmas season, I’ve created a Christmas To-Do List that will help bring your focus back on Christ.

 

1.) Sing Christmas Carol

While studying, driving to and from school or unloading the dishwasher, sing your favorite Christmas hymns and remind yourself of the meaning behind each word.

2.) Decorate Christmas Cookies

You’re going to help your mom bake a batch of sugar cookies anyways, but this year, mix an extra batch to give to your neighbors, elderly members of your church, your post person, youth pastor or the homeless guy you see on the street corner near the mall.

3.) Make Wrapping Paper

Decorate wrapping paper and gift tags with little symbols that remind you of Christ. No one else has to make the connection (meaning they can be as abstract and obscure or as straightforward and obvious as you’d like.) Paint butcher paper with blue squiggles to represent Mary’s dress or use a gold bow to represent the star over Bethlehem. Let your creative mind flow, but give God the glory.

4.) Send a Christmas Card

Write a message of hope and inspiration, reminding your loved ones of how much you appreciate them and how much the Lord cherishes them.

5.) Wrap Presents

Pray for the person for whom you’re wrapping each gift. Ask the Lord to touch their heart. Ask Him to make the gift something helpful, meaningful and honorable. Ask God to bless their Christmas and New Year.

6.) Watch a Christmas Movie

A ton of Christmas movies can remind you of Christ if you allow them to… yes, even Elf. So, pick out a favorite holiday film and allow your mind to find a connection to Jesus’ birth in the movie.

7.) Give a Gift to a Stranger

Volunteer at a food bank, help with the Children’s Christmas pageant, give your teacher a special token of your appreciation, buy a gift for a needy child. Giving a gift doesn’t have to be an actual item, your heart is a gift to so many people, so offer it up to others – but remember, the Spirit of the Lord lives in you, so your heart is a reflection of His.

8.) Read the Christmas Story

Few things will center your focus more than reading God’s Word. Soak up God’s message of Christ’s birth in scripture by reading the account in Isaiah 9: 6-7, Luke 2: 1-20 or Matthew 1: 18-2: 12. While reading, see if you can learn something new about Jesus’ coming.

9.) Clean Out Your Closet

Make a Goodwill or Salvation Army run. Review all that you have, recognizing it’s all from the Lord, and give away items that you don’t need anymore. While you sort through everything you own, remind yourself how truly blessed you are. Once you clear out some of the old items, you’ll have room for the new gifts and luxuries you’ll receive for Christmas. “Out with the old, in with the new” – This is indicative of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our life. As we accept Christ as our Savior, our old self is washed away and a new, glorious self comes to take its place.

Tell me how you remember the glory of our Lord during the Christmas season!

Believe

Tangled LightsThe institution of the church has done a really good job of making converts, but a rather poor job of making disciples. Tons of churches are jazzed up for their Christmas Eve services because they know un-churched people will be walking through their door. Seeker friendly churches attract individuals who are interested in music, trends and “feel good moments.” With pastors only having an hour every week to give a message on God, there’s a lot left to be unsaid. We love to hear the numbers of people who answer alter calls, students who accept the Lord into their lives and individuals who repeat the “Sinners Prayer.” The discipline of growing ones faith seems to be a lot less interesting and glamorous than the energy and excitement of bringing another soul to Christ.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) doesn’t say, “Go out and convert everyone to Christianity.” No, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth as been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples if all nations…” Notice that He gave us a charge before He made this claim to make disciples. Christ said He has the authority of heaven and earth (meaning Satan no longer does) then He commands us to GO. This means God has given us authority. We have a responsibility and a job to do. My question then is: Are we doing it?

We must be failing because if we were really making disciples, then there would be a lot more glory in this world. There would be a lot more community and connection. There would be a lot more people truly pursuing the Word of God, and the will of God. We’re falling short of our call. (Our call is two fold – follow God and make disciples).

Red Headed Woman Holding LightHow do we pick up the slack? It’s not via a guilt trip. Rather, we need to encourage one another, inspire one another and help each other see our worth and ability. Through Christ, we have authority over Satan. So, no matter how embarrassing we think being His disciple is, we will rise above. No matter how dangerous discipleship might be, we’ll be protected. No matter how ill-equipped we feel to be called a disciple of Jesus, God will provide us with everything we need. No matter the excuse, we can overcome.

We must believe in ourselves, believe in our God and believe in His desire for the world before we can enter into discipleship. He has great plans for the world, but those plans cannot come into existence if we aren’t willing to share Him with others. We are co-labors with Christ. That means He wants us to be a part of the action. He has called us to step in and actively be involved in helping others become disciples.

First, we must first become a disciple ourselves. Which is why there are so few – many of us aren’t willing to put forth the energy it takes to be a disciple of the Lord. It takes confidence, discipline and a conscious effort. Instead of focusing on being a disciple, many are working to squelch the Lord and ignore His nudging because we feel small, ill-prepared, unable. God gives us all we need, we just need to be willing to step out in faith and nurture our relationship with Him. God could easily bring all His people together without us, but He chooses to work with us to bring His people closer to Him. What a beautiful confirmation of relationship.

As your bond with the Lord grows stronger, believe in yourself. Believe in your ability to share your faith. Believe that God will be standing right beside you. He will give you the words, knowledge and strength to support someone in their own personal walk with the Lord. You have been called to a great purpose. Believe in yourself so you can pursue that purpose.