Fancy Christmas Anxiety

I saw this yesterday and laughed out loud. We like to fancy it up this time of year, don’t we? The holidays have a way of magnifying and bringing to the surface all kinds of feelings that lie dormant the rest of the year. Totally irrational fears about ourselves? Check. Deep wounds from something that happened years ago? There they are. Pet peeves about meaningless things? Oh, hey there. Moments of fleeting joy? Hopefully some of those are mixed in there as well. 

Traditions are fantastic, until they aren’t. Buying presents is fun, until it isn’t. Trying to keep up with what everyone else appears to be doing is just never a good idea. A lady in my Bible study joked she has to pray to herself every year as she sets out the food because her mother-in-law always comes in and requires it to be rearranged to her high standards. It’s humorous, but underneath it all there’s little sparks of resentment and rejection just waiting to blow up into a giant forest fire at any moment. 

Have you ever had an irrational meltdown when someone added almonds to the green bean casserole? Sat and cried over photo albums of a childhood Christmas’ with people who are no longer with you? We want to make our kids happy, please the in-laws, make the recipes correctly and honor Jesus because oh my gosh, He’s why we are doing all this other stuff… right? 

Sometimes dynamics are just hard. I haven’t met a perfect family yet, not like the ones you see on the Christmas commercials. Sometimes we just make it hard on ourselves. We hold grudges. We obsess over the wrong things. We withhold forgiveness. The miracle of the baby in a manger becomes just a bit of an add-on because we are tuned into the wrong things.

John Piper wrote that “the meaning of Christmas is that what is good and precious in your life need never be lost, and what is evil and undesirable in your life can be changed.”

That, my friends, is hope. 

The good can never be erased, so maybe we can relax a little when trying to make all the traditions happen. The bad, the ugly, the evil… it can be changed though the power of Christ! That’s the whole reason He came. That means we can try something new this year. We can see how Christ came to set us free. We can forgive so-and-so and move forward. Maybe we aren’t ready to change the green bean casserole, but we can change our heart attitude and realize the old cliché still rings true: Jesus IS the reason for this season.

Leaving The Mall


I had to run an errand yesterday at the mall. Needless to say… it was not pleasant. The sheer number of people out on a Tuesday afternoon was baffling. I saw folks doing the ‘grab and go’ in stores, hoping that whatever gift they were hastily purchasing would suffice. One lady snatched up four big fuzzy sweaters and hardly looked at them before bolting for the register. I saw a sweet old man meticulously shopping for his wife, asking the sales lady how her day was going and what she thought of each piece of clothing he picked out. It was really touching until the saleswoman had to bolt off to help other, less chatty customers. I smiled at him and said I thought it was really thoughtful what he was doing and how most husbands would never take that much time picking out clothes for their wives. Disappointed that he could no longer chat with her, he smiled and sighed, “well, things just aren’t what they used to be.”

Isn’t that the truth. I headed back to my car thinking, “I’m so over this.” Thank goodness for online shopping I suppose. It’s not that I mind all the gifts and the joy they bring, but we have really sucked the fun right out of the whole thing. We’ve lost the purpose behind it all. I say this every year, but I always find myself longing for an old-fashioned Christmas that exists only in my mind. Childhood Christmases are so magical to us for the simple fact that we were children and didn’t know yet any of the hustle involved in making meals or magical mornings happen. I know for a fact my poor parents had to almost throw down in the Toys R Us store for my 1985 Cabbage Patch Doll. I never knew any of that, I just remember waking up Christmas morning to my beloved doll (his name was Chauncey you guys…) and loving him. 

We love and long for new and fresh things in our lives. Never is it more glaringly apparent than this time of year. We are suckers for the shiny gadgets, the soft sweaters, the latest book. All good things, until they become the things. I remember freaking out one December because I was the only mom who didn’t have Ann Voskamp’s new advent book. I spent an entire day of my life running all over town to find it. Once in hand, I really was convinced that this would be the year we finally do advent the right way. We read it for about a week and then it trailed off. It wasn’t a bad book or anything, but at the end of the day, it’s just a book, not the Christ Child himself. It sounds silly, but it took me about two years to come to terms with the fact that my kids just weren’t that into it. 

This time of year especially, I need to remind myself that I cannot start with man and squeeze God in as filler. Christ can’t just hold a symbolic top spot on an otherwise long list, He must be everywhere . It was God who addressed man that first Christmas, and it is He who continues to stir our hearts at Christmastime. Things are definitely not what they used to be, as the old man in the store reminded me. 

There’s a longing this time of year in my heart for something I know I’ll never quite get. I see glimpses of it, but it’s not going to be fulfilled by any gift or experience this world can offer. We don’t need the latest advent book to find Jesus. I for one can’t read one more hot-take about what I need to be doing this December… not right now anyways. This is a time for quiet, in spite of what everyone at the mall thinks. It’s a time to return to the childlike simplicity and the beauty of the manger and the God who offers us gifts infinitely more lasting than anything we could ever buy.

These Three Things

 

We are in the home stretch… Thanksgiving has come and gone and it’s full-steam ahead to Christmas and a new year. I have no childhood recollection of how fast these few weeks go by, I simply remember enjoying two separate holidays that seemed to just magically happen to my great delight. Grown ups know all too well that holidays never spontaneously just ‘happen’, there’s a lot of time and love put into making things just right, and even the best laid plans can go amuck at any moment. I did something different this year as I sorted through giant totes of Christmas decorations: I took three little objects out that represented true joy to me and I placed them on my desk. 

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Baby Tigers and False Peace

“Is it even possible to live a holy Christian life? The kind of life we talk about and aspire to, but seem to fall short of on a daily basis?”

Some form of this question has been buzzing around in my conversations the past week or so with different people in my life. I’ve come to the conclusion that we humans fall into two categories on this subject: man-centered or God-surrendered.

A man-centered approach to this life assumes (rightly so) that we are a hopelessly flawed bunch of people trying to do our best. Not just flawed, but sinful. We float from one good intention to another, sometimes succeeding, but often falling short. We hope that we can meet the goals we’ve set, but we are realistic about the fact that we are mere mortals and certainly not saints. The bar is always just a little bit out of reach.

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Please…Go Outside

“The artificial world lies and cheats. It seduces us with the worst of all lessons: that life is easy, and comfort is the goal. Thus it kills initiation at every turn. It cheats us of nourishment and strength and the very training we need. The answer is not only online filters. The answer is to choose a life where you prefer the Real over the artificial everywhere you possibly can. Reality was meant to shape us. The artificial is built almost entirely around our comfort and ease. Take back your soul. Re-engage the process of your initiation by choosing the Real everywhere you can.” John Eldredge

I read a blog post a few weeks ago called Choosing What Is Real by John Eldredge and have been revisiting it over and over ever since. Perhaps because it’s summertime, and I’m over the top about everyone getting the heck offline… it’s also because I am more nauseated than usual about the inter-webs and the ways in which we rely so heavily on them for identity and entertainment.

The idea that we not only spend most of our lives indoors behind a screen in an artificial world, but that we actually prefer it is so very disheartening. Anyone with kids understands this truth all too well. The ways in which games are being marketed towards getting them sucked into an artificial world is nothing short of evil marketing genius. If it’s not games, it’s the social apps that put everything on parade all day long. I’ve touched on it before, but I have an somewhat irrational aversion for most things YouTube related. I know there are interesting things to watch, but the amount of trash out there is mind-boggling. I know this because I have boys who watch really dumb stuff. You watch one video, and another automatically pops up, then another… before you know it, you’re sucked into some of the most absurd things you’ve ever witnessed.

To be clear, I’m not lamenting the good old days or wishing technology away. I’m not standing in my yard yelling at young kids to get off my lawn… not just yet. I’m saying that there’s something bigger at stake here, and it has to do with more than just safety filters.

I saw something yesterday that sent my mind into overdrive on this topic. There was a YouTube convention in which tens of thousands of teens showed up to see a certain famous online personality and get a picture with her. I had never heard of her, or any of them for that matter, but I’m fascinated about what draws the teens in, so I checked out her Instagram page. Turns out, she is no more than a vulgar, half-naked, barely legal in most states brat. She flaunts her body parts, her drugs, her mouth, and gets utterly nonsensical fights with other YouTube stars I’d never heard of. This is what passes for important to these kids. I experienced a level of disgust and wonder that I had not felt in some time. Otherwise lovely and smart young people are flocking to this stuff like it’s no big deal and I promise you, it’s slowly becoming the voice in their heads when it comes to their worldview. When you idolize someone else’s identity, you have no room to develop your own.

When Daniel and his friends were taken captive to Babylon, the king tried to get them to assimilate into their new culture. If he could get them to develop an appetite for the things of Babylon, they would be at his mercy. The thing is, too many of us have cultivated a voracious appetite for the artificial and it’s making us lose our sense (spiritual sense and common sense). We have to get back to desiring real stuff. When 20,000 kids show up at 6am to stand in a line to meet a rebellious smart a#%, they are searching for something. When they spend the entire day on their phones communicating with people they’ll never know, they are searching for something. Imagine for a second if they all stopped seeking the fake and instead went for the real thing.

Friends, young or not, our identity must be rooted in something besides a phony culture. If all technology fizzed-out tomorrow, would you still be you? If nobody was there to give you a thumbs up, would your habits or lifestyle change? That old saying about knowing whose you are so you can know who you are is true: without a deep understanding that we are children of God (Romans 8:16) we are destined to be slaves to an ever-darkening culture that will mold us and shape us but never ever satisfy us.

Our culture is aggressively seeking to assimilate us to it’s ever-changing values and ideas. Most of it is done through the artificial world of the internet and through people who have utterly sold their souls to do its bidding. We need real… people, experiences, moments. We are created for it. Though it isn’t always comfortable, it’s what pushes us forward and strengthens us. We have got to get our eyes off of ourselves and go join the real world.

I’ll end with a reminder from John Piper’s bestseller Don’t Waste Your Life:

“The really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but self-forgetfulness. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and contemplating your own greatness is pathological. At such moments we are made for a magnificent joy that comes from outside ourselves.”

Christ offers a joy that can’t be bought. He gives us a satisfaction that ten million Instagram likes can’t begin to match.

Let’s stop being so pathological. Let’s go be real. 😉

Sticky Labels

“It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” WC Fields

Conservative. Liberal. Classical liberal. Evangelical. I was reading a comment thread where people were arguing the virtues and vices of all these labels we take on or give out. On and on it went, everyone arguing in circles about “what does it all mean”… telling people to agree while simultaneously disagreeing with everyone. Lord have mercy… there is an obsession happening over identity.

Identity is a big deal. We need everyone to not only see and hear our specific brand, but to put a big stamp of approval on it as well. We need it so badly, we are willing to go to outrageous and embarrassing lengths to prove our points.

One of the enemy’s greatest desires is to confuse us in this area by slapping all kinds of labels on us in the hopes that we will carry them around like dead weight. Lies that people speak over us, circumstances we refuse to leave in the past, all the junk we collect through the years becomes our filter by which we define ourselves. We all I bet can vividly remember being called something awful as a kid and internalizing it for years.

The one who was abandoned. The one who is sick. The ugly one. The divorced one. The failure. The dummy. If the enemy can’t label you, he’ll do everything in his power to see that nothing sticks; you have no true identity, it changes with your feelings and you float around like driftwood waiting for something or someone to define you.

We all go through it, we try and act like everyone else to be accepted. When I was a teen it was giant hair and rolled jeans. Things have escalated since then… I dare say the enemy has stepped up his game. Teens now can adopt one of seventy three different genders if they want. I’ll say it, it’s positively demonic. When you lose your identity, you are at the mercy of evil.

God tells us “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart.” (Jeremiah 1:5) Our identity comes from our Creator, there can be no other way. His word also tells us this: “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) Our true identity is set, but what we believe about ourselves is what steers the ship. God sees the big picture about us, but it’s up to us whether we walk in that or not.

The Bible addresses this a lot. Abram, Saul, and Simon became Abraham, Paul and Peter not because they morphed into different people, but because they finally walked into who they always were meant to be. We have an authentic identity, all of us, and lots of phony ones competing for position. Study the story sometime of Daniel and his friends in Babylon and the ways in which the Babylonians tried to strip them of their very identity. We learn in Sunday school of “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego” but we actually need to know them as “Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah” as well. Their Hebrew names conveyed trust in God and confidence. Their new Babylonian names identified them as cowardly slaves to man.

I spent the first three months of my life with a different name. After I was adopted, my parents gave me my true name. To my birth mother I was Ronna Kay, to my mom I became Shara. I never think about it, but how strange! All the while, here is Jesus knowing me better than anyone and exactly who I would become. This verse in Revelation 2:17 has always stood out to me:

“To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”

A new name, a true version of who we are. Can you even imagine this?! It’s not a tossing out of who we are here on earth, but a celebration of who God created us to be and our being welcomed into that beautiful truth. We don’t have to wait until heaven though to embrace it. We do need to throw off all the false things trying to weigh us down, and that isn’t easy in a culture obsessed with validation. We are slaves to the approval of others and it is becoming our undoing.

What would a Kardashian sister do if social media suddenly went away? If you work out at the gym and don’t post about it, did it really happen? It’s funny and tragic at the same time. We are tied up in the wrong stuff, carrying around too much baggage and worrying about insignificant things. One of the most difficult things to show kids these days is that their value is not determined by their peers. Easier said than done.

Our culture loves its labels. To the point where it’s bordering on absurd. We are aching to be identified, but ready to pounce if someone “mis-identifies” us. The irony of it all is that we all want to be a part of something. We need an identity to cling to. It isn’t found in man, it can’t be found in achievements, it’s only found as we see ourselves as a beloved creation of a loving Creator. Any other way leads to chaos, which we witness on a daily basis. For example, schools and businesses going “gender-neutral” all while adopting dozens of genders. You are nothing and you are everything all at once. Pick a label, any label.

Looking to anything else but Jesus to define us is an exercise in futility.

Until we all get our white stone, we have the joy in looking to our Creator to give us identity and purpose. Not the kid on U-tube, not our jobs, not even those closest to us. When you know God and who you are through Him, you don’t have to conjure up false labels, you just get to step into yourself.

“You are God’s masterpiece.” Ephesians 2:10

The Old Cross and Modern Thought

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“Leave Christ out? O my brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether. If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach.” Charles Spurgeon

“There has come in modern times a new cross into popular evangelical circles. It is like the old cross, but different: the likenesses are superficial; the differences, fundamental. This new evangelism employs the same language as the old, but its content is not the same and its emphasis not as before.” AW Tozer, The Old Cross and the New

There’s a noticeable and growing hesitation lately in Christian circles, to take a stand for the truth. A  watering down the true gospel in exchange for something more comfortable and less demanding. Believers are in quite a bind, stuck between a culture that is perpetually offended at the basic beliefs of Christianity and Christians who have tossed aside truth for this “new cross”

Tozer speaks of CONTENT and EMPHASIS. Just think about how this plays out in todays Christian churches or bookstores. The new cross idea makes no demands but as Tozer says “offers the same thing the world does, only on a higher level. Whatever the sin-mad world happens to be clamoring after at the moment is cleverly shown to be the very thing the gospel offers, only the religious product is better. The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public.” 

Yikes.

Read any of the best-selling Christian books lately? Attended any conferences? Is the emphasis on Jesus at all? Our need for Him? Or does it seem like a big bunch of feel good, self-help bumper stickers that tell us to embrace our disastrous selves and love our messy lives?

Life is messy. We are at times, giant disasters. We live in a world given over to sin and selfishness and it gets worse by the day. The answer to all that, the remedy to our sin, is Jesus and what He did for us. It’s not going to be found in this new cross.

My heart breaks to see so many well-intentioned believers (women especially) taken down this dead-end path of almost cult-like adoration for certain books and authors who promote this grey-area discipleship. People want less teaching and more funny stories. Fewer Bible verses, more Bible coloring. Why? Because it’s easier than addressing what’s happening in our hearts or our lives. It’s hip to be a hot mess. While the stories are engaging and often times hilarious, there’s a sense that we all just are supposed to embrace the crappy stuff and hug it out, because this is life. The new cross doesn’t come with much hope.

Jesus said He came to give us LIFE and give it ABUNDANTLY (John 10:10). He never implies the absence of problems, but it does say there’s a way to thrive in spite of them. If you aren’t directing someone to the cross, to Jesus Himself and to the supernatural power of His saving grace and love… where are you directing them to? To themselves? Back to yourself? To your latest book? To the next conference? Those may all be good and useful things, but it’s like feeding a child nothing but candy. Eventually, without any nutrients, they’re going to crash.

Christians following this new cross are heading for a crash. It’s unfulfilling at best, and totally destructive at worst. Tozer writes, “this kind of thing may be sincere but its sincerity does not save it from being false. it is false because it is blind. It misses completely the meaning of the cross.”

Content and emphasis. Are we emphasizing staying on good terms with the world? With sin? These are long and winding roads that all lead to a dead end.

Jesus loved without compromising the truth. He taught without modifying the message.  We live in a “sin-mad” world where the truth changes daily. Honestly, I can’t keep up. The new lists of micro-aggressions and trigger-words grow daily. The world’s truth alters constantly. But the Truth with a capital “T” cannot change. That’s why it’s so important for us to feed on more than just candy. Christians must know Jesus for themselves and point others directly to Him. That’s ministry. The fanfare and fluff may be entertaining, but hurting people need Jesus. Period.

“That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of men is false to the Bible and cruel to the souls of its hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world, it intersects it.”

If we want to make a difference, lets start by pointing people to Jesus. We have enough distractions. Someone will always say it better or write it more eloquently. Jesus doesn’t need us to shine Him up or repackage Him. He needs us to be true to the message that has held since time began. That old cross may not be as hip or fashionable these days, but it’s the one that holds the power to transform lives. Rugged and true.