How did it go? Are you all wearing stretch pants this morning thanks to the incredible food you enjoyed? Were you able to see a smile on a loved one’s face after they opened that special gift? Did everyone that was invited come to your gathering? Have you successfully returned everything you wouldn’t dare wear? Did you strategically maneuver that special someone under the mistletoe? 🙂 Most of all, did you glorify Christ this Christmas season? Did you focus on the “Reason for the Season?” Did you “Keep Christ in CHRISTmas?”
There is always a lot of emphasis on keeping Christ in Christmas by the Christian community. I googled that idea and found tons of suggestions on the topic. The first site listed five ways to “keep Christ in Christmas.” Prepare to be riveted. Here they are:
- Go to church.
- Limit gifts and presents.
- Say grace before dinner.
- Explain how the symbols of Christmas came about.
- Explain the meaning of Christmas to your children.
Wow! How extreme? Those were the suggestions on keeping Christ in Christmas on the number one site on Google. Did you find them to be on the powder puff side of Christianity like I did? I would hope those five things take place in the regular spiritual life of a Christian family and that it doesn’t take Christmas to get families to do them. You have to wonder if the person who wrote them thought that it was ok to forget about church the rest of the year as long as you went on “Christmas Sunday” or that it was alright to exclude mealtime prayer the rest of the year as long as before the turkey or ham were consumed you remembered the Lord. And what about the other three suggestions that were limited to what happens inside the four walls of your home? I thought Christmas was a time to “Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born?”
We did give out scrolls with the Christmas story on them at our adult musical, and I posted the story online as well to encourage you all to read the Christmas story before opening any presents. It IS important that Christians understand the meaning of Christmas and that we celebrate it appropriately as it commemorates Christ’s birth. But what about generosity and making life better for others? What about thoughtfulness and going out of your way to brighten someone’s day? What about telling the story to more than just your family to make sure others know about Jesus’ birth? What about making Christ known outside the four walls of your home? The thought that crossed my mind this past week was what if we not only were hyped up about keeping Christ in Christmas, but what if we were committed to keeping Christ on display every day of our lives? What would happen if we lived to honor Christ on every day in the calendar?
I Peter 3:15 tells us to “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” Once that issue is truly settled, every other issue is settled. To be set apart means you realize you are consecrated by God or hand-picked by God to play a specific role in life and it means you willingly seek to fulfill that role. Just like the characters in the Christmas story who signed on for supernatural events and the telling of the story, you and I have the opportunity to commit to the plan of God for our lives. But I have noticed it seems in our society today we excel more in excuse giving than in commitment keeping.
I googled “Christians and excuses” and there was no shortage of excuses Christians give for not going to church. Here are a few of the classic ones:
- I worked all week and need a day to sleep in.
- They are having a guest speaker.
- Someone made fun of my toes
- I don’t know anyone there (because you never come!)
- It’s full of hypocrites (well yeah, it’s full of people).
- I don’t have anything to wear.
- There are plenty of preachers on TV.
- I don’t want to come by myself.
- Someone I don’t like goes there.
- The preacher gave a sermon directed specifically at me.
- The church did me wrong about 15 years ago.
- I haven’t gotten to see my family much this week.
- The church is too mission-minded.
- I thought I might be getting sick.
- Someone was in my seat.
- The church is getting too big.
- I will go to church when things get right between me and God. (SMH . . . that is computer lingo for shaking my head just in case you didn’t know!)
I think I am preaching upstream and uphill when I tackle this topic because the way we as Christians rationalize why we aren’t as committed to Christ and the church as God would desire for us to be is proof that we have been influenced and stained by the world’s way of thinking. We have become Christians who are “fast on our feet” and can think up excuses quickly and share them with ease. We have taken the “all things in moderation” motto and applied it to our walk with Christ. A little Jesus on the weekends is all we need or so we have come to believe. That mindset only sets us up for a life a mediocrity which leads to lukewarmness and compromise. Listen, it’s not a little bit of Jesus and a little bit of Melissa and a little bit of what my friends think and a little bit of what Facebook, Fox, or CNN suggests. It is Christ alone and me conforming to His will! That is what Jesus as Lord is all about.
“Accountability” was the buzzword in the Christian community in the 90’s, but it has become the word to avoid in this millennium. Have you set apart Christ as Lord in your heart, and if you have does your lifestyle confirm you have? As we prepare for this New Year, I want to give you five suggestions for “Keeping Christ in the Calendar” all year around.
- Let God be God. He is capable of being God! He is super qualified. His track record is clear. You can let Him be Lord, and He won’t drop the ball. We see from the first pages of Genesis that self-rule doesn’t work. Ask God if He is in His rightful place in your life. Look back over the last year and ask yourself, “Did I seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness?” (Matthew 6:33) or did I pursue my wants and my way?
- You can keep Christ in the calendar by living in unity and peace with people.
- Keep Christ in the calendar by making servanthood a lifestyle.
- Keep Christ in the calendar by being committed to attending church.
- 5. Finally, keep Christ in the calendar by giving all year round.
a. Let God be God as you seek to know Him and His plan.
Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours. The trouble with planning our own path is that we think too low. Often we think too low of ourselves. We sell ourselves short and psych ourselves out. We don’t think we can lead a life of impact so we settle for a life of existence. We set our sights below the bar God knows we can achieve. That means we experience less than God’s best for our lives. Letting God be God in determining your life plan isn’t just about who you will influence and what legacy you will leave, but it is also about receiving the good things from God that He has to give you and wants for you to experience.
My life’s plan NEVER included being a senior pastor. I didn’t train for it. I didn’t plan for it. I didn’t make plans to take steps toward becoming one. As I was growing, I just tried to listen to God and follow Him when He told me what to do, and here I am. I am living a life that is satisfying, rewarding, and I am happy to be here. It isn’t what I wanted. I used to practice being a recording artist as I held my hairbrush in my hand as my microphone. I was going places that involved lights, traveling and stadium seating. But as I started to move into my upper teens and allowed Christ to take first place in my life, He put me on a path to prepare me for what I am doing now even though I was clueless about my destination.
If I hadn’t developed sensitivity to God’s voice and learned to accept His timing and plans, this church would be a train wreck or we would have been long gone as your pastors. Had we not followed God’s lead, we would have rushed to build before it was His time and been in financial difficulty. I cannot lead this ministry unless God is God in my life. I share that simply to try to make the point that men and women, you can’t lead your families or yourselves unless God is God in your life. So much of the rest of your life depends on you successfully letting God be God.
I watched the morning talk show, “The View” on Thursday of this week where a Methodist minister said that it was time that the church listened to the culture. “No Sir,” was what I wanted to shout at the TV. Culture doesn’t dictate what I believe or what I will stand for or upon. Christ alone is Lord. Culture doesn’t inform the Christian. Christians are to be informed by Christ and to be the ones to lift up the standard for the culture as they live to prove that Christ is Lord. Whose life are you informing as you follow Christ?
b. Let God be God by refusing to sin.
I Peter 4:1-2 says, “Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is DONE WITH SIN. As a result, he DOES NOT live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.”
The biggest threat to our walk with Christ and witness for Christ isn’t a political one or cultural one contrary to what you read on Facebook or hear on talk radio. The biggest threat to our holiness and right standing with God is SIN. What I said earlier about excuses and compromise and rationalization has led us as a Christian community into sinful practices which are threatening our relationship with Christ. You cannot follow Christ and continue to live in sin. Christ never sinned, so if you are following Him, I promise He won’t lead you into sin.
There is too much being nurtured in the hearts of believers that isn’t like Jesus. Racism, Sexism, Bigotry, Idolatry, Gossip, Self-righteousness, Judgmentalism, Cursing, Pornography, Drunkeness, Fortune Telling, Ghost chasing, and sexual perversions and sexual promiscuity are just a short list of sins which have no place in the life of people who are following Jesus, He never went down any of those roads. You can’t find Him hanging out in any of those allies. He ministered to people who were in bondage to those behaviors, but He Himself never participated in those sinful practices. There are so many things that were clearly sinful for my generation and we knew it. Now the lines between what is acceptable for Christians and non-Christians are so obscured they aren’t just dotted lines, but broken ones. What happened to “avoiding the very appearance of evil?” (I Thess. 5:22)
Sin is wrong. It is an offense against God, and I believe choosing a lifestyle of sin means a person is turning their back on God. You and I have been chosen in Christ not to become more clever sinners, not to become sinners with better excuses, not to become sinners that look shinier on the outside, but we have been chosen in Christ to become holy which means the complete opposite of sinful.
Let’s not just do our best to honor God during the Christmas season, but all year round as we are conscious of those things which offend God and as we choose to get as far as possible from them. Keep Christ in the calendar by letting God be God and by letting His plan for your life and the development of holiness in your life be your highest aims.
It needs to start at home. Families, there is too much fighting, bickering, belittling and back talking going on in our homes. If we can’t apply biblical principles to our relationships with our immediate families and be successful we ought not to think the world will find any reason to want to join us. One of the big ways God manifests His presence in your life or lack thereof is in your relationships with people.
I’m looking down the road with our kids. I want to have significant relationships with them long-term. I want them to be able to come to us even as adults for prayer, advice, and support. I want to have strong bonds that will hold us together across distances as college and jobs will likely take them away from us. I want to have good relationships with them and their spouses and one day, many, many years from now, become a grandma who has a close relationship with her grandchildren. The way we treat our nuclear family as our children are growing up can set the stage for lifelong relationships that are a blessing or can assist in brokenness, hurt, and distance in the future.
Some of you have just come through some tough times, I am sure. Perhaps you didn’t get to see grandchildren or didn’t hear from your kids. That is painful. I don’t even want to think about how badly that could hurt. If that is the scenario you are dealing with I’m not saying that you did anything wrong in your parenting and are now the recipient of some kind of broken relationship as a result. I know people do grow up and make choices which are often short-sighted, selfish, and insensitive. If you are one of those people who is contributing to a broken relationship, perhaps part of keeping Christ in your calendar will mean looking for ways to mend the brokenness. If you do have regrets as a parent, it is never too late to say, “I’m sorry, will you forgive me?”
Jesus said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” (Mark 3:25) Division brings destruction and the repercussions are often long-term.
Ephesians 4 is a treatise on living in harmony with people. Paul says that we are to walk worthy of our calling and that worthiness is defined through our humility, patience, and ability to bear with one another in love. Perhaps the “Christmas Spirit” got ahold of you this past month and you found yourself being kinder, gentler, or more helpful with others. Paul says that kind of lifestyle is the lifestyle we are to embrace all year round as followers of Jesus. Let’s look at Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:2-3 “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Paul understood how easy it is for believers to adopt a false humility, so he used a descriptive word in front of the words “humble” and “gentle.” He said our humility needed to be complete and not fake. If certain people are beneath you, if certain acts of kindness are beneath you, if certain jobs are beneath you, you haven’t humbled yourself to the same level Christ did because He was willing to get on His hands and knees to wash His disciples’ feet.
We aren’t told to just show love to people, but to bear with all people in order to show love to all people. We don’t get to pick and choose who we will care about and care for. Some people take longer to get their lives on track than others. Some never will “get it together,” yet we are told to bear with them in love.
Making every effort to keep unity and peace with people isn’t really in style these days. We are easily offended, easily angered, and easily put off to the point where we nonchalantly discard people and relationships with little thought. But Paul says we are to make every effort. “Well, I’m never speaking to her again” or “I’m not talking to him again until he apologizes” isn’t making any effort, and Paul challenges us to make EVERY effort.
Anyone who had company into their home for Christmas dinner knows a lot of work goes in to preparing for that kind of gathering. There is a lot of work that is done beforehand that has nothing to do with how the table looks when everyone sits down together. Behind the scenes planning and prep take just as much if not more effort than the presentation of the meal. At Christmastime we will go out of our way to shop for that special present for that special someone even if it is inconvenient and time consuming. People will ring Salvation Army bells, shop to buy presents for people they don’t know, and make fudge to give to their neighbors just because it’s Christmas.
What we say we believe about Christ has to be backed up with how we live. Sure, a life of holiness will glorify Christ, but a life of selfishness, no matter how “spotless” it appears isn’t what God is asking of us and it won’t impress the world. John 12:25-26 tells us, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” One challenge we will be issuing during 2014 is “Give us an hour a week.” We would love to see everyone who calls TVCOG their home church offer to serve one hour per week. We currently have openings for helpers during the second service in our children’s church ministry. With our two-service structure, you can worship in one and serve in the other.
Service is motivated by love. We show we love God when we serve one another. When Jesus washed His disciples’ feet in John 13, the Scripture says He did so to show them the full extent of His love. Our willingness to serve shows our love for Christ and desire to be like Him.
We had 491 here last Sunday. That was really neat since we usually hover just over the 400 mark. Why the bump in attendance? There were lots of visitors and perhaps lots of the semi-regulars made it a point to show up on “Christmas Sunday.” There is a name for people who only attend church on Christmas and Easter. They are called “Creastures.” What is that about? What does that really accomplish? What is it supposed to mean? Honoring God twice a year with the honor of your presence? What does He think about that?
Scripture commands us to gather together for worship (Hebrews 10:25) I have heard pastors say they think people’s attendance problem is a commitment problem. That’s true and not true at the same time. While I believe there are people who have trouble committing to church attendance, those same people are often committed in their lives to other activities and groups. People are committed to playing and watching sports. People are committed to their jobs. People are committed to the pursuit of money. People are committed to political parties and staying up on current affairs. People are committed to service organizations. People are committed to watching their favorite TV shows and playing online computer and electronic games. People are committed to getting an education. People are committed to music lessons. People are committed to pursuing pleasure. They are committed to getting to the race, the cabin, the campsite, the fishing hole, to horseback riding and other hobbies. (REFERENCE) While it is realistic to think those things are part of our lives, as Christians, we must make sure they don’t become our lives and don’t replace the time meant to be set aside for corporate worship. When you aren’t here, you miss out on something God intends for the Body of Believers here to experience. You also miss contributing what God intends for you to contribute in this place.
Christians ought to be the most generous people around and not just at Christmastime. Yet we hear repeatedly that the Sunday crowd is filled with the cheapest tippers. Our church offerings go up noticeably in December. People give more in December than any other month and are more willing to give to others outside of the church as well. What if we adopted that spirit all year round?
God has many reasons for instructing us to tithe which is the giving of ten percent of our income to the church. I believe one of those reasons is that it puts us into the habit of regular giving. Once you are in the habit of giving, it isn’t hard to give extra and to make it a routine and regular part of your life.
It will be your faithful giving which will help us accomplish the “Mission Possible” God has given us. I’m not just talking about the building of the new facility so we can offer more ministry to the community as well as to the church, but I’m talking also about our ability to meet the physical needs that arise weekly in our community as well. God is an extravagant Giver. He gives us life and breath and salvation through the forgiveness of our sins. He gives us gifts and talents in order to make Him known. He gives us resources to use to enable His Kingdom to advance. If every family that considered TVCOG their home church was in the habit of tithing we would probably take in four times what we currently receive (and I am being conservative on that estimate) and we could probably build the community center in two years without having any additional campaigns.
While I want us to make sure each December that Christ is the center of our Christmas, my greater desire is that He be the center of every calendar day. Will you join me in 2014 in my attempt to do so by letting God be God, by living in unity with people, by raising your commitment to attend church, and by serving and giving more? Today, make sure you have set apart Christ as Lord in your heart and that you choose so every day of your life.