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What if My Life is In A Mess?

Written By Charlie Sandberg, USA

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

Christmas is God’s declaration that He will renew and remake our world. This work includes remaking us from the inside out. As Jesus does this work, He is full of mercy. He doesn’t throw up his hands in frustration because the job is taking too long; instead he patiently works in our lives until the work is done.

I once thought Jesus’ work in my life would be wrapped up in a few weeks. So I was always a bit ashamed when things in my life were less than perfect.  Then, my wife and I remodeled our kitchen and I learned an important lesson.

Remodeling our kitchen was a massive project.  Partly because I had never used power tools before, and partly because we were taking out walls and putting in new fixtures.

My friend Rod drove out from Minnesota to help, and I’m so glad that he did. For starters, he knows his way through a remodeling project. In his spare time, he buys homes, fixes them up, and sells them to families in need at a reduced price. But mainly, I was glad he was there to encourage me.

You see, about halfway through the project, I was certain I had destroyed my kitchen. It looked like a bomb went off. Like one big mistake. Huge holes in the drywall. Dangling electrical wires. Dust everywhere. I was so overwhelmed by the mess and so fearful my house was beyond repair that I stopped functioning. I just stood in the middle of the mess wishing it would go away.

Rod isn’t what I’d call a sensitive man, but he noticed I wasn’t doing well. So he called a five-minute break, handed me a can of Country Time Lemonade, and said, “Charlie, you’ve got to learn to be okay with the mess. It’s just part of the project and I’m not leaving until it’s done.”

Those words weren’t just what I needed to hear about my kitchen. They were words for my soul.

Up to that point, I thought God wasn’t okay with the mess. I thought that everything in my life needed to be neat and tidy. That the holes in my character frightened Him deeply. That sometimes He wondered if starting a work in me was just one big mistake.

But Rod’s words shifted something in my soul. They helped me to see that my life is a remodeling project and for the time being, God doesn’t have a problem with the mess. Sure, dust is everywhere. Sure, sometimes he removes a drywall and exposes things I’d rather not face. But God isn’t overwhelmed. He’s busy taking out the old things and bringing in the new.

Christmas reveals this truth in such a clear way. After all, the story of Christmas is about a gracious God who cares about the mess we are in. So Jesus comes as a merciful Savior and His mercy means He’s incredibly patient as He works to renew and remake our lives.

So now I am practicing letting myself be a work in progress. Believing Jesus notices all the things about me that need to be redone, and yet He loves me anyway, and is okay with the mess because He is remaking me from the inside out.

A Moment to Reflect

Christmas reveals that God isn’t looking for perfection. He’s looking for humble people who will trust Him to do a work in and through them. So today, sit for a moment and let yourself rest in the reality that God isn’t overwhelmed by the mess. He loves you wholly. And He will finish His good work in you.

What Do We Do Now With All Those Christmas Gifts?

Can you believe it? Christmas Day has come and gone—just like that.

Over the last month or possibly just this past week, you probably spent a great deal of time writing Christmas cards—purchased from a store or handmade with love—and choosing the ideal gift. The latter is an art in itself. Sometimes, it might even feel like you’re treading through a minefield—getting the wrong gift is akin to setting an explosive off.

You thought long and hard about what to buy for your friends and family, hoping that they would love what you got them. After getting the gifts, you wrapped them up in the fanciest or cheesiest wrapping paper you could find and topped them all off with a ribbon and possibly a beautifully calligraphed tag (that you spent hours trying to master).

Next comes the gift exchange and finally, the time to open the presents you’ve received. You approach with the subtle hope that as much thought and love had been poured into them just as you did for the gifts you prepared. Whether you are a ripper or a peeler, you finally get to the moment of truth—the moment you find out if you like what you see.

So . . . are you happy with all the Christmas gifts you have received?

Well, there are bound to be some presents we absolutely love and some others we’re a little confused by (to put it mildly). Based on what I’ve observed from all my Christmas experiences, here are the three most common ways Christmas gifts are dealt with. I’m curious to know what’s yours.

 

1. Use it.

If you’ve received something that you like and are able to use, my heartiest congratulations. It could be that new lip tint that is trending this season, or that new book that you’ve had your eye on, or that latest gadget that everyone has been dying to get their hands on. But let’s be honest. Even those have a shelf life. Give it a couple of weeks and soon our attention will be drawn to something else.

Nothing seems to truly satisfy no matter how useful it is, does it?

 

2. Shelf it.

These are the gifts that befuddle us and make us wonder why anyone would spend money to get them or whether any thought has been put into them. You know what I’m talking about—those liquor chocolates, tacky socks, and bath bombs etc. They are usually left where we last placed them and tucked in a corner till the next spring-cleaning. Out of sight and out of mind. I have seen this happen too often in my own home. These gifts are tricky to handle and often leave us helpless because it seems rude to throw them away and yet we have no use for them.

Is the value of the gift determined by the giver or the recipient?

 

3. Recycle it.

Yes, you read that right. Some of us are guilty of this (the more practical lot). The unwanted gifts are nicely rewrapped and placed in someone else’s hands the following Christmas. Or we might donate them to the local thrift store to appease our conscience, believing that at least it will go towards a good cause.

Should we ever give given gifts away?

 

 

Whichever option we identify with, if we are honest with ourselves, there can never be a gift on earth that can truly satisfy (what with our endless material wants and earthly desires).

However, we know that there is a gift from above (James 1:17) that truly satisfies and never disappoints. It is an indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15) that we can unwrap and unpack over and over again for the rest of our lives—revealing more truths and wonders each time we do so.

It is a timeless gift that never goes out of style. It is original and uniquely ours—written with our names on the gift tags. A gift that keeps our interest piqued at all times and that we desperately need, not just want.

And that gift is Jesus, my friends.

He’s the perfect and irreplaceable gift that must be received and shared.

If you have yet to receive this gift, will you open your hearts to receive it today?
If you’ve yet to share this gift, will you do so even though Christmas is over?

Hang On, Should Christians be Celebrating Christmas?

Written By Deborah Fox, Australia

I don’t know about you, but when it gets this close to Christmas, I often look at the tinsel, the sparkling lights, and the crowded stores and wonder if I should be engaging in all the hype. As followers of Christ, should we be making a stand against the commercialization and gluttony associated with our modern-day Christmas festivities?

An experience several years ago made me consider this question seriously.

Then, I was so engrossed in my book to notice two sets of inquisitive eyes staring at me, deeply concerned. I was at the hospital awaiting test results and not at all expecting to engage in a deep theological conversation.

The book I was reading was by John Piper, with the provocative title Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. The book was not meant to encourage debauchery or sinful thoughts. It was actually a reprint of Piper’s bestseller Desiring God, which highlighted that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”.

The two women sitting opposite me opened up about their faith and we chatted extensively on the dangers of pursuing our own desires and neglecting to do what pleases God. Our discussion quickly turned to the celebration of birthdays, Christmas, and Easter. They had an issue with how easily religious holidays lose their original meaning.

While I was able to agree with their reflections on how self-centered and materialistic these holidays can become, one of their main issues with celebrating Christmas was not so much the excessive food and presents, but the object of the celebration.

I soon discovered that the women were from a Christian sect that rejects the immortality of the soul and the Trinity of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While they believed in the authority of the Bible and the saving work of Jesus on the cross, they did not recognize Jesus in the Godhead. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was a special man, but not God incarnate. So they asked me: Why would you celebrate the birth of a man who lived and died over 2000 years ago?

Interestingly, their response helped me see exactly what was so special about Christmas to us as believers. We don’t just celebrate the birth of a mere man, we celebrate the fact that He, like no other man, would live, die a physical death, and eventually conquer death. Isn’t that worth celebrating?

Speaking of celebrating, Jesus Himself participated in Jewish festivals and parties. His first public miracle was at a wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1-12). Jesus also visited Matthew’s dinner party, where sinners came to Him and had their lives transformed (Matthew 5:27-32). And in Revelation 19:6-9, we get an image of the great marriage supper of the Lamb, where the entire Kingdom of God is invited to participate in the festivities, joyfully worshipping the Lord forever. If Jesus was able to enjoy celebrations with His friends and family, how much more should we take joy and delight in celebrating the great gift He is to us?

So, should Christians celebrate Christmas? It appears we can, as long as we are pointing to the object of our faith: Christ. I’ve been challenged this Christmas season to take a step back and consider whether I have been treasuring Christ? Am I placing Jesus at the center of my affections? I have had to consider ways that I can actively celebrate Emmanuel—God with us. I need to be sharing my faith and Christmas is an ideal time for starting discussions about why Jesus is the greatest gift we can ever receive.

This year, I have decided to invite friends to join me for the Christmas Eve service at my church. I also plan to use conversations over Christmas dinner to share the great hope and joy I have in Christ. There are also various outreach programs that I can join in to help share the hope we have in the birth of our Savior.

If “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”, then we should be displaying our great joy in the Lord to those around us.  We can celebrate Christmas by celebrating Christ.

Seeing Christmas in a New Light

Written By Lee Soo Yi, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

My all-time favorite occasion is Christmas. Why, you may ask? Well, which other occasion can match up to the myriad of activities?

There are heartwarming stage plays of the Christmas story at church, fun Christmas parties and gatherings with friends and family, soulful Christmas concerts, sumptuous Christmas dinners—the list goes on. I absolutely love the celebrative mood of the season and harbor hopes of having a white Christmas someday—imagine a snow capped backdrop with warm festive lights and the chorus of carols in the background. Just thinking about this makes me bubble over with joy!

But I eventually came to realize: I was so caught up with the sentiment of Christmas that I never really gave much thought to how I could make the time meaningful.

Having grown up in church, there were always plenty of opportunities to serve during Christmas. Deep down, I knew all the right reasons for why I should be involved but the constant thought of ‘Christmas is meant to be happily enjoyed!’ was hard to brush aside. I was worried that I would be too exhausted if I said ‘Yes’ and feared missing out on all the fun Christmas parties with my friends. It didn’t matter if it was sharing the Christmas story through stage plays or Christmas choirs or the giving out of gospel tracts—they were all politely turned down. I would tell myself: as long as I take time to remember Jesus and what He has done for me, that’s all that matters, isn’t it?

I would come to discover that these were all silly excuses and that I had my focus on the wrong person: myself instead of Christ. My desire to enjoy the spirit of Christmas overpowered my desire to serve the One who came to humbly serve us.

It was in my third year of university that my perspective on Christmas changed entirely. It was a special Christmas that has left the deepest impression on my heart.

I remember joining the choir at church due to the persistent encouragement of a friend. Interestingly enough, that was the year when the church decided to organize a large scale Christmas stage play (it was going to be held in a venue that could house thousands of people!). Hence, every single choir member was mobilized to be a part of this huge production and you had no excuse not to join (unless you had a really special reason). At the start, things turned out exactly as I expected: sheer exhaustion. I had to memorize a number of new songs, attend countless practices and rehearsals at church and to top it all off, deal with my jumpy nerves. It was clear to me that I was doing all this for God, yet I still felt disgruntled that I was seemingly ‘sacrificing’ so much time for this. Many a time, I contemplated just throwing in the towel. This constant grumbling continued in my heart, but sheer embarrassment prevented me from giving up.

Before I knew it, the day of the performance arrived.

I vividly remember standing in the second row, being close enough to the audience to clearly see the varied expressions on their faces. A few impatient faces caught my eye—they belonged to a group of local students who were sitting upfront and seemed indifferent towards all that was going on around them (their phones took all the attention). I was affected by their lack of interest and assumed that they would just maintain this attitude from the start to the end of the program.

However, I was caught by surprise as I witnessed a gradual change in their attitude as the program progressed: they were giving their fullest attention during the choir performance! I almost fell off my feet when they actually responded to the pastor’s call to prayer. I noticed at this time too that many in the audience were responding in their own ways—some were swaying along to the carols, some were crying silently, some clapping along and others praying with their heads bowed etc. It all moved me deeply.

I’m so thankful to God for this experience of serving Him at Christmas that led me to discover anew the true meaning of Christmas. It’s not just about my good feelings or nice fantasies of Christmas but a time to truly contemplate the implications of my Savior coming to be among us and the work that He came to do. He came to serve and not to be served—our Servant King! Let’s walk in His footsteps and make Christmas not just a time of festive celebration but more so –  the best time for us to share the good news of the Christmas Story with those who have yet to know Him, and as a time to love and serve others around us.

“He has caused His wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate.” –Psalms 111:4