Life happens . . .

hands-1438638-640x480Life happens and sometimes it is filled with joy and happiness but inevitably every person alive will deal with grief, disappointment, failure or some other traumatic circumstance that changes their world. Most of the time we don’t see the rough times coming. It might be the sudden death of a loved one, a divorce that was unforeseen, choices made by our children that we can do very little to affect or 100 other emotional events.

I want to prepare you for the most surprising aspect of all when these bad things happen. There will be people who walk out of your life.  Sometimes it is the people you thought you were closest to. I’ve written about this before and 3.5 years later I still struggle to grasp the concept especially in the faith community of how or why this happens. I’ve also witnessed this same reaction in other professions and organizations.

It is so common that in her book Option B, Sheryl Sandberg explains it this way. “For friends who turn away in times of difficulty, putting distance between themselves and emotional pain feels like self-preservation. These are the people who see someone drowning in sorrow and then worry, perhaps subconsciously, that they will be dragged under too. Others get overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness; they feel there’s nothing they can do or say.

This blog is not about me. I am writing today for all of us that encounter trauma, witness others devastating circumstances or find ourselves wanting to take full blame for things that happen.

Sandberg’s most prolific comments for those walking through negative events are found in the third paragraph of Chapter 1. “We plant the seeds of resilience in the ways we process negative events. After spending decades studying how people deal with setbacks, psychologist Martin Seligman found that three P’s can stunt recovery: (1) Personalization– the belief that we are at fault, (2) Pervasiveness — the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and (3) Permanence — the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.  The three P’s play like the flip side of the pop song, “Everything is Awesome” — “everything is awful.” The loop in your head repeats, “It’s my fault this is awful. My whole life is awful. And it’s always going to be awful.”

Depending on the situation, it is possible that you and I may bear some fault. It may affect many areas of our lives and in fact some parts of it may be permanent, however at some point one must choose to move past it all and live with the newness of the changes that are now the new normal. Like all of life, this new situation will come with highs and lows. There will be moments of peace and moments of turmoil because that’s life. My prayer is that you don’t get stuck in the past. Allow your self to move forward. Extend self-compassion to yourself.

If you are watching someone else walk through the fire please consider the following suggestions:

  1. Be present: Don’t disappear from their lives.
  2. Be kind: In word, thought and deed.
  3. Be a friend: Real friends are friends no matter what.
  4. Be available: You don’t have to be front and center in the drama but let them know you are still there.
  5. Be the bigger person: No matter how repulsed you might be extend grace.
  6. Be praying: Pray both for them and yourself that you might find a way to be helpful
  7. Be compassionate: Whatever it takes always be compassionate.
  8. Be normal: Treat them as though they are human and have normal things happening in their lives because they really do.
  9. Be forgiving: Not practicing forgiveness in not an option unless you want to carry their baggage the rest of your life.
  10. Be like Jesus: “Make allowances for each others faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

Practice love. Be proactive and intentional about it and you will be a much better person for it. If you are the broken person whose life has been put on display, forgive yourself or give yourself permission to move forward and love those around you. Let the love and peace of God flow into and out of your life.  May’s God’s love flood your life today.

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He came to me . . .

I listened and watched with great interest recently as vocalists gathered from different parts of the country to sing in a college choir reunion day. This was centered around 30 plus years of alumni all led by the same godly director who left a profound impact on all of our lives. His influence goes well beyond the music and for that I will always be deeply thankful.

I didn’t watch it all but whenever someone would “go live” and I had availability I would watch. Like others I was moved and it evoked a lot of memories from my time in this choir.

I inhaled the words to the gospel song entitled He Came to Me. For some reason I thought of how different it was the second time around. When I came to him the first time, it wasn’t that difficult. I knew I needed Him. The invitation was extended my whole life after almost every service. I had watched people “come to Him,” over and over. I knew the path to God and made my way to Him.

 

I’m not sure of why the author wrote this song or what he was feeling at the time. I’m not sure of his story but I know mine. Spiritual failure is not easy to overcome. The guilt, the shame, the embarrassment, and the emotions are enough to send you into hiding. Like Adam and Eve, Moses, Jacob, Jonah, Elijah and Peter one tends to run the other way and hiding from God and people seems reasonable. I use the term hiding lightly because hiding from God is impossible. The fact is you will never understand this unless you have walked the road of spiritual failure but God runs toward you. He does not run the other way. He does not shrink back in horror, shock and awe. He comes running. You have to desire His help. You have to want Him but I assure you that sometimes we get ourselves so caught in the thickets and stuck places that only God can undo the tangles. Only God can rescue us and He does.

These thoughts filled my head as I heard these words in this gospel song:

The gulf that separated me from Christ, my Lord,
It was so vast the crossing I could never ford;
From where I was to His domain, it seemed so far,
I cried, “Dear Lord, I cannot come to where you are.”
He came to me, O, He came to me.
When I could not come to where He was, He came to me.
That’s why He died on Calvary,
When I could not come to where He was, He came to me.
He came to me when I was bound in chains of sin,
He came to me when I possessed no hope within,
He picked me up and He drew me gently to His side,
Where, today, in His sweet love I now abide.”
Like it or not He still leaves the 99 and goes after the lost lamb. I am so thankful He came to me because there was no way I could go to Him. He came searching. He came with a rescue in mind. He came with the help of a few like-minded lovers of Jesus that extended their hands with mercy, compassion and grace.
Read this story again and understand the heart of the Jesus we profess to follow, love and obey.
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“Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!”  Luke 15: 1-7 NLT 

He came to me and He will come for you! Look for Him because He is looking for you.

The Divine Yes . . .

One thing is certain and that is that life is very uncertain. Our lives ebb and flow with blessings, burdens and sometimes brokenness. Almost everyone will find moments to laugh and smile but there are also moments of tears and great sorrow. Relationships most often seem to cause the greatest pain in our lives. Words, spoken or unspoken, death, divorce, hate, abuse, neglect, contempt, anger, bitterness, wrath, personal attacks, and many other symptoms make up the human condition called relationships.

Sometimes a change in our comfortable life can cause us to pause and question the connection that  we have with God. Where is He when we need Him the most? How could He let this happen to us? Why are we being challenged with whatever or whoever it is that is threatening to disturb our peace?

I’ve wrestled the last three years or so with what I am supposed to do with my calling, gifts and strengths. I stepped aside from full time ministry when my life was upside down and I’ve worked hard to regain my faith and a solid relationship with Christ. I’ve come to believe that whatever ministry looked like before it probably will never look like that again. I’ve also always been a believer that every follower of Christ will have a ministry and so I wrestle with the present sometimes and pray often that God will show me the way.

And then it happened. . . . the brokenness, challenges and failures of others threaten to upset the peace and comfort that I’ve become accustomed to and even cherish. Sometimes we have no choice in the matter because of people that are around us and their personal choices or the unwanted visits of disease or death that come calling.

I’ve been thinking a lot. I’ve been processing a lot. It occurs the me that there is a time to trust God with our lives and circumstances. We say that a lot but when the challenges come we are put to the test.

E. Stanley Jones’ last book was entitled The Divine Yes. He finished it after suffering a devastating stroke. When his daughter reached his bedside he told her he could not die because he had to finish one final book. Battling the ravages of the stroke including speech, walking, sight, hearing, and the use of one arm he pressed on. It wasn’t the ideal and it wasn’t anything like he had known in prior days when he preached an estimated sixty thousand sermons or penned his many books. It was a different season but God was still in it. He took the pain and the loss of so much he had enjoyed and used for God over his eighty seven years and turned his last days into not only writing about the divine yes but also living it out.

So what is this Divine yes? The answer is found in 2 Corinthians 1:19-20. Here are three different translations of these verses:

” . . . the divine ‘yes’ has at last sounded in Him, for in Him is the ‘yes’ that affirms all the promises of God. Hence it is through him that we affirm our ‘amen’ in worship, to the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 1:19-20 Moffat
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 1:20 NIV

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.  2 Corinthians 2:20 NLT

In our life the changes will come. It may or may not be our fault but for whatever reason your life or mine becomes more than what we think we can stand it is then that the divine yes comes into play. It is in Christ that we discover all the promises of God. It is in Christ that we come to depend for the power to survive. The Divine yes is saying yes to all that is in front of you and finding God in it.

The very popular, shallow and dead wrong prosperity teaching of today would suggest that God’s will never includes suffering, heartache or challenges. The thought is that you can just believe and “give” enough to motivate God to rescue you (bless you). I don’t see it in the bible anywhere. What I find our great men and women who walked through the fire and testings and held on to their faith by finding strength in the Divine yes in which all the promises of God are fulfilled.

Adam and Eve were major failures but the found God in their brokenness because they found a way to say yes to God’s will. Able was murdered for his faith but he was blessed in his death because he was true to the Divine yes. Noah said the Divine yes to building an ark in the face of derision and mocking. Moses said yes to the Divine even when he didn’t want to and doubted his ability to answer the call. Abraham said yes to taking his son up the mountain as a sacrifice. Joseph said yes even though he spent years in exile and even in prison for things he didn’t do before he saw the fulfillment of God’s promises. It was many hard years from the time he left the pit till he arrived at the palace. Elijah the prophet said the Divine yes but wound up in the cave of despair and eventually was taken by God in a dramatic display love and respect and rescue. Daniel said the Divine yes but still had to endure a night with the lions. His three companions said the Divine yes and wound up in the fiery furnace. Do I need to recall more?

The disciples of Jesus said the Divine yes or yes to the Divine and history suggests that 11 of the 12 were martyred for their faith. The ultimate example is the Divine Yes Himself. Jesus said it and was it. Knowing the cross was ahead of Him, He interceded in the lonely garden as God but also as man and cried out, “Father if you are wiling, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done not mine.”  The cup didn’t pass and He went to the cross leaving a trail for you and I to follow. “Pick up your cross and follow me,” He said.

I don’t know what you are dealing with but I know that sometimes life is not fair. Things happen that hurt us to our core. What was may never be again and it can be traumatic and life changing. Through it all . . . keep saying the Divine yes. Keep your eyes on Jesus and know that in Him all the promises of God are in tact and working for you and in you.  Discouragement is a major tool of the enemy of our soul. Perseverance comes by faith in the One who said yes who sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for you and me.

IMG_5216Let me make this really personal. For now there is an eight week old living in our home. She is a precious life that had no choice about being born or her circumstances in life. For whatever reason she is now here and that comes with challenges and needs that need to be addressed. She is totally helpless and dependent at this stage. It’s a challenge for a 56 year old man. The bottles, the rocking, burping, diapers, and all the stuff that comes with it. As I sat and rocked her to sleep this past weekend, I thought of all the other things I could be doing with my “days off.” I thought about my age and how babies are supposed to be visitors not your responsibility.  And then it happened. It was as though I felt God whisper to me, “In as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.”  It was then that I lifted up my tear stained face and worshipped my God as I held onto and loved this child.  I have prayed over her and prayed for her future. I’ve held her up to God and trust that He will help her overcome her challenges in life.

You see, I’ve worried that MY talents and gifts are not being used and that somehow I may be failing God by staying on the sidelines. I honestly don’t have any ego needs to speak publicly but it is all I have known and so what else can I offer Him? Loudly and clearly I think I hear His voice in my soul. The calling is right in front of me for now. Love and care for those around me. The baby, the teenagers, and others. Pray for them earnestly that they will all grow up to love God and not be tainted by this terrible ungodly world. It’s a mission. It’s a calling. It’s huge.

I have a feeling that God calls all of us at one time or the other to respond to Him with the Divine yes as our answer. I rest in Christ. I’m a little weary but I rest in Him because I know He loves me and that He will never leave me or forsake me. I say yes to the Divine.

 

It’s epidemic . . . probably even in your church.

I’ve thought about this for years. I worked hard when I was a church insider and leader2it0mqr to make sure the church saw this and addressed it weekly. Having been a “visitor” quite often the last three years and many times before while visiting churches I feel the need to write.

I firmly believe one of the greatest failures of the church happens every Sunday. I used to think it might just happen in medium to large size churches but there is compelling and even personal evidence that it happens in some churches under a hundred in attendance as well. What is this epidemic? Let me see if can articulate my thoughts.

It is quite simply the unwillingness of church people to go out of their way to connect to someone they don’t know or haven’t seen at church before. We love our church family. We love to see them each week and connect even for brief moments as we rush out the door to the parking lot. Sometimes we gather in clusters around each other because we genuinely love and care for one another. It is the best behavior and the worst at the same time. We should care for one another. It even says we are to love one another in the Bible. It is almost unforgivable that people come into our holy Sunday morning gatherings and leave without one person genuinely trying to get to know them or understand who they are.

Maybe it’s the whole greeter ministry thing that has thrown us off. In the back of our minds we think they have it covered because they open a door or hand people a bulletin. They don’t!  You connect with those well-meaning people about as much as you connect with the greeter at Wal-Mart. I know some of you are going to be defensive so let me give you a few examples.

Years ago I attended a church in another state on a Sunday morning. The assistant pastor literally got up and reminded people to pray for the 5 new families they were asking God to send their church and congregation. They had about 100 in attendance. I stood in the lobby after church and not one person said one word to me as they filed out. Not hello. Not nice to see you. Nothing.  I remarked to a close friend of mine over lunch that I doubted very much that God was going to answer their prayer and send them 5 new families because they wouldn’t welcome them if they showed up. They talked to one another but not the new person. They never even saw me.

In the last role I had as a church leader the feedback I got from one of our multi-site locations by several visitors was the same. “They all seemed to love each other a lot.” or “It was as though we weren’t even there.” That church is no longer in existence even though they had the coolest building and all the media toys to go with it.

I could write story after story including today when I saw the tears flow down my wife’s cheeks on the way home as she said, “I’m so tired of being invisible.” Believe it or not it’s a church we like and I’m sure we will be back and keep trying. Her comment was reflective of a couple of churches. My point is not to sound bitter because I am not and we are not in any way. I’ve studied church and led it for decades and have watched this play out over and over. Forget my personal stories. I’ve heard the same stories from others as well about churches of all sizes.

So what can we do about it? Here are some practical tips:

  1. Go to church with eyes that see what and who Jesus would see.
  2. See them.
  3. Pray before you go that you might encounter someone who is new.
  4. Be intentional about trying to spot a new person.
  5. Engage them in conversation. (I know that there are people who go to large churches to get lost in the crowd but most do not.)
  6. Be genuinely interested in them and learn their names.
  7. Remember their names.
  8. Look for them the next Sunday as well and follow up with them.
  9. Introduce new people to other people.
  10. Invite them to something where others will be there.
  11. If you attend a church that has regular visitors resist the temptation to talk to your friends first. Be intentional about it. Talk to someone you don’t know first.
  12. Care about people you don’t know and love them in Jesus name.
  13. Understand that people need community and want it desperately.
  14. Try to process what it would be like to want community so badly but be passed over Sunday after Sunday in the one place that you would think you would find it.
  15. Care, just simply care. Care enough to speak to people you don’t know.
  16. Make it your business to help cure the epidemic.
  17. Talk about it with others and come up with a plan beyond the “greeter” answer.
  18. Resist the culture that turns your church into a holy club.
  19. Fight it with every thing in you.
  20. Learn how much people want to be connected and belong.
Morma Francis

Can you see me? 

I’m not mad or bitter but I think we can do better. Some of you will read this and feel defensive I suppose but I challenge you to at least watch the next time visitors attend your church and see what really happens. Be the “fly on the wall” for a Sunday and make sure your church is responding to the visitors in your building.

It makes me sad and in fact to be honest it is heartbreaking. This adverse internal culture can sometimes be felt at the denominational level by new pastors as well but that’s a whole other blog for another day.  Try to remember how wonderful it feels when someone goes out of their way to help you when you are in a strange place. If you are fortunate enough to have a visitor at your church do everything you can to help them connect with God, yourself, others and the mission that your church is about. I believe we can do better. A lot better.

 

An Important Prayer . . .

Life happens around us and many times much of it is totally out of our control. I’ve

depression

June of 2012 Holmes County Cabin

paused a lot over the recent holidays and reflected over my life and the recent past. While sitting in church this past Sunday I opened a journal purchased in 2012 as I headed into a sabbatical I didn’t plan for. In reality I was battling major discouragement in several areas of my life but had no place or person to talk to about it. I spent a week in a cabin alone (a terrible decision) to try to connect to God. I called out to God one night from the bed in that cabin with a groaning, weeping and grief that I never experienced before or since. That was in 2012 and was the beginning of much personal pain and life changing decisions.

IMG_5196Back to the journal. I have not written in it since leaving the church and professional ministry. I’ve attempted a couple of times but never seem to find the time to actually put a pen on the pages. I was taken back as I read my last writings in this journal a couple months before everything changed in my life. It was a prayer but I didn’t write it. The Psalmist wrote it and the words became my prayer of desperation as I knew things were about to go upside down. I strove till the very end to do the right thing as I had done all my life. In the end it all became too much.

I guess the irony is that it is still very much my prayer today. I still want to hear “His unfailing love each morning.” I need Him now more than ever to “show me where to walk.”

Come quickly, Lord, and answer me,
    for my depression deepens.
Don’t turn away from me,
    or I will die.
Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning,
    for I am trusting you.
Show me where to walk,
    for I give myself to you.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord;
    I run to you to hide me.
10 Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God.
May your gracious Spirit lead me forward
    on a firm footing.
11 For the glory of your name, O Lord, preserve my life.
    Because of your faithfulness, bring me out of this distress.
12 In your unfailing love, silence all my enemies and destroy all my foes,
    for I am your servant. Psalm 143:7-12 NLT

What a great Psalm. What an awesome and heartfelt prayer. What do I take out of this and what resonates in my soul? These phrases right from this Psalm: Answer me, Let me hear, Show me where, Rescue me from, Teach me to do, Lead me forward, Bring me out, and most importantly . . . “for I am your servant.”  May it be so everyday and in every way.

The invitation . . .

I’ve been overwhelmed with thoughts, memories and the present at the close of 2017. Somewhere in all of the stuff surrounding us, the things and people who threaten to rob us of peace and joy, the illnesses that may come, the transitions that probably will happen, the blessing and burdens, and just life there has to be a strong faith connection to Jesus Christ to survive it all. As I sat holding an infant last evening I thought of the ups and downs she will face. I thought about how hard life is and how cruel it can be. I whispered an apology to her because this world is not a friend to Jesus who is the only One we can trust with our lives. As I held a six-week old life I thought of my own life and the straight road it had been for decades and then the curves that came that changed everything. I am the same person. I am the sum of all of my life experiences. My memories of church, songs, sermons and God moments in my life are always present even though many of the people that made up those memories are not.  And as I sat overcome with emotion and thankfulness for grace, mercy and God’s compassion I also felt fearful of the challenges that lie ahead.

altar callI remembered a song that caused me to white knuckle the pew in front of me many times at church as a child. I also remember responding to this song during the invitation time at the end of a sermon or service. In my young mind, I was not yet surrendered to Jesus and struggled to believe or understand the process but when this song was sung along with others the tug on my heart was nearly physical in nature. You could literally feel the pull and desire to respond. Response in those days called for a step out in the aisle and moving forward toward an altar where you would kneel for all to see. Vulnerable, needy and broken you would kneel and respond to the invitation for Jesus to enter your life.

How long as it been since you have knelt and surrendered it all? Invitations are hard to find in most places anymore. The opportunity to come forward and kneel surrounded by your church family is all but lost except in rural America and some traditional churches.

So here is an invitation for you. I wish the music was playing and that you could hear the invitation being given. Find a place and find the time to get on your knees or sit quietly before the Lord and make sure your connection is strong and your faith is sure. You and I will most likely need a strong faith in this new year.

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.

Refrain:
Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies,
Mercies for you and for me?

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
Passing from you and from me;
Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
Coming for you and for me.

Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised,
Promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,
Pardon for you and for me.

I can testify that Jesus never quit pursuing me. The invatiaion is a standing one. It is always open to whosoever will.  Why should we linger and heed not His mercies? Great question. “Come home, come home. You who are weary come home . . . “

Can you answer the question?

new-year-780x320.pngFor most of us this week will be time to put away the Christmas stuff. We will take down trees and lights, repack decorations and put away manger scenes. Some of us will return things.

Soon stores will be making room for Valentines Day. Christmas comes and Christmas goes. We move on into the New Year. Are you ready for the New Year? How are things in your life? Are you feeling pretty good about how you are doing? I want to ask you a very important question today. Are you going to go through another year without Jesus Christ in your life?

We are all faced with the question: What have you done with Jesus? He is the unwrapped gift. Will you accept Him as a gift or put Him away only to be brought out at your time of need?

We are not the first ones to ever face that question. For those of us who know the true meaning of Christmas we know that Jesus Christ was born to die. He came to give His life for us that we might have eternal life.

Thirty three years after He was born, Jesus faced a mock trial and made up charges that would lead to His crucifixion and death.

He was brought before Pilate who was the Roman Governor. He didn’t really have an interest in being involved but he was in it and had to make a decision. In fact it is the same decision that some of you need to make this morning. What will you do with the unwrapped gift: Jesus?

 19 Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.” 

 20 Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. 21 So the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?” 

   The crowd shouted back, “Barabbas!”  22 Pilate responded, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?Matthew 27:19-22

What a great question: “What should I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” There are at least five choices that people can make in regard to the Christ (Gift) of Christmas.

1. There are people that would love to exterminate Him.

Part of the “Herod Clan” is still around to either destroy Jesus or remove Him from the Christmas celebration. But when every part of their crowd is gone, Jesus Christ will remain.

240 Million (plus) Americans celebrated Christmas this year in America alone yet as in every other year the PC police were out all over the country trying hard to eliminate Christ from Christmas. Nativity Scenes were removed and considered offensive. Department stores drop the word Christmas out of their advertising. School systems are left in a dilemma because they are so afraid of offending someone and being sued. In the name of diversity we will teach all other kind of religions but as a nation there is a vocal minority doing a fairly decent job of exterminating the message of Jesus Christ. I might also add that Churches full of non caring professors of Christianity have also done an equally good job at eliminating the effectiveness of Christ’s message.

A few years ago the YMCA in Greenwich Village even banned Santa Claus and made kids hang out with a Frosty and a talking penguin sidekick.

We are being conditioned to keep Jesus in the church where He belongs. Religious discrimination against Christianity is a growing theme. You will hear more and more about it over the course of the New Year. There are some who would love to exterminate Jesus.

2. There are some that try to exploit Jesus.

Part of the cold corporate world has become rich because of His birth. It’s “whatever they feel will sell this year.” He makes or breaks the balance sheet. The results affect the mood in paneled board rooms.

There is no doubt that Christmas has turned into a major part of the bottom line for many businesses. The Christmas shopping season begins earlier and earlier. We are encouraged to buy more. It is a tough thing to resist being sucked into the “spirit of spending.” Just be aware and know that all the people who would want to exploit Jesus are not in the secular corporate world. Christianity has become a big business.

From record companies to book publishers and Christian trinket manufacturers, Jesus is big business. Just visit a Christian bookstore sometime and look at all the different ways we have discovered to “sell Jesus.” Family Christian Bookstores in an unprecedented move opened their stores on Sunday’s nationwide a few years ago. For most of you in here today you are wondering what’s wrong with that. There was a day when Christians led the way in respecting the Sabbath and keeping it holy and buying on Sunday was unheard of.

Politicians will exploit Jesus Christ. Actors will often exploit Jesus by giving lip service to Him but then turning around and doing films and projects that are anything but honoring to God.

3. There are some that examine Jesus like a work of art.

In the wake of shattered dreams and inner emptiness, they ponder becoming a disciple; just a thought again this year.

There are always a number of people who come out at Christmas and Easter to make their semi-annual church visits. Christmas and Easter are two of the holiest days on the Christian calendar; one celebrating Jesus birth and the other remembering His death. To “honor” Him by showing up twice a year is really not all that honoring. Jesus Christ is about a lifestyle and a choice to follow Him daily. He is all about being in relationship with us.

Jesus is not a work of art to be admired or examined. He is not some historical museum piece to be gawked at once or twice a year.

He was and is the Son of God who came to this world to bring salvation.
He came to die.
He came to call you to follow Him.
He came to make you and me fishers of men.
He came to ask you to pick a cross on this earth and a crown later in heaven.
He came to find men and women who would sell everything and follow Him.
He came demanding obedience and deserving it.

If you get the warm fuzzies over examining Jesus you better take another look. One of my favorite author’s Annie Dillard warns us with these words: “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, making up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies hats and straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offence, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

For God’s sake, what we believe and practice here is radical, transformational, and priority changing. And if resurrection takes hold of us as it might, we should put up a disclaimer on the outside of our church building:

Warning: What we celebrate here could and will alter your life forever!

I believe that what we do here in this church in the next year will be critical to God’s continued blessing. Over the next few weeks some of you are going to be called out. Like an old western. It is high noon and it’s time to quit sitting and soaking. It is time to do more than just come in here and examine Jesus every Sunday.

For our church we believe that this will be a year of answering the call to live fully surrendered lives to God’s calling.

4. There are some that come to experience Jesus.

It’s one thing to know about Him, and quite another thing to know Him. Thousands will experience the “new birth” during the holiday festivities. This is the most important thing a person can do in their life. It is more important than buying a house or a car. It is more important than being famous or posted in the Forbes richest 400 people in the world list.

Coming to experience Jesus is about priority. Prioritizing what is most important in your life.

I wouldn’t want to experience life without Jesus.
I wouldn’t want to experience raising children without Jesus.
I wouldn’t want to experience a career without Jesus.
I wouldn’t want to experience tragedy without Jesus.
I wouldn’t want to experience sickness without Jesus.
I wouldn’t want to experience death without Jesus.

One hundred people nearly lost their lives because of spilled coffee. On April 3, 1998, an air traffic control supervisor spilled his coffee in the control tower of New York City’s LaGuardia Airport. Another controller turned to help clean up the mess but the supervisor said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get it.” By the time the controller got his bearings back on the planes, two jets came within twenty feet of colliding with each other about two hundred feet above the runway intersection. The coffee spill caused the controller to miss a needed call for one jet to abort its landing. Consequently, a US Airways plane passed beneath the tail of an Air Canada jet at 130 mph.

Fortunately, nobody was injured, but the potential for disaster was enormous. Misplaced priorities frequently don’t seem real significant, but they are laden with potentially disastrous results. It is about priority. What is most important in your life right now?

You need to make it Jesus. You need to experience the Christ of Christmas.

Putting on Christ’ is not one among many jobs a Christian has to do; and it is not a sort of special exercise for the top class. It is the whole of Christianity. —C.S. Lewis

Do you want to experience Him this coming year? Would you like this coming year to be different then the last? You can come to know Jesus Christ in a personal and life changing way.

5. There are some that come to exalt Jesus.

Christians around the world bowed before Him and presented the ultimate gift of themselves to the King of Kings. Worship silences the voice of the secular world temporarily. Values will change. The activity treadmill for just a few days is seen for what it really is. We talk a lot about worship but I am afraid that we have reduced it to a musical experience. Worship is about everyday of our lives exalting God in all we do. Rick Warren writes: “You were planned for God’s pleasure. The moment you were born into the world, God was there as an unseen witness, smiling at your birth. He wanted you alive, and your arrival gave him great pleasure. God did not need to create you, but he chose to create you for his own enjoyment. You exist for his benefit, his glory, his purpose and his delight.

Bringing pleasure to God is called worship. The Bible says, “The Lord is pleased with those who worship him and trust his love” (Psalm 147:11, CEV). Anything you do that brings pleasure to God is an act of worship. Like a diamond, worship is multifaceted. Anthropologists have noted that worship is a universal urge, hard-wired by God into the very fiber of our being — an inbuilt

need to connect with God.

Worship is as natural as eating or breathing. If we fail to worship God, we always find a substitute, even if it ends up being ourselves. The reason God made us with this desire is that he desires worshipers! Jesus said, “The Father seeks worshipers” (John 4:23, paraphrased).

Depending on your church background, you probably need to expand your understanding of the real meaning of “worship.” You may think of church services with singing, praying and listening to a sermon. Or you may think of ceremonies, candles and communion. Worship can include these elements, but worship is far more than these expressions. Worship is a lifestyle.

Worship is more than music. For many people, worship is just a synonym for music. They say, “At our church we have the worship first, and then the teaching.” This is a big misunderstanding. Every part of a church service is an act of worship: praying, Scripture reading, singing, confession, silence, being still, listening to a sermon, taking notes, giving an offering, baptism, communion, signing a commitment card and even greeting other worshipers.

Actually, worship predates music. Adam worshiped in the Garden of Eden, but music isn’t mentioned until Genesis 4:21 with the birth of Jubal. If worship were just music, then all who are unmusical could never worship. Worship is far more than music.

If you have ever said, “I didn’t get anything out of worship today,” you worshiped for the wrong reason. Worship isn’t for you. It’s for God. Of course, most “worship” services also include elements of fellowship, edification and evangelism, and there are benefits to worship, but we don’t worship to please ourselves. Our motive is to bring glory and pleasure to our Creator.

Worship is not a part of your life, it is your life.
It’s not just for church services. The Bible tells us to “worship him continually” (Psalm 105:4, TEV). Every activity can be transformed into an act of worship when you do it for the praise, glory and pleasure of God. The Bible says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV). Martin Luther said, “A dairymaid can milk cows to the glory of God.”

How is it possible to do everything to the glory of God? By doing everything as if you were doing it for Jesus and by carrying on a continual conversation with him while you do it! The Bible says, Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23, NIV).

This is the secret to a lifestyle of worship — doing everything as if you were doing it for Jesus. Work becomes worship when you dedicate it to God and perform it with an awareness of his presence. We come to exalt Him. We honor Him this morning.

The Gold Rush of 1849 had people from all over the world heading to California with dollar signs in their eyes. Each person came with visions of finding a fortune and many miners did indeed strike it rich. This phenomenon was all started by James Marshall who discovered gold in Sutter’s Creek. You would think the man responsible for starting all of that gold craze would have died knee-deep in wealth. Ironically, Marshall died in the late 1880s as a penniless itinerant miner just a few hours from the place he first struck gold. His fortune was never realized because he failed to stake his own claim.

An individual can know all about God and the abundant life he has to offer, but if you don’t stake your claim through a life-long commitment to Christ, you will never experience the riches of eternal life. Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World, Zig Ziglar, 1989, p. 45–46 

In December 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their “flying machine” off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.” He totally missed the big news–man had flown!
SOURCE: Daily Bread, December 23, 1991.

If there is still an unopened gift under the tree what are you going to do with it? I suppose you could just put it away and use it for next year’s decorations.  What if it was a card with a thousand dollar gift card in it? What if it was a tool or item you really need and could use?

If you don’t open it, it will be useless to you. Jesus Christ is the perfect Gift but He will be nothing to you if you don’t open the gift and accept It.

God is calling some of you today to make some changes in your life. The gift is opened. The package is unwrapped. What are you going to do with Him?