Living Out the Why of Christmas

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” ~ Luke 4:18-19 NIV

A note to my readers:

Okay, so, I am not a big fan of self-promotion.  To be perfectly honest, I loathe it with every fiber of my being. However, I do want to let you all know that I recently wrote a devotional based on the book of Colossians. It’s called Rooted: 29 days in the book of Colossians. It’s available on Amazon in a softcover for only $3.75. It would make a good stocking stuffer. If you have already purchased the book (and you don’t hate it) please consider writing a review. I would really appreciate it!

Rooted Book

Being a Christian and a blogger is tough at Christmastime. 

 At this point in history everyone knows that December is the month the early church chose to celebrate the advent (arrival) of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:2). If one is both a Christian and a blogger (and I am both of those things) then the season of Christmas is legitimately a very big deal that warrants at least a mention in said blog.

However.

For whatever reason, Christmas in the Western world has become more of a cultural celebration than a spiritual celebration and that makes Christmas tough for me personally as a Christian writer. Do I write a syrupy-sweet post lauding the shallow but still Christian aspects of the season? Or, do I go the more prophetic route and demand in a cantankerous tone that everyone ditch the fun stuff and worship Jesus in spirit and truth sans the materialistic, godless razzle-dazzle? Or, do I simply pretend there’s no such thing as Christmas and continue on with business as usual?  

It’s my annual Christmas conundrum. 

The soul-searching/navel gazing began early this year when I was asked to speak at a Christmas event in early December. As I prepared for the event I did a lot of thinking about Christmas in general and why we celebrate Christmas in particular. Ultimately, I decided that Christians have (for the most part) lost sight of the “why” of Christmas. In the midst of the feverish gift-giving, cookie-baking and decorating many of us have forgotten that Jesus’ first coming was more than just an excuse to make merry. 

It was the biggest game-changer in the history of forever.

 The birth of Jesus paved the way for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ death and resurrection, made it possible for every human who has ever lived to to get free from the penalty of sin (eternity in hell), the fear of death, the prison of idolatry, and the spiritual oppression that began at the fall (Genesis 3). Furthermore, the values of compassion, charity, justice and equality that Jesus brought to earth caused humanity to do some collective soul-searching. As a result, human rights, women’s rights, poverty programs, egalitarianism and the whole concept of religious freedom eventually became things human beings take seriously enough to fight for.  

That is worth celebrating. 

However, too often at Christmastime we get so caught-up in the hullaballoo that surrounds Christmas that we lose our sense of wonder and astonishment at the beauty that lies at the heart of the Christmas story.  We lose something of infinite value anytime we cease to rejoice and wonder at the crazy-truth that the God of the universe willingly left the comfort and majesty of heaven simply so that He could give a bunch of mostly ungrateful, clueless sinners an opportunity to get right with Him. 

Keeping the why of Christmas in mind this time of year is no easy task and no one needs another to-do list this time of year. That said, there are three really basic things we can all do to keep our hearts in the right place at Christmastime:     

Free yourself from the weird bondage that surrounds Christmas-

 Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to earth was to free humanity from bondage (Romans 6:18, Galatians 5, Luke 4:18, John 8:32). Yet for some inexplicable reason every December millions of people (mostly women) celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior by freely putting themselves into bondage over a bunch of (mostly stupid) stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with God, Jesus, or why we celebrate Christmas. Those things include (but are not limited to) baking billions of cookies, writing newsletters, decorating, gift-giving and unnecessary people-pleasing. None of those things are sinful but neither should they be done out of obligation or in place of the things that help us and other people grow closer to Jesus.    

Read through the book of Luke before Christmas day- 

Weirdly enough, Jesus (the whole point of Christmas), can (and does) get lost in the celebration of Christmas. Reading the book of Luke is a powerful weapon against secularism and spiritual complacency at Christmas.   Luke’s passion for the person of Jesus shines in his writing. He uses words like awe, surprised, marvel, amazed, wondered and astonished almost excessively, sometimes two or three times in a single sentence. As you read through the book take the time to highlight those words. Pray that God will fill you with wonder and amazement as He empowers you to see His hand working in your life and in the lives of the people around you. This tiny act will help you to see Jesus in fresh new way this Christmas. I promise.

Be purposeful about being grateful- 

The materialistic focus of Christmas oftentimes keeps us from being grateful for the things we already have (and most of us have a lot). When we take the time to be thankful for what God has already given us our gratitude serves as a reminder that there is more to life than stuff and more to feeding our souls than getting stuff and we could all use a little bit more of that this season. 

Five Ways to Curse Your Stupid Self


Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, so a curse without cause does not alight~ Proverbs 26:2 NASB

 The word curse or curses is used a total of 178 times in the Bible. The conspicuously large number of times the word is used in the biblical text has led many to believe that God is all about cursing people. A lot of folks (including some Christians) believe God spends His spare time scanning the planet looking for those He can lay a horrible hex on.

  In the interest of fairness, I feel the need to point out that the only record I could find of God actually cursing anyone or anything is in the book of Genesis. In chapter three God lays out a series of curses related to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden of Eden.

 Issues of fairness aside, the Bible does not hesitate to reference the concept of curses.  The better part of Deuteronomy twenty-eight is just one long list of ghastly curses that will befall the Israelite people if they don’t get their spiritual act together and keep it that way. That passage coupled with the many other references to the word beg the question: Does God curse people for doing the wrong thing?

 I think not.

 Not that I don’t believe curses are a real thing. There are simply too many biblical references to the subject for a serious Christian to dismiss the whole thing as twaddle or voodoo. That said, God does not curse people willy-nilly just because they displease or annoy Him.

 It’s a bit more complicated than all that.

 God has designed the universe in such a way that if we do certain things certain consequences are inevitable. If someone places their hand on a hot stove, pain predictably follows. God does not cause anyone to put their hand on a stove and God certainly does not burn anyone’s hand.  Consequences occur because they are built into the design of the universe.  God doesn’t curse us.  We curse ourselves.  Following are four weird ways we bring curses on our own stupid selves.

 We curse ourselves when we refuse to break sinful patterns of the past-

 Many believe they are cursed to do stupid stuff because they a had a parent or grandparent or great-grandparent who did stupid stuff.  They believe that because some distant relative sinned in some foolhardy way God cursed the entire family line to sin exactly the same way for the rest of history.  It is true that patterns of sinful behavior run in families. It is also true that sinful behavior and attitudes can run deep. That said, the Bible makes it clear that God does not hold children responsible for the sins of the parents (Ezekiel 18:1-32). Furthermore, these types of curses are not difficult to break. Once a person repents of a sinful attitude or behavior the curse is broken.  Case closed.    

 We curse ourselves when we harshly judge situations we don’t understand or haven’t lived through-

 Back in the day my husband and I had some friends who were extremely critical and vocal in their criticism of how we parented our oldest daughter. We weren’t strict enough, we let her stay up too late, we let her eat too much candy, we didn’t discipline her enough or in the correct way. We naturally assumed that when these people had kids their kids would be the best behaved, sweetest, most well-mannered children in the history of children. They weren’t. They were awful. Those children were so dreadfully awful that both sets of grandparents refused to babysit them. I don’t say this to gloat (at least I am trying not to) I say this to make a point. When we judge people, we tend to repeat the same sins of the people we judge (Matthew 7:2), typically, we do this without even realizing we are doing it.

 We curse ourselves when we choose to become bitter-

 Anytime we chose the path of bitterness over the path of forgiveness we are cursed to become exactly like the people we refuse to forgive. I am not entirely certain why or how this happens. That said, I have observed it happen enough times to know it’s a real thing. I suspect we become like the person we are bitter towards because bitterness causes us to become extremely focused (in a very unhealthy way) on that one person. Having so much of our mental energy focused on the negative aspects of one person causes us, over time, to take on the characteristics of that person without being aware of what we are doing. So, if you do not wish to become a mirror image of your gossipy, critical Mother or your angry, alcoholic Father I strongly suggest you forgive immediately (Hebrews 12:15).  

 We curse ourselves when we refuse the Holy Spirit-  

 Anytime God tells us to do anything in His word or the Holy Spirit prompts us to action and we choose to ignore those promptings we curse ourselves.  Ignoring God hardens our hearts (Hebrews 3:7-8, Hebrews 4:7). The harder our hearts become the more difficult it becomes to discern truth from God’s word, to hear His still-small voice or even to care when the Holy Spirit prompts us to action.

 That perhaps is the worst curse of all.

How to Parent Without Cursing the Future

Teach them His decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave~ Exodus 18:20 NIV

 A theme that remains consistent throughout the Bible is the notion of blessings and curses (Leviticus 28, Deuteronomy 30:19, Psalm 128:2, Proverbs 10:6, Malachi 2:2, 1st Corinthians 9:2). The Bible clearly communicates that certain attitudes and activities bring with them blessings and other (usually opposite) attitudes and behaviors bring with them curses.

 I, for one, have never been a big proponent of the view that the Almighty is sitting around heaven scrutinizing the actions of people searching feverishly for opportunities to bring curses down on people, their children, or their children’s children. Rather, I believe that we bring curses on others and ourselves (sometimes unwittingly) with the choices we make in this life.

 There is no area where this is truer than in the arena of parenting.

 The notion that parents bless or curse their children (sometimes without knowing it) is a biblical one (Ezekiel 18:2, Psalm 37:26, Proverbs 31:27-29, Ephesians 6:1-4). However, this concept is not just a Christian notion. It’s an idea even an idiot can grasp. One does not need a crystal ball to see that a child born to a married Mother and Father, determined to provide a stable and loving home, will have a much greater chance of success in life than a child born to a poor, drug-addicted Mother and an indifferent baby-daddy.

 It’s common sense.

 There is more to the notion of blessing children (and future generations) than simple economics or even marital status, and it’s bigger than just our kids or grandkids. No man (or woman) is an island; therefore the values one generation sows into their children impacts society in powerful ways, sometimes for generations to come. It is not excessively melodramatic to say that history can be altered (for good or bad) by the parenting choices of a single generation.

 That said, as a society we aren’t exactly hitting it out of the ballpark in this area. In fact, judging from the sorry state of our culture, we are long overdue for a gut check in how we parent our kids. I believe there are five changes we desperately need to make if we want to parent in a way that blesses rather than curses our children and our culture.

 Beginning with:

 Living lives free of addiction-

 Nothing does more to curse future generations than a drug, alcohol, or porn addiction. Period. The most productive thing one generation can for another is to stay off of drugs.

Letting kids lose-

 Educated middle-class American parents are undoubtedly some of the kindest and best-intentioned parents in the history of the world. Alas, the road to hell really is paved with good intentions. In an effort to shield children from the hurt, frustration and disappointment we all encountered as children we do stuff that looks and feels merciful and kind (like giving everyone a trophy). However, those acts of kindness keep kids from growing into adults who know how to work for what they want and who can handle the setbacks of life with grace and resilience. Kids who are not taught to handle disappointment inevitably grow into adults who act out and hurt others when the going gets tough.

 Being the leader-

 Some child-rearing “experts” have duped parents into believing that children instinctively know what is best for them. This twaddle is going to create a leadership crisis in the future because we learn to lead by following. Young children (under seven) are by their very nature immature, egotistical and for all practical purposes kind of dumb. God gave kids parents to teach them to be healthy, altruistic, thoughtful human beings (Ephesians 6:1). We do that by taking the reins and making most of the decisions when they are very young (under seven) and then coaching them into good decision-making (while still giving them freedom to fail), as they get older.  

 Being in the room-

 In order to parent well, parents need to be fully present; it is all but impossible to be fully present while playing a game on your phone or perusing Facebook. Furthermore, kids learn to be good communicators (a prerequisite for a healthy future) by communicating. No one communicates effectively while preoccupied by a screen.

 Teaching them to work-

 The Bible clearly teaches that work is good (Colossians 3:23, 2nd Thessalonians 3:10). Work is important because it keeps us out of trouble, makes us productive, teaches us to manage our time and gives us the ability to share with those less fortunate. I firmly believe that young people should have at least one job working with the public. Working with people will keep them humble and free from the sin of elitism (James 2:1-9).  

 Fearing God-

 Loving God is good (Deuteronomy 11:1, Mark 12:30), but fearing Him is better (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 10:27, Leviticus 25:7). This is because the fear of the Lord leads to wisdom, (Psalm 111:10) obedience, (Psalm 128:1) the shunning of evil, (Job 28:28) long life (Psalm 14:27) and all of that leads to a society that thrives. We teach kids to fear God by teaching them that God is who He says He is and does what He says He will do.

 Anyone with eyes can see that our culture has serious problems. Most of our problems are a result of the choices parents have made with their children over the course of the last four decades. It is not too late to course correct, but it will take parents acting like parents again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay Christians, Let’s Talk About Sex

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect~ Romans 12:2 NLT

 By the time I hit my teen years, the sexual revolution had been fought and was well, pretty much over. The popular culture had for the most part moved away from the notion that sex ought to be exclusive to marriage. As a result there was little debate outside of the Christian community concerning the morality of sex outside of marriage.

 The rightness or wrongness of sex was determined by feelings and emotional rather than legal and/or spiritual commitment. If a man and woman felt they were “in love” and at least somewhat committed to one another then sex was thought to be morally acceptable. Without love and some level of emotional commitment most people felt sex devolved into something skeezy and morally dubious. It was certainly not the biblical standard of sexuality that their parents and grandparents honored, but sex and love were still considered to be inseparable in most peoples’ estimation.

 Thirty years later those notions have become rather quaint and archaic. The whole notion of love and sex being closely connected has been replaced with a culture of hooking-up. Hooking-up, sometimes called “friends with benefits” or “not-dating” for those fortunate enough to be blissfully ignorant, is the new term for sexual activity sans commitment of any kind.

 Hooking-up has replaced dating and long-term romantic attachments for the vast majority of non-Christian adults. The results of this brave new world include plummeting marriage rates among those under thirty, skyrocketing out-of-wedlock birthrates; and a shockingly large number of young adults who report difficulty forming connections with the opposite sex outside of the bedroom.

 It doesn’t take a mastermind to grasp the obvious and conclude that the loosening sexual standards of the 1970’s and 1980’s paved the way for the ethical anarchy we see today surrounding the issue of sexuality. A culture does not go from the absolutely no sex before marriage standards of the first half of the 20th century to a culture of detached hook-ups without at least a couple of stops along the way.

 As alarming as I believe these developments to be, I also understand that it is not my place to be concerned with what the greater culture is doing behind closed doors. Judging non-Christians is a waste of time. Without Christ, people have little reason to care about what the Bible has to say about sexuality or anything else and even less reason to modify their behavior based on the Bible’s teachings.

 I am deeply concerned about what Christians are doing behind closed doors.

 Christian Mingle is an online dating service that surveyed 2,647 single adult Christians about their attitudes concerning sexuality. The results revealed that sixty-four percent of Christians between the ages of 18 and 59 believe it’s morally acceptable to have sex outside of marriage. Additionally, a 2009 study conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy reveals that eighty percent of never-been-married Evangelicals have had sex at least once. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed reported having sex the previous year and forty-two percent were in an ongoing sexual relationship at the time of the survey.

 To my knowledge the question was never asked, but I would bet that most of those surveyed felt that “being in love” was the only criteria that mattered when deciding whether or not to have sex. In other words, Christians have embraced the same standards of sexual ethics that the greater culture adopted in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

 The Church’s nearly universal loosening standards of morality have led Christians into an increasingly ugly ethical muddle. Divorce rates for Christians are nearly as high as divorce rates for non-Christians. Christian men view pornography as often as non-Christian men and it’s estimated that at least 650,000 Christian women abort their children every single year. As a result of all this ongoing sin the church has lost all moral authority in the culture. Nobody outside the church cares to hear what Christians have to say about anything of substance anymore because they see that our faith is so feeble that it does not even empower us to control ourselves in the most basic way.

 We live in a decaying culture filled with people who urgently need some solid moral examples to draw from. Christians can be that example again. But only if we are willing to embrace and live out the truth that it takes more than love to make sex right. It takes two people making a lifetime commitment to one another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Mistakes Even the Best Mothers Make

Having a young child in our home for the first time in nearly a decade has driven me to do and think about things I haven’t thought about or done in a very long time. Things like chore charts and discipline methods, dance lessons, parent teacher nights, Disney movies, themed birthday parties, homework, sleepovers (ugh), and the social politics of fifth-grade girls (more ugh).  

I read parenting books compulsively and am far more attuned the parenting I see going on around me. I will shamelessly ask anyone I meet who has adopted or fostered an older child for advice. My hope is that I will glean some wisdom and insight that will empower me to maneuver this latest challenge God has placed in my life.

One question I typically ask Mothers of older kids is:

Is there anything at all you wish you could do over?

 Even the Mothers I have admired most confess at least a few things they wish they had done differently. After countless conversations I have concluded that even the best mothers would like a second chance in at least some areas. Following are five mistakes even the best Mothers make:

 Failing to become a student of your child-

 Many of the older Mothers I have spoken with deeply regret not understanding who their kids really were and imposing their own goals on their kids. I am convinced that the number one responsibility of a Mother is to assist her child in knowing and understanding him or herself. Kids need to be aware of their strengths as well as their weaknesses.  It is not a Mother’s job to decide what a child should do and then guide them toward her goals for their lives, but rather to observe her kids and help them to dream dreams and form goals based on their own unique talents and abilities.

 Thinking bad behaviors are cute-

 Intense competitiveness, smart mouthing, nitpickiness, precociousness with the opposite sex, melodrama and enhancing the truth can be oddly charming on adorable little children. Those same actions become less charming and even offensive when you’re dealing with an older kid or an adult. The next time your little cutie gets cozy with the boy or girl next door, saunters out in a skimpy ensemble, demands they win for the hundredth time, tells you a whopper of a tale, or says something saucy, try and imagine what that behavior might look like on a fourteen-year-old. Any seasoned Mom will tell you that it’s easier to break a habit in a child than in a teenager

Disregarding the spiritual-

 Every human being has a dark side. It’s our nature. Belief in the God of the Bible has helped keep the ugly side of humankind in check for eons. Taking your kid to church and teaching them to apply Christian principles to their lives will go a long way in helping to keep narcissism, greed, violent tendencies, and self-interest from spiraling out of control in future years.

 Not finding out what they really think-

 Even the best Moms can be guilty of telling kids what to think rather than finding out what and why they think what they think. When we push our views without listening to theirs we drive wrong thinking underground where the wrong thinking becomes embedded in their character. Ask questions to discover what your kids believe about issues. Don’t jump to correct every little thing they say or they will shut down and stop talking. Instead, ask them further questions about why they think what they think and then gently help them see the eventual end game of a faulty belief system.

 An unwillingness to change your mind or admit wrong-

 Admitting we got something wrong and changing course in front of our kids is one of the most uncomfortable and humbling things in the world. We have to do it on occasion because it is extraordinarily prideful and foolish not to. It’s not as if they won’t figure out on their own that we don’t actually know everything. Kids desperately need role models who are willing to humble themselves, apologize when wrong and change course when necessary.

 One truth I am relearning is that good parenting is not really about being perfect (whew!). Good parenting is about loving our kids enough to help them discover who they really are and what they might be good at. It’s about modeling grace and humility. Good parenting is about looking ahead at what present behavior might eventually become and loving our kids enough to educate them about the God who loves them even more than we do.