Christ-follower or Blessing-follower?

christmas-present-1

“2016 – the year without presents on Christmas.” This (accompanied by a few masterfully timed sighs) was the dramatic exclamation of my ten year old a few days before Christmas. His over-the-top theatrical outburst was due to the fact that we decided to move our traditional family Christmas activities (including presents) to Monday and intentionally focus on celebrating Jesus on Christmas Day. In the interest of full disclosure, this was primarily due to the busy nature of a Sunday Christmas rather than any super-spiritual aspirations on our part. However, this decision has taught me at least one thing: regardless of my best efforts and intentions, to small children Christmas is about one thing – getting presents!

A Fatal Flaw

In children, this is generally cute and eventually outgrown along with many other childish attitudes and behaviors. However, it does reflect one universal and fatal flaw in the human condition – we make everything about us. This includes the gospel and salvation. A common focus of gospel presentations and personal testimonies is all of the good stuff we get from God. We get joy. We get peace. We get a savior. While each of these is good and true, this is essentially a reversal of emphasis between two aspects of a single truth. The truth: God sent Jesus to earth and provided a way of salvation for all mankind. Our distorted perspective focuses on the benefit we gain from receiving this gift, while the true emphasis is on an awesome God giving a gift that we need.

 

A Self-centered Gospel

This may seem like the proverbial splitting of hairs, but as we build upon this faulty foundation our faith can take a very self-centered turn that was never intended. If the focus of the gospel is all about us getting joy and peace and salvation rather than about a great God giving us those things, than our life of faith becomes all about what we can get from God. The Christian experience becomes all about personal needs and desires. Following Jesus becomes nothing more than a means of getting what I can from God, from faith, and from the church.

This type of self-centered faith is why there are so many professing Christians who seem to live like nothing more than moral unsaved people. You know the ones I’m talking about – the “Christian” who might cuss more mildly, drink a little less, and go to church several times a month. But when it comes right down to it, these professing Christians are just living for themselves and have found a way to add God into their life on their terms. They want the blessings of being a Christian without any of the personal sacrifice or inconvenience.

The Heart of the Gospel: Sacrificial Love

I am not denying the tremendous blessings that come as a result of salvation. I am simply saying that the American church tends to overemphasize the getting to the neglect of the giving. You see, at the very center of the gospel story is God Himself giving up His place at the right hand of the Father. God gave up His high position in heaven to become human in order to redeem us. The very heart of the gospel is that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” The heart of the gospel is sacrificial love!

As we build upon this foundation, we will certainly receive blessings, but we will also live a life intentionally focused on imitating the kind of sacrificial love we see in Jesus. My faith becomes about responding in worship to a God to whom I am eternally grateful. My Christian experience becomes all about opportunities to sacrifice my wants and desires for the sake of serving Jesus through service to others.

A Practical Impact

This change of perspective will have tremendous practical impact on one’s daily life. You will be less offended when your rights are violated. You will be less hesitant to help someone in need. You will be more willing to go out of your way to serve someone. You will certainly be less concerned about getting your way all the time.

There will also be an impact on your attitude and behavior toward the local church. You will view church as an opportunity to use your gifts for the blessing of others. You will be more willing to sacrifice your preferences, like music, and decorations, and preaching styles. You will be less determined to make everyone cater to your comfort and desires. In short, you will desire to serve in the church rather than simply be served by the church.

Life as God Intended

I am not proposing that we do not receive blessings from God and I am certainly not saying that we shouldn’t enjoy them. They are a real and special and important part of what God has done for us. However, just like presents at Christmas, we cannot let these benefits and blessings become our primary focus. They are not the whole story. My prayer and desire for every true Christ-follower is that while enjoying the blessings of faith, you will live a life in passionate pursuit of the God of the blessings rather than the blessings themselves. That is living the way God intended; that is living in the manner that Christ lived. I challenge you to examine your own heart. Are you a Christ-follower or a blessing-follower? Prayerfully consider the answer and remember, it isn’t too late to make the change today!

Some Reasons to Go to Church on Christmas

church-669556_1920

Browsing the internet today, I was reminded of one of the more shocking and ironic practices in the Christian world. No, I’m not talking about some obscure ritual like snake handling or drinking poison. And I’m not talking about some strange, random practice by some small and insignificant group of nut jobs. I’m talking about the increasingly mainstream practice in some of the largest and most prominent evangelical churches in the country of canceling church on Christmas Sunday. For a variety of reasons I think this is ridiculous. I mean, seriously?! It’s Christmas. The day we celebrate Jesus’ birthday. And we think it’s a good idea to not go worship on that day? That baffles me.

Now, I feel that I must stop and acknowledge that many of these churches are wonderful, gospel preaching churches that love God and His people and want to do what is right. I am also aware that missing one Sunday of church is in all likelihood not going to send a church careening headlong into apostasy. I am not even saying that this decision is necessarily wrong and I have no desire to condemn the churches that are canceling their services this Christmas. I am simply saying that I don’t understand the reasoning behind it. In light of that fact, I want to offer some reasons why I think going to church on Christmas Sunday is a wonderful idea.

  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday is a great way to celebrate our Savior’s birth. Not to be too obvious, but it is Christmas. And Sunday. Seems like a good day for some church.
  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday affirms the belief that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Not that we cannot make Christ the center of Christmas from home, but it seems appropriate to set aside a little time to go to church if it’s really all about Him.
  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday is a testimony to what is most important to you. Like it or not, your actions do speak louder than words. By going to church, your actions loudly declare that church, worship, God’s Word, and other believers are important to you. More important than, say, presents or sleeping in.
  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday can be an act of sacrificial love toward God. There are things that are inconvenient about a Sunday Christmas, but we can sacrifice our conveniences out of love for God and appreciation for all He gave up for us.
  • Going to church on Christmas demonstrates a genuine understanding that church is about worship and not personal gratification. It really is all about Him, not me.
  • Going to church on Christmas is a proclamation that Christmas is not just a cultural celebration. It is a religious observance that commemorates the coming of a Savior, the forgiveness of sins, and redemption for all mankind.
  • Going to church on Christmas acknowledges the importance of the faith community in our individual lives. Though many churches cancel services to provide for family time at home, going to church affirms that our church family is equally important.
  • Going to church on Christmas can be an opportunity to serve. Many people will go to church on Sunday, some for the first time. When you show up ready and willing to serve, you can have an impact in their lives.
  • Going to church on Christmas can create a great foundation upon which to build the rest of your Holiday festivities. You don’t have to give up family time, special dinners, presents, or other traditions to go to church. You can go first and then enjoy a special day of celebrating that is truly focused on Jesus.

I know that we all celebrate in different ways, but I hope that you will consider joining many of us who will be at church Christmas morning. I personally can’t think of a more appropriate way to start the day than gathering in the name of Jesus with a group of his followers to praise Him on His special day. Merry Christmas!

Stranded…Again!

zcamera-20161209_231754

Driving down the road in the first big snow storm of the season, my oldest son says, “Hey Dad, I hope we don’t get stuck in the snow like last year.” To which I replied, “Well, if we do, let’s make sure we all handle it better than we did that time.” The incident he’s referring to was quite memorable -especially to small children-, but certainly not a highlight from my career as their role model and not one of our better moments as a family. We were driving in a snow storm and chose to drive up the steepest hill I’m aware of anywhere near where we live. And we had bald tires because I’m also not so great at the whole vehicle maintenance thing. Needless to say, we didn’t make it very far and ended up stranded part way up with children whining and mom and dad not so politely or quietly blaming each other for the predicament. As I said, not our finest hour. So, when I replied to my son that we should all do better, it was a sincere desire as well as a reasonable goal, but certainly not anything I wanted to test out in the near future.

However, fast forward a matter of minutes and we are once again stranded on a snowy road discussing our options for getting home. The situations were very similar, yet wonder of wonders, we did indeed all respond quite differently. Certainly I was frustrated that the vehicle was in all likelihood totally shot and my wife had her suspicions that I could have done something about it and the kids definitely were uncomfortable. Just like before. But unlike “last time” there was no whining, complaining, yelling, screaming or blaming. (And the kids did well, too.) There was laughing, joking, calm conversation about God’s plan and provision and even some prayer. After a good Samaritan stopping to help and a phone call to some great friends who came to our rescue, we finally made home. All in all, a good night.

We certainly aren’t perfect and probably didn’t pass with flying colors, but we responded better this time than last. And in this crazy journey of life, that’s a victory! Now, I’m not saying we didn’t feel discouraged and that we weren’t a little bit curious about how God would provide. Difficulties like this, though a fairly routine part of life, can certainly be frustrating. However, they can also be a reminder of God’s great love and mercy. You see, He didn’t give up on us when we failed miserably at responding to difficulty. He provided for us anyway. He loved us anyway. He gave us many opportunities to grow our faith. He showered us with His forgiveness and mercy and loving kindness for an entire year and then put us in a very similar situation to the one in which we failed so that we could see the product of all His hard work in us.

As you face whatever rough patches come your way, I encourage you to look for what you can learn and for how you can improve. Accept God’s forgiveness for whatever shortcomings you find and praise Him for His grace and mercy. Let go of the failings of yesterday and embrace the small successes that God brings your way. And most of all, trust His goodness even when you find yourself stranded for a little while.