Tips For Reviving Your CHRISTmas Spirit

tips-for-reviving-your-christmas-spiritAre you feeling a little down this Christmas? Can you relate with Charlies Brown? You like sending Christmas cards, getting presents, and decorating Christmas tree, but you still feel like something is missing. You still feel a touch incomplete. You found yourself down this holiday season and would agree with Linus, that of all the Charlie Browns in the eorld, you are the Charlie Browniest.

When we feel down, our hearts and the kind voices of others try to revive our Christmas spirit by usually pointing to three things.

First, we seek to find joy in rest. We rejoice in the fact that we have a few days or hours off from work. Life slows down, and for a few hours the rat race is on hold. If nothing else, we can rejoice in the ability to sleep in.

Second, we can seek to find joy in relationships. Every Hallmark Christmas movie proclaims that Christmas is worthy celebrating because the holiday helps men and women discover who they are and who they are meant to be with. Parents reunite with their kids, kids rediscover their parents, and of course somebody gets an engagement ring before the credits roll.

And lastly, we seek to find Joy in the worldly peace of the Christmas. As we dance to Christmas songs, and greet strangers with a smile, our chest begins to warm with feelings of hope. We once again notice that our fellow human beings are not so bad after all. Since people can be nice at Christmas, we dream of people helping old ladies all year round. We can find joy in celebrating the universal goodness of humanity.

And while all these theories sound promising, none of them will revive our Christmas’ spirt. None of them will fill that hole in our hearts.

gettyimages-112799183-1510597982Our morning to sleep-in can be quickly disrupted by a sick child. Even worse, our coworker may have a sick child and call us to take her shift. The relationships can as easily produce hurt as joy. Family members just as quickly snub our Christmas dinner invite as come to our home. Couples just as easily get divorced as get engaged over the Christmas weekend. And just as soon as we convince ourselves of the goodness of humanity, someone hits our parked car and takes off without leaving a note. Terrorists attempt to blow up subways and happy shoppers. And, therapist’s offices become overrun with request for counseling. Christmas spirit does nothing to change the sad, troubled, and difficult state of mankind. The promises of rest, relationships, and world peace fail to give us lasting and substantial hope.

To revive our hearts, we need to remember Paul’s word in 1 Timothy 1:15:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

To find hope for the first time or to revive our failing hearts, we need to renew our focus on the work of Christ. And we must not focus purely on Christ the baby as a symbol of peace and hope. He is that. But he is much more. He is our savior. He came into the world to save sinners. As the angels tell the shepherds in Luke 2, the message of Christmas is glorious because our savior has come. Jesus is God become flesh. He has come to live the perfect life that we have attempted to live. He came to die for our sins on the cross. And he came to rise from the grave and to gain victory over death. He came to supply meaning when there was no meaning. He came to fill the hole in our hearts this Christmas. He is the answer to our Charlie Browniness. He is our hope. Linus reminds Charlie Brown of this truth. And we will only find hope amidst all the commercialization, broken relationships, and empty mail boxes of Christmas if we worship Christ as our savior.

To have access to Jesus’ power, we must realize that we are sinners. Paul says that Jesus came to save sinner, “of whom I am the foremost.” Paul boldly and loudly declares to the world that he is the chief of sinners. He proclaims that he is horribly wicked,beyond help and beyond saving. No person, religion, or self-help program can fix Paul and get him back into a right relationship with God. He is the chief of sinners.

To have hope, we must first realize that we are hopeless. Before we will see our need for Jesus and before we can understand why the angel’s message to the shepherds was good news, we must understand that we are horribly wicked people. We must understand that our little lies, our little outburst of anger, and our little mean comments are huge in the eyes of God.  We must see that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three-in-one, are perfect, glorious, and holy. And we must grasp that we are not holy. We must understand that we are not a little wicked, but desperately wicked and beyond repair when compared to the God of the universe. As John Calvin said, “men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.”

Often, we fall into misery and despair at Christmas because we minimize our sin problem. We tend to look around at the world and assume that we are not that bad or that broken. We think that moving to a new house will make us happy. We believe a new job or school will fix our social problems. We think a raise will wipe away the emptiness inside. We think a few drinks or few illegals drugs will empower us to handle the stresses of bills, work, school, and relationships. We think that we are not so bad off. We pine away for money, degrees, new friends, nicer clothes, bigger homes, and happier experiences. And yet all the while, our problems never go away. Sure, we feel less stressed when drunk and on drugs, but now our budget is a wreck and credit cards bills are mounting. We secure a new job, but now we neglect our family. We strive for money and fail to get it and not feel more depressed and hopeless.  By failing to realize that we cannot fix our heart and change our lifestyle, we doom ourselves to failure.

To fill the void in our heart this Christmas, we must realize that we are the chiefs of sinners. We must realize that we cannot fix ourselves. When we gaze on the perfection and power of the baby Jesus, we should come away convinced of our utter worthlessness.

Thankfully as Paul already noted, our story does not end with our sin. Jesus came to save the chief of sinners. Jesus came to save messed up wrecks like you and me. Jesus came, lived, died on the cross, and rose again because he knew people like you and me would lie, steal, commit fornication, get drunk, and get angry. He came to save sinners. Those words represent the hope of Christmas!

If you find a gaping hole in your Christmas spirit this year, I encourage you to reflect on Paul’s words. Remember that Christ came to save sinners.  Remember that life truly is bad, hard, difficult and anything but the storybook life pictured on T.V because the world is full of people like you and me. And then remember we have great hope because God has saved us from our sin and sorrow. Yes, the life of the Christian is still hard. Yes, the times are difficult. But those who love Christ have a new heart, not just one two size bigger. We have a new heart and the Holy Spirit.. Life will be good and joyful because God is with us. The emptiness in our stomach is not the final judgment on our life. God has saved us. We have great hope even if we have nothing under the tree.

And if you have never experienced the saving power of Christ, if you are still busily running around trying to fix things, I encourage you to stop. Look to Jesus who saves. Admit that your are beyond help and then repent and believe. Trust Jesus to save you.

Jesus has come to save sinners. No person has to be the Charlie Browniest person this Christmas!

Christian, Have You Been Skipping Christmas?

Skipping Christmas? The idea sounds outlandish and ridiculous. But many who claim Christ skip Christmas every year without a second thought.

We laugh at the problems that Luther and Laura Krank encounter when they attempted to skip Christmas for that all inclusive Caribbean cruise. Most of us don’t know our neighbors and much less face the social pressures that go along with setting up Frosty and buying Christmas trees.

Similarly, we find the sinister character of Ebenezer Scrooge striking and captivating because he diverges from the realities of our world. Few of us have known someone who so thoroughly hated Christmas. And so we read and watch the Christmas Carol to see if he can hold to his convictions for another year.

Both of these stories captivate our attention because they deal with the unthinkable: Skipping Christmas

But the skipping of Christmas is not a fictional thing. Since Jesus showed up, people have been skipping Christmas appears in Matthew 2:1-12. The Chief Priest and Scribes refused to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Now I do not wish to imply that the leaders of the Jewish world refused to put up their Christmas trees, to buy presents, or to attend Christmas parties. None of those things existed in the Jerusalem two thousand years ago. These men did not skip Christmas by objecting to the western and slightly commercialized Christmas traditions of our day. They did something far worse. They refused to worship Jesus as the Lord of the universe. The skipping the theology of Christmas.

Regardless of how many presents we wrap, how many carols we sing, and how many church services we attend, we too have and will continue to skip Christmas if we refuse to worship Jesus. To avoid skipping Christmas, we must worship Jesus as our Lord.

Fake Faith

The actions and inactions of the Chief Priests and the Scribes were notable because these men were intelligent. The Chief Priest and the Scribes were not a group of bumbling fools like the three stooges who could barely stand up and articulate a reasonable sentence. When they arrived at Herod’s court to offer counsel, they knew where to turn. Standing before an often violent and deranged king who would eventually execute the children of Bethlehem, his own sons and his second wife (the daughter of the Chief Priest), the men delivered an informed Biblical answer. They were cool, calm, and collected as they recounted Micah 5:2 to the troubled king. They had an abundance of religious experiences and knowledge to guided them through this political mine field. Yet, their great experiences and knowledge did not lead them to worship. They still missed Christmas. They still did not go to worship baby Jesus even though they knew more of God than the wise men.

As we reflect on the actions of the Pharisees, we must check our hearts to see if we have confused religious experiences with faith. The Chief Priest regularly entered the temple to offer sacrifices. They lead the Passover celebration; they even entered the Holy of Holies, the most sacred space on earth, once a year to commune with God and to offer sacrifices for all the people of Israel. They ate, breathed, and quite literally wore their religion on their sleeves. Yet they did not worship God when the arrival of the Messiah was announced. They were around the things of God, claimed to be part of God’s family. Yet, they wanted nothing to do with God.

They are not alone; countless numbers of men and women believe they are Christians because they cried during a service, got baptized, or gave large sums of money to their church’s building fund. Many who claim Christ have a wallet full of meaningful, moving, and exciting religious experiences, but they have never worshiped.  They have never humbled themselves before the throne and cried out, “God forgive me for I am a sinner. Save me; redeem me. Give me faith and a new heart.” They have never responded to the Christmas story, the gospel story, by believing. They are content to go on living apart from God. They are content to live as if they are on heaven’s throne. Friends do not confuse religious experience for true worship.

And we must not confuse knowledge for worship. The Chief Priest and the Scribes are knowledgeable. Their years of training and studying prepared them to rattle off the theologically accurate answer to king Herod. They know more than their king and more than the Wise Men who are intent on worshiping Christ. Yet, the Chief Priests and the Scribes did not go. They did not worship. Knowledge is essential for worship. The wise men come to Jerusalem because they have seen the star and go to Bethlehem because they have understood the Scriptures shared by the Chief Priests and Scribes. We should regularly expose our hearts and the hearts of our children to the Scriptures in our homes, at church, and in every venue in life. To worship God, men and women must know truth about him. But truth does not equal nor demand worship.

We can have great knowledge and not worship God. We can memorize large portions of the Bible and still not worship God. We can teach in seminary, we can lecture our friends on how to raise their kids, and we can have years of sermon notes and never worship God. Great knowledge does not produce great worship. Without the Holy Spirit knowledge puffs up and entrenches the pride in our hearts.

True Worship

True worship consists of more than experiences and knowledge . True worship consists of life changing faith in the work and person of Jesus, our Messiah. Those who worship Christ fall down before Christ. They surrender every part of their person, career, and life to Jesus. Those who worship God declare with their mouths and believe in their hearts that God is worthy of all praise, honor, and fame. And because they worship God from a heart of love, their lives begin to reflect the glory of God. They overcome sin, they develop a love for God’s Word, and they love others. Those who truly worship God, those who are truly Christians follow the example of the Wise men and bow before Jesus, offering him their all.

Many who claim Christ this Christmas will skip another Christmas. Sure, they will put up their trees, send out their cards, and attend their Christmas Eve candlelight services. Yes, they will retell the nativity store for the hundredth time with all the enthusiasm of a bored child. They will have a wealth of experience and knowledge but they will have never worshiped Christ. They will have never decided to make Christ their all. They see Jesus and go about their business unmoved and unchanged. They will skip Christmas like the Chief Priests and the Scribes.

Do not skip Christmas this year. Repent and believe today. Join with the wise men this very minute and go and worship Christ, the New Born King!

5 Amazing Christmas Gifts For Kids!

kids-gifts-blogESV Student Study Bible: Crossway

This colorful Bible equips students to better understand God’s Word. The Bible contains notes that help your older elementary child understand cultural nuances of the Bible. It also contains illustrations, genealogies, maps, and pictures that help your child visualize the images and histories of the biblical text. The Bible also includes, “Did you Know?” sections on almost every page that help your child think about and apply what they are reading. If you are looking to buy your child a Bible that will aid them in their studies of the Scripture, I encourage you to get them a copy of the ESV Student Study Bible.

Other Great Bibles:

51P3o2I0c9L._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_If you are looking for a Bible for a younger elementary student or for an advanced preschooler, I encourage you to check out the ESV Big Picture Bible. The Bible contains the full text of the Scripture. All of the headings are colorful and a multitude of colorful pictures will help your visual learning connect with the text of the Bible. If you are looking to buy your child her first Bible, I encourage you to give the ESV Big Picture Bible a look.

If you are a New King James or Christian Standard Bible fan checkout The Big Picture Interactive Study Bible, that contains many of the pictures and notes find in Lifeway’s popular Sunday School curriculum, the Gospel Project. This is the perfect Bible for older preschoolers to elementary age children.

Exploring the Bible: David Murray

David Murray created an amazing devotion for your children. Murray takes your children on a rapid Journey through the Bible’s story line. Each day your children will read a passage of Scripture and will write down a brief statement about what they have learned. Murray caps each week with a page for Sermon notes that are designed to help your child apply what he hears on Sunday morning. This book is the perfect gift for the child who desires to have his own quiet times. I encourage you to get a copy of Exploring the Bible.

Luther: Stephen McCaskell and Aaron Armstrong

McCaskell and Armstrong have given kids a stunning and compelling look at the founder of the Reformation, Martin Luther. The book is strikingly illustrated with black and white pictures that resemble a graphic novel. The text that surrounds the illustrations walks your child through the history of Luther, explaining how an imperfect man saved the fading light of the gospel in Western Europe. If you have a child who loves history or reading, or interacting with a compelling story, I encourage you to place a copy of Luther under her Christmas tree.

The Radical Book For Kids: Champ Thorton

screenshot-66Champ Thorton presents the history of Christendom in a fun, exciting, and compelling matter that is almost sure to connect with your elementary student. He discuss everything from John Bunyan, to the “Books of the Bible,” to the “Hedelberg Catechism” to “Bible Games” to “Lottie Moon.” Every chapter has illustrations or quotes, or photo’s, or comics, or crafts, or charts that help bring the pages to life. If you have a child who loves to learn or who wants to understand more about their faith, I encourage you to buy him a copy of The Radical Book For Kids.

The Ology: Marty Machowski

Marty Machowski invites children to join Carla and Timothy as they unwrap and read the rare children’s book that began with the early church. Machowski uses the next 231 pages to explain what Christians believed about God, people, sin, and salvation, using illustrations, analogies, and readable text that will connect with your elementary student. All  of the book’s 71 chapters run  two to three pages and  feature a picture and Scripture references that will help your child understand key biblical truths. If you want to expose your child to the truth of the Bible and if you have a reader in your family, you will want to place a copy of The Ology under your Christmas tree.

What gifts will you by giving your children this Christmas?