Why Christmas is Unfair

This past Sunday marked the beginning of Advent, the four Sundays leading up to Christmas when we spend time considering the meaning of the birth of Christ in our world. Speaking of this event, the prophet Isaiah wrote: "Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means 'God is with us')." (Isaiah 7:14)

I love that the name 'God is with us' is used. In our world, we deal with many challenges and difficulties, large and small. From personal struggles to global problems like terrorism and refugee crises. I am grateful that God is with us in the midst of these problems.

This year, my church is considering the idea that God has invited us to a gift exchange.

When you are going to visit family or friends for Christmas, you try to make sure that you bring something that will make them happy. It would be terrible to receive a great gift and have something underwhelming to give in return.

Yet, in the original meaning and concept of Christmas, we find ourselves in exactly that situation.

How To Be Happy

envyFinish this sentence: "I'd be happy if ______________".

I had/made more money?

I had a job I liked better?

My marriage/family issues were resolved?

I stopped/started doing something in particular?

I'm sorry to have to be the bearer of bad news, but your answer is an illusion.

Life will always have problems.

You'll never change that. If the thing you wished for at the start of this article came your way, you'd find something else you wanted/needed.

It's a carrot on a stick.

Peter Rollins, in the book Divine Magician, tells the story of a fisherman who encounters a businessman.

The businessman asks where the fisherman is going, to which the fisherman replies that he is heading to the market to sell his fish.

"And what will you do then?" inquires the businessman.

"Probably sit on the beach with my family and talk with passers by" replies the fisherman.

The businessman is upset. "Why waste all that time? If you spent the rest of the day fishing, you could catch more fish and make more money!"

"What for?" asks the fisherman.

"Because", stammers the businessman, "then you could afford to buy better equipment, to catch even more fish. You may be able to eventually afford a boat and then a whole fleet of boats so that you would have enough money to sit on the beach with your family and talk with passers by!"

The idea that happiness is being held back due to the fact you need something to make happiness possible is a fiction; an illusion.

God tells us that one of the products of his spirit in our lives is joy.

And access to God's spirit is not based on money, or a job you like better, or a healthier relationship or anything you do.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't want better relationships, or seek ways to live a healthier life, and I'm not even saying there's anything inherently wrong with making more money or having a job you like better.

I'm simply saying that if you attempt to derive your happiness from these things, you are doomed to failure.

In seek our fulfillment from anything other than God, the Bible has a term for that: idolatry.

It's pretty clear that God isn't a fan of this concept. We were created to be in relationship with God, and anything getting in the way of that simply hurts ourselves.

So in order to be happy in life, ask yourself: what are the things that I am placing my hope in?

Paul, an early follower of Jesus, wrote this to Timothy, a young man who he was training:

"Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment." (1 Timothy 6:17)

Two things here:

First, if you said 'well, I'm not rich so this doesn't apply to me', I want you to know that an American making a little over $30,000 per year is in the richest 1% of the world.

Second, set aside the whole rich thing and pay attention to what Paul says after that.

Don't trust in money, it's unreliable.

We are rich when we look to God for our enjoyment.

If God is your source of pleasure in life, it can never be lost, broken or taken.

Paul isn't simply blowing smoke at us here, either.

Besides shipwrecks, snakebites, being stoned and locked in prison repeatedly, he seems to be a pretty content guy. At one point, the book of Acts describes him being chained in a dungeon and singing praises to God.

If you want to be happy, stop waiting for something or someone else to make you happy.

Decide that you will be grateful and joyful about what God has given you. Take enjoyment and pleasure in all that you do have.

If we spend our lives looking and waiting for the bigger better thing, we will miss what's around us.

Life is always going to have its challenges.

A video game designer named Notch recently sold a game to Microsoft for 2.5 billion dollars and then talked on twitter about the frustration of no longer feeling like he had a purpose other than partying.

You may think this is ridiculous and that you would never get bored of being rich, but simply Google 'money doesn't buy happiness' to read scientific studies on the fact that the Notorious B.I.G. was right when he said 'Mo money, mo problems.'

Choose to be happy where you're at by looking to the God who richly gives.

Think of the times when you got a good job or bought a new car or got a new smartphone. The feeling those things provides you is fleeting. Trying to gain happiness from them will only lead to more pain.

Anchor your happiness in what will not change, and you will be happy.

Retelling Christmas: A Story of Joy

balloonsThis past Sunday, I got to speak about the joy we find in the Christmas narrative. Pretty much everybody who discovered what God's plan is - and that they get to be involved in it - are filled with joy. You know what? I don't like ending a sentence with the word 'joy' and a period.

Joy needs to have an exclamation point after it.



That's better. Okay, back to the blog post:

But it's not just at Christmas that people discover JOY! regarding God's plans:

Matthew records a story on Easter Sunday (I know, I know, now talking about Easter at Christmas. I shouldn’t do that...)

Anyways, Matthew tells us about some women heading to Jesus’ tomb on what would become known as Easter Sunday. When they arrive, they find an angel has rolled away the stone and the angel shares with them the news that Jesus has risen.

Here's what happens next:

Matt 28:8 “The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great JOY!, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message.” (emphasis mine)

These women discovered something God was doing, and it filled them with JOY! These women got to be the first people to share the Gospel.

(Just quick side note here. If you're a woman and you feel that God is calling you to ministry, what more authority do you need than the fact that God chose women to be the very first messengers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? God's gifts are not separated by gender. That's my riff on that.)

The bottom line is that if you want JOY! in your life, find out what God is up to and get involved.

This doesn't mean you won't have difficult time and circumstances arise. But if we remember that God is all about renewing and restoring all of creation and we get to be a part of that, there's a JOY! at the core of that which no circumstance or situation can ever fully smother.

So share the message of JOY! that the God who made us and knows all about us loves us and wants to have a relationship with us, because this is not something we're supposed to hold onto and hoard. God was pleased to share this JOY! with us, now we should go forth and share it with others.

Put other people first by volunteering.

Do something randomly nice like paying for the check of a family at a restaurant without them knowing

Give a Christmas present to somebody totally not expecting one from you (and tell them not to go get you one, but give something to charity if they feel a need to reciprocate).

Tell stories of JOY! in your life this Christmas in honor of the God who shouted it to us through his own son Jesus!


The Weapons of War

You’ve heard Isaiah 54:17a: “no weapon forged against you will prevail”. But many Christians have been martyred, by guns or swords or lions or various other methods. So what is God talking about?

First, I think perhaps he is revealing that, as a whole, God’s people will never be wiped out. Despite fierce persecution in the first 4 centuries of Christianity, we’re a billion+ strong now.

But I also think there’s another aspect of this.

Jesus alludes to it in Matthew 10:28: “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. “

Jesus is like, ‘Guns and swords? Don’t even worry about those. They can only kill the part of you that’s going to die anyways.’

I think the real weapons that our enemy has forged against us are greed and lust and self-pity and hate and fear; among many others.

But the reason these weapons are not supposed to affect us is because Jesus makes us immune. His joy is stronger than depression. His peace can’t even be understood, much less defeated.

It’s when our life is “hidden with Christ” (Colossians 3:3) that we become completely untouchable to the weapons of the enemy.

We live in the cross fire. Bullets of selfish thoughts and actions are always heading our way. People living without Jesus are riddled with holes from these attacks. I think a lot of Christians are, too - when they drag their world-proof vest behind them in the mud instead of wearing it.

Paul is pretty clear about this in Romans 13:13-14: “Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.”

Only in Jesus are you immune to the weapons of the devils warfare. Stay in him. Don’t try to do it yourself. There are no medals of honor to be won in heaven, because Jesus already won them.