The best thing to do this or any Christmas

In a moment, I’ll tell you what the Lord did to me this week–and warn you it’s something He delights in doing to us!

The reason some of God’s children find the Christmas season endlessly boring and monotonous is they have forgotten one huge fact:  It’s not about you.

We need to get out of our hour or God’s house and share His love with others.

Consider writing something…

–Write a check–a big one, larger than anyone expects–for a ministry that is touching the world for Jesus.

–Write a check–a small check if that’s all you can do–for a ministry that is touching someone for the Lord you couldn’t.

–Write a note to someone who could use a word of thanks or encouragement or cheer.  Tell them how special they are to you, or remind them of something they once did or said that lingers with you to this day.  Hand write it, don’t type it.

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Christmas: Not the way we would have done it, Lord!

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. –C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”

God rarely does anything as we would have done it or expected it.

In the 8th century B.C., God told Israel, “Your thoughts are not my thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

So, when God got ready to put His earth-saving plan into effect, we may expect it to be different.  Vastly different from how we would have done it.

The problem is spelled out in Psalm 50:21.  God says the people lied and cheated and did a hundred bad things.  Then, “These things you have done and I kept silent.  And you thought I was just like you.”

We think God is like us.  The ultimate folly.  We expect Him to do what we would do.  It just seems reasonable.

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If I were a pastor again at Christmastime…

I’ve not pastored since the Spring of 2004, and so have the perspective of a good many years on this subject.

I have, of course, been in church all that time–for five years as director of missions for the SBC churches in the New Orleans area, retiring in 2009–and probably two-thirds of the Sundays have been preaching in churches far and wide, big and small, contemporary and traditional, impressive and otherwise.

I have always loved the Christmas season.  I enjoy the constant carols in the department stores (although I confess that Brenda Lee’s “Rock Around the Christmas Tree” and a couple other seasonal things have outlived their usefulness with me!) and browsing the stores and the displays some stores still make.  I’m good with Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings as well as Merry Christmas.  One is as scriptural as the other.

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The most startling news ever, straight from Heaven: Luke 2:10-12

We interrupt this program to bring you the following news….

“I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people!  Today in the City of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord! And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.”

We return you now to your regularly scheduled program.

Wonder how Heaven decided who would deliver the news of Jesus’ birth that night?  Was there a competition among the angels? Did they draw straws? Was the announcer chosen by merit?  Did anyone say, “Gabriel got to tell Mary and Joseph; it’s my turn”?  What were the requirements?  A good speaking voice? Fluency in Aramaic?  And was the announcing angel disappointed when Heaven’s light was switched on and the audience for this event-for-the-ages was revealed to be a few rag-tag shepherds?

H. V. Kaltenborn, Edward R. Murrow, and Walter Cronkite, eat your heart out!  This was the best announcing job of all time.

Let’s break this wonderful announcement down into its ten components…

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Christmas: Not a time for inventing new twists on the age-old story

“Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Just tell the story.

Tell the story with faithfulness and respect.  Tell it accurately and fully, bringing in the accounts of Matthew and Luke, drawing from the prophecies of old.

Tell it with gusto and love. Tell the story of the birth of Jesus with all the excitement of someone hearing it for the first time.  Tell the story without detouring into theories and guesses and myths and controversies.

Your Christmas sermon is no time to conjecture on how planets aligned themselves into creating that wandering star which led the Magi to Bethlehem.  Keep in mind that it “went before them until it came and stood over where the child was” (Matthew 2:9).  Try doing that with planets.  Stay on the subject, pastor, and don’t waste your time.

Your Christmas sermon should not waste everyone’s valuable time on the pagan origin of Christmas or the history of Augustus’ census, unless you’ve found something worthwhile, pastor.

Stay on the subject.

Tell the story with imagination and appreciation.

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The first lesson the Lord taught me as a minister

My fiancée and I sat in the Sunday School class that morning.  An hour later, I would be bringing my first sermon since God called me to preach.  My very first one. I was excited.

And more than a little nervous.

It was December 1961, the Christmas season.  Margaret Henderson and I would be married five months later and then spend 52 years together serving the Lord.  We had no idea all the Lord had in store for us, of course. The one thing we knew and wanted with all our hearts was that God was leading us and would use us.

I was a senior in college and had been called into the ministry eight months earlier.

That holiday week, I had logged 72 hours selling men’s clothing in the National Shirt Shop on Second Avenue North in downtown Birmingham.  Each evening, when I dragged back to the apartment I shared with Joel Davis, devoted friend and soon to become our best man, I was too tired to study for a sermon.

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Christmas Giving: 10 ways to transform your Christmas

Those of us who love the Christmas season–I plead guilty!–often are in the market for ways to make it more meaningful.

I polled some friends and would like to share some of the results.

Give more. Give yourself.  Give the unexpected.  Give ten times as much as they expect.  Give more than ever before. 

Shop less.  Buy fewer.  Spend less.  Stress less.

Quit giving to the adults; give only to the children.

Give no more than 3 presents per child.

Emphasize the personal aspect.

Write more notes.  If you send Christmas cards, write personal notes on them.  Don’t be afraid to tell people you love them, even if you need to vary the verb and make it “I treasure you.”  (Or, cherish, adore, appreciate, or thank God for you)

Okay. Now, our ten ways to transform your Christmas season….

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Non-issues for God’s people

“Keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me” (Psalms 19:13).

The latest non-issue was Starbuck’s red cups, said to be a substitute for anything Christmas-y.  As I heard it, some of the Lord’s people were enraged.

When we posted a note regarding the silliness of such (ahem) courageous convictions, several people pointed out there was no issue, that no one had actually slammed Starbucks over this.

Good.  They sell coffee, not Christianity.

Any day now–we’re posting this on November 20–we may expect to see Facebook pages devoted to supporting only commercial establishments that allow their employees to wish people a “Merry Christmas” as opposed to the generic “Happy holidays” or “Season’s greetings.”

The things God’s people make issues of.

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Your Christmas Eve message

A pastor’s Christmas Eve message will have a flavor all its own. Because of the relaxed nature of the evening, the sermon is often directed toward the child in all of us. Hence, the following….

My friend Annette loves to pass along to me her assignments.  Her Mississippi church frequently invites her to give a talk on this or that, and she messages for my take on that subject. She uses nothing I do verbatim, but I suspect some of my responses provokes creative ideas in her.

Some of the most interesting pieces on our website were instigated by Annette.

The other day her message said, “I have to explain the Christmas story to children ages 4-11 in my church. Help!”

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Now, take Christmas. That’s certainly not how I would have done it.

(With tongue firmly planted in cheek, let us rethink this greatest of all stories.)

What was the Lord thinking, doing Christmas the way He did?

A Baby is born to an unwed couple after a long, arduous journey.  The cradle is a feeding trough in a stable in Bethlehem.  Welcoming committees of shepherds and foreigners show up. A murderous king sends his soldiers to slaughter babies. The young family flees to Egypt.

And thus Jesus arrives on the scene.

Admit it.  You would not have done Christmas that way.  It’s not just me.

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