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CHRISTMAS

‘TIS THE SEASON?

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‘TIS THE SEASON?

My parents rarely fought.  I can count the number of times my Mom and Dad had an argument in front of me on one hand, and I would not need to use all of my fingers.  They didn’t have many conflicts, but the ones they had held a few things in common: 

1.     They tended center around food.  One time my dad went off about how the ham needed to be sliced thinner, and he wouldn’t drop it.  Another time, the argument was over gravy.  It was too runny or too lumpy or something.

 2.     Their battles were not really about food.  The food fight was just an excuse to vent obvious underlying stress that they couldn’t verbalize well.

 3.     Their arguments always took place during the holidays.

 What is it about Christmas time that causes so many of us to get stressed out, crabby - downright Scroogish and Grinchy?  Why is the Christmas season so hard on us?

Andrew Greeley saw it when he said, "For some people, Christmas is the worst time of the year.  Suicide rates go up, more people die from 'natural causes,' marriages fall apart, psychiatrists' patients suffer regressions, religious communities are torn asunder, new family feuds are begun, and many alcoholics venture forth on Technicolor binges. God rest you merry gentlemen, indeed." Andrew Greely

 Christmas can be a difficult, conflict-filled time.  Perhaps our folks got extra cranky at Christmas and those memories come rushing back.  Maybe there’s been a divorce in the family and the distressing task of dealing with ex-in-laws, step-parents, step-children, step-monsters, new boy-friends and separations comes back.  Or maybe we’re made miserable by good old Uncle Rudeness or Aunt Judgemental, who only get worse around the holiday table.

 But why?  Why is Christmas so difficult?

I believe that the vast majority of Christmas stress can be attributed to two issues:

1.      Expectations.

 At Christmas time our expectations tend to go right through the roof. We often become very unrealistic.

“Christmas is a time when you get homesick - even when you're home.”  Carol Nelson

“Isn't it funny that at Christmas something in you gets so lonely for -  I don't know what exactly - but it's something that you don't mind so much not having at other times." Kate L. Bosher

 Lynn Cable, a psychologist from Eugene Oregon, was asked by USA Today why people go crazy over toys like Furby, Elmo and Hatchimals at Christmas.  She answered, “More than any other time of the year, parents desire that things be exactly right.  (Although they may not be able to control everything) they can at least make sure they get this one particular toy.  Christmas multiplies the effects of everything:  happiness, sadness, disappointment.  There is an emotional intensity that we don’t see at any other time.”

 Christmas is the time when many, if not most of us, set unrealistic expectations that hold very little chance of being fulfilled.

 Which leads to the second issue:

2.      Disappointment

It’s the most disappointing time of the year.

In an article published in Psychology Today, Nick Luxmoore wrote, “With all its nostalgia and expectation, looking backwards and looking forwards, Christmas raises an important issue for young people.... Why does the exciting world that I remember seem so disappointing nowadays? Why are my presents no longer as surprising as they were? Why are other people so irritating? Why do our family routines seem so predictable?”

Expectations are very high at Christmas—especially for our family.  And honestly, that makes sense.  After all, these are the people who are supposed to love us.  They are mostly required to treat us well.  They are our first relationships, we expect unconditional love.  And inevitably, we are disappointed. 

Luxmoore continues, “When we talk about ‘Christmas', we talk unconsciously about parents and parenting because, young or old, our experience of Christmas is inevitably bound up with the parents and the childhood that we remember, with the world as it used to be. For most of us, those memories seem warm and straightforward compared to the harsher and more complicated realities with which we now grapple. Christmas confronts us with the disappointment of life as it is compared with life as we remember it, and life as we see it portrayed in the jingling, jangling adverts.”—Nick Luxmoore

The secular Christmas season pushes us toward disappointment, which is ironic, because Christmas is actually about the exact opposite. 

How can we deal with disappointment and darkness and despair at Christmas?

"Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever." Isaiah 9:1 (NLT)

 The prophet Isaiah wrote around 700 B.C., primarily to the southern kingdom of the Jews, called Judah.  They had been messing up primarily with idol worship, taking advantage of the poor and clear disobedience of God’s laws.  At that time Assyria and Israel (the Northern kingdom) were threatening to destroy Judah.  Isaiah had a vision from God in chapter 6, and he said, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among people of unclean lips.”  He has an experience of forgiveness, and then God asks, “Who will go for me, whom can I send as a messenger?”  And Isaiah answers, “Here am I, send me.”

In chapter 7, Ahaz, the king of Judah, fully expects his people to be wiped off the face of the earth.  He knows they deserve it, he sees two larger nations closing in and he figures this will be the end of the Jews, of the promise of a savior.  But God offers a sign that he will not totally destroy them:

"All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. 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 (NLT)

God will send a savior, but first there will be punishment.  Disappointment doesn’t have to last forever.  Back to chapter 9:

 "Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land… will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles… will be filled with glory. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.  For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.  You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors, dividing the plunder…The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned.  They will be fuel for the fire.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders.

And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!" Isaiah 9:1-7 (NLT)

 Life is disappointing, darkness and despair abound.  But disappointment won’t last forever.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel.  The wars will end, and there will be rejoicing.

For God will send a savior to us, who will rule in fairness and justice for all eternity.  You won’t be saying, “He is not my candidate.”  He will not be crooked or deplorable.  He will called wonderful, counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, and prince of peace.

Christmas time lends itself to unmet expectations and disappointment, but the Christmas child changes that:

 1.  Jesus Exceeds Expectations

 Talk about high expectations!  Wonderful, mighty, a prince?

Everything you’ve ever dreamed a leader could be—everything you’ve ever wanted from your relationships--Jesus is and will be for you. Your Savior will forever be perfectly father-like in the way he protects and leads you. In Jesus, you have perfection.

"He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity." Isaiah 9:7 (NLT)

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)

We can never over-expect from God.  He will always deliver.  Expect God to always come through.

2.  Jesus Doesn’t Disappoint.

“His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.” Isaiah 9:7 (NLT)

 “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 (NIV)

You might think that God has let you down. Llife can be disappointing, but this is like the first inning.  God has all eternity to come through. I don’t know about you, but when we open presents on Christmas Day in our house, we don’t typically give the kids the best gifts first.  We start with things like socks, and pajamas and other clothes.  We keep the really special gifts for later.  The kids might be tempted to feel a little disappointed, but then we break out the good stuff. God never promised to settle all of our problems immediately.  He has eternity to work.  Expect God to always come through—unexpectedly!

So, how can we handle the stress at Christmas?

1.  Focus on the Savior, not the season.

There is a famous Christmas painting by Brughel called “The Nativity.”  It shows all the hustle and bustle--all the commotion--of the time with the census and the traveling going on   Shoppers and merchants and people.  And off in the bottom right corner, there’s a woman riding on a donkey pulled by a young man.  If you don’t look carefully, you’ll miss it.

 Often we get so caught up in the season, we miss the Savior.  We usually place our expectations on Christmas time, instead of the Christmas child.  Let’s change that this year.

 

2.  Remember memories are made in the mistakes.

We all get disappointed, but often the blunders and mishaps are the best moments and memories.  One Christmas, my 1966 Mustang accidently escaped and drove smack into the neighbor’s house.  That’s one of my favorite memories—hilarious!  One year, I coughed so hard I passed out and smacked my head on the coffee table.  I talked about it at church, and Sharon Wells insisted her husband Geoff go get his cough looked at.  The doctors didn’t seem to be too concerned with his cough, but did find an aggressive form of cancer that they would have missed otherwise, and now he is cancer-free.  God used my annoying whooping cough in some small way to help save my friend’s life—funny stuff!  One year on Christmas, Sunday our church got served with a lawsuit by the International Bank of Evil (or whatever their name was.)  So they sued us, we lost, they got a huge judgement.  And then they proceeded to go out of business.  The bank that took over for them went out of business too -comedy!

When something goes wrong this season, lighten up.  If we’re going to look back and laugh about it someday, we might as well laugh about it now.

3.  Relieve someone else’s disappointment.

The quickest way to get over our own disappointment is to get our focus off of our own stuff and go find someone to serve, someone to give to, and someone to share the Savior with.

Here’s The Big Challenge:  Let’s take an “Expectation Inventory” this Christmas week.   Are my expectations out of whack?  Am I pretty much guaranteeing my own disappointment?  Or are my expectations placed on the One who does immeasurably more than all we ask of imagine?

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WHAT TO DO WHEN GOD IS SILENT

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WHAT TO DO WHEN GOD IS SILENT

WHAT TO DO WHEN GOD IS SILENT

 

I felt pretty amped up as I drove to that critical meeting in June of 2014.  I had planned on making a major move, dropping a huge announcement and presenting my game-changing challenge.  About an hour out from my destination, it hit me, “Maybe I should pray about this?”  Feeling a bit guilty that I had just now thought about praying, I turned off the radio and asked, “So God, what do you want me to do?”

 

And then I experienced one of those fairly rare occurrences where it seemed like I heard God speak.  I don’t think it was audible, but the words, “Not now, wait, relax…” jumped out at me. 

 

A quietness settled over me, and instead of disrupting the meeting with my big pronouncement,

I calmly sat back, asked a few questions and did my best to relax.

 

That was one of the occasional incidences when it appeared that God was speaking directly to me.  They do not happen all the time and we could discuss and critique how, why and when such things transpire.  But instead, I’d like to discuss what to do when God doesn’t speak.

 

The ride home that day was filled with prayer, but I didn’t hear God speak.  “Now what?” was my cry for days, for weeks, and even for months.  But I didn’t pick up any special message from God.  God felt silent.

 

So what do we do when God appears silent?  What do we do when we pray but nothing seems to happen?  What are we supposed to do when it feels like God is on a break?

 

That question leads us to Christmas, because the story of the birth of Jesus emerges after God has been silent for four centuries.  There is a gap between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, and that gap is commonly referred to as, “The 400 Silent Years.”

 

God had been speaking through prophets, and leaders and even miracles.  But then he stopped.  The “Gone Fishin’,” “On Vacation,” “return to Sender” signs all looked like they were up. 

 

Facing a silence of four months was daunting for me, but 400 years?  What do we do when God is silent?

 

1.  PAY ATTENTION TO THE THINGS GOD HAS ALREADY SAID.

 

The last message we see from God before his extended silence was this:

 

“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives.  His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

--Malachi 4:5-6 (NLT)

 

Then the first thing we hear from God when he broke his silence was the angelic message to a Jewish priest named Zechariah.  The angel announces that this temple servant and his wife will have a son:

 

“Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.  You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.  And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God.  He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

--Luke 1:8-17 (MLT)

 

The first thing God said after 400 years of silence was the same thing he said before going silent.

 

When I don’t hear from God, I can always go back to the last time I heard from Him, and all the things He has already said quite clearly.

 

In the Fall of 2014 while I was waiting to hear next steps from God, I heard a radio interview of Green Bay Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.  His team had started the year on a down note, and Packer fans were beginning to panic.  Here is how Rodgers responded:  "Five letters here just for everybody out there in Packer-land: R-E-L-A-X.  Relax. We're going to be OK.

 

I’m not a Packer fan, not at all.  So I don’t believe God would speak through a Green Bay QB.  But I took that quip as a reminder in the silence to go back to what God has already said.

 

2.  BE CAREFUL TO STAY CLOSE TO GOD

 

When God did break his silence, he spoke to people who were walking closely with him.

 

Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.--Luke 1:5-7 (NLT)

 

“Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”  Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!--Luke 1;28-30 (NLT)

 

Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man…--Matthew 1:19 (NLT)

 

In the Christmas story, God spoke clearly, but it appears he only spoke directly to those who were living godly lives.

 

3.  REALIZE THAT EVEN WHEN GOD IS SILENT HE IS WORKING

 

Let me try to set the historical scene.  In history there have been four major world empires.  First were the Babylonians, then the Medo-Persians—the Persians and the Medes.  These two empires were predominantly eastern empires.  Then came Alexander the Great and the Greeks, which was the first western empire.  Then came the Roman Empire. 

 

At the close of the Old Testament, the Babylonian empire had ended, the Persians were in control, and the Jews had been allowed to move back into Jerusalem.  Then Alexander the Great conquered the world, he took over Jerusalem, he ushered in a universal language—Greek—and brought in the Western dominance.  When he died, his kingdom was divided into four chunks and two of them—the Egyptian and Syrian groups vied back and forth for control over Jerusalem.  Then in about 70 B.C. the Romans came in, conquered the world and controlled Jerusalem. 

 

When power shifted from the east to the west, the pagan eastern empires began deteriorating and disintegrating. Their religions had fallen upon evil days and hard times. The people became sick of the polytheism and emptiness of their pagan faiths—their religion, their so-called “gods” simply weren’t working. The Jews had gone through times of pressure and had failed in their efforts to re-establish themselves. There was a growing air of expectancy that the only hope they had left was the coming at last of the promised Messiah. In the East, the oriental empires had come to the place where the wisdom and knowledge of the past had disintegrated and they too were looking for something. When the moment came when the star arose over Bethlehem, the wise men of the East who were looking for an answer to their problems saw it immediately and came out to seek the One it pointed to.

 

The Apostle Paul put it this way, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…”--Galatians 4:4 (ESV)

 

God may have been silent during that 400-year gap, but he was also certainly busy.  In 400 years the world saw a universal language, a dominant culture, an Eastern curiosity and a tremendously expectant spirituality.  Would the good news about Jesus have been able to spread so wildly, so quickly and “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6 NKJV) if Jesus had been born centuries earlier?  It sure looks like God was arranging circumstances every day, even if he wasn’t being especially chatty.

 

As I look back on what was happening around me, I’m amazed at how circumstances changed after that June 2014 meeting.   My “major move” probably would have resulted in a not-so-loud thud had I moved quickly.

 

4.  KEEP LISTENING, GOD WON’T BE SILENT FOREVER

 

There were 400 years of silence, but then God did speak: 

 

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.—Luke 2:10-11 (NIV)

 

The silence, the waiting, the lack of response, the seemingly unanswered prayers—they were all worth it.  God knew what he was doing all along.

In January of 2015, after nearly eight months of asking, “What now, God?  What do you want me to do?”  It happened again.

 

I was out on a walk on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when I heard the words of that famed reformer, “'Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.'”  It hit me like the words of God. 

 

Then I read a verse from Proverbs that popped off the page:  “Be wise enough to know when…”—Proverbs 23:4 (NLT)

 

It was time to make my move, right? 

 

Not exactly.

 

I talked to my wife about it.  She said it was time.  I talked to my kids about it.  They all said they were excited about it.  I talked to my best godly friends, they encouraged me to move.  Then I got my inner circle of eight trusted advisers who I know follow God and have my best interest in mind.  They all agreed it was time.

 

I implemented the game-changing decision and have not had one second of regret since.

 

Does God really speak?  I am totally convinced that he does, I believe he works in that way.  But even more, I am convinced that even when God doesn’t speak, he is still at work.

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FOR ALL THE PEOPLE

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FOR ALL THE PEOPLE

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’”—Luke 2:10-11

 

Christmas is “for all people.”  Christmas reminds us that everyone is on a spiritual journey, and the Christmas season gives all of us an excellent opportunity to take the next step on our spiritual journey.   No matter who you are, where you’re from, what you’ve done - Christmas encourages you and me to move along our spiritual journey.

How?  I’d like to walk us through some of the stages, the seasons, the phases along our spiritual journey. I’d also like us to look at how a character in Bible who was in that particular stage responded at Christmas. 

 

1) The RESISTING STAGE.

Some people are not very interested in spiritual things.  They either don’t believe in God, or perhaps are mad at God and resist His work in their lives.  At Christmas these folks may tend to be Scrooges or Grinches.

The Top Seven Atheist Holiday Songs:

O Little Town of Birmingham

I Don't Fear What You Fear

Oh, Krispy Kreme

Angels I Have Heard While High

Grandma Got Run Over By a Train, Dear

Whose Kid is This?

Amway -- I'm a Manager

 

A Biblical example of someone in the Resisting Stage is Herod

“King Herod was deeply disturbed…”—Matthew 2:3 (NLT)

“Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.”—Matthew 2:16 (NLT)

Herod was so caught up in fighting God that he messed up not only his life, but thousands of lives. If you’re in the resisting stage, take a lesson from Herod:  Stop fighting God - it’s not a fight we can win.

 

2) The QUESTIONING STAGE

 This where we’ve moved past disinterest or resistance and are wondering, “There’s got to be more to life than this.”

The shepherds would be a Biblical example of the questioning stage.

“The shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."—Luke 2:15

The shepherds opened their minds enough to check things out.  If you’re at a questioning stage, I’d encourage you to make the effort at Christmas to look for the things God might be doing around you.

 

3) The SEEKING STAGE.

Those in the spiritual stage of seeking have come out of the clouds and have actually clarified their questions.  They’ve progressed to taking their spiritual questions to the Bible in search of answers. 

Some in this stage are assertively seeking and hopefully will make a personal commitment to Jesus.  This is when we realize we need God.  We are getting ready to make a faith commitment and become a Christ-follower.

 The Wise Men are a great example of the seeking stage.

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.’…After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!  They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.’”—Matthew 2:1-2& 9-11

The wise men were seekers.

I love the Dave Barry quote:  “Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall.  We traditionally do this in my family by driving around the parking lot until we see a shopper emerge from the mall, then we follow her, in very much the same spirit as the Three Wise Men, who 2,000 years ago followed a star, week after week, until it led them to a parking space.” Dave Barry

Seekers are looking for a spiritual place.  If that is you let me encourage you - like the wise men, tgive the gift of yourself to Jesus this year.

4) The INFANCY STAGE.

This is when we are a beginning Christ-follower, a baby believer.  We’re spiritual babies, and we’re struggling to adapt to our new world.

I think the neighbors are a good Biblical example of the Infancy Stage.

“The neighbors were all filled with awe.”—Luke 1:65

When we first make that commitment to Jesus, giving our life to Him because He gave His life for us, a lot of things seem new.  We see that God has been with us our entire lives even though we never realized it. 

If you’re brand new in following Jesus, go ahead and enjoy Christmas like a little child this year.

 

5) The ADOLESCENT STAGE.

This is the part along the journey where we start to feel like we’ve arrived. Adolescence is a know-it-all stage, a selfish stage and an awkward stage. 

People who are spiritual adolescents can mess it up for everyone.  Those who are resisting and questioning can look at an adolescent believer and think, “If that’s what Christianity is all about, count me out.”  Adolescents tend to rise to leadership positions in the church (after all, they know everything!) and mess it up for those trying to follow Jesus too.

An example from the Christmas story of the Adolecent Stage is Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.

 “Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous…While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him… “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John…Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen?... Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news!  But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”--Luke 1:6 & 11 & 18-20 (NLT)

Zechariah felt he knew it all, he actually questioned the angel.  You’d expect this spiritual leader to believe God, but he didn’t.  And he made a mess.

If you’re in the adolescent stage, simply recognize it.  Take a lesson from Zechariah--stop pretending that you know everything!

Honestly, we live in an adolescent culture.  Everything is all about “me”.  So we all slip back into adolescence from time to time--probably more often than we’d like.  Let’s realize though, that adolescence is a stage - a phase we need to grow out of--just like Zechariah did.

“Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;  he came and set his people free.  He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives,”—Luke 1:67-68 (TMV)

6) The GROWING STAGE

Joseph is a great example of the growing stage.

 “When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded.”—Matthew 1:24 (NLT)

Joseph consistently responded by doing what God said to do.

The difference between spiritual adolescence and spiritual growth is simple:  Obedience. Doing what God says to do.

Obedience is a lost art in our world, but Christmas calls us to it--to progress along our journey we need to follow what Jesus says.

7) The SERVING STAGE

Mary is the classic case for the Serving Stage.

“Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.”—Luke 1:38

Mary wasn’t caught up in herself, she was caught up in service.  Christmas is a great time to take that next step and serve.

Jerry Seinfeld says, "That's the true spirit of Christmas; people being helped by people other than me."

Actually, the true spirit of Christmas is growing by serving.

 

8) The REPRODUCING STAGE

Many people never reach the reproducing stage.  They are serving, but can get so attached that they think of it as “my ministry.”

But growing as a follower of Jesus is not about me, and it’s not about my ministry either.  It is about serving others and helping others along their spiritual journey.  It’s about reproduction.

The Christmas example in the Bible that comes to my mind for the Reproducing Stage I Elizabeth--because she had a baby!  Mary had one too, so Christmas definitely is about reproduction!

Anyway, if you’re pretty far along your spiritual journey, make sure you keep going on toward reproduction.  God wants to multiply His impact through you and me - let’s allow Him too!

 

9) The MAXIMIZING STAGE

This is the sweet-spot stage.  This is where everything we’ve experienced, all of our gifts and strengths come to a place where God is using us in amazing ways - to do the very things he created us for.

Theologian Bobby Clinton calls this “convergence.” This is where everything comes together.  Life may not be easy, but ministry is natural. 

Few people ever get here.  One who did in the Christmas story is Anna—a great example of the maximizing stage.

“There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”—Luke 2:36-38

Anna got to the point in her life where she had a giant impact because she was simply doing what God created her to do - speaking about Jesus.

I’d love to see all of us get to that convergence place, where we’re doing exactly what God made us to do.

 

10) The CELEBRATING STAGE

This is where we can truly celebrate all that God has done in and through us.  I think of Simeon as a Christmas example of the Celebrating Stage.

 “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ.  Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:  ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’"—Luke 2:25-32

“I have seen the Savior you have given to all people.  He is a light to reveal God to the nations.”—Luke 2:30-32 (NLT)

Very few people get here - to where they can simply celebrate at the end of their lives - like Simeon - and live in peace.  Very few people get there, but we can all move closer.

Christmas is for all of us.  So, let me wish you a merry Christmas, and also encourage all of us to respond this Christmas by taking the next step along our spiritual journey.

 

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