Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Three Things to DO This Christmas Season

I tend to chart out my life by a series of events. I have this sort of oral history in my mind and recall certain things by events in my life. For example, it's easy to remember when we moved from Prineville, Ore., to Corvallis, Ore., because it was right after Abram was born in 1999. Or I remember  the year when Eli was born because it was 2004 -- when we moved to Gloucester, Va. Another example would be remembering precisely when gasoline prices spiked in 2008 -- it was in September at the exact moment we were driving to Oregon so I could attend the School of Ministry at Calvary Chapel Corvallis. I will never forget the shock -- maybe horror is a better word -- of seeing the price of gas on the freeway in Tennessee at $4.99 per gallon. Or the acute physical pain associated with watching the needle of our fuel gauge rapidly drop toward `E' when we were driving into ferocious oncoming winds on I-80 in Wyoming. It's still painful to remember it seven years later ...

A year ago I spent two weeks in Nigeria while working as Communications Manager for the Transformational Education Network. It was an extraordinary time as we worked with church officials in Nigeria to open Bible-teaching computer training schools. As part of our work we traveled to a few schools, including the ones pictured above. Take a good look at those photos. Would you, as an American, say they are less than ideal conditions for school?

But here's the thing I remember when I visited those schools: The smiles I got from those students. I think about that frequently. Those kids have it rough and I'm know there are countless discouraging things they face every day. But they are so excited about going to school because it is a privilege and a blessing in that country. I'm not sure what percentage of Nigerian children actually get to wear uniforms and receive an education in a safe environment, but it may well be surprisingly low. These kids are grateful, to say the least.

I say all this because we all know how easy it is to get caught up in the consumer mentality of the American Christmas. I am guilty of it as well. We focus on things that don't matter, instead of things that do matter. With that in mind, I'd like to encourage all of us in three things -- particularly me -- this Christmas season.

1) Be thankful. I've traveled around the world. I've been to Africa, Haiti, China, South Korea, Hong Kong and other countries. We have so much to be thankful for as Americans. Be thankful for simple things such as running water, electricity, easy transportation, an overabundance of food and access to education. We take them for granted. Be thankful for our freedoms and safety in this country. The vast majority of us are untouched by violence, despite mass shootings and murder rates in inner cities. We don't have armed guards standing at gates at churches to ensure the safety of congregants like I saw in Jos, Nigeria. We don't have AK-47-toting soldiers manning checkpoints on highways every 10 or 15 miles to make sure terrorists aren't toting bombs and weapons across the country, as I saw in Nigeria. Not yet at least ...

More importantly, though, be thankful for a Savior. Two thousand years ago in an inconsequential town in the Middle East a child was born who would grow to become a remarkably compassionate, loving man. He is the Son of God and would live a sinless life, performing miracles of healing and later enduring searing punishment and torture and be nailed to a cross to be crucified. He would sacrifice His own life and take on our sins so that we could be free from the shackles of our trespasses and live life abundantly. Be thankful for the grace, mercy and selfless, unconditional love of Jesus Christ.

2) Be giving. We have this consumer mentality in America and an obsession with material things. Even in the church we find it hard to live out what Jesus said: That it's better to give than to receive. One of the saddest things I've heard recently is listening to the stories of two of my kids who work in the food service industry describe how the worst day for tips is Sunday afternoon when the Christians in their nice clothes go out to eat after church. Or how those same people can be among the rudest and most demanding customers. One of my kids describes how sad it is to know that some of the store's worst customers are a group of people wearing their church t-shirts who are rude to staff and then sit around and gossip. Come on Christians. We can do better.

Give more this year. In tips, in love, in deeds, in words and joy. Be a light to this dark world. Reflect the compassion of Jesus and live it out. Radiate the love of Jesus to a world that trades in harsh words, cynicism and selfishness.

3) Be servants. Jesus said that he came to this world to serve and not to be served. If we call ourselves Christians, that means we are followers of Jesus Christ and that these words should resonate with us. Does being a servant describe your life? Husbands, what does serving your wife look like in your house at the moment? How about with your kids? How does being a servant play out at work? How does it play out at church? Being a servant is a mindset that entails setting aside your needs to serve others and it can be a complete foreign concept to us. It starts at home. Believe me, I can do better and I know it. Perhaps many of us can do better. This world will be a better place when we have more people, Christians particularly, who view the journey through this life through the lens of being a servant. It's serving without complaint, accepting responsibility, being quick to apologize and quick to forgive and being patient and loving.

I leave with a verse that's one of my favorites, a prophecy from Isaiah 9 that describes the coming of Jesus. Just as Jesus is a light to a dark world, we can be lights this Christmas season: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined."

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