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The Best Way to Get Involved in Your Community

This article originally appeared in the Shakopee Valley News.

A few months ago there was a gathering of pastors and church staff from Shakopee and Scott County together with local governmental officials. I was very excited to attend this meeting and was curious to see where the discussion went. In my relatively short time as a pastor I had not yet had significant meetings with local government officials. It’s not surprising to me that other pastors and churches think often of the issues that bring the intersection of faith and politics into light. All joking aside, it is indeed important to talk about religion and politics. Why not talk about both at the same time? In so doing, I heard a statement that is the best advice for churches, and individuals within churches, that are considering how to be involved in their community.

We began our meeting with a few presentations from the county officials. They informed us on the status of various projects in the county and also gave their perspective on how they thought churches, pastors, and individual parishioners can get involved. In a similar way, city officials presented the same kind of material, but from a city perspective. The sum total of these presentations was clear: despite the fact that we live in a generally affluent area, there are many, many needs in our community.

How can we as people of faith get involved in our community, city, or county? Without falling prey to “mission creep” and losing focus of what our mission is as churches, we can observe and begin to meet needs that arise. Though we can’t do everything or please everyone, we can begin to make a difference. A number of good ideas were given by the government officials at this meeting: participate in FISH, Families Moving Forward, and other similar groups that are meeting physical needs for people that are hurting. Other specific opportunities were given: communicate well between groups, offer transportation, become a mentor for youth, or provide foster care. We also had a very good discussion on mental health issues. Churches can be a network of loving support for those struggling with mental health issues, or, as was noted at this meeting, for the family members of those struggling with mental health issues. These are all very good ideas. And I’m sure there are more. But do you want to finally hear what I heard as the best advice given that day? The government officials that day encouraged us as pastors and church leaders to encourage our people to get involved and become engaged in an area or areas that matter most to them. Do you have a heart for the community? What, specifically, tugs at your heart? Do some research and plug in to that area. Every contribution makes a difference.

We ended our time by praying for each other. That time of prayer was one of the most moving times of prayer I’ve witnessed. I hope it meant a lot to the government officials to know that pastors and other church leaders are praying for them. They are often faced with criticisms and a barrage of requests. Though I don’t know where each of these governmental officials stands when it comes to faith, I trust they were encouraged by this time of prayer and meeting together. I know I was. After this meeting I decided to personally get involved in an area that is dear to my heart. Dear friend, what is your next move?

Technology Tools for Ministry- Part Deux

About a year ago I wrote a post entitled Technology Tools for Ministry. In that article, I promised a follow-up article about technology tools that I use on my iPhone. I enjoy “geeking out” on technology tools. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have no problem with people who resist using certain forms of technology. One needs to be comfortable with the tools and not get sucked into spending too much time figuring them out, etc. Over time, and with much trial and error, I have come to really appreciate these particular apps on my iPhone that I will mention below. They have helped me be efficient in my duties as a pastor. I would hazard a guess that these apps could be beneficial to any profession.

Some of these apps are also on my laptop. I really appreciate when one can access information on any device. Some apps, I’ve found, are better on an iPad instead. I currently have an iPhone 6S+ and have enjoyed the larger screen. The case for my phone is magnetic, which allows me to put my phone on the fridge, metal door, and on the dashboard of my car.

The Favorites

Omnifocus– This app is my task manager app. I am constantly coming back to this app to remind me of what needs to be done. I have set certain tasks to fall under certain “contexts.” I have tweaked these to be “Perspectives.” This lingo makes sense if you are familiar with Omnifocus. For example, I have a list for all of the “communicating” I need to do, be it a phone call, email, text message, etc. I have a context for ‘Home’ and one for ‘Content’ (anything that I need to brainstorm, research, or write including sermons and Bible studies). Another context I have is ‘Admin’ which is any administrative task I need to do. I really appreciate Omnifocus.

Evernote– While I use Evernote primarily on my desktop or laptop computer, it is really nice to have the iPhone app of Evernote as well. It provides me the ability to access my notes on the fly while I’m out and about. This iPhone app was recently redesigned and made much easier to use.

Drafts– This app is my digital scratchpad. Similar to using a piece of paper to scribble notes, this app provides a digital version of that. It works really well with other apps. For example, I can type a quick note and then click ‘Save to Evernote’ if I want that information as reference material. Other times I type a task and click ‘create a task in Omnifocus.’ I also use this app to capture blog ideas to Trello, compose text messages, compose messages for social media platforms.

For devotional life
PrayerMate– It’s the best option I’ve found for facilitating my prayer list.
ESV Bible– I’ve only started using this app recently. One of the things that I like a lot is that while listening to the audio Bible through this app, it syncs verse by verse with the screen.

For fun/continued learning
Pocket– I save articles I find on the web on my desktop or on my iPhone to read later in Pocket. When I have a few minutes, I read through those saved articles. The ones I really like or find useful get saved to Evernote.
Overcast– I LOVE to listen to podcasts! When I am driving or doing something that doesn’t require my full mental attention, I listen to many different podcasts. This app is my favorite podcasting app. It allows me to organize my podcasts easily and has wonderful options of “smart speed” that shortens the silence in the audio file and speeds up to 1.25x speed. It takes a little while to get used to, but I am able to listen to more this way. Sometimes my kids hear a podcast and they try to talk fast like the speaker I am listening to.
Kindle– While I prefer to read my Kindle books on the iPad, it is fine on the iPhone. I love that I can highlight and make notes on selected portions in a book. Later, I can save these annotations into Evernote for future reference.
Tweetbot– I like surfing Twitter on this app. I have a few lists I keep here, but the one I check most is ‘Sports.’ 🙂

Honorable mention

These apps either run more in the background and enhance the other apps I’ve mentioned above or they are used infrequently, but I still find much value in them.
Text Expander– With the click of a few buttons, a longer stream of text appears. This saves quite a bit of time! My most often used “snippet” is one that expands to show today’s full date. I type the letters “dd” and I receive this: “March 9, 2017- ” This works very well with the Drafts app in particular.
PDF Expert– I have found that it works best on the iPad. I tried to use it on my iPhone for awhile, but despite my large phone screen, I found it cumbersome to zoom in and zoom out constantly. I can read, highlight, and annotate PDFs. When I am finished, I save them to Evernote.
Trello– This is a great app for keeping lists. I especially like how one can drag to reorder. I have lists for books to read, house projects to do in the future, blog post ideas, among a few other lists. I also do some brainstorming of visitation with a list in Trello.
Scanner Pro– There are a number of scanning apps. I really like how “Scannable” is easy to use, quick, and saves to Evernote. I have found, though, that I really like ‘Scanner Pro.’ It is a little more powerful than Scannable and allows me to scan a document as a PDF so that I can highlight words in that document, especially in PDF Expert.

Thanks for reading and for allowing me to ‘geek out’ here. What apps or technology tools have you found to be useful to you? Obviously I don’t have an Android phone, but I would be curious to hear if there are similar apps to the ones I’ve mentioned that meet your needs on that type of phone. Either way, may these things stay what they are: tools. They never eclipse the most important work we do that happens in a face-to-face context. Blessings!

Book Review: “Simple Church”

In my recent pastor’s report at our annual congregational meeting, I referenced the book “Simple Church” by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. Here are my personal book review notes from reading this book. I should mention that I actually listened to the audiobook.

Quick Summary

Unfortunately many churches drift into complexity. Every idea sounds like a good idea and, before we know it, our plate of ministry offerings is jam packed. Rainer and Geiger cut through the complexity to help us consistently ask the question, “Are we doing a few things really well or a lot of things in a mediocre way?”

Key Insights

1) page 60: “A simple church is a congregation designed around a straight-forward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.” I would love to develop a statement that expresses how we seek to do this at our congregation.
2) “We ask people to do three things here: attend worship to grow in intimacy with Jesus, attend a small group to grow in love for others, and volunteer in a ministry to serve others. I think this is a good list of key activities all of us should be involved in at the church.

Personal Application

1) I am encouraged to brainstorm the process for making disciples at our church. How could we concretely express this here in our context?
2) I would also like to encourage our leaders to consider how we can simplify. Why are we doing what we are doing? Is there something we can “cut” in order to bring more health to another ministry?
3) One aspect that is often missing from books like this: how does the Gospel apply to us in light of this discussion? Sure, we can feel guilty for ‘overbooking’ ourselves. And we can get fired up about doing a few things really well and cutting out the things that are not absolutely necessary. But we must not lose sight that God is lavishing us with His grace through many church activities where God’s Word is being faithfully taught and proclaimed.

How “Older” Members of the Congregation Grow in Faith

Dorothy, a sweet member of my congregation that I have the privilege to serve, recently said to me while I sat in her home, “I have grown in the Lord through the years. Even at 94, I am still learning!” I smiled and said, “I’m going to quote you.” Lately I have been pondering this question: How can “older” members of the congregation grow in faith? I will let you decide if you fall into the category of “older” member, okay? There, now I don’t have to feel guilty for age discrimination! But I wonder if people who have been believers in Christ and church attenders for years slip into the mindset that there no more room for growth. I don’t know too many people who would say to themselves, “Yep, I’ve reached perfection!” But I do see Christians who don’t seem to strive to grow in their faith. They aren’t reading the Bible on their own and they aren’t attending a Bible study or small group with other believers. If we are not careful, we can slip into a “coasting” mode in our faith, where simply showing up on Sunday mornings is all that happens in our life with Christ.

How does this happen? Maybe it has something to do with the structure of the Bible studies in general. There is a scope and sequence to Christian education in most churches. A student is in 3rd grade Sunday School, then 4th grade Sunday School. This movement from one stage to the next continues through high school youth group, and perhaps into a college-age Bible study group. What happens after that? I recall feeling a little lost at that point in my life. It was natural to move from one to the next. Once I was finished with college, where do I belong? Through which group will I continue to grow in my faith? I was so used to connecting with those really close to my age, yet hadn’t yet learned the joy of being in a growth group with those who were considerably older than me. Churches tend to do an extreme job of breaking up young people into very specific age-based groups and then clump the majority of adults all together. So, once a person turns 30, or thereabouts, he or she is in the same group with a 50 year old, 70 year old, and a 90 year old!

So, how can “older” members grow in their faith? The work of the Holy Spirit in lives is not limited to age. The world may say, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but I know that God is able to continue to grow us in the faith, no matter how old or young we may be. Let me offer a few thoughts:

1) It is of immense value that we continue to be learners.

Perhaps you feel you have “done your time” through the system of Christian Education. It is a sad phenomenon to see Confirmation students mistakenly think that once they finish their work and study in Confirmation, they are no longer compelled to be connected to the church. We may feel like we have “graduated.” Friend, if this is you, let me say simply: “Repent!” A tree that is alive is connected to its power source, water. A life that is alive in Christ is connected to the true power for growth: Christ Himself. How can we be connected to Him? By receiving the Word of God, both personally and together with others. We can plumb the depths of God’s Word and still feel like we have not scratched the surface. I invite you to be a lifelong learner!

2) It is of immense value that we not only take in biblical knowledge, but that we give out that knowledge and wisdom.

Part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is taking that biblical knowledge and growing in wisdom and love towards others as we serve in various ways. My goal for this post is not to simply have us all pile into a Bible study room and spend all of our time doing that. We can fill up our time reading and studying the Bible and be so busy that we have little time to serve those around us. How can we balance what we take in of God’s Word with what we give out? Out of the overflow of what we receive from God, we give to others. I think doing that will help us grow and mature as older believers in Christ.

3) We never outgrow our need for grace.

You may have grown to be the most mature, godly person in the world. Yet, the reality remains that you are still the same wretched sinner in need of grace. Praise God for the ways you have grown in your faith through the years! But, we will never escape our sin nature. It follows us wherever we go in life because, well, it’s within us. And I love that this truth keeps us humble.

I once heard of a man who, in the twilight of his life, finally had it “click” for him what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. He had two strong feelings as a result. First, he felt intense regret that he had “wasted” much of his life not pursuing Christ as Christ had pursued him. This regret was forgiven by Christ, he knew that. Second, in response to God’s work in his life, he also felt an intense urgency about being a disciple and making disciples. God does not give up on us, ignore us, or cast us aside based on how old we are. He seeks us and takes us where we are and grows us in Him. In reality, “older” members grow in the faith in the same way all people grow in the faith. Consider where you can plug into a good groups of believers who are studying God’s Word.

Book Review – Luther Discovers the Gospel

This post originally appeared in an email sent out by Ambassador Publications, or the Parish Education of the AFLC. I had been asked to provide a book review for a resource by or about Martin Luther. They are sending out emails with a new review each week of 2017 in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Click here to read other resource reviews.

Luther Discovers the Gospel by Uuras Saarnivaara

In a sleuth-like manner Dr. Uuras Saarnivaara in Luther Discovers the Gospel seeks the solution to the question of when Martin Luther became a “Lutheran.” Saarnivaara, the first theology professor at our AFLC Seminary, offers the purpose of this book in the preface, “It tries to show what was Luther’s path to a living fellowship with God and to a participation in the grace through which he gained the joyful assurance that he was acceptable to God.” Saarnivaara puts together the puzzle pieces of details that give us a good indication of when exactly Luther discovered, or rediscovered, the Gospel. Key events in Luther’s life are aligned with his concurrent writings.

I had always assumed that there was only one “breakthrough” in Luther’s life: the “tower experience.” Yet Saarnivaara skillfully shows that Luther’s discovery of the Gospel happened in stages, with the final burst of light coming at that tower experience.

Up until that point Luther had been steeped in the writings of Augustine and others during his time in the monastery. Augustine did not possess a fully-formed evangelical view of justification. There was just enough doubt in that theological system to drive Luther to despair. Staupitz, the leader of the monastery where Luther lived, was a key person in Luther’s life. He counseled Luther in his despair and indeed pointed him to Christ. This counsel from Staupitz moved Luther closer to fully discovering the Gospel.

In the “tower experience” Luther had been studying Romans 1:17: “The righteous shall live by faith.” The light of the Gospel penetrated his heart so that he came to view justification as completely the work of Christ for him on his behalf. Saarnivaara claims that without this tower experience, Luther would have been merely a “reformist” and not a “reformer.” Others, namely Wycliffe, Huss, Savonarola fit this description. By examining the writings of Luther at key moments in his life, one can see how this fully-formed view of justification began to shine through. Saarnivaara recommends that the Lutheran Church “own as its true spiritual possessions only those writings of Luther which date from the year 1519 or later.”

I heartily recommend this book as a great resource to reflect on how the Gospel was discovered by Luther. May the light of the Gospel penetrate our hearts!

Seeing Christ in the Book of Luke

We are a few weeks into January in this new year. At King of Glory Lutheran here in Shakopee the new year has brought a new sermon series. For those who regularly attend our church you have become accustomed to sermon series that take us through a book of the Bible. In 2016 we heard sermons from the books of Daniel, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter. Typically, I have preached verse-by-verse through books of the Bible.

We have started a sermon series in the book of Luke. As Pastor Chad and I prayed about what book to preach through, we settled upon Luke. Through the book of Luke we will get to hear about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. It is always refreshing to turn our eyes upon Jesus. He is the master teacher, healer, preacher. More than that, the scope of His ministry takes us to the cross and then the empty tomb.

You may have noticed that in these few weeks of the new year, we are not walking though this book verse-by-verse. Part of the reason for doing this is to get through the book more quickly. Luke is twenty-four chapters long. Not that it would be a bad thing, but a sermon series covering every verse in the book of Luke would span over a year of preaching.

How did we choose the texts we are preaching? Good question. We pulled out of the pericope list all of the passages from the book of Luke. We then put them in sequential order by chapter. The pericope is a list of Scripture passages that have been arranged around the church year. Many churches use a pericope as the list of passages to preach through.

If you feel like you are missing out on the passages skipped in this series, I would recommend picking up a good commentary on the book of Luke. Perhaps you could study the jumped-over passages in your personal devotions.

We hope that walking through the book of Luke will provide us the opportunity to see Christ in all His glory and goodness. We’ll see miracles, hear His excellent teaching, and ultimately see Jesus Christ as the One crucified.

Being Lutheran

In our day and age it is so easy to lose sight of what we believe and why we believe it. We can get swept up in going through the motions without taking the time to ponder the significance of certain teachings or actions. Being a Lutheran can be one of those things that we take for granted. Perhaps out of tradition, or merely by birth into a particular family, we call ourselves “Lutherans.” What does it mean to be a Lutheran, anyway? Why not simply be “Christian”? There’s nothing wrong with that. But, before we get carried away with that thought, I encourage you to see that every Christian has certain convictions regarding what he or she believes about life and faith. A friend of mine once described non-denominational churches as “being whatever kind of Baptist you want to be.” Tongue and cheek aside, he has a point. Even claiming to be “non-denominational” is, ironically, claiming a certain conviction.
Some state that denominationalism is going out the door. I beg to differ. I believe that one must know what he or she believes and why. We need to graciously stand on our convictions and be a Lutheran or Calvinist or Baptist or Methodist or…whatever you are convinced is closest to the truth. It takes honesty, hard work, and study to come to a place where one can say confidently that he or she is part of a church body that is closest to Scripture. It doesn’t mean that one will agree with every little teaching in an association of congregations. But, it does mean that overall one should be comfortable with one’s denomination. Are you comfortable being a Lutheran?
In this year when the 500th anniversary of the launching of the Protestant Reformation will be celebrated, I have been thinking about being a Lutheran. It is dear to my heart. For some years in my life I wouldn’t have said that. But, after reflection and study on the issues, I have come to a place of loving being a Lutheran.
Recently my friend, Pastor Jason Gudim, asked me to be a co-host with him on a podcast. The podcast is called “Being Lutheran.” Pastor Gudim taught a Sunday School class at his church in response to people constantly asking him, “Why are we Lutheran?” After teaching that class, he was asked to make that information available to the world. He thought about it, and landed on the avenue of using a podcast audio to get the teaching out. Instead of simply doing all the talking, he considered having a co-host. That’s where I come in. We are seeking to have a conversation on what it means to be a Lutheran. In the podcast audio, Jason and I walk through the Book of Concord, a summary of Lutheran teaching. Each episode is around twenty minutes. We have had a lot of fun recording the first few episodes. I invite you to listen. You can find the podcast in iTunes or any other podcast app by searching “Being Lutheran.” You can listen online here.

Let us know what you think. We pray you are blessed by this content and are strengthened in your convictions as a Lutheran Christian.

Reading the Bible in 2017

January is the time when many people make resolutions to read the Bible more in the coming year. I chuckled after reading a recent satirical post on Babylon Bee about a man’s Bible being excited about being read for the whole first week of January. Click here to read that post. (Side note- Babylon Bee is hilarious and also cuts through Christian culture in ways that help us think clearly about ourselves) Have you made a resolution like this?

I hope and pray that you are desiring to read the Bible. It is a daily (well, almost daily) joy of mine to soak my mind and heart in God’s Word. I am constantly evaluating and re-evaluating my Bible reading and studying plan. You may remember my blog post on reading one book over and over. Toward the end of 2016 I decided on a new route for the coming year. I’d like to tell you about it, but not so that you do exactly as I do. This post is intended to help you think through what approach you would like to take in reading and studying the Bible in 2017.

For the last year, and many years before, I had used a plan where I would read 3–4 chapters in the Bible every day. If done, I would be on schedule to finish the whole Bible after one calendar year. The plan I used in 2016 even had an “off” day to reflect on what has been read recently, or, more often, to catch up on days missed. This plan is good and I heartily recommend it to you. But, I noticed something in myself. I was often reading quickly through the chapters, checking off that I had finished my reading, and then realized that I hadn’t really taken in what the chapters were discussing. This general dissatisfaction with myself led to consider a new plan.

I wanted a plan where I could read deeply, possibly one chapter at a time. Knowing that if I read one chapter at a time, it would take three years to get through the whole Bible, I also wanted a plan where I read through the whole Bible in one year. Why not do both? I decided to use the “Legacy Reading Plan” as my “through the Bible in a year” plan. This plan does not specify how many chapter one should read each day. Instead, it offers whole books to be read in the month. For example, it is suggested that one finish reading Genesis and Exodus for the month of January. Through this plan, one would finish the Bible in the entire year. So far I am liking this resource. It allows me to have a goal, yet does not offer daily boxes to check off as complete. Some days I read two chapters, and other days as many as four or five. This plan offers good flexibility.

In addition to the Legacy Plan, I have decided to also study one chapter a day in depth. I chose a book I haven’t studied much in recent years: Ezekiel. Here are the questions that I write in my journal (in Evernote) each day to help guide my study:
1) What is the central lesson?
2) What does this chapter say about Christ?
3) What are the Law implications for my life?
4) What are the Gospel implications for my life?
5) Is there anything in this chapter that I should study more in-depth in the future ?

This layout allows me to dig in to the details of that chapter without feeling like I need to get through a few other chapters as well. I find myself saying throughout the day, “I read in Ezekiel this morning…” God’s Word is delightful, challenging, and nourishing for me spiritually.

My soul has been refreshed and renewed by this two-part Bible reading and studying plan. What is your plan for reading and studying the Bible in 2017? Your plan doesn’t need to include three chapters a day. The important thing is to have a plan to get in the Word daily.

They Have All They Need

This article originally appeared in a December 2016 edition of the Shakopee Valley News

I am a parent of children who are in the prime time of enjoying Christmas. My kids are 9, 6, 4, and 1 respectively this year. The twinkle in their eyes sparks a lot of joy in our household. If we’re not careful, we can let Christmastime get swallowed up in the process of giving and receiving gifts. Having been to three Christmas parties in three consecutive days while we visited family in Illinois the week after Thanksgiving, I saw the systematic destruction of their Amazon wish list. I love watching loved ones purchase gifts for my kids and I also love watching my kids enjoy those gifts with such delight. My wife and I weren’t as quick to find gifts from us to them. One night recently we struggled with what to get them. I had one thought run through my mind, “They have all they need.” We did end up finding some good gifts to give them. I won’t tell you now, just in case they read this!

Maybe you have found yourself having a hard time finding a gift for a loved one. On the outside it appears that they have all they need. That particular loved one has a solid job, a very nice home, and stuff galore. In fact, it also seems like they have all they want as well. It’s a vital lesson to know the difference between want and need. What kind of gift do you give to someone who has all they need or want? “They have all they need.” On the flip side, have you ever gotten a gift and said to yourself, “I don’t really need this”? We make value judgments of what we need and want daily.

There are great options out there for giving a gift or a donation to someone more in need than most. I have heard of people purchasing a well that will be used for clean water in a faraway land. Some have made baskets of food to give to those local neighbors who are in tremendous need. I encourage you to be creative.

I find myself saying, almost musing, during this season of gift-giving, “They have all they need.” But is that true? As I step back and reflect on the deeper meaning of this question, I realize it is harder than answering, “Is everything checked off their wish list?” What do our children really need? I mean really, really need. What do we as adults need? Sometimes we are unaware of what we truly need. We get a gift we didn’t request and say to ourselves, “I don’t need this,” and return it for store credit. I wonder sometimes if that’s the way many people consider Christmas. God, our Heavenly Father, has given the largest, most absolutely necessary gift, to all of us. Jesus Christ was born in a humble setting around 2,000 years ago. It was the beginning of a mission. His mission was to live and die for the sins of the world, including yours and mine. For one who doesn’t see the need for that Savior, born of the Virgin Mary, that great gift may seem like something to quickly discard. Even in the midst of the hullabaloo surrounding Christmastime, you might sense that you don’t have all you need, even though you think that you have all that you need. That gift is right here for you to receive. It’s free. No strings attached. And it is all that you need. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

Keeping Christ in Christmas

So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger” Luke 2:16

Some Christian slogans arise from the dusty shelves at certain times of the year. Christmastime brings with it a handy and often repeated slogan: “Let’s keep Christ in Christmas this year.” The motivation behind this slogan is good. We see all around us people celebrating what they call “Christmas” and yet Jesus Christ is glaringly missing.

A person who says, “Let’s keep Christ in Christmas” desires that all around them who claim to be Christians or at least claim to celebrate a Christian holiday should have Jesus Christ be front and center in that celebration. Are you that person?

Let’s take a moment to think about this conundrum. Why is it that so many people say they are celebrating Christmas and yet what they are really talking about is a whole lot of decorating, cookie making/eating, buying/giving/receiving presents for/from loved ones, Santa Claus, favorite movies, warm fuzzies, a “spirit” of love and generosity, and time spent with family. While most of these things are not bad in and of themselves, they can be elevated so much so that Christ is left out of the picture or at least hanging out on the sidelines with a supporting-actor role. Are you celebrating a Christ-less Christmas?

What should we do? We must ponder the approach or tactic that disciples of Jesus Christ must use to seek to win over the hearts and minds of people. I wonder if when we have to remind people to “keep Christ in Christmas” they have already lost the heart of a Christian Christmas. I also wonder if merely telling people to do this is the right approach. Mere outward behavior manipulation is not a high enough goal, dear friends. What we are after and what God is after is this: a change of heart, or in other words, repentance. At this point in reading this, do you need to repent?

How can you graciously show people that they are focusing on something that is not the main thing? Part of the answer could be taking on the task of revealing to people that what they think is so great about this time of year is really less meaningful or not meaningful at all if Christ Jesus is not worshiped. We can subtly show people that their hearts are being drawn to value/worship something else in place of Jesus Christ.

An excellent way to be a light to those around you is for your celebrations of Christmas to expressly and intentionally focus on Jesus Christ. Don’t be afraid to openly speak of this focus in a gracious way. If people are offended by that, so be it. There are many different ways to celebrate Christmas through this focus on Christ. I invite you to take time to think. Perhaps husbands need to sit down with their wives and really examine how Christmas has been celebrated. Changes might need to be made.

No action of ours will “keep Christ in Christmas.” He’s already the heart of Christmas. The key is this: will we and the world around us recognize that truth? One thing that is wonderful about nativity sets is the way Jesus Christ is put as the focal point of the work of art. All the characters (and even the animals!) typically have their bodies positioned in such a way to focus on Jesus. Well meaning people, some of them true Christians, seek to celebrate Christmas in a Christian manner but in reality they are angling their bodies away from Christ and directing them in another direction. This, my friends, is a subtle form of idolatry. Let’s follow the path of the shepherds in the verse listed at the top of this article and “come in a hurry” to get to the feet of Jesus to worship Him.

This article was written a few years ago and published in the ‘Dalton News and Views.’ It has been slightly modified

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