Continuing with our "Living for Jesus This Christmas" series, here is a story of the importance of gratitude and faith this holiday season.
At this time of year, the stress levels for many are almost too much to bear. We struggle through the ups and downs of the season, as we navigate family, our budget, and our church life. It’s all too easy to become frustrated and angry, and then to lose sight of our priorities. The key to changing all this: thankfulness -- for Christ, salvation, and what we have been given.
During Christmas season, I often find myself up awake at night, wondering about all that is and all that could be. As I stare at the ceiling, I struggle with the thought that maybe I’m not living up to what God intends for me to be. And indeed, there are always areas I can improve, but much of this self-doubt is probably rooted in ungratefulness.
My wife Kalene's recent solution to some of these difficulties was to share with me a lovely song from the 1954 film, White Christmas:
“When I'm worried and I can't sleep / I count my blessings instead of sheep / And I fall asleep / Counting my blessings / When my bankroll is getting small / I think of when I had none at all / And I fall asleep / Counting my blessings / If you're worried and you can't sleep / Just count your blessings instead of sheep / And you'll fall asleep / Counting your blessings”
And isn’t this the truth? We all have the blessing of Jesus, who saves, as well as many other blessings. If only that were our focus instead!
Paul the Apostle understood this. Repeatedly, he opens his letters with words of thankfulness. For example, even when addressing the Corinthian church, who he is struggling to maintain a relationship with, he says:
“Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in all affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, thus through Christ our comfort overflows also” (2 Cor 1:3–5).
Here is Paul, in the midst of a struggle with the Corinthian church, and with some struggles of his own, showing a spirit of thankfulness. By counting his blessings, he finds a way to have joy even when things are hard.
When we really get down to it, there’s an obvious point that we all know, but that maybe we should take a second to remind ourselves of: This season is about Jesus, or at least it’s supposed to be. Breathe that in. Tell yourself that everyday. Remember what Jesus did for us, and be thankful for it. It will change everything.
And then, take a moment to remind yourself how the one who gave it all calls us to give it all for the betterment of our world.
When we give, our thought patterns change -- and our general attitude about life changes. We find ourselves realizing what God can do through our lives and then we find ourselves grateful for it.
Jesus can do so much through your life, and wants to do so much. Give over more of your life to him this year. Let him work through you in this season, to show love to others with a generous and grateful spirit. Work with Christ to transform lives and our world.
This article was previously published under the title, "Reclaim a Spirit of Gratitude this Christmas Season."
Continuing with our "Living for Jesus This Christmas" series, we have another post filled with hope for you this holiday season.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. For some this means absolute joy, for others it’s a more difficult time of year. I understand both sentiments—as I have had both throughout the years.
No matter where you are this time of year, or how you feel about it, I have a hope-filled message for you.
Right from Jesus’ birth, we see how God likes to surprise. He doesn’t choose the richest woman in the land to give birth to Jesus, but instead one of the impoverished. The angel Gabriel says to Mary:
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. … Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in the womb and will give birth to a son, and you will call his name Jesus. This one will be great, and he will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. … The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also the one to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:28–38 LEB).
Mary’s ultimate reply, after learning that she, a virgin, will conceive miraculously: “Behold, the Lord’s female slave! May it happen to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 LEB).
Mary speaks truth. These are words each of us need to hear today: May we act according to God’s will, so attached to him that it resembles a slave following his or her master. May God’s will happen according to his word.
But these are not just contemplative words—they are words of gratitude and joy. Although Mary may be feeling perplexed, she is in wonderment. She sees that great and wonderful things are coming (Luke 1:29, 34). And even when we are perplexed, we should look to God in wonderment too—knowing that he will do great and mighty things.
Christmas is meant to remind us of the great and wonderful things coming our way. We are meant to celebrate the occasion with pure joy. We should contemplate both what God did by becoming flesh—forever marrying humanity to himself—but also how he chose to become flesh.
God could have chosen a rich young woman or a queen. He could have chosen to be born into wealth and power. But that’s not what God chose. God chose a humble and honorable woman. He chose someone from poverty, who had no power at all.
And in this act, and so many others in Jesus’ life, we see that this is really what the Christian journey is about: a walk with God, in humility, grace, and love.
Christmas reminds us of all this. But Christmas also reminds us of Mary’s words about Jesus:
“My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced greatly in God my Savior, because he has looked upon the humble state of his female slave, for behold, from now on all generations will consider me blessed, because the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for generation after generation to those who fear him. He has done a mighty deed with his arm; he has dispersed the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly. He has filled those who are hungry with good things, and those who are rich he has sent away empty-handed. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, just as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever” (Luke 1:46–56 LEB).
This is what God does. This is who God is. This is what God is about.
May you be filled with joy today. May the power of the living Christ transform you and work through you. May you realize who God really is, and act according to his ways—lifting up the lowly and feeding the hungry.
This article was previously published under the title, "A Song of Gratitude for Christmas Day: Joy No Matter What."
At this time of year, we see "Believe" stenciled on the side of shopping bags and "Hope" displayed in block letters on mantles. It can all feel a little empty, especially when you feel like God isn't answering your prayers. This leads to the questions: But what is belief, really? And what does having hope really mean? In this sermon, I look at how the biblical book of Esther never mentions God directly and in the process profoundly answers these big faith questions.
At this time of year, it can seem like a lot is asked of you. While much of the Christmas season in the U.S. is rooted in consumerism, there are some tangible (and profound) reasons why Christians give. By taking hold of these truths, we can honor God through our donating and gift giving.
At the start of our "Living for Jesus This Christmas" series, here are four reasons why Christians give.
Creation itself testifies to the giving Spirit of God. In the beginning, God creates (Genesis 1–2). The act of creation is rooted in love and compassion: When God sees that Adam may be lonely, he creates a companion in Eve (Genesis 2:18–25).
From the divine imagination, comes creation. And God looks at his creation and gives again. Everything good in our world is based in giving.
But after creation, humanity went astray and mucked it all up. This put us humans out of alignment with God; and it put us out of alignment with the intention of God's creation (Genesis 3).
God once again looks at his creation and decides on a solution; he decides to give. That solution is the gift of Jesus (God the Son). And that's what we celebrate at Christmas time: God becoming flesh in Jesus (Luke 1–2). In Jesus, we have salvation (John 1; 3:16).
In Jesus, we see the miraculous. But the way God comes in flesh should tell us something: Out of what seems to be ordinary, God will do the extraordinary. God chooses an ordinary Jewish family and the savior is born in an ordinary place, in impoverished circumstances. The miraculous comes through the unexpected.
God certainly provides via the completely miraculous: We see this when God provides for the Hebrew people while they're roaming in the wilderness (Exodus 16). But more often than not, God uses other people to bring about his provision. And that also seems pretty ordinary.
This is why Paul pleads with the Corinthian church to honor their obligation to help the impoverished church in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 9:1–15). He knows that God will use ordinary people to accomplish his work. Paul himself also depended on other people when he was imprisoned and mentions these types of moments often in his letters (e.g., Philemon 1; Philippians 5:25).
When people helped Paul, or those he advocated for (like the Jerusalem church), they themselves were changed. Paul emphasizes this:
"You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God" (2 Corinthians 9:11 NIV).
Generosity gives us an opportunity to honor God with what he has given us. It enriches our souls. Paul explains this another way earlier in this same passage:
"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:6–8 NIV).
We as Christians are expected to steward the resources we are given. If we give generously, God will give generously to us. That giving from God may not come in the ways our culture can measure, but it will come.
At the core of the Christian value is a value of giving. Let's give this Christmas season.