Don’t Fear Your Christmas Future

Worse case scenarios. “What ifs” fall around us as smoothly as snow on a Denver Christmas morning. Instead of looking forward to the time in the water, the camping trip, or the airplane flight, we wonder “what if?” We can’t enjoy today because of our fear of what might happen tomorrow.

It’s no wonder that Scrooge’s last visiting ghost wore black. The Ghost of Christmas Future’s face is unseen. Only an outstretched hand is visible. He shows Scrooge the future where people are glad that someone has passed on. He then finds the deceased man is himself. Upon seeing his own tombstone, he pleads with the ghost to give him a chance to “sponge away the writing on this stone.”

Does the future terrify you? You’re not alone. Jesus knows the feeling. Surprised? Visit the Garden of Gethsemane just hours before Jesus will experience the cross and you will see it. Mark writes: “He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.” The Greek word for “distressed” means “to throw into terror” or “to alarm thoroughly, to terrify.”

What could possibly terrify Jesus? We find the answer in his prayer to the Father. “And he said, “Abba, Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me.” Throughout scripture “cup” refers to God’s judgment, his anger, and punishment.

Ask John what the worst case scenario is and he would define it as facing death without Christ. And for Jesus, it was enduring this “cup” himself. He had always been one with the Father. He deserved no judgment as he was perfectly obedient, “even to death on a cross.” He had never experienced physical death: he was immortal from the beginning of time.

Jesus was born on that Christmas Day for this very purpose, that is, to drink the cup that was ours to drink so that we would not have to. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

And he was born on that Christmas day so that we could watch him live this life and learn from him how to live ours. “Disciple” means a “learner.” We are to learn to live the life Jesus would live if he were in our shoes in our family, in our workplace, in our neighborhood. We can learn how to face our fears by looking at how Jesus faced his. He prayed.

When I face the fear of my future, what do I do? I can worry, grow anxious, or panic.  Those come naturally. We have to learn to pray. And to learn to pray we need to watch Jesus when he is struck with “terror.” Jesus faced his worst-case scenario with prayer.

Pay attention to how he prays. He addresses God as “Abba.” It was the word a child would use for her father. It was close and intimate. His prayer is that of one with supreme confidence that his father would take care of him.

Then he makes an honest request: “…if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” Name what it is that frightens you. Here’s a secret you may not be aware of: God already knows. And he can do more for you when you acknowledge that you know too.

Are you fearful of the economy? Tell him. Your health? Tell him. What will happen to your family? Tell him. And ask him, if possible, to take it away. It’s OK to tell the Father what you are afraid of. When fears are exposed they can be deposed.

Then be sure to not miss what Jesus does at the end of his prayer. He verbalizes his trust in God.  “Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will.” God does not will evil in our lives. But he does will that our character is transformed into the character of Christ. What was born into the world on that Christmas Day he wants to be born in us. Jesus trusted that whatever happened God would work his will in him.

Death is our worst case scenario. And death is where Jesus makes all the difference. He’s been there. He’s walked through it. And he’ll walk you through it too. With Jesus you don’t have to fear your future. You can leave your fears behind and start living today.

Question: What fear can you pray about today?

Discover Peace for your Christmas Present

When we moved to Tomball years ago now, we moved from a one-story house with a low-pitched roof to a two-story house with a high-pitched roof. But lights for our first Christmas was a must.

Our ladder barely reached the first roof level. I climbed up and, with my best James Bond impersonation, leapt from the last rung to the roof. As soon as I landed, Karen and the boys erupted in great applause. I stood to take a bow and instead took a slide. I looked like Jose Altuve coming into second base on a steal.

I clawed my fingers into the shingles and stopped just before my shoes felt the gutter. I crawled my way back up, slowly hanging the string of lights along the roof line. With every move I made I could feel myself sliding a little more. Two crawls up, one slide back.

Within fifteen minutes my nerves were shot. When Karen asked me if my life insurance was paid up, I decided it was time to return to terra firma. I had nothing to hold onto. And my anxiety meter was moving off the charts.

The United States is the most anxious nation in the world. In fact, it’s dangerous for a foreigner to move here. When people from less developed nations move here they become just as anxious as us. And the average child today is showing the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950’s.

Maybe you need some peace in the present. The angels announced, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors!” Ever wonder what Mary and Joseph thought about that declaration? They’re poor. Birthing a baby in a borrowed barn. Gossiped about. Joseph wondering how he will afford to raise this child. Mary concerned about the cleanliness of her baby’s crib.

No one needed to remind them of their present problems. And no one needs to remind you of yours. Scrooge, however, did. The ghost of Christmas present took him on a tour of Christmas day in London. He sees the people’s cheer contrasted against his own misery. He observes the poverty of the Cratchits and the declining health of their Tiny Tim. He sees starving children called Ignorance and Want.

Scrooge sees enough to be anxious. You’ve seen enough too. And yet “peace” has been proclaimed at Jesus’ birth. Jesus taught peace for anxious days. He said, “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?

Jesus’ prescription for peace in the present? Look at the birds. And look at where worry gets you. We worry about what we will have to eat, drink or wear. We worry about all the basic things of life and yet the birds don’t. And last I checked, they’re doing OK.

We have a cardinal and a blue jay that bless us with their presence most days. We watch them in all their beauty. And I take Jesus to heart. I think, “Now those birds are not worried about anything. They take the water we have in our bird bath for them. They find food wherever it is available. They enjoy our trees until the stupid squirrel comes out and chases them away. And then I think about the squirrel. “He’s got a pretty easy life, that is, until he decides to cross a street. Then all bets are off.”

Then I get anxious again.

We have not been at peace since the Garden. But Jesus was bent on teaching us to live at peace. His peace is a different kind of peace, mind you. The peace of the world is defined as absence of conflict. When warring nations end their battles we say they are “at peace with each other.” Jesus’ peace is something different. The peace of Jesus is possible in the midst of conflict. It is defined in this way: Peace is when things are operating as God created them to operate. It is a peace that can be experienced regardless of outside circumstances.

If you’re feeling some anxiety this Christmas season, give yourself a present. Look at a bird. Then look at the One who cares for the bird. You’ll have something to hold onto next time your feet are sliding out from under you.

Question: What Christmas worry is causing anxiety in your life today?

 

 

 

 

 

Find Pardon for your Christmas Past

For many, Christmas is a time when the past is conjured up again. It was for Charles Dickens. He was struggling in his writing career in 1843. His last couple of books had not sold well. His finances were tight. And his past revisited him.

When he was twelve years old his father was placed in debtors’ prison and Charles was placed at Warren’s Blacking Factory pasting labels on pots of “blacking,” a mixture used for polishing boots. He worked ten hour days, six days a week.

When his father was released from prison in May of 1824, his mother wanted to leave him there to make money for the family. For years he had to help support his parents who were not gifted in money-management.

And so, when Christmas season approached in 1843, the stress of his own situation surfaced the shame he felt from those earlier days. “No words can express the secret agony of my soul,” he wrote, “…of the sense I had of being utterly neglected and hopeless; of the shame I felt in my position…”

Events from our past can come back to haunt us, especially in times of stress. The Christmas season, for many, is a time of stress. Extra errands. Trying to please family. Loneliness and lists: lists for gifts, lists for parties and lists for cooking. Stress. So much so that one North American survey reported that 45% of respondents dreaded the festive season.

Maybe that’s why Dickens created the ghost of Christmas Past. He knew his past haunted him. And so it might be something that haunted others too. Whether Dickens wrote his story with that in mind or not, God did. And so the God who invented Christmas did so by sending his son.

Matthew records the meeting of God’s angel and Joseph. Seeing an angel was as frightening as seeing any ghost. In most instances in the Bible, an angel shows up and people fall down. This one came in a dream and told Joseph, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

His people needed saving from their sins. According to Scripture, so do you and I. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” the Apostle Paul writes. None of us are exempt from the effect of sin in our lives.

Why not let the God who invented Christmas help you revisit your past? Here’s what often happens: something happened in the past—it could be something we did or something that was done to us—and we interpreted it in a way that is twisted. Maybe you had a mother who was constantly on you to lose weight. It could be that she was genuinely concerned about your health or it could be she was just dealing with her own issues and taking them out on you, but either way you interpreted it as not being good enough. You didn’t feel loved as you were. And so the rest of your life you have dieted and starved yourself and tried to be perfect so you can be loved.

That’s what ghosts from the Past do to us. They twist the past. The word “ghost” is connected to the word “wraith” which is connected to our word “wreath.” They all have to do with “twisting.” The things that haunt us twist our thinking and our perception.

When we revisit the past with Jesus he untwists our thinking. Sometimes we will see the lie in our past. We interpreted an event in one way. Jesus sees it another. The enemy told you that you were not smart enough, beautiful enough, strong enough, clever enough…that you were not enough to be loved. And you and I believed it at one time. Those lies come back to haunt us until we learn how to combat them. The way to combat a lie is with the truth.

Get armed with the truth. Here’s one piece of truth for you. “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Had you done anything to earn his love? Did you get yourself together before he loved you? No. You are enough already for him to love you. Let Jesus show you a different perspective on your past.

Dickens had his own shame. He had memories of debt too. When they surfaced near the Christmas season of 1843 he wrote a story. So did God. And at just the right time he wrote the chapter where a baby in Bethlehem was born to die so you and I could live.

Question: What part of your past haunts you that needs to be untwisted?

Scrooge-Proof Your Christmas

He had just finished speaking to the members of the Manchester Athenaeum. He had witnessed the harsh conditions of the manufacturing workers in their city. They were experiencing a 15-20% unemployment rate. He had visited schools where children were illiterate, filthy and dressed in rags. 57% of children born to working class children in Manchester died before they reached the age of five.

So he wanted to do something for the cause of the poor. And he thought the time of the year to do it would be Christmas, which at the time was a minor holiday and not what we know today.  And so, after his speech to the library members in which they envisioned a place where anyone could come and learn and better their lives, he walked the dark city streets with his mind formulating what would become his most famous work of fiction.

In 1843 Charles Dickens wanted to revive his writing career and at the same time revive the spirit of Christmas.  The book and movie of the same title—The Man Who Invented Christmas—tells the story behind the story of A Christmas Carol. Dickens observed people living in dark times. He had lived them as a child. And he wanted to birth a story that would bring light to those dark places.

Your world might need some light today. And your Christmas might need a facelift as well. Dickens’ world had become dark because people cared little for others. People were like Ebenezer Scrooge who had made his money but cared little if anything for anyone else.

The Christmas season can surface some Scrooge in all of us. Snarled traffic can snarl our lips. Shaky economy can make us horde what we have. We “want” more than “give.” Before we know it we can be a bit like Scrooge. He was a miser. And that’s only one letter away from misery. How can we keep the holiday season with its crowded malls and decked out halls from making us miserable?

The answer lies in another story, the story behind the story of Christmas. The God who invented Christmas wanted to send light into a dark world too. His plot was to revive the world with Christmas.

Herod is the Scrooge of the story. No room for anyone else in his life, much less another king. The wise men stand in contrast to Herod, like Bob Cratchit did with Scrooge. They were looking for Jesus and came, not wanting anything, but bringing gifts. Most of all they brought him their worship.

With whom do you better relate in the holiday season? Scrooge or Bob Cratchit? Herod or the Wise Men? Which heart is most like yours? Difficult times can make us more like Herod. We hold tight to what we have because we fear we won’t have enough. And it’s been a difficult year. Harvey hit us hard. Some have lost work. Some lost jobs. It would be easy to withdraw into a hard outer shell to keep the harsh world at bay.

But let’s not. The season of Advent is a season for preparing for Christ. It is a perfect time to practice generosity instead of miser-osity. Generosity is not something we fall to naturally. Did you know the average American gives 2.1% of the wages to some form of charity? Generosity has to be cultivated. Here are some ideas of how you can generate generosity in your home:

  • You can be generous to someone in a foreign country. The Wise Men did. They helped Joseph, Mary and Jesus with gifts that enabled them to live while in Egypt. Organizations like World Vision and Compassion International can show you ways to help others in other lands.
  • You can be generous to someone nearby. Give to a nonprofit, volunteer at a shelter, give to a center that provides emergency help, or adopt a family in need for Christmas.
  • You can give to the church. Churches help people in need. And the amount of help is determined by what we give. In most churches, about 20% of the people give 80% of the contributions given. What if that changed beginning this season?

Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the all-time great characters in literature. But let’s keep him on the pages of a book. Let’s let the God who invented Christmas write us into his script of bringing light into our dark world.

Question: How do you plan to cultivate generosity this Christmas?