Christmas doesn’t have to be stressful

Nothing is more stressful than the holiday season. Don’t get me wrong. Christmas is my favorite time of year, but it’s also when a lot of stuff happens. A lot of things go wrong. A lot of people come to visit. A lot of things need to get done. And when you add all that up, it can amount to a heaping helping of stress and anxiety.

But the more Christmases I live through, the more I learn that my stress and anxiety during the holiday season doesn’t stem from family and friends visiting or expectations of others or needing to bake and cook and clean. No, anything negative I experience happens because I’ve got my focus in the wrong place.

christmas-xmas-santa-claus-adventToday’s verse is John 15:4.

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

The world is complicated and stressful without the hustle and bustle of the holidays, and it’s always a temptation to step away from God’s way and do things ourselves. But when we try to accomplish anything in our own strength, we will ultimately fail.

Like a branch can’t produce fruit if it’s severed from the tree, a Christ-follower can’t accomplish much without God’s power in his or her life. And that relates to everything we do. At our jobs. In our homes. In our churches. Among our families.

So as you gather with family and friends today and tomorrow, don’t let stress dictate how you feel. Don’t let the craziness of the season tempt you away from remembering what it’s all about.

Christmas is about Jesus. It’s the day He came to save us from our sins. It’s the day God kept His promise. Who cares if the pie burns or if your in-laws are being rude? So what if you couldn’t get the exact present you wanted? Whatever is bothering you today, shelf it. Let it go. Instead, focus on what really matters, and find your strength and patience in Christ’s love and grace.

It’s a stressful time of year, but it doesn’t have to be. With God, anything is possible. And if you’re a Christ-follower, you have free access to His power, and God is just waiting for you to sit down at His table.

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A meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

How you think determines how you act

Okay, readers. Confession time! Not out loud if you don’t want to. But to yourself. Name one person (just one) who you absolutely can’t stand.

And, go!

Did someone come to mind? If you don’t have anyone in mind, you may not get out enough.

What do you think about that person? When that person comes to mind, what do your thoughts look like? Are they sad? Are they bleak? Do you sag in your chair just thinking about them?

Do you get angry? Do you want to just punch them in the face the next time you see them? Or are you more the type to just passive aggressively ignore them in hopes that they’ll leave you alone without you having to cause conflict?

If you’re like me, you have people in your life who drive you insane, but since you don’t like conflict, you’d much rather just ignore them until they go away. People like that don’t really hurt anything. They’re just there. They get dramatic and cause issues, but they have their uses too. You just try not to have to deal with them, and when you do have to deal with them, you do your best to get done and get out.

But what I’ve discovered is that the more I dislike someone, the more my thoughts turn against them too. My heart, my attitude, turns against them and before I know what’s happening, I’m not satisfied with just being passive aggressive. Instead, I start treating them badly. Unfairly. Rudely.

And that’s just not right. And it’s certainly not honoring to Christ.

A meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:21-22.

You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

It’s difficult to live with difficult people, but we always need to remember that we may not be as easy to live with as we think we are. Everyone has their quirks. If we didn’t, if we were all the same, imagine how boring life would be.

That doesn’t excuse bad behavior, of course, but that works both ways. Which is better? Treating someone badly? Or treating someone badly because they bother you?

How I think about someone drastically affects how I treat them, how I respond to them, how I speak to them. I read something somewhere that said you laugh more easily at things people you like say. I’ve found that to be true.

I’m not saying that we need to drop everything and live our lives for foolish people. That’s not a good idea. But what we do need to start doing is controlling our thoughts better. That’s where I struggle. My brain runs constantly. I can’t shut it up.

Maybe I can’t shut it up, but I can redirect it. I don’t have to think bad thoughts about people who bug me. I can choose to focus on their aspects that I enjoy. And there has got to be some aspect of them you don’t despise.

Can’t find it? Stop being so critical for a moment and look at yourself in the mirror. You aren’t perfect either.

How you think affects what you do. How you think about people affects how you treat them. So be careful what you let your brain think about. Don’t focus on the bad things about people, especially people you work with or people you live with. Focus on the good things.

Granted, there are times when things need to change. Sometimes situations can reach a place where something needs to be done. But in general you don’t always have control over that. Most of the time, you are where you are, and they are too.

And in that case, it’s either learn how to live with them or forfeit your testimony. Because I can guarantee if you’ve treated someone like garbage because they bother you, they haven’t seen Christ’s love in your life.

Sketch by the NewSpring Drama Team, NewSpring Church, Wichita, KS

Everybody needs to laugh more

When was the last time you laughed until your sides hurt? Have you ever laughed that hard? I did. Last night. I laughed until I cried, until my ribs were sore, until I could barely breathe and when I did breathe I ended up coughing. The reason why? Drama team meeting.

I’m so blessed and so fortunate to be a part of an awesome drama ministry at NewSpring Church. It’s amazing to have so many people who don’t care about the spotlight. That’s what makes this drama team amazing. Other dramatic groups I’ve been a part of always had prima donnas or the really super talented folks who demanded attention. There’s nobody like that in our drama team. Everyone is there because they want to use their gifts to tell others about Christ.

Last night, we laughed ourselves silly, and I left the meeting feeling lighter on my feet than I have in ages. As I was driving home, I got to thinking (I do a lot of thinking in the car, mainly because I do a lot of driving) about how beneficial laughter is. I don’t think I laugh enough. Now, you people who know me may think that’s a silly statement because I’m always cheerful and always happy and always laughing about something. But I’m not talking about generic laughter or sarcastic laughter or laughter for the sake of avoiding tears. I’m talking about real laughter, the laughs that shake you head to toe, the ones you can’t keep inside, where you throw your head back and forget how ridiculous you probably look and sound because you just can’t help it.

Have you ever laughed that hard? I recommend it.

Sketch by the NewSpring Drama Team, NewSpring Church, Wichita, KS

Sketch by the NewSpring Drama Team, NewSpring Church, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 17:22.

A cheerful heart is good medicine,
    but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.

I didn’t plan to post about this today, sort of like yesterday. I was just struck by how much better I felt about life in general after our two-hour-long laugh fest at our drama team meeting, and I thought I’d share my revelation.

Laugh more.

We all need to laugh more. We all take life so seriously all the time, and Christians are the worst about this. We focus on the doom and gloom. We focus on everything that’s wrong in the world, wrong in our lives, wrong in other people’s lives. We hide in our pews and prophesy that the end is coming soon. We crack our whips and teach people that God values service and humility and a sober-minded work ethic. And I’m not saying that He doesn’t. Of course, He values those things. But who says service and humility and work have to be solemn things?

Good grief, Christian. Lighten up.

I’m talking to myself here because I take myself way too seriously. Maybe it’s my genetic predisposition to a perfectionist mentality. When I screw up (which happens frequently), I beat myself bloody. And I keep beating myself bloody until long after everyone else around me has forgotten it. When I don’t perform to my own standards, I call myself a failure. When I don’t meet up with God’s commands (which rarely ever happens), part of me is afraid to even approach Him because I’d rather hide myself in shame than face His disappointment.

Yes, God is scary. Don’t ever tell yourself anything different. We should never lose sight of Who He Is.

But, by that same token, we should never forget what He gave for us. He gave Jesus for us. He sent Jesus to die for us. And because of what Jesus did for us in paying for our sings, we can call God our Daddy. The last thing God wants is for us to distance ourselves from Him because we can’t meet His righteous standard. Of course, we can’t meet His standard. That’s the point. That’s why He sent Jesus!

So what’s the point in all this? Yes, it’s important to be serious about things you need to be serious about, but in turn you are allowed to be silly about silly things. You can relax and have fun. Or do you think God giving you a sense of humor was an accident? Do you think the gift of laughter just happened? No way. We need to laugh. Spend time laughing, and you’ll see a difference in your entire perspective.

Schedule some purposeful time to meet with like-minded friends and go do something fun. Whether it’s serving at a soup kitchen or going to see a movie, give yourself permission to relax. Let your hair down. Be yourself. And enjoy what you’re doing. It’s okay to enjoy what you’re doing. You don’t have to be a solemn-faced Christian quoting Scripture 24/7.  I mean, if that’s what makes you happy, go for it.

But whatever you do, give yourself permission to play. Go outside. Have fun. Run around. Be a kid again. Don’t worry about what’s coming tomorrow. Don’t fret over what happened yesterday. Just enjoy having a relationship with your Daddy, and if something funny happens, don’t hesitate to laugh yourself into an asthma attack. Once you can breathe again, you’ll be glad you did.