The choice you need to make this Thanksgiving

Every family has traditions. Even if you aren’t a traditional family or even if you don’t have a lot of traditions, you still have things you do as a family that nobody else does. It’s part of your family culture. And one of the biggest family days in the year happens tomorrow.

Today is the day before Thanksgiving. Maybe that day doesn’t mean a lot to some, but if you come from an old-fashioned type family where you serve a great big meal (traditional or not) on Thanksgiving day, the Wednesday before is more than just a day. It’s the day you spend in the kitchen.

Some families do their cooking/baking on Thursday mornings, but in our family we usually eat pretty early on Thanksgiving day. So most of the prep work has to be done the day before. Even when we’re not serving a traditional meal, we still have quite a bit of preparation to do ahead of time.

But what happens when the prep work and the planning gets to be more important than the purpose for the day itself?

2EW0RA30JPToday’s verses are Luke 10:38-42.

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.

This is one of those Bible stories you hear a lot, but it’s one I need to pay more attention to. I have a tendency to be like Martha, especially during the holidays. I get busy. I rush around, crazy and wild, trying to get as much done as I possibly can, and I do it because I want things to be perfect for guests and other family members. I love having people in my house. I love preparing meals for other people, whether it’s in my house or at their house, or just working together with someone to serve someone else. I love it. But it takes a lot of work and a lot of planning, and if nobody does it, it won’t get done.

So my busy little spirit can understand Martha’s irritation with her sister. And it’s not that Martha was wrong exactly. She just got her focus off of what really mattered. The meal wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things. She had Jesus in her living room. And, yes, she wanted to serve Him. Yes, she wanted to use her gifts to bless Him. And that’s exactly what she should have done, but she let the stress of that amazing opportunity turn her into someone she wasn’t. She let the pressure to perform make her say things she didn’t mean.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but has anyone else ever been there during the holidays? You know it’s not about the food or the presents or the decorations, but you let the pressure of the holiday season wear on you until you get grumpy because things aren’t working out the way you want.

News flash. Things rarely ever work out the way you want. So you’ve got a choice to make.

Thanksgiving, and other holidays, are an important time to be together. Maybe you’re with family. Maybe you’re with friends. Regardless, it’s specific time set aside for a specific purpose–to be thankful, to recognize that there are things in life more important than work or money or possessions. More important than whether you have turkey or ham or if you get a slice of pumpkin pie or if have to sit at the kid’s table or not.

When you start feeling stressed out or irritated (and you probably will), ask yourself what’s really important. Don’t get so caught up in putting on a good show or providing a good meal that you forget why you’re doing it in the first place.

Loving each other is what makes us different

I decided early on that I wouldn’t comment on this ridiculous red-cup discussion that seems to be dominating all the social media feeds. I don’t know a single Christ-follower who is actually taking it seriously. Actually, what concerns me more about the whole mess is my first reaction to it.

I believed it.

When I read the reports on social media that Christians were upset about the design of Starbucks’s 2015 holiday coffee cups, it didn’t surprise me. I mean, heck, Christians have gotten really upset about a lot of really stupid things before, so why should this be any different?

But as the issue persisted, I started wondering if the whole thing is actually real. Are there actually any Christians out there who have a problem with these crazy red cups? Or was it just a few vocal people who caused a stir that simply went viral?

Regardless, I don’t think my initial reaction to the situation is what it should have been as a Christ-follower.

red-coffee-cup-mugToday’s verses are John 13:34-35.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

How often do you get irritated with other Christians? I probably shouldn’t admit this, but Christians really tick me off. They tick me off faster than non-Christians any day of the week because I have high expectations for Christ-followers. I expect that a Christ-follower is going to want to live like a Christ-follower. I don’t expect someone who has chosen not to follow Jesus to behave like a Christian. Why would they?

But one of the things Jesus said over and over again in Scripture is how we’re supposed to love each other, and He wasn’t talking about Christians loving non-Christians, which of course is true. We’re supposed to love everyone, but Christians are especially supposed to love each other. And part of loving each other is giving each other the benefit of the doubt.

Instead of jumping to conclusions about what other people say about Christians in general, let’s just take a step back for a moment. Just because Christians as a whole tend to be a little panicky and harsh doesn’t mean that they’re stupid and unreasonable and not worth your time. And just because a few media outlets report that Christians are doing/saying things, doesn’t mean they actually are.

Hey, Christian, guess what? You’ve got an enemy out there. Satan would love nothing more than to separate you from your family in Christ, to get you alone and isolated so he can pick you off more easily. That’s what all this antagonism toward other Christians will eventually lead to. We break away from each other. We fight each other. We hurt each other. We believe the worst about each other and keep our distance, and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

We’re a family. We’re supposed to be united. Part of loving each other unconditionally is thinking the best about each other, not the worst.

That doesn’t mean that Christians always get it right. And, yes, we need to be aware of that. We each are responsible for what we believe, and that’s between us and God. But you don’t have to believe the same thing as the Christian sitting next to you in order for God to use you.

My first response to the red-cup crisis was ridicule, and I wondered what I would say when I ran into a Christian who was actually upset about the color of a coffee cup. And then, after time passed and I hadn’t met anyone, I started wondering if the person who was in the wrong was me–for assuming that other Christians would even get embroiled in something that’s such a waste of time and energy.

That’s not to say there aren’t antagonistic Christians. I’ve met quite a few of them. And generally, hanging around antagonistic people (Christian or not) isn’t a good idea. But if you’re thrown into a situation where you’ve got to hang around with another Christian, don’t automatically assume that he or she is less knowledgeable than you, less spiritual than you, or less favored than you. Listen to what he or she has to say, and if you agree, great. If you don’t, that’s great too.

If you really are both Christians, you have one thing in common–faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and your Lord, and that’s the one thing that actually matters. So start there and build on it.

Let’s love each other, Christians. That means let’s think the best of each other first, until we give each other a reason not to. And if we give each other a reason not to, address the problem with love and respect.

The only thing that sets us apart from the rest of the world is how we love each other. So is it any wonder that the world can’t really tell a difference in us anymore?

Christmas tree in the living room of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What I learned from TSO

I love Christmas because it’s the one time of year when believers can stand and worship Christ in public without being jeered at. Any other time of the year, if I stood on a street corner singing about Christ being Lord, I’d probably be called a lunatic; I might have stuff thrown at me. But in December I can stand on any street corner nearly anywhere and sing about Christ being my Lord and people just call me a caroler. It may not last much longer, but I’m going to enjoy that as long as I can.

I recently got to attend a Trans-Siberian Orchestra show (thanks, Grandma!!), and I realized something: No matter how much our culture tries to push Christ out of Christmas, they can’t. As far as I know, TSO is a secular group, but for some reason I found the show this year to be more Christ-centered (in content) than I remember their other shows being. They did a rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful” that honestly had me in tears, and all I could think as the gal was singing it was how awesome God is … because sitting there in a secular concert, a woman was singing about Christ being Lord in front of 8,000 people and everyone was listening.

Even in our broken, ruined culture, God still finds a way to make sure His Son receives glory for His sacrifice. And I realized that we can’t separate Christmas from Christ; no one can. You can’t see Christmas without seeing Christ. And that’s what helped me understand something else: Just as you can’t see Christmas without seeing Christ, you can’t see the world without seeing God Himself.

Christmas tree in the living room of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Christmas tree in the living room of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Colossians 1:15-17.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.

Who made light? Who made fire? Who designed fire to put off smoke? Who gave us the creativity to manufacture smoke machines and firecrackers and lasers? Who made music? Where did it come from? Who created the human eye and the human spirit so that we could enjoy loud concerts where all of these things come together in the awe-inspiring crescendo that is Trans-Siberian Orchestra?

Want to venture a guess?

The lyrics of the old, familiar Christmas carols bear witness to who God is and what He’s done for us. But beyond the lyrics is so much more. All creation is witness to who God is and what He’s done for us. The Earth. The stars. The oceans. The plains. The mountains. Clouds. Storms. Wind. Fire. Water. Birth. Death. Life itself. Pick an aspect of our world that we don’t understand and try to make sense of it without God.

As Christ is inseparable from Christmas, God is inseparable from the world around us. And the people who refuse to see Him are simply deceiving themselves for some reason or another. That’s totally their prerogative, by the way.

I know I rejoice at sunrises and sunsets because they’re so amazing only God could have made them. But when was the last time I marveled at an inchworm or an ant? When was the last time something small and “insignificant” caught my eye? Because even the small things are miraculous.

And the beauty of it all is that I don’t have to say anything. Creation speaks for itself.

I grieve for this culture because they’ve turned their backs on God. I mourn for the loss of the relationships that people could have with God because I know what He’s done in my life. But what I realized at that TSO concert is that if God can bring a secular audience to their feet in response to “O Come All Ye Faithful” in a culture like ours, He can bring glory to Himself however He wants, and the people who are listening will recognize it.

So go stand on a street corner today and sing Christmas carols while you still can. And if the day ever comes when we can’t do that anymore, don’t worry. Point out the sky and the sun and the moon and the stars. Point to the wind. Point to the parts of the life that can’t be explained and let God explain Himself to others when you don’t have words for it. He’s been doing it since He created time; He can handle it.