Beat the holiday blues before they get here

The holidays are fast approaching. Seems too soon to say it, but it’s true. On one hand, it’s exciting. Christmas is my favorite time of year. Sure the days are darker, and the weather is cold. But there are lights and decorations and presents and songs! But for some folks, that’s not enough to cheer them up. There’s a whole population of people who just can’t escape the winter blues.

A part of me understands that. Long cold stretches of time without sunlight can bring people down. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. Maybe you lost a job. Maybe you can’t make Christmas what it was last year for whatever reason, and you just don’t see much to look forward to.

Well, this past weekend, I remembered something, and I thought I ought to pass it on.

The Christmas Tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The Christmas Tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 15:58.

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

When the days are long and cold or dark and dreary, it can be easy to feel like nothing you do is actually accomplishing anything. It might feel like you’re just spinning your wheels, or it might feel like you never see any results from all your investments.

How can you be cheerful about doing anything if everything feels useless?

The problem with that mentality is that it keeps you in one place. That attitude is a paralytic. If you let yourself feel that way, you’ll never try to do anything. You’ll never crawl out of your shell. You’ll never take a risk on anything or anyone.

So instead of sitting around thinking about everything that’s going wrong, get up and go do something. And I don’t mean busywork. The world is full of busywork. I mean do something for someone else. Make cookies for someone who’s having a bad day. Make soup for someone who’s sick. Go clean house for an exhausted mom. Send an encouraging email or a funny card to a friend.

Do something that takes your eyes off your own trouble, and you might be surprised how your trouble looks when you come back to it. No, it probably won’t have disappeared, but it won’t look so dark and dire.

There’s something about serving others that always brightens my mood. And the beauty about serving is that it’s not complicated. Just show up. Be available. Someone will put you to work, and if you do that work for God, He’ll bless it and you.

Don’t get out and do something just for the sake of doing it. Do it in Jesus’ name. Love others in Jesus’ name. Serve people in Jesus’ name. And when you get back to your life inside your little shell, you won’t be satisfied there any more, because you will have seen the great big world outside your walls and all the awesome things God is doing.

You may be in a dark place in your life right now. I get that. Everyone has been there. But you don’t have to stay there. And getting out of it for a little while might actually help you see your situation clearer.

So get off the couch, friends. Your situation won’t fix itself. God will take care of it, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit still the whole time.

Go find someone to be kind to. It will revolutionize the way you look at your own problems. And if you get into the habit of serving others now, you might even find that you miss the holiday blues entirely. The Christmas spirit might find you in spite of yourself.

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The fancy Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Christmas isn’t what we do, it’s what Jesus did

I was listening to a Christian station on the way to work yesterday morning and heard them say that Christmas is smiling at someone on the street. They must really believe it too because it was an ad that played a few more times before the day was out. And I stopped for a minute to think about that.

But honestly, no matter how I slice it, I don’t see how Christmas can be defined as smiling at someone. That’s how the world sees Christmas, smiling at someone you don’t know, offering kindness to a stranger. And I’m not saying that those things are bad. Heavens, no, smile at people. Do kind things for people. Yes! But those are things we should do all the time as Christ-followers. Not just during the Christmas season.

Christmas is so much more than that.

The fancy Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The fancy Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Colossians 1:12-14.

He [God] has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.

Okay, Christ-followers, let’s get real here for a minute. I love Christmas. It’s my favorite time of year, hands down. I’m the crazy one who buys all the silly, superfluous gifts that serve no practical purpose other than making people smile. I just LOVE to give gifts. But Christmas isn’t about gifts.

I also love serving. I love being able to give my time and my talent and my resources to other people. I love making meals for people. I love hosting parties at my house. I love helping people. But Christmas isn’t about serving others or helping others.

It’s not about the songs or the decorations or the festivities. It’s not about any of that.

Christmas is the time we stop everything and remember that Jesus gave up His throne, His life in heaven, to come here, knowing full well that He would die a horrible death. The manger scene we’re all familiar with is cute and filled with precious moments figurines. But if you know anything about farms and barns and livestock, you know there was nothing cute happening in that stable where Christ was born.

Jesus didn’t leave his glorious home to come down here to be part of a quaint little manger scene. He gave up heaven itself to live in the squalor and the dirt and the cruelty of our broken world, and He did it for one reason: Me. And you. And your neighbor. And your best friend. And that really annoying guy you work with.

Before Jesus, I was lost. Before Jesus, I had no hope. I was wandering around in darkness with no security, no future, no reason to keep going. But because Jesus came to rescue us, we have hope. Jesus rescued us from the darkness, and through Him, God has brought us into the light. Jesus purchased our freedom with His own blood, and because of Him we are made right with God. And that’s what Christmas is about.

Not the cuteness and the presents and the Black Friday shopping and the decorations. Christmas was a rescue mission where the hero would lose His life to save the enemy.

You get that, right? We were God’s enemies. We were Christ’s enemies because we had fallen short of God’s glorious standard. There’s no gray with God. You’re either righteous or you’re not, and our first parents screwed that up for us. But God loved us anyway–so much He sent His Only Son to Earth to die so we could live.

Christmas is about Jesus. Our hero. Our savior. Our rescuer.

Because of Him, I am free, I have a future, and I have hope.  That’s what we celebrate. Don’t forget, Christ-follower. No matter how nice smiling at someone or helping someone may sound, that’s not Christmas.

So, sure, smile at people all you want. And serve people all day long. Those are wonderful, admirable things. And doing those things, especially for the unlovable, does make God happy. But don’t make the mistake of calling them Christmas, because Christmas goes beyond just what we do for other people. It’s about remember what Christ did for us.

Random marching band coming down the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland

Private parties are pretty selfish

I think people forget that the Bible is full of feasts and celebrations. God wants people to celebrate and rejoice and spend time together remembering all that He has done for them, and I’m not exactly sure when that became uncool. I mean, does anybody really do that in the States? We have parties, yes. We have “fellowship time” I guess, but do we ever just have a party with the sole purpose of celebrating what God has done for us? Kind of sounds like fun, actually.

I don’t take enough time to celebrate like I should. I thank Him for what He’s done, yes. I do that frequently, but to actually stop and mark the day and slow down long enough to focus on being thankful is difficult for me. I’m not a scholar about this sort of thing, but if I remember correctly the Jewish calendar is packed full of feast days and celebrations. And not just one-day celebrations. Week-long celebrations. Sometimes longer, if memory serves. Now that’s a party.

Random marching band coming down the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland

Random marching band coming down the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland

Today’s verses are Psalm 63:3-8.

Your unfailing love is better than life itself;
    how I praise you!
I will praise you as long as I live,
    lifting up my hands to you in prayer.
You satisfy me more than the richest feast.
    I will praise you with songs of joy.
I lie awake thinking of you,
    meditating on you through the night.
Because you are my helper,
    I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
    your strong right hand holds me securely.

When my brother and I were in Edinburgh at the beginning of our UK trip, we were walking down the Royal Mile looking for a place to eat. We had stopped to listen to a bagpiper play in the doorway of a government building, and then we heard the unmistakable sound of a marching band. I still don’t know what this marching band was doing, coming up the Royal Mile with their drums and instruments and banners. There were five or six groups of them, all in different uniforms, all different ages.

I didn’t think much of it until now, honestly, but I’m sure they were commemorating something. Maybe it was a holiday. Maybe it was an anniversary. Who knows? What matters is that when they appeared, people stopped to watch them, to listen. If you look closely at this photo, there’s even a guy videoing them. Shoot, I even took pictures. I have no idea what they were celebrating, but it was enough for me to want to remember it.

Here’s the point, Christians. Our God is awesome. He’s everything, or at least He should be. He loves us especially when we don’t deserve His love, He never gives up on us, and He never leaves us. He’s working everything in our lives out for good, and we can trust Him. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our relationship with Him. I love what David said in the Psalm today because it really just expresses so many of the things I want to tell God. But I can tell Him those things in private. That’s perfectly fine. I can celebrate in private. That’s fine too. But private parties are pretty selfish, don’t you think?

I don’t know what these marching band folks were celebrating, but it was a big enough deal for them to get dressed up and march for ages in funny outfits. It was a big enough deal that it made me stop in my tracks and pay attention.

Celebrating what God has done in our lives is something that should be public, and it’s worth slowing down for. I’m working on learning how to do that because it’ll be good for me and because I’m convinced it’s the best way to introduce others to Christ. If the only Christ others know is the one we ram down their throats, why would they have any interest in getting to know Him? My Jesus is my best friend. I talk to Him all the time. I tell Him everything, and I know He hears me. And I love telling people what He’s done for me because I absolutely don’t deserve any of it but for some reason He decided to trust me.

So slow down. Look at your life. What has God for you today? Maybe it’s small. Maybe it’s not. In any case, He still did it, and that’s worth celebrating. So party it up. Rejoice. Celebrate! And let others see you do it. Be ready to tell them why you’re celebrating so maybe they can begin to wrap their heads around the fact that following Christ isn’t about rules or stuffy old church buildings–that it’s about living life with Jesus and the joy is so great it’s difficult to comprehend. Who knows? Maybe someone who doesn’t believe will stop and listen.