The Christmas Illusion
For many people Christmas conjures up images of shiny happy families sipping hot cocoa, cuddling on the couch, decorations set up, and lights all aglow while the snow quietly falls onto the front lawn that has been properly winterized.
Then we think about our family, our home…
What we personally experience does not match up with our Christmas image. It leaves us with the sinking feeling that we are missing the party; that there must be something wrong with us.
Let’s be done with the Christmas Illusion that everyone else has it all together. If you look closely beneath the lights, the trees, and the gifts you will find that every family is broken, messy, and imperfect. Some of us merely hide it better than others.
Christmas is not good news if we have to put on a show and act as if we have it all together. That is a burden that will suck the life out of us. Christmas is good news because even in the middle of our broken and imperfect family life Jesus loves us like crazy.
- During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through his grace. ALL PRAISE TO GOD…This album is a humble offering to him. An attempt to say “THANK YOU GOD” through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor. P.9-quoting John Coltrane
- The book of Genesis leaves us with a striking truth-work was part of paradise. P. 36
- According to the Bible, we don’t merely need the money from work to survive; we need the work itself to survive and to live fully human lives. P. 38
- So author Dorothy Sayers could write, “What is the Christian understanding of work?…It is that work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties…the medium in which he offers himself to God.” P. 38
- Work has dignity because it is something that God does and because we do it in God’s place, as his representatives. P. 49
- The current economic era has given us fresh impulses and new ways to stigmatize work such as farming and caring for children-jobs that are supposedly not “knowledge” jobs and therefore do not pay very well. But in Genesis we see God as a gardener, and in the New Testament, we see him as a carpenter. No task is too small a vessel to hold the immense dignity of work given by God. P. 49
- All work has dignity because it reflects God’s image in us, and also because the material creation we are called to care for is good. P. 51
- In 1 Corinthians chapter 7, Paul counsels readers that when they become Christians it is unnecessary to change what they are currently doing in life-their marital status, job, or social station-in order to live their lives before God in a way that pleases him. In verse 17, Paul directs, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.” Here Paul uses two religiously freighted words to describe ordinary work. Elsewhere, Paul has spoken of God calling people into a saving relationship with him, and assigning them spiritual gifts to do ministry and build up the Christian community (Romans 12:3 and 2 Corinthians 10:13). Paul uses these same two words here when he says that every Christian should remain in the work God has “assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” Yet Paul is not referring in this case to church ministries, but to common social and economic tasks- “secular jobs”, we might say-and naming them God’s callings and assignments. P. 65-66
- Christians should be aware of this revolutionary understanding of the purpose of their work in the world. We are not to choose jobs and conduct our work to fulfill ourselves and accrue power, for being called by God to do something is empowering enough. We are to see work as a way of service to God and our neighbor, and so we should both choose and conduct our work in accordance with that purpose. The question regarding our choice of work is no longer, “What will make me the most money and give me the most status?” The question must now be “How with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I do of God’s will and of human need?” P. 67
- It is pure invention [fiction] that Pope, bishops, priests, and monks are called the “spiritual estate” while princes, lords, artisans, and farmers are called the temporal estate.” This is indeed a piece of deceit and hypocrisy. Yet no one need be intimidated by it, and that for this reason: all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them except by office…We are all consecrated priests by baptism, as St. Peter says: “You are a royal priesthood and a priestly realm” (1 Pet.2:9). P.69-quoting Martin Luther
- The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. P. 76-77-quoting Dorothy Sayers
- Research into the properties of the atom become the basis for the atomic bomb. In other words, work, even when it bears fruit, is always painful, often miscarries, and sometimes kills us. P. 89
- Just because you cannot realize your highest aspirations in work does not mean that you have chosen wrongly, or are not called to your profession, or that you should spend your life looking for the perfect career that is devoid of frustration. You should expect to be regularly frustrated in your work even though you may be in exactly the right vocation. P. 94
- Brooks’s first point is that so many college students do not choose work that actually fits their abilities, talents, and capacities, but rather choose work that fits within their limited imagination of how they can boost their own self-image. P. 108
- Without the gospel of Jesus, we will have to toil not for the joy of serving others, nor the satisfaction of a job well done, but to make a name for ourselves. P. 112
- “In the long term I think being a preacher, missionary, or leading a Bible study group in many ways is easier. There is a certain spiritual glamour in doing it, and what we should be doing each day is easier to discern more black and white, not so gray. It is often hard to get Christians to see that God is willing not just to use men and women in ministry, but in law, in medicine, in business, in the arts. This is the great shortfall today. P. 119-quoting Dick Lucas
- Yale philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff observes that modern culture defines the happy life as a life that is “going well”-full of experiential pleasure-while to the ancients, the happy life meant the life that is lived well, with character, courage, humility, love, and justice. P. 149
- While from the outside there might not be immediately noticeable differences between a well-run company reflecting a gospel world-view and one reflecting primarily the world-story of the marketplace, inside the differences could be very noticeable. The gospel-centered business would have a discernible vision for serving the customer in a unique way, a lack of adversarial relationships and exploitation, and extremely strong emphasis on excellence and product quality, and an ethical environment that goes “all the way down” to the bottom of the organizational chart and to all the realities of daily behavior, even when high ethics mean a loss of margin. In the business animated by the gospel worldview, profit is simply one of many important bottom lines. P. 168
- So when we say that Christians work from a gospel worldview, it does not mean that they are constantly speaking about Christian teaching in their work. Some people think of the gospel as something we are principally to “look at” in our work. This would mean that Christian musicians should play Christian music, Christian writers should write stories about conversion, and Christian businessmen and-women should work for companies that make Christian-themed products and services for Christian customers. Yes, some Christians in those fields would do well to do those things, but it is a mistake to think that the Christian worldview is operating only when we are doing such overtly Christian activities. Instead, think of the gospel as a set of glasses through which you “look” at everything else in the world. Christian artists, when they do this faithfully, will not be completely beholden either to profit or to naked self-expression; and they will tell the widest variety of stories. Christians in business will see profit as one of only several bottom lines; and they will work passionately for any kind of enterprise that serves the common good. The Christian writer can constantly be showing the destructiveness of making something besides God into the central thing, even without mentioning God directly. P. 179-180
- God is creator of the world, and our work mirrors his creative work when we create culture that conforms to his will and vision for human beings-when it matches up with the biblical story-line. P. 184
- But indeed, as Bible scholar Bruce Waltke points out, the Bible says that the very definition of righteous people is that they disadvantage themselves to advantage others, while “the wicked…are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.” P. 203
- Without something bigger than yourself to work for, then all of your work energy is actually fueled by one of the other six deadly sins. You may work exceptionally hard because of envy to get ahead of somebody, or because of pride to prove yourself, or because of greed or even gluttony for pleasure. P. 230
How would things be different today if Jesus used the same criteria we use before he moved into his neighborhood? Safe, people who are just like us, great schools, low crime rate, private, exclusive, charming, close to good restaurants and shopping, etc…
Instead of seeing brokenness, suffering, danger and poverty as issues to avoid they were the very things that motivated Jesus to come as God incarnate. The gospel compels us to continually be moving toward the darkness, not away from it.
If your neighborhood is not everything you want it to be, if you see it’s limitations, the cracks, the loneliness, the sin, the pain; you have correctly identified the areas in which God wants you to be investing your life.
The places we choose to live, the reasons we choose to move, how we treat our neighbor, all reveal if we are living a life centered on the gospel.
Sometimes I wonder if we are just sleepwalking through life…
Give me a man in love; he knows what I mean. Give me one who yearns; give me one who is hungry; give me one far away in the desert, who is thirsty and sighs for the spring of Eternal Country. Give me that sort of man; he knows what I mean. But if I speak to a cold man, he just doesn’t know what I’m talking about…You are surprised that the world is losing it’s grip? That the world is grown old? Don’t hold onto the old man, the world; don’t refuse to regain your youth in Christ, who says to you: “The world is passing away; the world is losing it’s grip, the world is short of breath.” Don’t fear, for thy youth shall be renewed as an eagle. -Augustine
I won’t be so naive as to say the long, dark valley of leadership can be avoided by learning to name your failures. In fact, new and, at times, more difficult challenges will arise simply because you begin admitting your status as your organization’s head sinner, and the normal challenges will remain whether you confess your flaws or try to hide them. But realize that most leaders invest too much capital obscuring their need for grace, which not only keeps their staff at arm’s length but also subverts their trust and steals energy and creativity they could otherwise devote to the inevitable crisis that continue to arise. And, perhaps even more dangerous, hiding failure prevents leaders from asking for and receiving the grace they most desperately need to live well, not to mention lead well. -Leading With A Limp by Dan Allender
Man is it subtle.
Where am I finding my deepest sense of satisfaction in life? What is it that truly makes me happy or joyful? I know what pastors are suppose to say, think and believe. But what I’m supppose to think and feel does not always line up with what is really going on in my heart.
I like it when there are alot of people in church on Sunday morning. No, I like it alot. The converse is also true. When there are not alot of people in church on Sunday I feel depressed. Borderline embarassed. On those days the drive home from church is pure misery. I intentionally force myself to think about things other than ministry just to keep myself sane.
What is the issue? I recently spent a little extra time praying and fasting and it confirmed what I already suspected. The pursuit of significance is one of my idols. I often mouth the words, “I want Christ glorified”, but if a little of that glory comes my way I won’t fight it. The battle does not stop and it’s intense.
Part of the problem is a lack of gratitidue on my part. Failing to be greatful for the kingdom work that God has given me to do here on earth. I end up begrudging God for not making much of me. Come on, who doesn’t want to be a part of something big? Dreaming big is not a sin. The sin is that my joy is not full unless I have been made to feel significant.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
(John 15:9-11 ESV)
I may never pack the house to the rafters on Sunday, write a killer book or be on a speaking circuit. I have to come back to this very basic truth, the gospel tells me that Jesus is enough.
I understand why people smoke. The hit, the drag, the pleasure. I get it.
I do the same thing a million different ways. A lustful image, coveting a bigger role in ministry, exercise, money, accolades, sports, performance, food, relationships and the list goes on. Maybe one more hit will satisfy.
Addictions come from the very core of who we are. We have empty and broken spaces in our soul. So we desperately try to fill up the dead places of our life to alleviate the pain, or perhaps to deal with the numbness. Seductive, tyrannical addictions are always present to fill in the gaps.
I constantly need to be reminded that Jesus is the only One who can fill up every area of my broken life and heart. Only Jesus can fill me with a pure, lasting pleasure that does not kill me in the end.
…the fullness of him (Jesus Christ) who fills all in all. -Ephesians 1:23 ESV
I still remember the Sunday morning like it was yesterday. I mentioned in a sermon that as a pastor I feel like I have just enough light to see a couple steps ahead of me. In other words, I was admitting my limitations regarding my ability to know what was going to happen in the future. I was dropping the pretense of leadership that acts as if it “has it all together” and instead let people into my heart and mind for a moment. That was a mistake. Later I heard that there were people who were disappointed with my comment; no doubt they wanted a leader who sees clearly into the future and knows exactly where they and the church are going. As a leader you remember those moments. You begin to believe that it is safer to keep up the illusion that leaders always know the right thing to do and how to do it.
The problem with this illusion is that it kills the pastor’s soul; the weariness is sure to lead to burnout.
The gospel tells us a different story about leadership: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. -2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV
This is upside down leadership. Leadership that admits it is weak and that through our weakness Jesus will show himself to be strong. Paul’s messsage about leadership is absolutely counterintuitive to the way many in the world (and the church for that matter) think about leadership. Yet to the leader who is despairing of the burden caused by pretending it gives hope, it gives life.
I am currently reading a book about leadership called “Leading With A Limp: Take Full Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness” by Dan Allender. I am finding it refreshing, honest and raw when it comes to the burden and the joys of leadership. I am looking forward to sharing my throughts about the book in the coming weeks.
I have been blogging for a number of years over at Missional in Suburbia (recently shut down that site). I love talking about the mission of God in a suburban context, but it’s definitely time to branch out a bit. On this new site topics will include the gospel in everyday life, messy community, the mission of God, my love affair with books, and last but not least upside down leadership–I am saying goodbye to a non-biblical leadership that pretends to have it all together. Make no mistake about it, this blog functions as therapy for me and through it I hope you are blessed and encouraged.