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.
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
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.