Learn to Enjoy an Empty Christmas

If your Christmas season is like mine, it’s full.

  • The schedule is full of Christmas parties and programs.
  • The base of the Christmas tree is full of presents.
  • The DVR is full of Hallmark Christmas movies.
  • The mailbox is full of Christmas cards and… what? … more packages from Amazon.
  • The stomach is full of too much turkey, dressings, pumpkin pie, and that weird green jello salad that shows up every year.

Admittedly, I love having a Christmas full like that. (Note: The DVR full of Hallmark movies is my wife’s doing.) But I realize that fullness is largely focused on me, my family, and my friends.

There’s an empty side of Christmas we should remember, though. It begins on a note of fullness.

“But when the set time had fully come,God sent his Son” (Gal. 4:4).

The significance of what God did in the fullness of time can best be expressed by considering the emptiness that accompanies Christmas.

Christ emptied Himself.

Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:5-7).

With our abundance of Nativity sets depicting the baby Jesus surrounded by cows and sheep (and a serene mother who does not look like she just gave birth), we lose sight of the fact that nine months earlier, Jesus was on the throne of heaven, reigning over the universe He spoke into existence. He is God, but in this moment, He chose the empty Himself and take on the limits of a human body. He emptied Himself of all the trappings of His glorious and sovereign rule.

So now at Christmas, we see the omnipotent, omniscient, sovereign God of the universe lying in a manger. Unfortunately, after Christmas, we too often leave Him there, and forget …

The Empty Manger.

I’ve blogged about this before (click here), but too often Christmas comes and goes—and we leave Jesus in the manger until next Christmas. But Jesus grew. He came with a purpose: to show us God and to bring us to God.  The only way He could bring us to God was to remove the barrier—our sin—and that meant going to the cross. Jesus left the manger to ultimately go to the cross.

The Empty Cross.

Of course, Jesus didn’t stay on the cross. He died—and with His death He fully accomplished His mission. Our sin was removed, and we are forgiven. But it doesn’t stop there.

The Empty Tomb.

Jesus’ death on the cross is only half the story. God raised Jesus to life, never to die again. His death removed the penalty of our own death, and His resurrected life is shared with us in that we can have eternal life—not just a life of quantity (going on forever), but a life of quality.

What no eye has seen,  what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”—the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

Jesus emptied Himself so we could become full. Now that’s a Christmas present.

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Determining Your Worth

“The true worth of a man is to be measured by the objects he pursues.”

—Marcus Aurelius

What we’ve pursued—and measured our worth by—has changed over the years.

What we do. We once measured our worth by the kind of work we did. Your profession determined your value to society. I still remember that ubiquitous question  I was asked as a kid, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” That was important because we wanted our kids to grow up and be productive members of society.

What we own. Over time, we shifted the emphasis to our stuff. What we own gives us the status we crave. It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor or the guy who fixes the clogged sink at the doctor’s house. It no longer matters where your money comes from, so long as you have money to spend on the right stuff.

Look at our houses; they keep getting bigger and bigger. When I was a kid, a 1500  square foot house was big; now those are  considered starter homes. You want a real house that shows you’ve arrived? Get one that’s at least 3,000 square feet.

What others think. Just look at social media, and you’ll see how society is changing where we look for our perceived value.  So many people get their validation from how many Twitter followers they have and  how many people repost their photo and pithy remark. And everybody wants lots of “likes” on whatever they posted on Faceboook—even if it is nothing more that a picture of the fried Spam they had for lunch.

Years from now, when you’re in the throes of death, when you know your minutes are numbered, which one of these will matter to you? Ask yourself:

  • If my productivity matters, does that I mean I lose my value when I retire?
  • If my possessions matter, do I lose my worth when all that stuff I valued ends up at Goodwill because no one even wanted it at my garage sale?
  • If opinions matter, is my value lost when the fickle winds of public likes and dislikes change direction again?

You know where your value and worth comes from.

  • It’s grounded in what you do for God: loving Him supremely and loving those He places in front of us.
  • It’s grounded in what you possess as a result of God’s grace and generosity: you have His salvation and presence in your life.
  • It’s grounded in God’s opinion of you. He loves you no matter what. However you may have sinned and devalued yourself, He loves you. Faithfully. Consistently. Without hesitation.

So let’s return to that quote from the ever-hip emperor and philosopher, Marcus Aurelius. If the true worth of a person is seen in what he pursues, what do you pursue?

“I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…. I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Phil. 3:8,12).

Can We Return “Christian” to What It Means?

Names often have a way of losing their original meaning.

The original Motorola car radio

Motorola. This week (September 25) marks the anniversary of this company that we all associate with cell phones. But when the Gavin Brothers launched the company in 1928, they were working on a car radio most people could afford. Two years later, they had it, so they combined the words “motor” with the name of the widely-popular Victrola phonograph and came up with Motorola.

7-11. The original U-Tote-Em convenience stores changed their name to 7-11 in 1946 to instill in people’s minds their extended hours: 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.. That’s ironic, since for over 50 years, most of their stores are open 24 hours.

Canon. The company’s first camera was called Kwanon, named after the Buddhist goddess of mercy. To make the camera more appealing in America, they changed Kwanon to Canon.

Saab. At the outbreak of World War II, the Swedes needed airplanes. Svenska Aeroplan Aktie Bolag (Swedish Airplane Corporation) opened for business and supplied the Royal Swedish Air Force with planes. When the war ended, they switched to manufacturing cars, but they keep the name SAAB.

Lego. Want to say “play well” in Danish? Leg godt. 

Sharp.  In 1915, Tokuji Hayakawa invented the “Ever-Sharp Mechanical Pencil.” Although business was quite good, an earthquake destroyed the plant in 1923. They decided to move from pencils to radios, but they kept the name Sharp.

We have three examples of company names.

  1. Some companies are still accurately reflected in their names.
  2. Some companies have added extensively to their catalog of products and are known for far more than what they were originally known for.
  3. Some companies moved completely away from the product that established them.

I am aware of one name that, unfortunately, has done all three.


Some people carry the name Christian, but they have added so much more to its meaning. They’ve added politics … or rules … or rituals … or cultural expectations.

  • If you’re a Christian, why wouldn’t you vote Republican?
  • Real Christians don’t  get tattoos … or watch those shows.

They’ve added so many layers that have nothing to do with walking by grace and faith in Christ.

Some people wear the label of Christian, but they define it by their own standards.

  • Sure, I’m a Christian, but I’m not hung up on the whole church thing.
  • I think Jesus can be found even in Hinduism, but I choose to worship Him as a Christian.
  • Being a Christian means you love Jesus who won’t judge you for your lifestyle.

Both approaches have made Christian something it’s not. The word literally means an adherent—a devotee— of Christ. The word only appears in the Bible three times, and each time, it carries a hint of derision.

  1. The Gentiles in Antioch first called the followers Christians (Acts 11:26). It was a way of making fun of them for the way they stood out from the culture.
  2. When Paul was defending himself before King Agrippa , Agrippa had no interest in the gospel and said, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28). Can you hear the disdain in his words?
  3. Peter wrote to the church about persecution and how to respond “if you suffer as a Christian” (1 Pet. 4:16).

In each case, Christian had to do with how the outside world saw believers. They meant it in jest and contempt, but believers embraced the name along with the suffering they endured for the name of Christ.

Let’s return to our name. Let’s be identified as those who are truly devoted and committed to Jesus Christ. Let’s lose  it as merely a sign of family heritage. Let’s lose it as a political identity. Let’s lose it as just a way to explain our religious views.

Let’s be Christians.

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Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen?

In light of hurricanes and flooding in recent weeks, a familiar question has popped up, one that resurfaces anytime people face tragedy.

Why does God allow bad things to happen?

This is not only a familiar question, it is an old one. Ancient, in fact.  It was essentially the first question asked in the Bible. The Book of Job was very likely the first biblical book penned, and the heart of this book centers on the question of why good people suffer.

Job, who likely lived during the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was a righteous man—yet God allowed Satan to take away his children and his great wealth. Job’s response?

Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing (Job 1:20-22).

Satan said Job would lose his integrity and curse God if his health was attacked. So God allowed Job to be struck with nasty boils all over his body. Again Job responded without accusing God.

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10).

Job’s response doesn’t mean he was content with the situation. He wanted to know why God judges our actions when He can just as easily change things. He asserted his blamelessness. He wanted to know how to appease God’s justice.

It’s at this point a lot of people would simply write God off. While believers hold to the truth that God is both all-powerful and infinitely loving,  the skeptic says:

  • If God is all-powerful, He must not be loving, because although He has the power to stop evil, He doesn’t care enough to prevent it.
  • If God is loving, He must not be powerful, because as much as He cares and loves those suffering, He is powerless to do anything.

Interesting premise, but there is no doubt of God’s power. Look at the universe around us. There is nothing too great for Him or beyond His scope.

And I have no doubt about His love. My own experience confirms His love and grace.

Job wanted to question God, and God responded. He asked Job a boatload of questions to show how little Job knew.

“Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: ‘Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand…. Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this…. Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?’” (Job 38:1-4,18,33).

God’s point? Job knew so little of the physical world he could see, so how could he possibly understand the vastly more complex moral world he could not see?

In the end, God never directly answered Job’s question! Admittedly, we don’t like that. We want a full explanation complete with charts and diagrams. But do we really want a God we can explain? Frankly, if we could explain all God does—and doesn’t do—He wouldnt be much of a God.

I will state the one reason we know for sure bad things happen: we live in a sinful fallen world. We are sinful people—all of us. Bad people do bad things. Evil people inflict evil on others.

God stepped into the world in Jesus Christ to address the problem of a sinful world. Granted, not everyone responds to His solution, but through the death and resurrection, God guaranteed a life to come that will be free from pain, suffering, and evil.

“Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).

That answer sounds like a cop-out to some. It’s easy to talk about the by-and-by, about heaven someday, but why doesn’t God keep the innocents from suffering now?

I don’t know.

But I do know this: I’ve learned to trust God even when I don’t understand. Please don’t view that as a blind, naïve faith, but what I know of God—what I’ve experienced at His hand—gives me confidence to trust Him when I don’t understand.

When I became a parent, I never wanted to give my sons the pat answer, “Because I said so.” It didn’t take me long to realize sometimes that’s the best answer you can give a small child. Their developing brains cannot yet grasp the full complexities of, say, why you just can’t use that plastic card to buy whatever they want. Sometimes you just have to leave it at this. “I’m the parent and you can’t have it—because I said so.”

We need to trust God even as a small child must trust his parent when he doesn’t understand. That’s what Job did.

  • “To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his” (Job 12:13).
  • “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (13:15).
  • “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth” (19:25).

OK, I’ve been fairly academic to this point. Christian, it’s time to get personal.

Where is God when tragedy happens? He’s there—in us.  We are the body of Christ. We are His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:17), and when people see us, they see Jesus.

So when hardships hit, we step in.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

We show the world who Jesus is—not through our doctrine or religious habits—but as we live and love like Jesus.

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Survivor Guilt and Hurricane Harvey

I grew up in the Houston area. Although Houston has not been my residence since 1980, it’s my old stompin’ grounds and I still consider it home. A lot of you have asked about my family in the area, and they are doing fine. Their home was spared from any water damage.

Others were not so fortunate. And that’s where the guilt kicks in for me.

In less than two weeks my wife and I are moving.

  • We sold our house in one day for more than we were asking.
  • We found a wonderful new house that perfectly fits our needs.
  • We are closing on both houses on the same day.
  • We are literally moving from one house directly into the other.

We have continually thanked God for His graciousness in how wonderfully and smoothly things have progressed and come together.

So after the hassle-free tasks and logistics of buying and selling houses, I sit down and turn on the TV. The news is filled with tragedy, suffering, and loss. My wife and I are moving because we want to, yet so many in Houston are moving—or more accurately, evacuating—because they have to.

When bad things happen to some people, they ask, “Why me, God?” I do something similar when good things happen. “God, why are things going well for me when it’s not for others?”

I am experiencing comfort while others are not. But I am not to rest in my comfort.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

God has blessed me, and I can turn around and be His blessing to others. Regarding the massive recovery work on the Gulf Coast, I don’t know what all that means for me yet, but I don’t want to sit idly by. Join me in this.

1. Work with your local church to give finances, supplies, and specific items needed.

2. Partner with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.  In size and scope, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is third behind FEMA and the Red Cross. This well-organized volunteer program uses any funds donated solely for disaster relief—not for administrative costs. Work alongside them because they have done their homework, and know exactly the kind of help needed and where. Check them out at: https://www.namb.net/send-relief/disaster-relief.

We can represent Christ to others and be the comfort they need.

Share this post and help me challenge others to step in and be a blessing to those in Texas.

Your Voice Can Be Heard

It sounds like a cliché, but your voice does make a difference.

I don’t like to brag, but I was elected to office when I was young. I was going to be a real mover-and-shaker because, as a freshman, I was elected to the student council. It made me feel good that my peeps (or whatever we called each other back in 1972) wanted humble me to represent them.

A few days later, I happened to be in one of the high school work rooms. Left in plain sight were the tabulations from the historic student council vote. My ego took a hit when I saw how few people voted for me—and how few people voted at all. No one really cared who represented them, and of the small number of votes, I only had two more than my opponent.

I could’ve been depressed at the low number of votes; instead, I was happy that just two votes occasionally got me out of class in order to hang out in the cafeteria for student council meetings.

We face greater stakes than the opportunity to skip Algebra I. And our voice counts all the more.

You’re familiar with the women’s suffrage movement and the drive that gave women the right to vote in 1920. The House and Senate passed the amendment in 1919, but it had to be approved by 2/3 of the states. That meant of the 48 states, 36 had to vote in favor. When it came Tennessee’s turn to consider the amendment, 35 states had ratified it. All Tennessee had to do was say yes, and women could vote.

Harry T. Burn after his decisive vote

But the state legislators were tied at 48-48.

So one mother took it upon herself to speak up. Her son, Harry T. Burn, was barely an adult. He was only 23, but he was a representative and he had a vote. He was also opposed to giving women like his mother the vote, but dear ol’ mom wrote him a letter. She reportedly told him to “be a good boy.” Burn changed his vote and the amendment was ratified. This past week (August 18, 1920) marks the date one letter and one vote made a difference.

Your voice matters. Your single solitary voice can make a difference. It matters in politics—and it matters in everyday life. You can make a difference …

  • … to that kid who’s bullied at school.
  • … to the adult who’s harassed at work.
  • … to the homeless guy who would be pleased if someone noticed him and talked to him like a normal human.
  • … to those facing injustice as an everyday occurrence.

We often see injustices as societal problems that are bigger than we are. We can—and should—speak up, though, and work through politics and the community to change things.

But to the person living under those injustices, they are not societal problems. They are his problems. It is personal—very personal. At this point, your single, solitary voice can truly make a difference. Show them the love of Christ. Jesus said,

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:35-36,40).

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How NOT to Cook—or Live a Life

If I can get the Food Network interested, I want to do a cooking show. I will call it Kids, Don’t Try This at Home. For the first half of the show, I will regale viewers with stories of my attempts at creative cooking. The second half of the show will be turned over to my co-host, Martha Stewart, who will berate me and tell me I’m the one who should be in prison for my abusive treatment of taste buds.

At my house, I’m only allowed to microwave leftovers under adult supervision.

There’s a way to cook and a way not to cook. And we can thank Fannie Farmer for her contribution to the art of good cooking. She gave us measurements.

We celebrate Fannie Farmer this week who, on August 23, 1902, opened Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery in Boston. Her school was successful because she had already established a name for herself. She had earlier published a cookbook which revolutionized the way we approach cooking. She simply introduced precise measurements.

Before the days of clever measuring cups from Pampered Chef, people learned to cook more by watching others. Through experience, they developed good judgment on how much of an ingredient to add. But Miss Framer pushed for strict, level measurements. She put science in the art of cooking. Thanks to her, buffoons like me can actually whip up a decent meal if we stick to the measurements and instructions.

Most people approach life like I approach meal preparation.  They put in what they think will work and hope for the best. It doesn’t work with cooking—and it doesn’t work with life.

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 16:25)

God expects us to use exact measurements with our life, and He has given us a standard to follow. It’s clearly written out for us in the Bible. No guesswork, hoping I get it right.

So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess” (Deut. 5:32-33). 

Even though I know that’s the only path to success or a fruitful life, I still falter and return to putting in a pinch of this or that, whatever looks good to me. But God in His grace steps in. He rescues me from my own failures. And I choose to get right back in line with His standards. Thankfully, by His Spirit, He leads me and helps me get it right.

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him” (Ps. 37:23).

Life tastes better when I follow Christ and His instructions.

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