Friday, December 23, 2016

how to keep Christ in your Christmas

Lately I've noticed a lot of folks at church are wearing little silicone wristbands that say "Keep Christ in Christmas." Tis the season, I guess. And of course I agree (I'm a preacher, after all): Jesus needs to be the heartbeat of the holiday.

But a lot of times I disagree with people about what that should look like.

It seems like, most of the time, when Christians talk about people 'taking Christ out of Christmas', they're talking about other people. Schools, stores, government offices. They're trying to remove the reason for the season, leaving us with a happy holiday that's just a shell of the Christmas God wants from us.

But me, I don't think it's Walmart's job or City Hall's job or even the schools' job to celebrate the birth of our Lord.

That's my job.

If you're a Christian, it's your job.

It all starts with us. If we want to keep Christ in Christmas, we need to take Jesus' advise and quit poking around for splinters in our neighbors' eyes while we've got a log jammed in our own (Matt 7:3-5). Christians need to quit focusing on how others are doing Christmas wrong and start focusing on how we can do Christmas right. We need the humility and the courage to ask: what can I do differently, to really make this season about Jesus?

Because there are going to be things all of us can do differently.

Maybe, instead of watching A Christmas Story for the third time in two days, we could pick up the phone and call that brother, that sister, that cousin we haven't spoken to in years, because we've been holding on to a grudge or refusing to admit we were wrong.

Maybe, instead of buying our kid or our spouse another gift and teaching them that this holiday is all about stuff, we could give that money to the battered women's shelter, Habitat for Humanity, or ZOE, to bless people in ways that will last longer than a new toy or shoes.

Or maybe, rather than take that vacation to the Bahamas you could give that waitress who's eight months pregnant a $900 tip, to help her get through the months ahead, when she's out of work, and to show her what the extravagant, sacrificial love of God looks like.

Because—let's be honest—most of us treat Christmas like it's our birthday. How might we celebrate the holiday if we treated it like Jesus' birthday instead?

If the world saw Christians celebrating Christmas like that, in ways that glorified God and made Jesus smile, maybe the Holy Spirit would have room to work in people's hearts, and—who knows?—next year they may be wishing everyone a merry Christmas too.

And this year we all have a special opportunity to focus on Jesus, because this year Christmas falls on a Sunday. Which means we can go to church.

On Christmas.

I know that will sound like a bizarre thing to do on Christmas morning to a lot of people, a lot of Christians even, but if we won't let worshipping Jesus "interrupt" the gifts and food and family, then we're the ones taking Christ out of Christmas. I think the Babylon Bee (a Christian satire news website) captured it pretty well when they entitled one article, "Church Honors Birth Of Jesus By Canceling Worship Service." This is your chance to show the world what this holiday is really all about. This is your chance to show your kids and your family that Christmas is about Jesus.

Or, we could blow off worship this Sunday and focus instead on... well, whatever it is that really matters the most to us at Christmas.

I'm not trying to guilt-trip anyone here, but I also don't care to mince words. I don't begrudge people whose Christmas celebrations aren't really about Jesus, but I do expect Christians to put their money where their mouth is. (I'm a preacher, after all.) And so I hope believers will take stock this Christmas. I hope we'll take a good, long look in the mirror and see what our holidays practices say about the reason for the season.
So if you're going to be on the road, watch for a church to stop at on the drive. If you're at some resort, cooped up, away from civilization, find an old Bible and read Luke 2 with your family, pray for those who need good news of great joy today. If  you're at home, catch a service. Wherever you are, find a way to worship this Sunday.

Find a way to keep Christ in your Christmas.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

for your consideration: ZOE

As the weather gets cold around the holidays, people's hearts seem to get warmer, and a lot of folks are looking for ways to reach out and bless someone in need this time of year - giving to the Salvation Army outside the grocery store, providing gifts for kids through Angel Trees or Toys for Tots, checking out a Heifer International catalog for a way to touch lives around the globe. I love that Christmas still has the power to inspire us like that.

Well, while people are thinking about helping those less fortunate than themselves this year, I wanted to draw your attention to a ministry that does just that, and does it more effectively and powerfully than any other group like it that I know of. Allow me to introduce you to ZOE.


ZOE began as a mission of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. I first heard about their work when I took at class at Duke with Dr. Laceye Warner, whose husband, Gaston, is the CEO of ZOE. He gave a lecture on international relief work, and it was obvious then that what they were doing was something special.

They describe their task as "helping children help themselves," and their strategy for helping is communal, long-term, and self-sustaining.
ZOE's model for ministry developed after a Rwandan woman named Epiphanie Mujawimana told them about the effects of other well-meaning ministries and aid organizations: "my people became so good at receiving that they forgot how to do anything. When a grant was completed, or focus shifted to a new area, my people were left worse off than before because they had learned to be dependent." She inspired ZOE to pursue a new goal: relief work where people learned to be independent.

What developed was a three-year empowerment plan that take children from poverty to self-sufficiency. ZOE's website explains:
The program brought orphans and vulnerable children together in mutually supportive working groups. Social workers worked with these children, teaching them skills and providing them with the resources they needed to begin to care for themselves... for real change to occur, all of the challenges holding these children in poverty must be addressed simultaneously: food security, disease prevention, housing, income generation, vocational training, child rights, community reintegration, connection to God, and education. When these were all addressed at the same time, the results were both quick and life-changing.
Unlike some other programs, where you support a child regularly (say, monthly) until they age out, this program spends three years getting the kids started, teaching and equipping them to support themselves and each other, so that when the three years are up, they will never need charity again. Today, over 33,000 children around the world are beginning new lives with ZOE's help.

See the results for yourself! Below you can watch the story of a girl named Cecelia who received vocational training and start-up supplies through ZOE. I hope that her story, and the story of the little boy born in poverty in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago who would save the world, will inspire you to support this worthy ministry.

 
To find out more or give online, visit zoehelps.org. You can also give online through United Methodist Global Ministries.