Preparing for Christmas, Part 3: STOP THE FRENZY!

I did something that no teacher would ever advise, yet it turned out to be a watershed experience for my class. Interestingly enough, it is just what we need to prepare our hearts for Christmas. Let me explain.

I still teach a high school class at Christ Presbyterian Academy, where I taught full time for many years. That one class, Men in the Bible, lays out the journey into real manhood through Scripture and story. Part of that journey is doing the unthinkable with a group of typically active and mischievous high school young men. I take them to a nearby park with only one directive: go off by yourself into the woods and spent 15 minutes in silence, reading the Bible and listening to God. Incredibly, they not only do it, they come back awed by what happens to them.

Why this response? Because many of them have never been invited into silence. Their usual pace in life approaches the frenetic, and the sudden stillness feels intoxicating. The experience is so marking that many of them want to continue it after the class ends.

This is exactly what we need to prepare our hearts for Christmas—silence. Stop the frenzy. Stop the madness. Cut back on parties. Cut down on gifts. Let go of the swelling to-do lists. Let go of the unrealistic expectations. We submit ourselves to such a frenzy every December not only because our world lives in it, but more importantly because we secretly hope that somewhere in all the busyness we will find the life that we ache for—a Currier and Ives moment on the sleigh, a picture-perfect feast on the table. But we will never find the life we ache for there. It is only found in the last place we usually look.

In the silence.

There we come before the One who is rest Himself and who will offer rest to those who come to Him. He who truly rested in the manger is that true rest for our hearts. To our own misery and sadness, we choose to run from Him, and in so doing, we run not only from ourselves but also from the rest offered to us.

So for this third week of advent, try what my class did: enter into silence for at least 15 minutes each day. Read part of the Christmas story from Luke 2, journal your thoughts and prayers, ask God to speak, and then sit in the silence and listen.

I offer no guarantees about what you may hear. But I can promise you this: you will find rest—and with that a taste of the life that is coming to all who believe.

 

 

 

Preparing for Christmas, Part 2: It Feels Awful

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king; let every heart prepare him room..." We sing this every Christmas, but what exactly does it feel like to prepare room in your heart for Jesus? It can feel awful. Let me explain.

A number of years ago, our family got the chance to take prized antiques from a relative’s home. Only one problem: he was a pathological hoarder. When we opened up the house, we had to step up onto four feet of compacted trash. Soon we found ourselves walking on top of the dining room table to maneuver around. It was one of the most disgusting and eerie sights I have ever witnessed. To get at the furniture required a massive excavation project to remove decades of trash.

This is the best visual I know for the human heart. We are all pathological hoarders, stuffing our hearts with the trash of our self-chosen idols and addictions. What we need is not just a little spring cleaning; we need a complete renovation.

Seen this way, preparing room for Jesus in our hearts is no longer just a nice Christmas sentiment. It is the battle cry for freedom. It means asking God to shovel the refuse out, all of it. But we have to do our part: letting go of those idols, as best we can, and sit in the darkness that creates. There we will meet the pain our idols have covered over, and there God will meet us in ways we cannot predict or control. I had my own experience of this recently.

God confronted my own ongoing addiction to food and exercise one afternoon as I was straining through a hard workout on the bike. I sensed him saying, “I want you to give up these hard workouts for two months.” My first response: NO, I’m not doing that. It really was! I needed those workouts to manage my life and my eating, or so I thought. But after a couple of days of resistance I gave in and let them go. And the sitting in the dark began for me, one of surfacing confusion over present struggles and grief over past memories.

But this is where God loves to meet us, and He has for me. All I can say is that the past two months have been filled with extraordinary breakthroughs in my heart and insights into this ministry. I am stunned at what is happening inside of me, all because I chose to let go of a bike workout.

So this Christmas, prepare your heart for Jesus by letting go of something.

What you receive back may stun you. 

How To Prepare for Christmas

Yesterday was the first Sunday in Advent, and it's time to prepare our hearts for Christmas. We do this for only one reason, so that the light of Christmas can shine into our hearts, so that His light becomes our light, the light of a felt, interior joy that shines out from us to a darkened world. But how? How does this happen? Here is how it's happening to me.

For much of this year, I have sensed the need to step out and take a new risk with Landmark Journey Ministries. The first two years have been spent doing much individual and small group work with men. But I have known for a long time that I was being asked to do something more. God would often say something like this to me: “Lead others into My presence. Let Me do the rest.” I knew what this would mean: asking others to come away for a weekend in order to be quiet before God, open His Word, and listen to His voice.

But I resisted. And the hesitation was based in fear: What if I planned the retreats and no one showed up? What if I got others there and God didn’t show up? What if I couldn’t handle all the details to pull this off? But after two years of hesitation, the call only got stronger. I could disobey and play it safe, or I could obey and take the risk.

So what did I do? With the encouragement of the ministry board, I chose to take the risk. Now there are now two retreats planned in February, one for couples and one for men. Make no mistake. It still feels like a risk, and I still struggle with fear, yet I have never felt closer to Jesus in my life as a man. This is how the light of Christmas becomes that interior light in our own hearts, how the baby in the manger becomes Christ in us. We quit trusting in ourselves and follow His voice, hanging all our hopes on Him. In that place of vulnerable trust, He loves to love us and come through for us. The risk now doesn’t feel so much like shouldering a terrible burden; it feels more like sharing an adventure with a trusted friend.

So this Christmas season, take a risk. Obey the Lord of Christmas and watch what happens!

For information and registration concerning the retreats in February, check out Events on the website here.

Next week: another risk!

 

Being thankful...in the rain

What am I thankful for this week? It came during the rain on Sunday.

Heidi and I often walk early on Sunday mornings to get ourselves moving and to enjoy the outdoors. It was cloudy this Sunday, but on the warmish side. Rain was supposed to move in later, so we thought we could get in a good walk before it hit. But twenty minutes into it, we felt raindrops. They quickly stopped, but a bit later, there was a more steady drizzle. That soon petered out, so we kept on walking, taking in the late autumn scenery. But the last ten minutes of the walk, the heavens opened and the downpour came. Without rain gear, we were soon soaked, but our spirits were not dampened. In fact, we started laughing about it. I thought about that old movie Singin' in the Rain. I felt like that. Why?

Delight.

I simply enjoyed Heidi that morning, her humor and wonder, here insights and interests. I enjoyed her heart, and I knew that she enjoyed being with me. Rather than grumbling about the rain, the way I felt made the rain almost comical, charging the atmosphere around us with a lightness of being, despite the rain.

Delight. It’s also the lesson God has been teaching me this year. The most insidious lie I ever believed began when I was thirteen. I looked in the mirror, hated what I saw, and swallowed this hideous deception: In order to be happy, I can never be myself. I must try to be someone else. It became a poison to my soul, polluting me and sickening me for many years as a man. It also became the driving engine behind so many of my core sins and addictions.

Uncovering the lie and standing against it has been an epic journey, yet the Father has been teaching me how to stay in His delight of me as His son. It is a soothing balm for that aching wound, re-imaging my core feel as a man. It is that very delight that gets turned back toward Him, as I find myself now enjoying His company. It’s what Heidi and I felt in the rain, enjoying each other.

All of this is a taste of what is coming, when we will be fully known and fully enjoyed. That’s something to be thankful this Thanksgiving,

And for the rest of our time here.