Room for a Blue Christmas

Now that we are deep into the holiday season, you have no doubt heard Elvis Presley crooning about a Blue Christmas more times than you can count. The song has become standard Christmas music fare, and Starbucks has been playing it for over a month now. It’s catchy and sexy, and it is also very real sentiment for many people during the holidays.

It’s kind of funny how everyone knows that the Christmas season can be “blue” for so many people, and yet we hardly ever acknowledge or make space for it. We are supposed to laugh and shop and dream and connect—but we’re never really given permission to grieve.

I know this might sound terribly pessimistic or depressing, but I wonder if our holiday traditions should include some moments for sorrow. I wonder if it would be healthier for our souls to not just soak in the cultural Christmas spirit but to also sit with someone in their sadness.

Remember, deep sorrow was a part of the original Christmas story. Alongside the hope from the birth of a Savior in Bethlehem, there was also great tragedy in Bethlehem. King Herod (a vicious ruler who murdered numerous members of his own household) commissioned a massacre of the baby boys in Bethlehem to eliminate any potential threat to his throne over the Jews. Not only does the Christmas story contain words like, “Peace on Earth” and “Good news of great joy” but it also says things like, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation” (Matthew 2:18).

I don’t think we should rebel against the wonder and joy that Christmas is supposed to bring; I’m not suggesting that we turn our celebrations into mourning. I just think we need to make a little space to remember and process the pain in our world. Perhaps if we did this fewer people would feel alone, and more of us would actually touch the hope of Christmas.

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Love, not answers

I am a “fixer” are you? My nature in nearly every situation is to try to help people “fix” whatever problem they’re facing. Perhaps it’s because I’m a dad or a pastor, or it might be from all of my years coaching various sports teams. Regardless of its origin, it is part of my nature to try to remedy broken situations.

That’s why it kills me when I can’t.

The most difficult situations for me are the ones that I can’t fix with wise words or encouragement. And that’s terribly problematic given my life vocation because in pastoral ministry I am constantly faced with both natural and spiritual problems that I’m not able to fix. I can hardly ever fix a spiritual problem on the spot. Sure, I can point people toward the ultimate answer, Jesus Christ, but that doesn’t always fix a problem in the moment. And quite frankly, people probably need my counsel far less than I think they do.

Fortunately, God is teaching me something in this season of my life that is freeing me from the pressure of being a self-perceived fixer. He is teaching me that sometimes love, not answers, is the best offering I can give. Yes, people need counsel. Yes, they need wise instruction, but sometimes they just need to step into a moment or an atmosphere of love.

Lately, when I leave a meeting or an interaction wishing that my prayer or counsel had changed everything in a moment, I am sensing the Spirit whisper to me, “Love-fueled listening and affirmation is never wasted.” It’s never a waste of time or effort to love and support a person. Even if we can’t immediately fix their problem or move them more quickly through their process, we can sustain them along the way. We can be a voice of faith, hope, and love that whispers in their ear, “You’re going to make it! You’re not alone in your struggle. I’m not the fixer but I know who is and someday you will see His remedying power again.”

If you have the answer for someone, great let them have it! But if you don’t, you still have what they need. Love.

Will you be my Valentine?

will_you_be_my_valentineDo you remember asking the question, often with an accompanying small, awkwardly sized card and a box of tasteless, sugar hearts?

“Will you be my Valentine?” It’s a pretty vulnerable question to ask when you are in grade school and your heart is on your sleeve (I still remember the 4th grade when Dalene Whitney told me yes then no then yes again all in the same day).

It’s even more vulnerable years later when you ask a variation of the question: “Am I still your Valentine?”

Today is the 22nd year that Jessica has been my Valentine, and I’m desperately hoping that I’ve been a good Valentine for her. I hope that her years of having me as her Valentine have reinforced in her the reality of God’s overwhelming love. When she stops to count her blessings I hope she has overwhelming evidence that God—through me—has been good to her.

And this isn’t just a post about Jessica and me! It’s a question for all of us to ponder as we think about our many sweethearts today. Have we made them better? Have we been agents of healing? Have we lived and loved so well that our children, students, friends, family members, and loved ones have evidence of a good and gracious God? God is good and gracious and loving and kind; the question is: have our lives highlighted that reality?

One of the most remarkable things about the Gospel story is that God allows us humans to represent Him to our world. Sometimes we do it well, sometimes we fall down on the job. If you’ve fallen down on the job it doesn’t mean the story is over. Valentine’s Day is a perfect day for refreshing resolutions and charting the courses in life that we truly want to follow.

Teachers, watch your words

shhh“If you your lips would keep from slips, five things observe with care: Of whom you speak, to whom you speak, and how, and when, and where.”

This clever little rhyme, along with myriads of other pithy statements, underscores the need for us to carefully guard the words that come out of our mouths.

In WWII America propagandists would warn, “Loose lips sink ships” and in youth group settings pastors often remind their students that “a word is like toothpaste—once expelled you can never get it back in the tube.”

Despite these catchy reminders; however, it can still be so difficult for us humans to truly manage our speech.

I was once in a class with a respected, older pastor and he began his lecture by stating, “I never say anything I don’t mean exactly.” I accidentally laughed out loud when he made the statement because I thought he was trying to be funny—who never says anything that they don’t mean exactly? But he was serious. He knew firsthand how ruinous ill-timed or ill-placed words can be, and he also knew that the Bible gives a special warning to those of us who would presume to be teachers.

James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” James then goes on to advocate prudence in speech, making his emphasis clear: people whose ministry is words will be held more strictly accountable for their words.

We all need to watch our words because they always come back to haunt us. What gets whispered in the dark inevitably finds the light of day. Additionally none of us want our loved ones to bear scars from our regrettable speech—rather, we want to heal and build up, always leveraging the weight of our words well. This becomes even more important when we have been entrusted with a ministry of words.

If you are a teacher, pastor, counselor, writer, parent, or coach, please be careful with your words. They are weightier than you think. People will believe what you say, and your words will either produce life-giving, grace-infused fruit or poisoned fruit that only troubles your hearers.

Your top three words

legacyThree words can sure say a lot. Especially if they are clarifying words that follow a comma. Examples:

“She is my mother, an amazing lady.”

“It’s my hometown, glad I left.”

“They’re serving Thai food, my favorite kind.”

A simple post-comma, three-word supplement can change the entire emphasis of a sentence. Consider the list of Jesus’ original twelve apostles as found in the third chapter of the Gospel of Mark. The final name on the list belongs to Judas, and in verse 19 it reads this way: “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.

It’s not just Judas. Nor is it just Judas Iscariot. It is Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.

That was his legacy. Those three supplemental words describe how Judas Iscariot will be remembered all throughout human history. He was the one who betrayed Jesus.

While we are still living we have a chance to answer the comma and determine what gets written after it. Someday our parenting will be described after a comma. So will our relationships and our ministries and the way we’ve lived our lives.

Let’s determine in advance what gets written there. It could read like the Apostle Judas’ or it could read like the Apostle John’s. Of John, the Bible says, “One of them, whom Jesus loved, was there…” (John 13:23 ESV)

If there is still breath in our lungs there is time to alter what comes after the comma. If you regret the words that are following you, it’s not too late to become a writer, and craft a different ending with your life.

YOU are the one whom Jesus loved.

Jesus as WAY not just TRUTH

the wayDo you ever forget that Jesus is Way and not just Truth? Sometimes I think we forget that He is both.

Jesus called Himself “The Way, the Truth, and the Life” and I think we do a pretty good with the Truth part. Most people who are familiar with the teachings of the church grasp the idea of Jesus as Truth. They know that He is the standard and that we are supposed to follow His teachings and His word, etc.

But what we sometimes overlook is the Way part of the equation. We forget that the Way Jesus lived and spoke and related was just as important as the Truth that He proclaimed. We can’t separate the two. If Truth isn’t presented in Jesus’ Way then it’s incomplete.

Jesus’ Truth was always embodied in His Way. They were twins, sibling characteristics of the Kingdom of God.

Far too often throughout our history, the church has alienated people because we railed on Truth without touching the Way. We held up Jesus as a truth standard to achieve without holding Him up as model to become. Everything about Him—His treatment of women, children, the broken, and the unfortunate—revealed God to us. His Way was God’s Way, and when we cradle Jesus’ Truth inside Jesus’ Way then Jesus’ Life—not condemning alienation—can come more powerfully to the world.

Let’s live and embrace and embody His Way.

Getting quieter and more boring

shushI’ve noticed something about my personality lately. I’m getting a little quieter and a little more boring. At other times in my life this realization would have garnered some consternation and some possible insecurity. I might have tried to push back or compensate in some different ways.

But not this time. This time it’s different. It’s by design.

Over the past few months I’ve been trying to do a much better job of guarding my speech. I can relate to the words of Arsenius (Roman educator turned monk) who said, “I have often repented of having spoken, but never of having remained silent.”

In the past my humor or engaging conversations sometimes came with a price. I pushed the lines of sarcasm, or I said things that I regretted afterwards. I hate that feeling. I hate the cringing regret of saying too much, or speaking out of turn, or being mildly critical in my humor.

So I’m working on it. I’m biting my tongue. I’m passing up some really good jokes. Sometimes I feel awkwardly quiet, but I don’t feel regret.

I want my speech to be life giving. I want to heal and empower and speak to the destiny and potential of the people around me.

Some day I’ll be funny again. 🙂 But the jokes will never sting other people or cross lines of dignity or honor.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6)