Have We Derailed Christmas?

Chaos, Family, or Mission?

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” sang Andy Williams.1  I completely agree, but I’m not sure we all agree with what makes it wonderful.  I actually think many Christians have missed the mark when it comes to Christmas.  It may even be possible that we have merged the good parts of secular Christmas with the mission of Christmas.  The only problem – we may have derailed the mission altogether.

christmas-derailed

When I think of Christmas, I think of three possible mindsets: Christmas Chaos, Family Christmas, or Christmas Mission.

1. Christmas Chaos

Everything is busier during Christmas!  Calendars are full of concerts, shopping, recitals, shopping, dinners, and… did I mention shopping?  If you’re not buying a gift, you’re in anticipation of opening a gift.  Every day is faster than the next and the temptation to “keep up with the Joneses”2 grows continually.

2. Family Christmas

Christmas becomes warm and sweet.  It’s when Christmas is about gathering together as a family, experiencing tradition from one year to the next, and celebrating the holidays with “good cheer.” It’s not about the gifts, but the people you care about.

3. Christmas Mission

This is when we focus on God’s ultimate gift to us – Jesus.  We remember God’s mission (gifting us with Jesus) and act in our mission (sharing that gift with others).  Just as God selflessly gave his Son to us to provide hope and peace, we act selflessly love others to share in that gift.

Is it possible to experience all three of these Christmas mindsets during the season?  Absolutely!  Can you focus on all three?  Impossible!

Most would agree Christmas Chaos, and the commercialism that surrounds that, is completely missing the mark of Christmas.  But where do we go from there?

We may #believe in the #Christmas #Mission, but do we actually value it? Click To TweetI think we may have fallen into the trap of believing that Family Christmas is the actual meaning of Christmas.  We may have actually derailed the beautiful hope that Christmas brings.  Yes, we may believe in the Christmas Mission, but do we actually value it over Family Christmas?

We know Family Christmas can’t be the center of Christmas, because not all of us have family.  If family doesn’t exist, does that mean that Christmas doesn’t exist?  No, of course not!  It’s a good thing that the Christmas Mission includes everyone!

Does that mean that Family Christmas isn’t important?  Absolutely not!  Family remains an important part of our lives.  It just means that Christmas doesn’t surround the family.  Instead, Christmas is about how family and friends experience the Christmas Mission.

Here are some ways we can refocus our thinking:

  • Care for those in need.

Nothing refocuses us towards the Christmas mission like selflessly giving.  It’s counter-intuitive for our culture to focus on giving, let alone giving selflessly.  What would Christmas look like if we, as family and friends, gave up something to help someone else?  We’re too quick to say we can’t afford to give, and yet focusing on mission means focusing on giving, not receiving.

  • Protect and embrace the birth of Jesus.

It’s one thing to read the Christmas story before we open our presents on Christmas morning, it’s another thing to allow the Christmas story to impact everything we do. I think we all too often get the “religious” thing over with so we can have fun.  We probably forget that, without Christ, the hope of tomorrow is gone.  Christmas time should be sacred.  That doesn’t mean Christmas is always serious, but our activities should bring us closer to Jesus, not further away.

  • Experience Advent.

You may worship in a denomination where the advent liturgy is practiced, or you may now.  Unfortunately, I come from a denomination that has not traditionally practiced advent.  However, I grew up in a local assembly that did.  At Bethel, where I lead, we work through it every year.  It helps build anticipation of the arrival of Christ.

  • Share Christmas.

Spread love, joy and peace to those around us.  Live out the Christmas mission.  Show those around us that knowing the Saviour is life-changing and life-giving.  That might mean giving of our resources, or it might mean extending moments of love, joy and peace during moments of chaos.  It could drastically impact how you react in a busy mall parking lot.

Family is always a vital part of the Christmas Mission, but the focus can’t be on family.  If we do it right, our families should experience the Christmas Mission together.

Your turn…

What is the focus of Christmas?  What makes Christmas “wonderful”?

I would love to hear from you!  Feel free to comment below, on social media, or by email (andrewholm@gmail.com).  SUBSCRIBE HERE!

References   [ + ]

How to Start a Christmas Campaign As the Local Church

5 Guidelines to Help Make a Christmas Impact

Christmas planning is well on its way.  In a world that’s hurting and searching for true love and joy during Christmas, the local church has a great opportunity!  What if the Local Church thought beyond their Christmas banquet and cantata and began to physically spread Christmas love and joy?  What if we focused on an outward Christmas campaign every year?

give-christmas

Last year our church launched a Christmas campaign called “Give Christmas.”  It was a joy-filled campaign including local and international projects.  What works in our context, however, probably won’t entirely work in everyone’s context.

To help us think strategically, here are some guidelines the Local Church can use as we “give Christmas” this year:

1) Partner with a local/global group.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel! There are numerous local and global groups that are already spreading the love and joy of Christmas.  Maybe the answer is to simply partner with one of them.

Here are some examples: Local gift-sharing initiatives (Happy Tree), Children’s Wish Foundation, Local food banks, Operation Christmas Child, Erdo, Compassion Canada, or World Vision. Feel free to share other groups in the comment section below.

2) Meet local needs.

Don’t just mimic what others have done, make an honest effort to meet needs in the community. Click To TweetDon’t just mimic what others have done, make an honest effort to meet needs in the community.  We don’t have to go very far to find a family who could use a gift of love during Christmas. Not sure where to start?  Make contact with a local food bank or town council.  These groups have helped us greatly!

In our campaign, we raise money to help make Christmas a little easier on a family.  Sometimes we can bless a family with a special gift, other times we can pay a bill and relieve some stress.

3) Join hands with other churches/denominations.

Local churches can do well on their own, but think of the impact that cooperation can make? After all, we’re not building our own kingdoms, but God’s kingdom.  It can be a local or global initiative; it really doesn’t matter.  Either way, cooperation increases our impact and encourages unity.

When we focus on God’s kingdom, the possibilities are endless. #GiveChristmas Click To TweetFor example, a Christmas project like Operation Christmas Child can only impact the world when groups work together.  Our local church will collect upwards to 75 shoeboxes, but together, our area is aiming to collect 2,400 shoeboxes, upwards to 37,000 as a province, 730,000 nationally, and 11 million worldwide.1  When we focus on God’s kingdom, the possibilities are endless.

4) Allow everyone to help.

The success of a church-wide campaign depends on the ability for everyone to contribute. #GiveChristmas Click To TweetNo matter of everyone’s social and economic status, we must provide a way for everyone to join the cause.  It’s no good to create a campaign that’s “out of reach” for some.  Instead, divide the project into smaller contributions, or encourage everyone to give a percentage of their income.  The success of a church-wide campaign depends on the ability for everyone to contribute.

5) Get the whole church community involved.

Sometimes we forget we’re a community.  Sure, we have individual ministries in the local church that target different people.  A church-wide campaign, however, needs to be a community effort.  Launch a campaign and get each ministry to support the campaign together.  Each ministry will bring something new to the table, while contributing to unity and strength.  It will make for a stronger Christmas campaign!

Now it’s time to create your Christmas campaign…

Use these five guidelines to help create a campaign that will have a great impact this Christmas.  If you’re a pastor, work through this process with your key leaders or board.

If you’re in lay leadership, dream big and present your idea to Church leadership.  Pastors and leaders are always eager for volunteers to take passionate initiatives!

Your turn…

Do you have some other guidelines for the local church?  Share them with us! Let’s “Give Christmas” together!

I would love to hear from you!  Feel free to comment below, on social media, or by email (andrewholm@gmail.com).  SUBSCRIBE HERE!

References   [ + ]

Operation Christmas Child: 6 Reasons Why You Should Participate

Most of us would agree that helping Children in need is a high priority.  Sometimes, however, we downplay our role in this process.  Perhaps it’s because we don’t think we can make much of difference or that our budget isn’t big enough to make any real change.  I want you to know that there is a great opportunity for you to help in a meaningful way!  You can pack a shoebox. Operation Christmas Child has been operating around the world since 1970.  Since inception, they have distributed almost 10 million shoeboxes to children in more than 100 countries.  I want to offer you six reasons why you should participate in Operation Christmas Child this year.

Operation Christmas Child

1. You are helping children around the world.

Let’s start off with an obvious one.  Operation Christmas Child was created to help children.  Even more specifically, to give less fortunate children a taste of the giving spirit of Christmas.  Many of the children who will receive a shoebox this year have no concept of the commercialized Christmas we experience in North America.  These children will simply open a small box of loved-packed toys, hygiene items, school supplies and other small blessings.  These items not only bless children physically, but also bless them emotionally and socially as they quickly realize that there are people in this world that care about them.

2. You will partner with an organization who cares.

Samaritan’s Purse, the organization behind Operation Christmas Child, is a non-denominational evangelical Christian organization that has been meeting needs around the world since 1973.1  In 2014 alone, their efforts included providing over 76,000 households with Ebola infection prevention kits in Liberia and sending 60,000 shoebox gifts to ISIS-fleeing refugees in Iraq.  They also responded to disasters all over the world – helping 50,000 families in Nepal, 4,000 families in the Congo, and even relief for 800 flood victims in High River, Canada.2  While this is a Christian organization, and they care about the spiritual health of those they help, their primary concern has been meeting the needs around them.  Their finances prove this even further – 91% of their expenditures are directly related to their ministries.3  By participating in Operation Christmas Child, you’ll get to partner with this great organization.

3. You will bring unity within your family, group or work place.

Nothing else brings people together like helping others.  Whether you pack a shoebox as a family, group or work place, this project is guaranteed to bring you all closer together.  Families can include their children in the process of picking out items, groups can create a team project, and work places can pool resources to see how many shoeboxes they can pack.  The possibilities are endless.

Consider taking a photo of everyone who helped pack the box and place it inside the shoebox.  I’ve been told, by someone who handed out boxes to children overseas, that the children who receive photos are so grateful and overwhelmed to see the people who care about them.

4. You will teach your children how to give.

In a consumeristic world of want, want, want, get, get, get, Operation Christmas Child has the potential of teaching our children what it actually means to give.  Not only will children experience giving a gift to a child in need, they also get to experience giving, without expecting something in return.  It’s truly a selfless act that our society doesn’t usually promote.

Operation Christmas Child also teaches children the blessings they have.  No matter our economic situation in North America, we are beyond blessed when compared with many of the children who will receive a shoebox.  This project helps children have a deep appreciation for what they have and hopefully heightens their responsibility to help others.

5. You will be challenged to give.

Every year I’m challenged to do more.   Whether it’s to pack one more shoebox, volunteer my time with a local collection centre, or give an extra monetary donation to help the organization go further, this project challenges me every year.  Don’t think for a minute that learning how to give is only for children!

My wife had a great idea one year.  Instead of giving a regular gift to our family members, we packed everyone a shoebox full of smaller items (some needs, some wants).  For one thing, it was refreshing to scale things down for a change, but, more importantly, it helped us to focus on family and the real meaning of Christmas – Jesus, who is God’s selfless gift to us.

6. You will provide avenues of real transformation and hope.

Now that Operation Christmas Child has been in existence for a while, we are seeing real proof of transformation.  That transformation results in hope for many others.  Khin Khin shares a testimony of how she received a shoebox while living in a New Delhi refugee camp.  Years later, she’s living in Winnipeg, Canada where she helps pack shoeboxes to help bring hope to many more!

“Receiving the shoebox made me realize how a Christian should give for others,” she says. “Some children might not have people who care for them, so for them, it’s encouragement to know they still have other people who care for them and that God is always there for them when they don’t have anybody else.”4

Check out her story here:

In 2014, Canadians packed over 660,000 shoeboxes!  35,000 of those came from here, in Newfoundland, alone!  Let’s partner together and reach new heights in 2015!  Samaritans Purse is challenging Canada to collect 710,000 this year!  That’s only a 7.5% increase.  If we do our part in Newfoundland, we’ll need to collect 37,625 this year!  We can do it together!

By packing a shoebox we can join together to help kids around world, remind ourselves about giving, and help provide avenues of real transformation and hope!


Find a collection center near you…

http://www.samaritanspurse.ca/rss/operation-christmas-child/get-involved/find-an-operation-christmas-child-collection-center.aspx#.VgxetvlVhBc


If you liked this post, please take a moment to share on your social networks so others have a chance to read it as well!

I would love to hear from you!  Feel free to comment below, on social media, or by email (andrewholm@gmail.com).  SUBSCRIBE HERE!

References   [ + ]

Santology, Part 1 – What do you focus on? (Christian HOPE)

As a young father, my mind is racing to ensure my wife and I help create an atmosphere by where our daughter is able to focus on the spiritual meaning of Christmas, while never feeling deprived of the fun aspects of Christmas. This is part 1 of a discussion on the sacred and secular struggle many Christian households face during Christmas.  My goal isn’t to condemn secular traditions or to ban certain behavior; rather, to ensure we are thinking about the impact some of our secular traditions have on our spiritual lives.

santology-pt1-hope

Christmas is a time of BELIEF and HOPE.  If you were to ask most Christians what Christmas truly means, I would think most would give you an answer regarding Jesus and how he came to this earth as a baby.  It’s the result of amazing prophecy fulfillment, and the anchor to our spiritual hope.  The question that remains, however, is do we actually focus on the spiritual (what we believe: Jesus) and add the secular (Santa, Elf on the Shelf…etc), or do we focus on the secular and add the spiritual?

Let’s first define what we believe.  Isaiah prophesied the coming of a Saviour about 700 years before Jesus was born…

“…the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (meaning God with us).”[i]

That puts a new perspective on the first few verses of Matthew’s gospel.  The listing of generations not only proves Jesus can be traced back to Abraham, but that there were so many generations waiting for Isaiah’s words to come true.

Their HOPE was built on their BELIEF, and their BELIEF was built on the UNKNOWN. Their unknown, however, wasn’t a question of IF, rather, the unknown of WHEN and HOW.

Our belief today stems from this fulfillment of prophecy, but extends far beyond.  Jesus was born, he taught, lived on the earth and took all of our sin, pain and grief to the cross with Him.  Fortunately for us, our Christian hope even extends beyond that.  Our hope isn’t built on a man who was MARTYRED, or SELFLESS, had great LEADERSHIP, or even had great IMPACT.  Jesus, and many other spiritual leaders did all of those things.  Our hope today is built on NEW LIFE!  The reason that Christianity spread like wild fire was because Christ conquered death and rose from the grave!  The message that was being proclaimed was:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”[ii]

This is the same message for today, and our hope and belief extend to our future eternal life with God.  It’s a HOPE like no other religion – a hope of LIFE!

Our HOPE is built on our BELIEF, and our BELIEF is built on the UNKNOWN.  Just like those before us, our unknown isn’t a question of IF; rather, the unknown of WHEN and HOW.

We need to focus on our Christian HOPE.  In a world where “spiritual belief” seems to be at an all-time low, are we downplaying our unique HOPE if we allow ourselves to focus on anything else?  Are we being strategic enough to show others our Christian HOPE?  Are we trying to spiritualize the secular, so we don’t feel bad if we don’t focus on the spiritual?  Are we making more excuses as we read this?

Sometimes I think we try to navigate through the secular Christmas (ie. Santa) and try to add our spiritual Christmas (ie. Christ) so that we keep ourselves in check.  For example, we may have a manger with Santa bowing down to Jesus.  While we have good intentions, I think we may be missing the mark.  You may laugh when I say this but, “I’m not trying to get Santa saved!” It doesn’t matter if Santa, a make-believe secular Christmas character, is bowing to Jesus.  If we’re trying to get Santa saved, we’re focusing on the wrong things.  We need to focus on the available HOPE that is much bigger than anything secular Christmas could ever offer!  Paul told us:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”[iii]

Because we have a HOPE like no other, we need to live in the world, but not allow the world to shape us.  The challenge then, is to focus on God’s will for us – “what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  That doesn’t necessarily mean to stop doing everything secular; we live in a secular world and can’t avoid that.

The challenge is to live in a secular world, but shine with HOPE; with Christ at the center, not Santa.

Connect the dots.

Ever draw a connect the dots picture? There are a series of dots with numbers and if you connect each dot in sequence with a line, a picture is revealed.  Here’s the question I have for you:

If you were to connect the dots of your Christmas season (ie. Christmas activities, outings, parties, traditions, church events, family gatherings, etc…), what would your final picture look like?

The answer to that question should tell you what the focus of your Christmas is.  Whatever the answer may be, that’s the answer your household will see.

If you see CHRIST, your household will see CHRIST, and deicide whether or not to believe.  If you see SANTA, your household will see SANTA, and decide whether or not to believe.  Nothing is for certain, but the focus will always be seen.

The scary part, and we will continue with this in the rest of the series, is if we focus on Santa, our belief becomes about Santa and we actually allow him to even have some godly attributes.  This of course is dramatically different if Christ is our focus.

With that said, I don’t have all the answers as to how this is done correctly.  What I do know, is that together, with God’s help, we can live the life He has called us to live!

Your turn!  How are you strategic about your Christian HOPE during Christmas?  Do you think secular Christmas has changed in 30 years?  How does that impact your Christian HOPE?

Click here for Part 2


[i] Isaiah 7:14, ESV.

[ii] Romans 8:11, ESV.

[iii] Romans 12:2, ESV.

5 Reasons Why Many Christians Don’t Know The Christmas Story

For many, the true meaning of Christmas is no secret.  If asked to articulate the true meaning, most would say something like, “Jesus coming to earth,” or some rendition of that.  If you’re a Christian, you might even add, “God with us” or “the birth of our Saviour.”

As a pastor, I wonder how many people could actually share an accurate version of the Christmas story with someone.  The more I talk with others about it, the more I realize, many Christians are unable to go beyond, “Jesus in a manger.”

So why do people know the meaning of Christmas, but not the story? There are really no excuses for this, especially for Christians; however, I think there are several reasons.  Here are 5 reasons that I’ve thought of:

1.      A lack of a Christian culture…

It’s time to face the music ? we don’t live in a Christian culture.  In fact, we may have never lived in a Christian culture, rather, in a culture that generally accepts what most people believe or care for.  In the name of human rights and freedom, Christianity (and religion in general) has been removed from many schools, malls, restaurants, town halls and many other public locations.  Christians go astray, however, when we forget or ignore where our culture is, and do nothing to spread the gospel and Christmas story.  When we ignore the lack of a Christian culture, we push away the Christmas Story with it.

2.      Tradition fills-in unknowns…

If you’ve ever read the Christmas story, as written in the gospels of Matthew and Luke[i], one of the first things you’ll notice is that there’s a lot left out.  For example, scripture doesn’t say how many Magi followed the star to Bethlehem; however, tradition says there were three of them because there were three gifts mentioned.  Likewise, scripture implies the Magi met Jesus as a child and not as a baby; however, tradition says the Magi are a part of the manger scene.[ii]  Sometimes we go astray when we let tradition impact the story.  It’s nice to imagine the story; however, we can’t lose focus on the important things that are actually included in scripture.

3.      It has been 2000 years…

It’s no secret, Jesus was born over 2000 years ago.  It doesn’t make the story’s impact less relevant; however, if we don’t study the text, the story will lose its flavour.  For example, if we let the modern day manger scene depict our idea of how Jesus came into the world, we’ll lose the impact of just how humble a stable was 2000 years ago. Whether it was inside or outside, it was where the animals slept, not humans!  The real humility of the story begins to come to life.  The story is still relevant today, if you’re willing to read it with relative eyes.

4.      Social justice has become the focus…

Giving gifts, helping good causes, or lending a hand are all great things, especially during Christmas!  There are so many ways we can all help each other, family, friends, and those less fortunate.  The story, however, isn’t gift giving; the story is the gift of Christ. Being in the spirit of Christmas is about shining a light towards the gift of Christ, by participating in acts of social justice.  We can’t let social justice take the lead over Christ.  If we do, many Christians will forget the Christmas story and write a new social justice story.

5.      “Santa” is more important…

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” the song proclaims!  I totally agree!  The question is, what’s “wonderful”?  We tend to lose focus on the true Christmas Story because we’re so caught up in Santa, Elf on the Shelf, presents, parties… and the list goes on.  While all of these things can be a lot of fun, if our time, money and lives are geared towards them, we’ll forget the Christmas story before we know it.  At the very least, focusing on the Christmas story will help us slow down during the season so we can focus on what God has in store for us and through us.  Unless God is at the centre, Santa will continue to move us away from knowing the Christmas story.

So where do we go from here? Can we make sure the Christmas story is heard and known? Can Christians be known for knowing the Christmas story well?  I’m offering a few suggestions for this Christmas:

1.      Read the Story…

Take time to read the Christmas story.  You may want to read it personally, with family, friends, or maybe a study group.  If you’re not sure where to start, check out Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.

2.      Study the Story…

Learn about the story and challenge yourself.  Take a few minutes to do a simple Google search, ask your local pastor, study it in your Bible Study group, or maybe even read a commentary.  Whatever it takes, learn something new this Christmas!  If you’re not sure where to start, answer this question: what’s different in each gospel story, and why are they different?

3.      Share the Story…

The story doesn’t have the same effect if you keep it to yourself.  The Christmas story is full of HOPE, LOVE, JOY, and PEACE and many around us could use all four!  Maybe you could send out Christmas cards with the story of Christ on them, share something you’ve learned with family and friends, or shine a light towards Christ by helping someone less fortunate.

 

There are so many reasons why Christians don’t know the Christmas story.  Most of those reasons are completely within our control; and, at the end of the day, it all comes down to actually living out what we believe.  We say, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but do our lives and knowledge of the Christmas story prove it to be true?

 


[i] Matt 1-2; Luke 1-2.

[ii] Matt 2:1-12.