Friday, December 31, 2010

Outlaws, pardons, and a New Year ...

Did you hear the news story heralded throughout the media today? The famous Wild West outlaw Billy the Kid will not receive a pardon from outgoing New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

More than 100 years ago the then Governor had promised the outlaw a pardon. However, Richardson says Billy killed two deputies after that promise, and it was those additional crimes which was key in his decision not to offer the pardon posthumously.

To Billy the Kid, it really doesn't matter the pardon isn't being offered. He's dead, it won't do him any good now.

The offer of forgiveness has an expiration date. It is valid for the living. There comes a time when the clock runs out and the only thing we're left with are the fullness of our circumstances without any pardon. In other words, justice is all that's left to face.

As with the Governor, God doesn't grant posthumous pardons. To come to an end of this life without truly receiving God's forgiveness is to enter into an eternity facing the justice and judgment of a righteous Creator.

What a miserable life it is to live hoping to eek out a pardon in the "nick of time." That is not "extraordinary living."

As we usher in a New Year, I'd like to suggest that a great way to receive a New Year from God --- a real way to live extraordinarily in the coming year --- is to live within the forgiveness of God now. Of course, that would mean we would have to give up our lawless ways for submission and obedience to God. Forgiveness cannot be offered when the outlaw is still on the run.

On this, the last day of 2010, what better time to surrender. To bring to and end our disobedience and embrace the pardon offered through Jesus Christ. Doing so will bring an extraordinary new year tomorrow.


2010 goes into the history books ...

One of the blessings of 2010 for me has been the interaction with the many readers of this blog, "Extraordinary Living."

Although not a lot of comments are posted to the blog (feel free to do so!), I often hear from many of you regarding blog posts via Twitter, Facebook and email, and I have greatly enjoyed the interaction and your sharing with me.

I hope 2010 is ending well for you, and pray for God's richest blessings in your lives in the coming year. I look forward to sharing and interacting with you in the New Year!


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Like a bad football team ...

The football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals on Christmas Day was a thriller. The Cardinals pulled off a successful field goal by Jay Feely in the last five seconds of the game to squeak out a 27-26 win.

I happen to be an Arizona Cardinals (and San Francisco 49ers) fan, but I'm living just outside of Dallas. My location isn't enough to change my team loyalties.

While living in Arizona as a kid, I grew up watching the Dallas Cowboys. At the time, Arizona didn't have a professional football team, so a lot of the Cowboys games were broadcast. You could say my first football "fan" experience went to the Cowboys. But not any more.

It would make sense for me to be a Cowboys fan based on location. But there's one problem: the Cowboys aren't a very good team!

They have improved some since the coaching change this season, but the Cowboys haven't been the Cowboys I grew up with in a long time. And the change hasn't been for the better. Simply put, people don't like to cheer for a bad team (unless you're a Cubs fan).

The same is true for churches.

I'm convinced many, many people would embrace the kind of God we say we serve. The problem is, they just don't see that God adequately reflected in His family. Some of the "teams" (local churches) are really quite poor. Many practice --- at best --- a mediocre faith, and are happy with that. But people are not attracted to mediocrity, they are drawn to excellence.

There is nothing compelling about a life that claims faith, yet is as empty, broken, and misguided as the rest. There's nothing attractive about powerless, doubt-plagued, and fear-ridden lifestyles.

There's nothing that draws us to a losing team ... whether it's on the field of football or the field of life.

By reading the end of the Bible, we see God wins. Big time! And so do those who serve Him. But by looking at some local churches, you would never tell they are a part of a winning team.

Jesus taught that an effective way to draw praise for God from those still "sitting in the stands" is to shine as a winning team. He described it this way:

"14 'You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father'." (Matthew 5:14-16).

What is it about your life in Christ that draws the attention of others? How does your church excel and act as a compelling, vibrant community of faith? Or are you satisfied sitting on the bench of a mediocre team?


Monday, December 27, 2010

Close your eyes and see ...

"Close your eyes and see" is the tantalizing catch phrase for "Opaque," a new kind of eatery with locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Closing your eyes heightens sensations, but really isn't necessary considering the niche that Opaque fills is an opportunity for diners to eat in the dark.

Pitch-black kind of dark.

The experience is especially a draw to "foodies" and daters, who say the sense of taste and texture are heightened in the dark, and couples on a date focus on personality instead of physical appearance. Since we tend to first "eat with our eyes," and make several conclusions about people based on what they look like, having a night out with someone over dinner --- in total darkness --- changes how you assess both the food and the company.

Part of the concept behind Opaque is that sometimes the experience can be richer when you aren't always going by visuals.

Jesus once said something similar. We read in John 20:29, "Then Jesus told him, 'You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me'."

We tend to draw our perceptions about Jesus Christ from the things we can see, and the "concrete" aspects of our relationship with Him. Yet, the experience can be richer when we tap into real faith, that of experiencing and trusting what isn't always immediately visible, nevertheless very real.

How reliant are you on your sight in your relationship with Christ? How do you limit your faith to the visual? How can you deepen your experience with Christ to a genuine faith that goes beyond what your eyes can see?


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Learning it AND living it ...

It used to be one way you could spot a "learned man" was by the obvious: an office overflowing with books.

But that was then ...

Today, with the onslaught of e-book readers, it could be possible the future private libraries of "learned men" will be the ultra-thin electronic devices that are becoming increasingly popular. Instead of shelves loaded with books, the physical evidence of study will be stored out of sight electronically.

In that case, the way of spotting a "learned man" will be by his life.

But that's the way it was always supposed to be.

It is of no benefit for any person to have a library consisting of thousands of volumes if there isn't any growing, developing, maturing, and impacting the life of the student. The purpose of learning isn't to build the theoretical capacities of a person, but the practical maturing as lived out in the exercise of knowledge, that leads to understanding, and is finally expressed in its highest form: wisdom.

God's design is that we grow up, that we mature, and that maturity be shown by how we live out our lives. The Apostle Paul expressed it this way in Ephesians 4:13-15:

"13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church."

As we look to the start of a new year, it's a fitting time to assess how we're doing in our spiritual growth. Are we "... growing in every way more and more like Christ"? What do we need to do in the New Year to mature as children of God? There's still a few days left in 2010 to put together a personal plan for how you can dig deeper, draw closer, and live out a more mature likeness of Christ in 2011.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Imagine getting this for Christmas ...

It's an old story line. We've seen it on television, in the movies and read it in books.

You know, the story of someone opening their front door to discover a baby had been left abandoned on the front porch.

Such a situation would be an "easy fix" today. One call to Child Protective Services and the baby would be picked up and whisked away in no time.

A few years back, a couple who are very close friends talked to me about taking their kids. No, they weren't trying to give them away. They had started traveling more often and, in consideration of the "what if our plane crashed" scenarios, they asked if I would legally take and raise their children if something happened to them. Of course I would, so off to their attorney's office they went.

It's likely none of us have given any, or little, thought to what we would do if we were suddenly given a person. After all, when was the last time you were offered a human being as a gift?

But it has actually happened.

To every single one of us.

The reality of Christmas is that God gave to the world ... to us ... a Person. He has given us His Son. It's actually not an optional gift, He has been given!

"16 For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:16-17).

It's what you do with the gift of Jesus Christ that is impacting to your life ... and your eternity.

My prayer is that you have received God's gift, and that you have a blessed and Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It wasn't very quiet after all ...

This Christmas Eve, at many candlelight Communion services, it will become very still while many are moved deeply as they listen to someone sing, "Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright ..."

But it wasn't quite so quiet that very first Christmas night.

As the Word became flesh (John 1:14), an angel just had to tell someone. The angel proclaimed the grand wonder of the birth of Christ to shepherds. Heaven became so excited by the angel's proclamation that the armies of God burst out in praise! Just look how loud that first Christmas was, as described in Luke 2:

"8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. 'Don’t be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger."

"13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

"14 Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

From that time forward, many would be so moved by Christ they simply would have to tell others. We see it in Acts 4, as Peter and John are warned to stop teaching in the name of Jesus. Their response to the religious leaders is recorded in verses 19 and 20:

"19 But Peter and John replied, 'Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? 20 We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard'."

When we see what God has done in the giving of His Son as a Savior for the world, we are compelled to tell others of such immeasurable love and grace, and it moves us not to silence but to loud praise and rejoicing!

Is this how you share Christmas ... by telling others of God's gift of His Son? As you consider Christmas, does it stir you to rejoicing and praising God? Or is it just another silent, calm night?


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Review: "Lies The Government Told You"

Want to read a book that will make you happy, make you angry, and make you think deep enough you just may change an opinion or two? Then you'll want to pick up "Lies The Government Told You: Myth, Power, and Deception in American History" by Judge Andrew P. Napolitano (published by Thomas Nelson).

Armed with an array of case law, Napolitano details 17 specific "lies" perpetrated ... and perpetuated ... by our government. In doing so, he takes the reader through deep political territory. Napolitano's views often tend to support liberal political leanings, then suddenly he veers right, then winds his way (often) into libertarian territory, castigating American politicians from some of the Founding Fathers, to Abraham Lincoln, up to the most current presidential administrations.

The outcome is that no political figure is safe from Napolitano's accusations of lying to the American public. People of all political persuasions will find times where they agree with the Judge on certain topics and strongly disagree on others. What I appreciated most was the few times Napolitano so aptly detailed a point that he caused me to think more deeply about some of his claims, and moved a few of my opinions from where they started prior to reading this book.

But I also think Napolitano makes the classic political error of calling a "lie" the views or actions taken by some who have a different political philosophy than he does. And by finding most any American leader throughout our history to be liars, it makes you wonder if there is a government Napolitano would actually be happy with.

But Napolitano provides a great service with this book by helping the average reader see that our government isn't so trustworthy as it routinely proclaims itself as being. Lies have, and continue, to be told to the public quite routinely by the government. Understanding that, and how it wears away our freedom, is the best lesson Napolitano provides, regardless of your political persuasions.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Two buffets ...

Rarely will you see me pass along a platitude. I thoroughly dislike most of them because they are usually composed of a kernel of truth attached to untruth.

Which reminds me of the comparison of life being a grand buffet. If we're going to go there, then we have to say in life we are offered two buffets.

First, is the "grand buffet" offered by the world.

The world's buffet truly is grand. It's stacked with everything. There's filet mignon and every kind of steak you can imagine. There's lobster, crab galore, and piles of shrimp. Fish of every kind. Everything comes with an option of bacon. There's cheesecake, every known chocolate, and lots of ice cream. There's banana pudding and hot chocolate. And coffee. Lots of coffee.

The world's buffet has every kind of savory and sweet morsel, and we're encouraged to indulge until we just can't stand it anymore. Then go back for seconds.

Across from the world's grand buffet is God's buffet.

At God's buffet, there is simply bread and a cup of wine.

Luke 22:14-20 gives us the story behind the buffet:

"14 When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table. 15 Jesus said, 'I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. 16 For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.' 17 Then he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. Then he said, 'Take this and share it among yourselves. 18 For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.' 19 He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.' 20 After supper he took another cup of wine and said, 'This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you'."

From which buffet do you draw your sustenance?


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ninjas and Christmas ...

Ask 100 people what they would like to be and likely a few among the group would respond, "I'd like to be a ninja."

For some reason, there is a growing fascination with these aloof, highly agile warriors. Even the corporate world has taken up the use of the term "ninja" for highly specialized positions. And now, there is a growing audience for the popular television show "American Ninja Warrior."

I just recently discovered the show, which draws masses of highly skilled amateur athletes to participate in a series of rigorous obstacle courses to earn the title "ninja warrior." The competition is made up of three stages. The first stage starts with 100 challengers, most of whom will fail to complete the obstacle course and will quickly find themselves in a pool of water after falling in their attempt. The few who make it through the first stage will advance to the second stage, featuring an even harder set of obstacles to commandeer. Fewer make it through the second stage, but those who do move on to the third and final stage. Almost no one has the physical strength and agility to complete the third stage. You really have to be a "ninja" to conquer stage three.

While watching the show, a challenger who had made it to stage two on three different occasions was favored to advance to stage three. But he rushed his effort during stage two and fell, knocking him out of the competition. After his fall, he stated to the television commentator, "I became careless because I'm so used to this stage."

His comment reminded me of how we often approach Christmas.

We have heaped multiple personal, family and other "traditions" onto "Christmas" that it has become something we're so used to that we just rush through the experience, often failing to achieve out of it what God intended. We've made Christmas so laden with identical experiences that they have become wooden.

The Christmas tree goes in the same corner, to be decorated with the same ornaments while singing the same carols and partaking of the same snacks. We watch the same holiday programs and shop at the same places and go to the same parties.

On January 1, we already know much of what we will be doing for Christmas at the end of the new year.

We've become "... so used to this stage ..." of the year we run through it on auto pilot and miss the wonder and glory of the purpose behind the season.

That purpose was God offering Himself as a Savior to the world. How does that fit into your Christmas?


Friday, December 10, 2010

Rewards are a big thing to God ...

Any of us can understand the idea of "do the right thing because it's the right thing to do" even if we don't actually do it. Doing the right thing because it is right should be, in itself, our reward.

Yet many live their lives doing things to receive rewards. We human beings tend to be reward-oriented thinkers. Another term that often means the same thing is "selfish."

But not always!

While we tend to struggle with being overly self- and rewards- oriented, it's interesting to see how the Bible reveals that it is important to God for Him to give rewards to His children.

From the beginning of God's interaction with His creation, we see God saying He wants to provide a great life for us, and if we do "x, y and z ..." He will reward us with ...

God promised Noah rewards ...

He promised Abraham rewards ...

He promised Israel rewards ...

He promised multiple other persons we read about in scripture various rewards ...

... and He promises rewards to anyone who surrenders their life to Him.

God desires to reward us! He wants us to live in relationship with Him in such a way that results in a lavish response from Him.

One person who had somewhat of a grip on this concept was King David, the guy described in scripture as being a man "... after God's own heart ..." From that simple description, we think the great things David did were always entirely motivated by his love for God.

It wasn't that simple for David.

When young David showed up at the standoff between Israel and Philistine as recorded in 1 Samuel 17, we see something interesting in verses 26-30. David hears about the great reward offered to whoever takes out Goliath, the Philistine champion. If you notice, David does not say, "That doesn't mean anything to me, I'm a spiritual guy and just want to make God smile." Instead, note in the following verses how David asks a couple times for specific details of what kind of reward will be given for the guy who whips Goliath ...

"26 David asked the soldiers standing nearby, 'What will a man get for killing this Philistine and ending his defiance of Israel? Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?' 27 And these men gave David the same reply. They said, 'Yes, that is the reward for killing him.' 28 But when David’s oldest brother, Eliab, heard David talking to the men, he was angry. 'What are you doing around here anyway?' he demanded. 'What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know about your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle!' 29 'What have I done now?' David replied. 'I was only asking a question!' 30 He walked over to some others and asked them the same thing and received the same answer."

When you read the story in context, we see David was not primarily motivated to stand for God before Goliath and the Philistine army for the selfish reason of reward, he stood as God's man for the time. But he also understood that sometimes "doing the right thing" comes with reward in excess of God's smile.

Like David, God desires we "do the right thing" because it's the right thing to do, from a right heart. Yet He also provides additional motivation, especially for when doing the right thing can be extremely costly. He speaks to us over and over again in the New Testament about the reward to come for all those who trust in and obey Him. What we don't see in the Bible is instruction to pursue reward; rather, we're commanded to pursue God with all our love and being, and then are encouraged that God desires to reward that love. Reward is attached to relationship, as clearly seen in Colossians 3:1-4:

"1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory."

The concept is the relational principle of a child and parent. The child loves his father and wants to make him proud. Beyond that, the father will reward the child for living well and doing right. While the child may appreciate the promise of reward, the driving motivation is the loving relationship with the father.

It's the same with our heavenly Father. Because of our love for God, we are committed to a life obedient to Him. We also understand that God will reward us for our commitment to Him, yet it's the "Well done ..." we receive as we enter into His presence that means more than anything! When we place reward ahead of relationship, the result is a version of "Christian hedonism," pursuing the pleasures of reward through acts of "obedience."

I love the way scripture itself gives us a great perspective of reward. In Revelation 4, we see the picture of the Lord on His throne, surrounded by (among others) 24 elders. You can see some of the reward these elders have received ... they are sitting on thrones with a front row seat to the presence of God, and they're wearing gold crowns. Great stuff, right? The picture continues with the 24 elders falling down in worship of the Lord, and removing those golden crowns and placing them before the Lord as they state how He is the One worthy of praise. The thrones and crowns were nice, but they are less than trinkets compared to the presence of God! These elders thought nothing of handing back those crowns in an act of worship.

It's not the reward, it's the relationship. And for the relationship, God will reward.

Don't undervalue the reward. It is important to God that He reward you. He wants to reward you! But the pursuit is the presence of God, not the prize of the crown.

Is God alone enough for you? Or are you reaching for something beyond God by trying to go through Him?


The BIG Christmas ...

Every year at Christmas, my mother performed a miracle.

Some way, some how, she managed to make Christmas almost a "magical" experience for all eight --- yes, eight! --- of her children. I have never figured out how she did it. She must have started saving and shopping on December 26.

Being people of very meager means, our Christmases weren't extravagant. Yet, every Christmas always turned out to be more than we kids expected. Every year, we thought we would be lucky to get a toy each, yet my mother always surpassed that. We each usually got a gift of significance to us, and then a few other simpler items, so we were always surprised and humbled that it was more than we could have hoped for.

Even though Mom always worked her holiday magic, there was one Christmas that really stood out. That was the "BIG" Christmas.

As was our tradition, all of us kids were awake early and by 3 a.m. we were begging our parents to let us get up to open our presents. With permission given, we stampeded down the hallway into the living room. And there by the Christmas tree was my very first bicycle!

I could not believe it! My youngest sister also had a bicycle there ... but there was a brand new bike for me?!


It wasn't just any bike, mind you. It was a "cool" bike. It was maroon with a black "banana" seat with two "racing" stripes and a very long chrome bar on the back. From the moment I first sat on it, I couldn't wait to get it outside and start cruising the neighborhood. Unfortunately, I had to wait patiently to experience the Christmas morning with my family. When, finally, all the gifts were open and everyone except for my mother and I had returned to their beds for a little more sleep, I was finally given permission to take my new bike out for it's maiden voyage.

That was a BIG Christmas. My mother had really outdone herself!

As I think of how my mother took care of us every day, and yet still gave something extra special, it makes me think of my heavenly Father.

Throughout history, God has been the greatest giver. He has cared for and supplied all our needs. Yet there was a time when God went "BIG." It was that very first Christmas, when God gave Himself to humanity. God wanted each of us to have Him!

On that very first Christmas, God gave us a Savior. Now that is going big! At that first Christmas, God exceeded everything He had given us before by offering Himself as a Savior to the world. That's greater than giving us our daily bread, protecting us from enemies, or just putting up with our selfishness.

God came to be a sacrifice on behalf of sinful humanity. The holy for the sinful. There is no bigger giving than that!

The biggest thing we could ever give is to give back to God the life He has given each of us. Now that would be really going big for Christmas!


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The trauma of reality ...

A breaking news item caught my attention today. It read: "A bus driver had a seizure and hit four cars while driving in the Lincoln Tunnel; no life-threatening injuries."

What a sad story. Can you imagine how life quickly changed for that bus driver? Not only does he now have a very real health issue to contend with, this incident could possibly cost him his job. He won't be able to be a bus driver if there is any possibility he will continue to suffer from seizures. In just a moment today, his life got turned upside down.

How the bus driver deals with the trauma he is now facing depends on a few things.

First is the answer to who God is in his life. If he has a personal relationship with his Creator, he will have all the power a human could hope for in dealing with anything life can throw at us. But if he doesn't, he's on his own to try to find peace in a world freshly broken for him.

Whether or not he has true support in his life will matter. Does he have family or friends who see and respond to his new needs? Are there people in his life to help him face the fear the health issue will likely bring? Does he have a spouse who can help with a potentially changing financial situation? Are there friends who will come alongside and offer love and comfort in a moment of turmoil?

Will his employer see a good employee who has a personal difficulty to overcome and offer reassignment in a different position that would be safe for him, and he's capable of succeeding at?

And finally, but certainly not least, how flexible is his mind about life? What I mean by that is, many people live their lives in "cement." They are so entrenched in everything staying the same, it is significantly traumatic when changes come, especially if it's sudden and unexpected. However, others have learned to live life with a flexibility ... they don't mind taking a new route to work every now and then, they'll try something different for dinner, they don't keep the same style for 30 years, or insist on sitting in the same place at church every Sunday. They flex with the times, and even the moments, and welcome the changing scene as life's daily little adventures. This type of person will be better equipped to absorb the impact of sudden change.

Life can change in a moment. And at some time in our lives, each of us will have a moment of trauma when what we previously put out of the realm of possibility in our minds suddenly becomes our new reality. How we deal with that trauma will depend heavily on what we believe, and the existing relationships we have developed. That combination will be key to recovering from the trauma.

Have you made life a matter of walking in cement ... of being stuck in the same ways all the time? Or have you embraced life as a constantly changing series of experiences to be lived fully? Have you developed solid relationships that will withstand the tough events of life? Are you ready for change, or will you collapse when the unexpected becomes your reality?


Saturday, December 4, 2010

The packaging matters ...

Are you a ripper or a wrapper and bow saver?

Some people I know open their Christmas presents with great care because they save the wrapping paper and bows for reuse. That's not how I learned to open presents as a kid. Me and my seven siblings took pride in just how fast we could get a gift ripped open! Forget the wrapping, we wanted to get to what was inside!

That's harder to do these days. With the kind of packaging items come in today, you very nearly need a freshly sharpened hedge trimmer to free the contents from its package. Products today are packaged more to keep thieves out than to allow buyers in!

I sometimes wonder if that isn't how we "package" the church ... more about keeping in who's already there than to welcome and bring in those who are outside.

The Apostle Paul was a "ripper." He tore away anything that kept those outside of Christ from coming to Christ. Paul explained his methods this way:

"19 Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. 20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. 21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. 22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. 23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings" (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Paul "packaged" himself to attract others to the Gospel, tearing away anything that would hinder anyone from clearly accessing the Gospel message. His intent had a simple focus, found in verse 23: "I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings."

Are you building bridges to share the Gospel, or making it difficult for non-believers to find Christ? How can you clear away impediments to the Gospel so that others might be saved?


The "x" DOES make a difference ...

It seems like every year, at about this time, hoards of Christians come out of the woodwork complaining how non-believers are "taking Christ out of Christmas," railing against the use of "xmas" in place of the real word, and generally being louder than they often are the rest of the year.

One Christian friend recently posted a comment saying he doesn't care about the "xmas" argument, there's far more important things to be focused on, and let's just enjoy the season.

I can understand his sentiment in that there are many important issues in this world to give our attention to. But I disagree with his dismissal about the issue of identifying Christmas because I think he's on the wrong side of the argument.

The reason?

Because Christmas is entirely about Christ!

Christmas has absolutely NOTHING to do with family or personal traditions, giving or receiving gifts, decorations, food feasts, office parties, or any other thing we associate with this this time of year. Christmas is wholly about God sending His Son into this world to provide salvation for all humankind.

The problem is that far too many Christians have taken Christ out of Christmas every bit as much as non-believers have, even if they refer to this time of year as "Christmas." When our focus is on the trappings of the holiday, rather than the giving of Christ to the world, we're missing the point as much as anyone else. If that's the case, we call Christmas anything we want, because it really isn't a "mass for Christ."

Keeping the word "Christ" in the name of the holiday can be important in reminding the world what it is we're celebrating. But actually bringing Christ to the world, and truly celebrating Him, is what is of ultimate importance.

It does matter that we not "x" out Christ from Christmas. That is done far more by what we do and how we live, than by what we call a holiday.

Are you living out Christmas, or celebrating a holiday?