How do preschoolers tell the Christmas story?
My church sat down with some recently.
I think you’ll enjoy their…retelling.
We tend to romanticize Christmas with songs like “Silent Night” and our “perfect” little Nativity scenes. But the reality is that Christmas is messy. Jesus came from the mess into the mess to offer us hope.
This is a sermon I preached recently at Grace Community Church.
I’ll bet you need a good laugh today.
Watch this video, then pick up Dave Barnes’ new Christmas album.
You can thank me later.
On our way home from a long trip the other day, my son asked if he could “watch the map” on my phone and help tell us how to get home. Since I knew the way, I obliged. He feels like a big boy when he can tell me which direction I need to turn.
Or…maybe he likes telling me what to do.
Either way, he enjoys it, and on a long trip, having him occupied is a fine thing.
When I hear the GPS lady barking orders, I’ll ask Rex, “What did she say? Left? Right? How many more miles?” Most of the time, he gets it right. He repeats whatever she says. It’s kind of fun.
As we were coming to a fork in the interstate, I heard her say something, but I couldn’t quite make it out. So I asked Rex for clarification.
“Which direction did she say, buddy?”
“In 2 miles ahead on Interstate 24 go left…or right.”
“Which one was it?”
“No, which direction?”
“No, buddy. Left or right?”
“Yep. Left or right.”
That little detail would make the difference in us getting home. Or getting to another state. In his mind, “left or right” was adequate. But more work needed to be done. That distinction made all of the difference in the world, even though every other part of what he said was right on point.
You’ve got inside of you an idea that will shatter expectations and hopes. That will set your organization, your church, your small group, your family, your team, or your non-profit absolutely to the next level of success.
But there’s one pesky little detail that you’re overlooking. One thing that will derail success. One tiny pebble on your track that needs to be moved before you can go forward.
What detail do you need to shore up?
The success or failure of your idea may very well depend on your combing over things one more time.
Measure twice. Cut once.
If one gives an answer before he hears,
it is his folly and shame. – Proverbs 18:13
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity… – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
I rode in the front seat while he leaned forward in the back of a cab one night in Dallas on our way back to the hotel. We were speaking at a conference together. I was leading a tiny breakout. He was a main-stage ‘rock star’ preacher.
As we talked, he expressed a genuine interest in the ministry I was a part of. About my family. He was concerned for what concerned me. Genuinely interested in being a small part of the solution. Genuinely interested in encouraging me. In listening, learning, and growing.
Someone at some point in some city at some conference told him he was awesome. Gifted. That he was a once-in-a-generation leader. In that moment, and in a thousand moments since, he reminded himself of his utter dependency on God.
Passing him in the hallway of the church he led, I stole a moment to say hey, and build a relationship.
He was insistent that I know how many speaking gigs he had coming up. About his blog. His book. His endorsers. His mentors. The mega churches he has influenced. The conferences he’s led. The people he’s gathered. The miles he’s traveled. The way I could help him.
Someone at some point in some city at some conference told him he was awesome. Gifted. That he was a once-in-a-generation leader. In that moment, and in a thousand moments since, he reminded himself…that they were right.
Which one do you want to be?
I love writing. I do.
I love crafting words to give structure to thought.
I love painting a beautiful picture out of a seemingly mundane moment.
I love capturing the essence of a season with a phrase.
But writing a book is more than “the love of writing.”
It’s hard work. And finishing the book is only the beginning of the process.
For over a month, every day I’d get up at 5:00 a.m. and write. And write. And write. My goal was 1000 words, every day. Most days, I came up with 1000 words of pure garbage. Throw it in the trash. Control-A, Control-X. And move on.
Because tomorrow was coming. And so were 1000 more words. And I didn’t have time for terrible words.
Most days, some of those words would stick.
Every once in a while, all 1000 would.
Then comes the marketing. The “how in the world do I get this message to the world” thoughts flood your head. And just when you think the heavy lifting is done, you realize that nobody will have a clue that you’ve written a book unless you tell them.
Simultaneously you realize that when you tell them, there’s the real chance you’ll come across as a jerky self-promoting sleaze bag who is only in it for himself. Which has never, ever, ever been my heart.
My friend John Morgan has been a great source of encouragement to me in this process. He’s helped me navigate the sleazy waters of self-marketing in a way that, I believe remains true to me. And maintains some sense of dignity.
So here goes nothing. Book #1 is in the books.
You can check out the full “press” release HERE. Or buy it below.
*all links affiliate links
We have a newborn. And though I love her, you don’t hear a ton about how tough the first few weeks are. Maybe it’s because we parents don’t want to scare non-parents off. Maybe it’s because we just don’t want to complain. Or maybe it’s because we don’t really know what’s going on those first few weeks because we’re walking around in a fog of sleeplessness.
Our baby is really a good baby. She’s not all that difficult. She cries, but it’s at appropriate times. And I can tell the difference in her cries. There’s the
And then the best one is
With this one, there’s a desperation that you don’t hear with the other cries. It comes from somewhere deep in her gut. You can sense the fear and pain and utter helplessness. It’s sad, really. It would break your heart, too. I’m certain of it.
And this happens before each and every feeding.
Even though there’s never been once that we’ve not fed her. Not once that we’ve looked at her crying and said, “I think we’ll just let you cry this one out.” Or, “You’re not that hungry.” Or, “Quit faking it.” Or, “You can wait until we’re done doing ____.”
We feed her every single time. There’s never been once we’ve skipped that portion of parenting.
Yet she screams as if we’re not going to feed her. She quickly forgets our love.
When things begin to go awry, we start to cry.
When things get difficult, we wonder, “Where’s God in this?!?”
When things aren’t going our way, we feel like it’s all over.
When plans change. When timings slow. When promotions don’t come. When the car breaks down…again. When it seems like, from our vantage point, God’s left us all alone, and our cries aren’t heard, we cry and cry and cry. Tears turn to desperation, and we believe that God’s done with us. That He doesn’t care. That He can’t do anything about this. And even if He could, He wouldn’t want to.
But we forget that God’s gone with us. He’s never left or forsaken us. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
We forget that God’s near to the brokenhearted. (Psalm 34:18)
He’s never not provided exactly what we need. He’s never stopped being a Father to us. He’s never left His throne. His love’s never failed. (Psalm 136:1)
We feel like He’s far away, but He’s right there beside us. We just can’t see Him because we’re blinded by our pain. And we’ve chosen to listen to our ever-shifting fears and struggles rather than our never-changing Father.
May we never be so blinded by our pain that we can’t see the food God’s put right in front of us. Let’s open our eyes see God working.
Growing up, I played sports a lot, but golf was the game that stuck. On the other side of being able to regularly play competitive sports because of “life,” golf continues to be a sport I’m able to play, and not embarrass myself.
While playing competitively, I took lessons from a handful of coaches over the years, each of whom had their strengths, and taught me a different aspect of the game.
But one thing was constant with each coach and each lesson I took.
After changing my swing, even just a little bit, I always got worse.
There was never once where my coach would shift my grip, or adjust my posture, or shorten my backswing, where I would go out the next day and fire the round of my life.
Not. Even. Once.
I’d hit one or two good shots. And 75 bad ones.
Then the next round I’d hit 3 or 4 good shots.
Followed by another coaching lesson change.
Followed by a mere 1 or 2 good shots.
Over time, those 75 bad shots became less bad. And the 1 or 2 good shots became 8 or 10.
The positive effects of a swing change were never instantly felt. Even though I was making changes for the better.
Some times, when things got tough and I didn’t want to keep fighting through the difficult change, I’d revert back to old habits. In the heat of the moment, it made things easier. But never did it help in the long run.
If I went back to old habits, it would feel good, but I was no better off.
Organizational change is no different. It’s just on a larger scale. With more zeros on the end.
You know the changes that need to be made in your organization. Changes that will help move things forward. Changes that will open the door for new growth. Changes that will get the right people on your team.
Changes that will help position you for a bigger community impact. Changes that will lead you into the next phase of development.
But when you try to implement those changes, your organization will take a couple of steps backwards before it take steps forward.
My context for organizational change is the local church. Maybe yours is the non-profit board you sit on. Or the company you work for. Or the small group you lead. Or the running club you’ve joined.
When the change process begins, there’s a tension that exists between what “was” and what “could be.”
But you know what change needs to happen. You see things differently. You see a preferred future, with more growth, more impact, more products (or ideas, depending on your industry), and more lives changed. That’s why you’re there!
Quit complaining about things being tough! Without difficulties, there’d be no need for leadership. And you’d be out of a job. [Tweet that!]
Don’t let the regressive, two-step backwards process of change keep you from moving forward. Going back to old habits, to what feels comfortable and easy and well-worn, isn’t what’s good for you and your organization. Even though it’s more comfortable at the time.
Aim for what could be, and don’t stop until you get there. [Tweet that!]
Even if you get burned. Even if you fail. Even if it’s difficult. And trust me…it will be.
If you give up on the first few steps backwards, you’ll never realize the growth that change can bring. [Tweet that!]
Don’t give up and be helpless in times of trouble. – Proverbs 24:10
I’d finished getting ready for work one early morning, ready to walk out the door, when I heard a little cry from my newborn. So I set my bag down and walked back into the room to make sure she was okay. She seemed fine, so I gave her one last hug and kiss. I was ready to put her back in her crib when it happened.
Not just a little dribble of a spit-up. I mean full-on, projectile vomit all over me. Which, if you were wondering, is a great way to start your day. It’s delightful, really.
Then the whole situation get even better.
Because she didn’t just throw up on me. She threw up on herself.
She started wailing, crying big ole alligator tears while simultaneously pushing out her bottom lip, which started shaking in frustration and sadness and discomfort. You’d have felt sorry for her, like I did. I’m sure of it.
As I was working to clean her up, her crying woke up the rest of the house. Lovely.
I finally got her cleaned up, snuggled back in her sleeper, and nestled back in her crib.
At which point I realized that the vomit all over me was unnaturally cold.
I love my baby girl, but that was disgusting. Warm vomit is bad enough. But to have it on you so long that it actually gets cold? That’s another level gross. If you haven’t experienced it, just trust me. I won’t wish it on you.
Love may be found in the happy, pleasant moments. But I believe it’s realized in the vomit.
We are the vomit-y little newborn. Our lives are a mess. We have broken marriages, broken relationships, and a streak of pride we’re embarrassed to admit because we’re too prideful.
We’ve got a past we want to hide. A present we try to sensationalize. And a future we’re entirely uncertain of.
We’re addicted to attention. To positive reinforcement. To the “perfect” image of ourselves we think we have to live up to.
We are too lazy. Too disciplined. Too hidden. Too open.
We eat too much. Too little.
We enjoy life too much. Or not enough.
Even on our good days, our righteousness is sprinkled with, “What’s in this for me?” or “I wonder what others will think of me?” or “Will I get paid for this?” or “These people need me because I’m so awesome.”
Our generosity has an edge of hesitating, momentary greed at best. At worst it’s mixed with a self-serving, looking-down-your-nose pride.
We’re not perfect. Not at all.
And Love acknowledges that. It doesn’t look at the vomit and say, “Mmmm…yummy.” Love acknowledges our nastiness and loves anyway.
Love recognizes the nasty and dives in.
Love doesn’t act like you’re perfect. It acknowledges how gross you are, yet loves you still.
Love doesn’t act like it’s not hurt. Like it doesn’t smell the stink. It sees the vomit on you. On it. On the floor. And in the fibers of the carpet.
And whispers hope as it wipes our dirty face.
God is Love. (1 John 4:8)
We look at our lives and wonder why, if God truly does see all of our junk, He’d still love us. We’re sitting in our own filth. Helpless. Hopeless. And afraid. It’s as if God looks at us in that moment and says,
Go to work now? And miss out on an opportunity to show you love once again? To let you see your dirt, and show you that I still love you? Miss out on an opportunity to wipe your face clean, put new clothes on you, and tuck you back in? Not. A. Chance. I’m your dad, and I love you no matter what.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – The Apostle Paul, Romans 5:6-8
Love may be found in the happy, pleasant moments. But I believe it’s also found in the vomit.
I was driving down the interstate the other day, just cruising along minding my own business. Creeping to the top of a hill, two lanes merged into one as I passed the “merge ahead” sign. I turned my left signal on, checked my driver’s side mirror, and drifted before the right lane ended. Courteously, I might add.
Then out of nowhere, a little sports car whipped around me, from the left lane into the right, then barely getting back into the left lane in front of me, before the lane he was in morphed to a gravel-y shoulder.
I gave him a polite, yet ‘I-know-what-you-did-and-I-want-you-to-know-that-I’m-angry-but-not-angry-enough-to-go-road-rage-on-you’ honk of my horn, and shook my head in disgust.
‘That guy was crazy,’ I mumbled through clenched jaws.
But I cooled off.
About .5 mile ahead, I approached a car driving a little slower than I. Quite a bit slower than I, in fact. The speed limit was 65 mph, and he (I tend to assign gender to cars when I get frustrated) was poking along at a measly 52 mph.
Didn’t he know the speed limit? Didn’t he know I was in a hurry? Does he not have any sort of a life, that he has so much time on his hands he can go 13 mph under the speed limit?
I fumed until he turned right, and I could resume my speed of choice.
I am, of course, a prototypical hypocrite. I judge people on things I don’t want to be judged on. I hold others responsible for things I don’t hold myself responsible for. I curse you, then turn around and do exactly what I cursed you for.
I’m a big dummy.
Although it’s kind of silly, I think we do this same sort of thing in a lot of areas of life.
* If someone drives faster than we do, they’re a crazy driver.
* If someone drives slower than we do, they’re wasting our time.
* If someone works out (and we don’t), they’re a crazy workout-aholic.
* If someone doesn’t work out (and we do), they’re a lazy bum.
* If someone eats healthy (and we don’t), then they’re a health nut fanatic.
* If someone eats whatever they want (and we eat healthy), then they probably don’t care about their body.
* If someone drives a nice vehicle (and we don’t), then they are probably unwise with their money.
* If someone drives a junker of a vehicle (and we drive something newer), then they probably don’t take care of their stuff. They’re not good stewards of God’s gifts.
* If someone goes to church regularly (and we don’t), then they’re a crazy religious zealot.
* If someone doesn’t go to church regularly (and we do), then they’re a dirty rotten sinner who doesn’t think about God or others.
* If someone watches TV (and you don’t), they probably love to waste their life away.
* If someone doesn’t (and you do), they are just a prude.
* If someone posts consistently on social media (and you don’t), they have no idea how to manage their time.
* If someone doesn’t post (and you do), they don’t understand how people in this generation connect.
We are quick to judge others and slow to judge ourselves. We judge others in hard lines and cut-and-dry terms.
But when we judge ourselves, we judge with grace. We give allowance for busy schedules. For having kids around the house. For having an extra stressful season at work.
We give ourselves a little slack when it comes to the way we handle our money (things are tight right now). The patience, or lack thereof, we have with our kids (they were being overly difficult). Our eating habits (I traveled a lot this month). Our driving habits (we were in a hurry to go to…church).
We’re modern-day Pharisees, casting stones at others and dodging the ones thrown at us. We feel justified in our path as we spit and jeer at others.
Next time you’re tempted to judge, lead with grace. That’s what you do with yourself, isn’t it?
It’s like what Paul hinted at in 1 Corinthians 13.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. – Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:7
Love believes the best, hopes the best, and is able to endure because it chooses love first. It chooses to believe right motives until it hears otherwise. It chooses to position itself like it wants to be positioned, in the seat of grace.
Isn’t that how you want to be judged?
And the crazy part is that God knows us. Fully. Yet still gives us grace. And then more grace. (Re: James 4:6)