Dec 29, 2007

Reason for Fuzzy Vision

There is a very interesting passage in Isaiah 29. Here's how it reads:

For the Lord has poured out on you
The spirit of deep sleep,
And has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets;
And He has covered your heads, namely, the seers.
11The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, “Read this, please.”
And he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.”
12Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, “Read this, please.”
And he says, “I am not literate.”
13Therefore the Lord said:
“Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths
And honor Me with their lips,
But have removed their hearts far from Me,
And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men. (Isaiah 29: 10-13).

God says some very interesting things about vision. When God's vision for you and our church is not clear, it is like the words of a book that is sealed given to one who is literate but cannot read it because it is sealed. And there's no point in going to the one who is illiterate because they can't read the thing to begin with.

And the result is no vision, no passion, no purpose, no direction. It's life at its worst. It's living hell.

And then God tells us why we get this way. The problem is that the people draw near to God only with their mouths and lips, but their hearts remain far from God.

Several interesting things to note. The lack of vision and direction is not due to the lack of gathering or praising. These people are still gathering at their appointed times for worship. They give lip service to God, but their heart is not in it. What is lacking when the heart is absent is commitment and obedience. And the result is that you have a dead church with dead and dying Christ-followers.

But the thing that interests me the most is the last phrase, "their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men."

You see, the problem when the heart is not engaged, is that God's commands and teachings are viewed as teachings of men. God's commands and teachings become one of interpretation and someone's opinion. And so, if you agree, you obey. If you don't, you can find someone else's opinion. But it's all men's opinion. So, if you're wrong, you've only offended people.

But you see, these are not the opinions and teachings of men. These are God's commands. And when the people are led to believe that these are the interpretations and teachings of men, that is a lie straight out of hell. Because the one who is offended and wronged when we are disobedient is Yahweh - God the only living God. And the One we must answer to is that God.

When vision and purpose for an individual and a church gets fuzzy, it's because we get fuzzy on the teachings of God. These are God's words. These are God's commands.

Dec 28, 2007

Suffering is a Privilege?

I was doing my quiet time and came across the following passage. "For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for his sake" (Philippians 1:29).

This made me want to look up what the Bible has to say about suffering in other passages. There are many more, but here's just a few.

"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you may participate in the suffering of Christ" (1 Peter 4:12-13).

"So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:8).

"Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 2:3).

No one likes suffering. No one aspires to suffer. No one wants to suffer.

In fact, it's safe to say that we have an aversion to suffering. We don't want it. We don't want to hear about it. We don't want to know about someone else suffering. We just don't want anything to do with suffering.

You can't sell books and go on tv by preaching this suffering stuff. It just won't sell.

But Philippians says that we have been granted on behalf of Christ to not only believe in Him but also to suffer for his sake.

It speaks of suffering as if it was something that we wish for. It speaks of suffering as if it was something that we strive for. It speaks of suffering as if it was a privilege.

1 Peter 4:13 says that we are to rejoice that we get to participate in suffering. Yay! I get to suffer!

Timothy talks about suffering as a matter of fact. That's part of what it means to be a soldier of Jesus Christ.

Yet this is so foreign to think and speak about the life of faith. This is so anti believe in God and everything will be fine and you'll be happy. This is not at all "think it and believe it and it will happen" type of preaching I hear in so many circles.

Could it be that we have moved away so far from what it means to be Christ-followers according to Scripture that the idea of suffering for the sake of Christ has become anathema?

Certainly there is great joy in the life of Christ. There is no greater joy than living for Christ. But there is no such thing as a pain-free, disease-free, suffering-free Christianity.

That's right. We get to suffer for the sake of the gospel. And when we do live our lives as salt and light, part of the deal is suffering.

Dec 27, 2007

Finally, a new post - a Christmas poem

What a week before Christmas!

Normally, that's one of the busiest time of the year for pastor types like me, but this year was crazy. I had strep throat and was out for about four days right before Christmas weekend and the Christmas Eve services.

I have no idea how the sermons for this weekend came together or were received, but they got done by the grace of Jesus Christ.

Here is a little poem I received in a Christmas card. I think this is one of the best summaries of the Christmas stories I've read.

Long before there was a cross, one tiny heart beat with the purest Love the world would ever know.

And two faithful people carried that Love to Bethlehem so it might be born in every heart one day.

When the world had forgotten the One who created every man, three kings remembered and came to kneel before the Author of their lives.

And seekers everywhere set out to find Him, drawn by the radiant light of His love.

Long before we knew His name, He cherished every one of us – before His tiny lips spoke a word, He knew us by heart.

And this time called Christmas is our chance to give Him the greatest gift we could offer in return – the gift of our hearts and ourselves.

Merry Christmas!

Dec 21, 2007

Getting Better Now - Illness Reflection

As I've shared before, I've been sick, sick, sick. I'm finally starting to feel better so I am going to make up for all the words I didn't blog by writing a long one. Although it's a long entry, it will be worth it.

The week before Christmas is one of the busiest weeks for the life of the pastor. And since Tuesday, I’ve been in bed sick as a dog, and in fact just now starting to feel better. But I was in bed from Tuesday until Friday evening going from freezing cold where I had on my Micheline man Russia down jacket with gloves and the hat – the first time my son Kaleb saw me walk out like that he did a double take and started laughing as he was sitting in his shorts and a t-shirt in one of our 70 degree December days, to super hot, where I was in shorts and a t-shirt.

Where my head felt like I had a sledge-hammer just hammering away inside my head.

Where my throat felt like it was on fire – where it hurt so much to swallow that I didn’t eat for pretty much Tuesday to Friday (my wife really knew I was sick when I wasn’t eating).

My joints and bones were aching, and when I couldn’t stop coughing.

And the worst part of it was, I couldn’t sleep all those days. I was so tired! But I couldn’t sleep because I was either putting layers upon layers of clothes on, to only take them all off, while trying not to swallow my spit because it hurt so much, as my head was pounding, and every time I coughed my head exploded in pain, my throat felt like a bomb went off, and my joints screamed in pain. So no matter how tired I was I couldn’t fall asleep!

Finally, after days of hearing my wife tell me I should go see the doctor, I finally broke down on Friday after not eating and sleeping since Tuesday and went to go see the doctor. Sure enough. I had strep throat. And it was bad. You know my tonsils were all swollen and oozing (puss) and stuff. I had it bad. First time too.

So, whoever was kind enough to give me this thing better keep your guard up because I’ll strep throat germ all over you and your family!

Just kidding. That’s what my pre-Christian James would have wanted to do. But I am a much kinder and gentler James now that Jesus is my Lord and Savior – so whoever you are, you better be thanking Jesus that I am a Christian!

Let me share with you my illness reflection.

Why in the world did I wait so long to go see the doctor when this is so easily treatable? I could have avoided so much misery – my family too. You think Helen did much sleeping during those three nights? So why didn’t I go see the doctor to begin with? Because I thought I could beat it, like I beat other flues and illnesses (the real word for this is pride – but it sounds better if I say it the other way). It was my pride.

And the other reason is because I hate waiting in the doctor’s office. They make you wait in the waiting room, and the they make you wait in the patient room, then the nurse comes and checks your vitals, and then they make you wait for the doctor, and they make you wait. I hate that.

But you know what? Both of those reasons are stupid. You know pride is stupid. And the hate to wait part – what so waiting and suffering at home is better than getting the shots and the medicines to get well?

I started feeling better by that afternoon after the shots. I could have avoided that whole thing.

And here’s the thing – that’s so much like how we are with God. If we would just turn to God and do what God tells us to do and forget all this stupid pride stuff and whatever other lame excuse stuff we’ve got and just follow Him, we could avoid so much misery. God’s got the cure for whatever is ailing you, and He can fix you right up, if you’d just do life His way.

And here's the best part. This whole God thing comes with a guarantee. If you don't like what God’s new transformed life looks like, you can have your old miserable one back any time you want.

Dec 19, 2007

Been sick, sick, sick

I know I haven't blogged in a while. I've been sick with some kind of a flu. That's what happens when you have four little ones bringing germs into the house. They love sharing!

As I've been in bed sick, rolling around in my misery as my bones and joints ached, and as my head felt like a sledge hammer was hammering away, from going from freezing cold to taking off everything because I'm so hot, I though this must like what sin did to the first human beings. They were perfect before that. They knew none of this. But because this fallen state is all we know we don't know any better.

That's why God sent His only Son to rescue us from our sin. And thank God for that.

I look forward to getting back to a normal schedule soon. I hate being sick.

James <><
Check out what God is up to @

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Dec 16, 2007

Messengers of Christ

We’ve got to get the message out. We've got to tell others about Jesus Christ. There are way too many people who do not know the love of our Savior.

I think we all know this. It's just that we don't know how.

I have had several people say to me, “James, I know that I should be sharing about what God is doing and telling others about Jesus, but I just don’t know many non-church going people. All my friends are all going to church.”

Folks say to me, “James, I just don’t know what to say and how to share the faith. I know I should, but I just don’t know how to do it.”

Listen, we can teach you all the tools and methods for sharing Jesus with others, but that’s not going to do any good unless we take care of this first.

The most effective way to share Jesus Christ with others is an authentic Christ-like life. Because unless we're living an authentic Christ-like life, it won't matter what we have to say. And here's the reason why - it's impossible to convince someone of a truth we are not living.

You can have all the evangelism tools in the world, but if our lives are not authentic and Christ-like, and if our lives are not any different than the people around us, no amount of right teaching about evangelism will do any good. If our life is not markedly different than the people around us, words just don't matter.

The most effective presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ begins with an authentic Christ-like life. You see, sharing the message of Jesus Christ is not so much about what we say, but how we model Jesus Christ.

When we live authentic Christ-like lives, we won’t have any problems communicating and finding people to share with. They will come to you and will want to know what makes you so different than anyone they know.

Dec 15, 2007

Who Am I Preaching For?

There is a great dilemma all preachers face: who are we preaching for?

The theological answer is God. We are preaching because we are God's instruments to proclaim His word to the church. We are God's ambassadors and therefore we are called to speak what God calls us to.

The practical answer is that we are preaching for the congregation. We are called to proclaim God's word in a way that is captivating and relevant to the congregation. Because, ultimately, truth, that doesn't connect with people where they are will have no impact.

I work hard to do everything I can to preach God's word faithfully. That's the reason why I study, read, and pray about what God would have me to preach.

I also work very hard to make sure that I've done everything I can to connect God's word to where the people are. It is shameful that a pastor could take the most exciting truth of God's word and make it as dull as possible.

The preaching task needs to have both of these audiences in mind. God's truth must be communicated in such a way that God's people can understand and apply it.

The reason why I write all this because I've struggling with the thought, am I communicating God's word effectively? I am wondering, is it making a difference? Every once in a while, as I am sitting in my office preparing for the sermon, there's a voice that asks, "Do you really think this is going to make a difference?"

And I have to push that voice back and declare, I will be faithful to God. I will do my best to communicate God's word in a way that relates to our people.

My task is to be faithful. The results are up to God. Results are not my responsibility. My responsibility is to be faithful and that is what I will continue to strive to be.

Dec 14, 2007

Goal of Discipleship - Becoming a Self-feeder

Trinity Presbyterian Church exists to do everything within our power to grow new Christ-followers, and to help all Christ-followers become fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ.

That's why we do what we do.

But there's something that the church and the maturing Christ-follower must understand.

There comes a point when the church can no longer be the primary way for a maturing disciples to continue growing. In fact, if that maturing disciple is dependent upon the church for providing the spiritual experiences and the tools necessary for continued growth, they will always find that church lacking.

You see, after a certain point in one's journey with Jesus Christ, one must learn to become a self-feeder.

When a baby is born, all their needs to be met by others. They need to be fed, they need to be taken care of. But as that baby grows up to be a child, he needs to learn to feed himself. And certainly by the time he is an adult, if he has not learned how to feed himself, and learn the skills to know how to provide for himself, he will go hungry and will be a leech to society.

It's no different with a Christian. A new Christian will need to be fed and cared for. But that new Christian will have to learn the skills necessary to start feeding themselves. And as they continue to mature, they will have to learn the skills necessary to provide for himself. And by the time the maturing Christian reaches the maturity level of being a self-feeder, the church becomes less important for their spiritual growth. In fact, the church becomes the place where they begin serving and giving. And it is through the serving and giving that they mature even more.

As long as people look to the church to help them mature and be satisfied as a believer, they will remain baby Christians. And you will know when you're with baby Christians, when all you hear is, "Feed me, take care of me, love me, hold me, teach me, me, me, me, me, me!"

The goal of Christian discipleship is to help people move from being baby-Christians to become self-feeders. It is the self-feeders who help feed and take care of the first-time Christ-followers. And when this pattern continues to replicate itself, the church grows. There is health and vitality in the life of the church.

Dec 12, 2007

Is there such a thing as a Healthy non-growing church?

Does a church necessarily have to grow in order to be a healthy church?

Could there be a church that is spiritually healthy, and where the members love one another and take care of one another, but there is no numerical growth?

Is numerical growth really a viable way to track the health of a congregation? Aren't things like one's commitment to Jesus and one's personal relationship with Jesus more important for the spiritual health of a church?

While very interesting, I think these are the wrong questions to be asking. These are the wrong questions because we have somehow come to believe that we human beings can be the church without being the body of Christ. Because if we are the body of Christ, we must necessarily be about the ministry and the mission of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the question that needs to be asked is, "Can one be a Christ-follower and not be like Christ?"

I don't see how it is even conceivable that one could be a Christ-follower and not be engaged with the lives of other people to lead them to a relationship with Jesus.

It is impossible to grow in the knowledge of the word and in spiritual matters without also being concerned about how to engage the world which Jesus came to die for.

It is impossible to be faithful to Jesus Christ without also being faithful to His mission and ministry.

Christ-followers engage the world because Jesus came to love that world.

Numerical growth is not the goal of the church or the Christ-follower. Numerical growth is the by-product, the result, of transformed lives. And transformed lives are the result of coming into a relationship with Jesus Christ. When people encounter the living Christ, transformation happens. And when transformation happens, the fruit of that is growth in numbers.

In healthy congregations, because Jesus is present, people regularly encounter Jesus Christ. And because they are encountering the living Christ in those healthy congregations, those congregations grow.

In my humble opinion, the only way a church can be healthy and not grow is if everyone in the world were Christ-followers. And as long as there is one who doesn't know Jesus, the church of Jesus Christ has a mission.

This may not be the popular view. But show me one place in the Bible where the non-growing, declining church is the norm. It's simply not there.

If our churches are not growing, it's we who need to change and must be transformed to become one that is.

Christ-follower, when was the last time you introduced Jesus to someone, or led people to a deepening relationship with Jesus Christ? Can you name ten people who have come to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior because of you? five? one?

Dec 11, 2007

Angry with God?

Know anyone angry with God? They refuse to be a part of the church and refuse to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior because they can't conceive of how a God of love could allow for such suffering and pain?

In times like that, as a pastor, I've found myself feeling like I had to defend God and explain God.

What I now realize is that in my attempts to be "pastoral" and understanding I wasn't helping at all.

First, God doesn't need me or anyone to defend Him. God is a big enough God to do that all by Himself.

Secondly, the more poignant question is, how can you say that there is no God when you're so angry with God? If there is no God, who are you angry with? And if there is no God, then what is the meaning of suffering and pain? What is the meaning and purpose of life?

If there is no God, it really does lead to an existential hell. Everything is meaningless. Everything is senseless. There is no rhyme or reason to anything. There is no dignity, no purpose, no meaning to suffering and pain. You just suffer miserably and then you die.

What a depressing view of life!

I've been talking with a guy who's been angry with God but is no longer that way. I asked him what made the difference? How did he go from being angry to being open to the ways of God. And what he told me makes so much sense.

This man had been so angry with God that he'd rejected God. Because there was so much suffering and pain, he could not see how there could be a God of love who would allow such things to happen. So he'd intentionally rejected God. By not going to church and not doing church things, it was as if he was flipping God the bird. He didn't want to just not believe, he wanted God to know that he outright rejected him.

But rejecting God did nothing to alleviate his anger. He was still angry. And what's worse, it did nothing to alleviate the pain or the suffering. It was all meaningless. And he'd live this way for more than a decade.

And then it dawned on him - how can I be angry with someone I don't believe exists? If God doesn't exist, then how can I be angry with Him? And if I am angry with God, then God must exist. And if God exists, then I need to come to terms with this God because there's got to be a purpose and meaning to life.

That's it! It's by turning to God with our questions and with our pain that we can begin making our way out of the fog of pain and anger. It's precisely when we let go of our right to blame God that we can start seeking wisdom and answer from God.

It's not that when we accept God the suffering and pain goes away. It's just that when we turn to God, God gives us dignity and purpose even in the midst of the suffering and pain.

It's not that suffering and pain disappears. It's that God gives us the strength and the vision to see that suffering and pain will never get the final say.

That is the reason why the Apostle Paul could be sitting in a prison waiting to be beheaded and write in Philippians 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!" He knew that death was not the end, that this earthly existence is not the end, that he was a citizen of heaven. And because he was a child of eternity, there was nothing that death could take from him. It's this heavenly and Godly perspective which gave meaning and purpose to his imprisonment and his eventual death. Death could not even take that away from him.

And this is why Jesus and Christmas is such great news for all of us. We don't belong here. We are merely passing through. And when we live for our eternal home, it gives us great meaning and purpose for life on earth.

Dec 10, 2007

Church is a Family?

I hear many people say that the church is like a family. But is it really?

In families, when someone offends you, when things don't go our way, when things are hard, we stay and fight. We work it out. And it's the struggling through the difficult things that helps us to be a family. It's by working out the difficulties that we grow together and the intimacy increases.

But churches don't function that way.

In churches, when someone is offended, when things don't go our way, when things are hard, people bolt. People leave.

Families just don't do that. Real families stay together particularly during the hard times.

Leaving is so much easier. Leaving is the coward's way. Leaving won't ever allow for intimacy and community.

Just as there are times when divorce is necessary - in situations of abuse for instance - there are times when leaving a church is necessary.

But that's not what I'm talking about. For the most part, when I see people leaving it's because we are so stuck and mired in this consumer mentality - where the customer is always right - that church members actually think that they are the customers. That the church is there to provide a service which they pay for. And when people don't get what they pay for, they leave.

I don't understand how we can have hundreds and thousands of positive encounters and experiences in the church, and then leave because of one negative experience. How can we do that to the body of Christ?

Being a part of Christ's body means that we are held together by the blood of Jesus Christ. Being a part of the body of Christ means that staying or going should never be made on the criteria of convenience or out of personal preference. It's a much bigger decision than that.

And until we can start living into being the body of Christ, the churches in America will continue to experience churches that are shallow.

Intimacy is developed through the context of difficulties and disagreements. Geniuine communities can only develop as we commit to working out the hard things.

I pray that that is what Jesus will find in our churches.

Dec 8, 2007

Faith - No Problems, No Miracles

A man fell off a cliff, but managed to grab a tree limb on the way down.

The following conversation ensued:

"Is anyone up there?"

"I am here. I am the Lord. Do you believe me?"

"Yes, Lord, I believe. I really believe, but I can't hang on much longer."

"That's all right, if you really believe you have nothing to worry about. I will save you. Just let go of the branch."

A moment of pause, then: "Is anyone else up there?"

We like to talk about faith. We believe in faith. We sing about faith.

But, when it really comes down to it, we don't like faith.

We don't like faith because we like certainties and guarantees. And certainties and guarantees are not, well...guaranteed. Faith operates in the land of uncertainties and no guarantees. In order to live in faith, it requires us to live with uncertainties and no guarantees.

Faith operates in the very place where we are called to do that which we cannot on our own.

Someone once said that you will know when you're involved in a God-thing when you are in way over your head.

That's all fine and good when you're involved in a God-thing.

But that is exactly the issue with faith, isn't it? How do you know with a certainty that you are involved in a God-thing? How do you know that it's not your-thing, or your pastor-thing, or some denominational agency-thing?

God gives us some clues.

First, if it is a God-thing, it will bring glory and honor to God. The purpose of a God-thing is always to glorify God. The people involved in a God-thing may be gratified and satisfied as a result for being involved in a God-thing, but our gratification and satisfaction is the byproduct of doing a God-thing, not the goal.

Second, if it is a God-thing, God's influence and impact increases. Whatever it is, if it is a God-thing, it will result in God's Spirit entering into the lives of more people. If it is a God-thing, lives get changed, marriages get whole, the darkness gets pushed back, eternal destinies get changed.

Third, if it is a God-thing, God will always provide everything necessary to accomplish that thing.

But, we're still left in a quandry. Doing a God-thing requires faith. There are no guarantees. And because there are no guarantees, it's always nerve racking, and well, it requires...FAITH.

That's exactly where we find ourselves in the life of the church today. Unless God acts and intervenes and moves in this place, we are done for.

Remember...No Problems...No miracles.

We want some miracles!

Dec 6, 2007

A Changed Eternity

A few days ago, a young man's eternal destiny was changed.

He came to church finding himself at the bottom of a pit. He came to church not knowing how he could dig himself out of the mess he'd gotten himself into. He came to church because he didn't know anywhere else to turn.

And what he found was that God had been waiting for him. In fact, God had been with him all along. He just needed to open himself to the reality that God's always been present. It was his actions, his choices that prevented him from seeing God.

But his eternal destiny was changed as he came to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior by turning his life over to God.

There's nothing inherently different about the church that this was the place where he accepted Christ. But what he found at the church was a person willing to point him to the God who's always been present for him, a God who loved him enough to die for him and rise for him.

And this is one of the greatest privileges of a Christ-follower - of being used to point people to Jesus Christ.

It was so awesome to see the immediate change in him. There was peace. There was hope.

That's what God does.

And, friends, that's what you and I get to participate in. There are people all around us who need Jesus.

Point the way.

Kairos time

The Greek uses two words for time - chronos and kairos.

Chronos refers to time as we know it - the past, the present, the future, that is kept by the seconds, minutes, and hours. That is chornos time, and you can see this is where we get the word chronology.

Kairos is quite different. Kairos refers to a God-appointed time. Kairos refers to a moment and an epoch in time where God has opened the window of opportunity. The thing about kairos time is that it is only for a time period. It comes and it can disappear just as quickly.

The wise and discerning person is always looking for kairos moments - those moments when God opens the opportunity for us to be a blessing to others and to seek God's blessing.

God is up to something great in your life. Seek to discover what God is up to and join Him in that work. You don't want to miss out!

Dec 4, 2007

What Does God Want for Christmas? - Hands

Take a look at your hands – Turn them face up.

Seriously. Look at your hands.

Look at the lines, the curves, and the grooves.

There has never been, and there will never be another human being who will have your lines, curves, and grooves.

Your finger prints are absolutely unique to you. Out of all the people who’ve walked this planet, and of all those people who will come after you, no one, not one has your prints.

You know why it’s that way? Those hands were created to leave their mark.

This Advent season, we've been asking, "What Does God Want for Christmas?" What could we give to God that would make the heart of God leap with joy?

The first gift I would like for us to consider giving to God is the gift of our hands. Leave your mark.

Dec 3, 2007

Disconnect Between Jesus and His Church

If you were to ask people what they thought was the central tenet of Jesus Christ, most people would answer by saying things like - peace, love, forgiveness, acceptance.

If you were to ask the same people what they thought were the central tenets and theme of the church was, those same people would answer with very different answers. You'd hear things like - hypocrisy, judgment, condemnation, a place of bunch of do's and don'ts.

Why is that? Why is there such a disconnect between Jesus and the church that's supposed to be representing Him?

Christ-followers, we've got some repenting and some work to do. We need to look at ourselves honestly and ask, how does our speech, our actions, our hopes, our dreams, our motivations, our lives reflect Jesus Christ.

Dec 2, 2007

What's a Gift Worth? - Little Brown Bag

When it comes to the gifts, the value of a gift cannot be counted by dollars and cents, because the true value of a gift can only be ascertained by what that gift means to the giver.

On Christmas morning, I will be receiving four gifts from my four little ones. As far as how we typically go about putting value on things, I suspect that the items my four children will get for me won't be worth much to pretty much to everyone else. But I will cherish every one of them. I will treasure those gifts, not because how many dollars and cents were spent on those items, but because of how much I value the love of my children.

Let me share with you a story written by Robert Fulghum. It’s called a Little Brown Bag.

One nice morning, Daddy was about to leave for the office when his five-year-old girl handed him a little brown paper bag.

“And what is this?” the Daddy asked.

“Oh, some really, really nice things! And Daddy, I want you to have them!”

Daddy, who was already running late and had to rush to the office, grabbed the little brown paper bag, put it in his attached case, then hurried to his car and drove away.

When he got to the office, Daddy opened his attached case, and there, among his important papers and documents, he found the little brown paper bag.

Daddy emptied the little brown paper bag on his desk, and saw – 2 hair clips, 3 small stones, 1 very used pencil, 1 marble, 1 small plastic dinosaur, 2 small chocolate candies, 1 used lipstick, 1 little doll, and 13 very old meaningless coins.

Daddy was amused and smiled, then he gathered everything together and threw them all in the trash.

Then he went about the important things.

At the end of the day, a day of contracts and conferences and board meetings and executive decisions, Daddy finally got home.

“Daddy,” asked his little daughter, “where is it?”

“Where is what?”
“The things I gave you. The little brown bag I gave you this morning.”

He remembered the little brown paper bag. He remembered how he had looked at the contents, and he remembered how he had thrown everything in the trash.

“Daddy, Daddy, do you have them?” asked the little girl. “Did you lose them?” “You know Daddy, I really liked all those things. They were very, very special to me. I thought they were all so beautiful. And I had been collecting them one by one. They were the most precious things in the world to me. And so I gave them all to you as my gift because I love you, Daddy.”

And the Daddy looked at the face of his little, five-year-old girl and thought of her simple world of beauty and the value of love – and of her gift of the little brown paper bag. To that five-year-old girl, these were her most prized treasures and she entrusted them to her daddy and he literally had thrown them away.

Because Advent and Christmas is all about the gift of God's Son to the world, we celebrate Christmas by the giving and receiving of gifts.

But somewhere along the line, we've forgotten why we do all this. And because we've forgotten, a holy-day has just become a holiday. And that's the reason why we get gifts for all kinds of people, but we don't even begin thinking about what God might want for Christmas. And the more we make the holy-day a holiday, we can sing about Santa and Frosty, drink our eggnog and kiss our loved ones under the mistletoe, and not even think about God's gift to the world in His Son Jesus Christ.

That's why I encourage you to think about your gift to God for Christmas this year. What do you think God might want for Christmas? What do you think you could give to God that would make His heart leap with joy?

Go ahead. Give God your gift and let God change your world.