This Christmas

This Christmas:

  • Give the gift of verbal affirmation.  Tell people why you love them.
  • Don’t be uptight about schedules.  More Christmases are ruined because people are worried about being late.
  • Give grace to people who are late.
  • Get down on the floor and play with a child.
  • If you get a chance to hold a baby, do it.
  • When you hear the preacher trying to say something new about the greatest story ever told, pray for him.
  • Some of your gifts represent significant sacrifices.  Show appreciation – write thank you notes.
  • Get some rest.
  • Read the Christmas Story to yourself, out loud.
  • Go to a Christmas Eve Service.
  • If you get a chance, stop by a barn and smell Jesus’ first bedroom.
  • If you see someone in cemetery standing by a grave, pray for them.
  • Chances are good that someone will burst into tears, get angry, or lose it over the holidays.  Listen, don’t fix.
  • Eat something good.
  • Tell God “thank you” for the greatest gift of all.

Surrender

I remember it like it was yesterday.  Ron Lewis was preaching in the old worship center on Miller Road.  He asked, “What is the universal sign of surrender?”

Considering the large percentage of our church who served in the military, most people knew the answer.  But probably because no military person wanted to confess they knew the sign for surrender, no one spoke.

When no answer was forthcoming, Ron looked at us, and then raised both hands high above his head.  “This,” he said, “Is the universal sign of surrender.  The question is, will you surrender to God?”

This is the part I will never forget, Ron’s next statement.  “God is looking in each town and each city for one church, one group of Jesus followers, to hold up their hands and say, ‘Father, what ever you want for your church, we surrender.  Our answer is ‘yes.’  You do with us whatever you want.'”

I never forgotten that.  What I remember is my heart leaping forward and saying, “Yes.  I want Alice Drive to be that church, that church that is surrendered totally to God and for God to use us in whatever way He wills.”

Do you want to be a church that is surrendered?

Following Is Your Choice

 

Monty Roberts was raised in the horse business. He learned there was one way to train horses: by “breaking” them. Through domination and force, which at

monty robertstimes included striking the horse with whips or even tying and suspending the horse’s feet and legs, a trainer would impose his will upon the animal until it reached the conclusion that total submission was the only way to survive.

In his early teen years Roberts began to study the behavior and communication patterns of wild mustangs in the badlands of Nevada. He took note of the nonverbal communication among the horses …. Drawing on this observation and his firsthand experience with horses, Roberts developed a breakthrough training technique he first called “hooking on” as opposed to “breaking down” the horse’s will. This new training method was based on a cornerstone concept he eventually trademarked called JoinUp®. Join-Up not only stopped the “breaking” norms of traditional horse training, it showcased how to cooperate with the horse’s own spirit, innate ways, and means of communicating as a member of the herd.

The personality and full potential of the horse emerge through loving freedom and desire rather than domination …. The Join-Up technique invites an untamed horse that has never been ridden to willingly accept the saddle, bridle, and rider. It is a thing of beauty to watch. Monty Roberts enters a round pen with a wild horse. In as little as half an hour, he’ll be riding the horse.

Roberts creates an atmosphere of mutual respect that communicates, “I’m not going to hurt you, and you don’t have to follow me if you don’t want to.” After a brief period of introducing himself and interacting with the horse … Roberts turns his back to the animal and walks away.

At this point the horse trains her eyes on Monty with all-out intensity and attention. She is asking herself, “Where is he going?” and “Do I want to stay by myself?” The horse must choose: “I want to be with you. I want to join up and follow you on the way.” She quickly decides, “My safe place is with you.” Dropping her head (equine language for “I submit to you”) and trotting to Roberts’s side, the horse says, “I choose to follow. I want to be with you.”[i]

Jesus could have decided to break our wills. He could have beaten us, threatened us, forced submission on us. But he didn’t. He comes into our lives, makes himself known, and then he invites us to follow. It’s up to us. Do you choose to follow him, to be with him? He offers you the incredible freedom to decide.

[i] Leonard Sweet, I am a Follower.

Would You Leave?

Imagine living in the White House.  Not being president, just being able to live in one of the grandest houses that exists.

There are butlers to wake you up and bring you breakfast.  Maids make your bed and clean your room.  Need a ride?  No problem, the Transportation Office can fix you up.

The meals are to die for.   The staff is known to indulge guests with their favorite chocolates and drinks.  Get hungry in the middle of the night?  Not a problem;  someone is always on duty, just in case.

You can sleep soundly, knowing you are in the one of the safest places in the United States.  Secret Service people are posted in the halls, policeman man the fences, and there are unseen missiles and technologies protecting you.

Want to watch movie?  Check out the movie theater downstairs.  Swim?  No problem, the pool is just outside, next to the tennis courts and the basketball court.  Want to walk in a garden?  There are sixteen acres of grounds to stroll in.

Sounds pretty good.  More than a few residents of the White House have had trouble adjusting to the outside.

So imagine volunteering to leave the White House, not to live in some upscale mansion, but to live in a homeless shelter.  Imagine going from the White House kitchen to the soup kitchen.  Imagine going from having the ultimate turn down service to being turned down for jobs, living space, and help.

Just take that little trip of imagination – and now you know just a small piece of what it was like for Jesus to leave heaven and come to earth.

Why would he do it?  There’s a simple answer:  He loves you.

Love Sacrifices…

A Mom hears her baby cry in the night. Though her body is exhausted, she rises from her slumber, lifts her baby, bounces him once or twice, and then feeds him. Love responds.

A Dad is tired from working two jobs to make some extra money for Christmas. His alarm goes off way too early; he knows he will need to make the coffee extra strong this morning. He can’t help but ask himself, “What am I doing?” He flips the light on in the kitchen, and sees the picture of his little girl in her dance outfit on the fridge, held in place by a Disney Princess magnet. A smile rises, unbidden. He knows why he’s up so early. Love works.

The teenager has passed beyond Barbie and entered the world of hot teen fashion. Her after-school job gives her just enough money to buy the right outfits. But lately she’s been thinking about how much her parents do for her. Her cell phone buzzes; she realizes they pay for it. After work, she gets in the car her parents bought; they also pay for the gas and the insurance. A new thought rises – maybe it’s time to give something back to them. She decides to forgo buying a new outfit, and instead heads to her Mom’s favorite store to get something for really cool for her – and to pay for it with her own money. Love gives.

He has scrimped and saved for over a year, waiting for this moment. He was tempted to buy a new shotgun, but told himself “no.” He needed every dime for this big purchase. He told his buddies that he was getting tired of Ramen Noodle soup every night and got a big laugh. But he also saw the envy in their eyes. All the self-denial, all the hope, and all the future was riding on this moment. In a clearing in the woods, he got down on one knee, and pulled out the sparkling diamond ring, and asked the big question. Her tears flowed, but her head nodded “yes.” Love sacrifices.

Where do you suppose we get this idea from – the idea that love responds, works, gives, and sacrifices?

God saw the world was broken. Though He didn’t break it, He was the only one who could fix it. So God responded. He sent His son Jesus to this earth, not to fix it with one magical spell, but to work. Jesus became one of us, to teach us and encourage us. Then Jesus sacrificed himself for us – when He could have been self-centered and walked away. Jesus is the model for teaching us how to love.

This is the story of Christmas. Love sacrifices.

Muschamp and South Carolina

I confess I was hoping USC would hire Mark Richt.  I like the man’s character.   I also confess I was hoping they wouldn’t hire Will Muschamp.  They did.

Was it the right decision?  Too soon to tell.  Being a life-long Florida Gator fan, the Muschamp years were tough.  Great on defense.  Merry-go-round of offensive coordinators (Sorry, but Charlie Weiss having to sit down during every defensive series was not inspiring).  Good on off the field issues.  Good recruiter, loyal to his players.

People say, “look how well Muschamp’s players have done this year.”  Yes, but remember, it took a new coach to get to rise to that level.

Here’s my number one concern about Muschamp.  During his years at Florida, he seemed to forget he was the head coach.  Defensive coordinators can let their emotions run.   Head coaches need to get quickly back on center.  I’m sure some of Muschamp’s coaching decisions were made in the emotion of the moment.  Going for it on 4th and 12 on your own 40 isn’t a smart idea, even if you believe in your players.

To me, assistant coaches are there to encourage, focus on technique, and offer options.  The head coach makes decisions.  That’s his job.  He also has to deal with the media, the donors, the big powers at the university, the fans, etc.  It’s complicated.  Whenever you are at the head of the organization, you have to keep the big picture in mind.  Letting your emotions get the best of you isn’t the best way to do that.

Here’s the second concern:  Muschamp talks about out-working other people.  When Ron Zook took over for Spurrier at Florida, he made a big deal out of getting a waterproof cell phone so he could call recruits in the shower.  I remember thinking, “This is trouble.”  When you lead an organization it is often not about how hard you work;  it is about having wisdom to make judgements.  Hard work doesn’t always lead to wisdom.  When you  are an assistant coach, you need to work hard.  When you are the head coach, you better be wise.

I hope it works out for Will Muschamp, I really do.  But I hope for his sake, and South Carolina’s, he keeps the big picture in mind, and he coaches wisely.

Tis the Season to be Measuring…

It starts with the ads – subtle and not so subtle reminders that you are being measured this Christmas. Will your gift be good enough? Will your gift show true love? How will it compare to other people’s gifts?

If you are separated or divorced, you know this pressure first hand. You are wondering how your gift at Christmas compares to the gifts from your ex. A competitive drive kicks in. You spend a little more than you should. You probe to find out what the other parent gave as a gift.

If you are dating, you know this pressure too. It is not about giving the gift;   it is about how you compare to boyfriends or girlfriends past. You want your gift to show that you are superior to the old flame.

When my kids were small, I wondered how we were doing compared to the neighbors. My nightmare was to have the kids come back home the day after Christmas and say, “Sam got a complete Star Wars Action Figure set. I only got Luke and Han Solo.” Once I found myself driving to Columbia and Florence on the same day looking for a particular Power Ranger toy because we had been tipped off that a friend was getting that toy. We didn’t want to fall short as parents (I found it too, after beating back a horde of desperate mothers at a Target).

Even Christmas meals turn into competition. One lady told me she refused to make cobbler for Christmas because she knew her sister-in-law’s was better (let me be the judge of that – please!). We check to see if our casserole was eaten all up and feign pity at the poor soul whose store bought pound cake lays untouched.

There is competition at Christmas – it is a reality. It reared its head when Herod wanted to find Jesus and kill him. If there is one thing a king can’t stand, it is competition.

But Jesus came to set us free from the need to prove ourselves better than someone else. The truth is there is no competition: we are all sinners, needing grace. In the race of sin, there are no winners. Jesus came not to be pit us against each other, but to set us free to live, following Him.

Make this Christmas not about beating the competition; make it about traveling with the one who bids us, “follow me.”