How to Keep Christmas Real

It’s that time of year. When the busyness of the season threatens the heart of Christmas, when we are so caught up in the what that we neglect the who and our adversary twiddles his fingers in glee.

As Facebook trumpets the countdown of shopping days, as Pinterest overflows with exquisitely decorated homes, as Instagram brags of polished, perfect families, we are easily sucked into trying to portray a flawless Social Media Christmas.

Our children’s smiles are photoshopped over the wails. We post pictures of artfully decorated cookies and delete the pictures of dozens burnt or deemed unworthy of sharing. We slave over the tree, unable to let our children assist because they don’t understand each branch need 3 ornaments, working from the largest out to the smallest ornament. We are consumed with portraying the perfect Christmas image and we make an idol of the holiday.

Idolatry is coveting anything other than God.

If any of this rings true in your heart, it’s time to reclaim Christmas. It’s time to repent, fix our mind on Christ, and set our hearts on Him.
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Hear, Oh LORD, my plea: listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer – letting it rise from lips free of deceit.

 Examine me from the inside out and make my heart right with You. 
May my steps hold to Your path and may my feet not slip as I strive to honour You this Christmas.
I call on You, Oh God, for You will answer me, give ear to me and hear my prayer.
Show the wonder of Your great love. You save by your right hand those who take refuge in You.

Watch over me, hide me in the shadow of your wings, protect me from the wicked who bombard me with wrong images of Christmas, protect me from the mortal enemy who tries to remove from me the joy of Jesus, protect me from my own sinful heart that has made this holiday an idol.

Unrepentant hearts are calloused. Unrepentant mouths speak with arrogance. The enemy tracks me down and surrounds me with unrealistic expectations. He throws me to the ground in busyness. Rise up, Oh Lord, as I repent. Confront my foes, rescue me from the external wickedness and the wickedness within.

You will still my hunger. You give me plenty. I will seek Your face this Holiday. When my family awakes on Christmas morning, may we be satisfied with You. You are the gift. You are my Lord. Help me reclaim this Christmas for You.

*from the archives

Rest in the wait

My soul waits in the quiet stillness for God—for my rock, my salvation, and my fortress. My hope is in Him. On God alone rests my salvation and glory. I trust in him, my provider at all times.

I shall not be shaken.

I unburden my heart before him, the mighty rock of mercy and grace. I trust not in the world, set no vain hopes on the things of man. The power belongs to the Lord.

I shall not be shaken.

*inspired from Psalm 62

Conditional Blessings

Solomon’s prayer dedicating the temple to the Lord  1 King’s 8:22-53 is full of requests for conditional blessings.  He prays: “If we pray, acknowledge, and turn from sin, THEN God hears and forgives.” “If we turn our hearts, repent with all our minds, and pray, THEN God hears, forgives and grants compassion.” Solomon made it abundantly clear in verse 46 that every person sins against the Lord.

“If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—”(46)

Solomon didn’t just ask for blessings, but made repentance a precursor to the blessing.

There is no forgiveness without repentance. There is no repentance without a desire to replace sinful habits and actions with God-honouring ones. And nothing changes until God grants the desire to pursue Him and the Holy Spirit transforms a heart.

How often do we pray for blessing and rescue but are unwilling to address our heart issues and repent? How often do we ask God for things, perhaps even good things—but still fail to repent of the actions, thoughts, and sin that prevent his blessing? I don’t know about you, but these questions are a timely heart check for me.

Oh how I need to repent of the sin that prevents God’s power in my life! Oh, how I need to examine my choices.

  • What hobby or activity do I pursue more than Him?
  • What desire do I long for more than time in the Word?
  • What television program or novel pulls me from prayer?
  • What action do I KNOW I am called to act upon but have put off because of laziness, fear, or simple disobedience?

Oh God, open our eyes to hidden sin and misplaced priorities.I desire a closeness between us that will not tolerate sin or give it an opportunity to root. I want a soft heart so that as You reveal areas in need of surrender I will willingly release them.

It is not comfortable or easy to invite the Holy Spirit to expose our continual need for the gospel. But, it is good.

After salvation, isn’t something supposed to be different?

“I asked God into my heart, but I don’t think that it worked,” he said, as if the words he prayed held magical powers inaccessible to him. “I don’t feel different. Nothing’s changed.”

His heartbreakingly honest confession was accompanied by a wide and fearful expression afraid to hope. Did he pray it wrong? Did he say the wrong words? Was he really saved for eternity? Wasn’t something supposed to be different?

Repent and believe

Mark 1:15: and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

How many people have, in a moment of conviction, walked to the front of the church aisle, repeated phrases fed to them, raised their hand or stood up only to wake the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, defeated because nothing feels different? How many people have wrongly believed that verses like John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” and Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” means the only requirement for salvation is to repeat some magic words?

Yes, the person who believes in Jesus Christ has eternal life and will be saved. I do not dispute that nor challenge the simplicity and beauty of that wonderful truth. However, the believing and confessing, which secures salvation, includes repentance, holy living, and dying to self. They go hand in hand and cannot be separated. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). Even Jesus questioned the people who claimed to follow Him but failed to obey His commands.

There is no forgiveness without repentance. There is no repentance without a desire to replace sinful habits and actions with God-honouring ones. And nothing changes until God grants the desire to pursue Him and the Holy Spirit transforms a heart.

Perhaps the problem plaguing young man from the beginning is not a failure for the “words to take” but more of a failure to understand what it means to count the cost, pick up his cross, repent, and follow Jesus. Perhaps it was a failure to acknowledge that he couldn’t continue on his merry way, relishing his sin, and making selfish choices. It was, perhaps, a refusal or unawareness of the need to die to self.

“Cheap grace seeks to hide the cost of discipleship from people. It seeks to claim that as long as we make a profession of faith, we are saved. God’s grace covers all our sins. Again, that is a wonderful truth! The apostle Paul says as much when he writes, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21). Yet, right after writing that, Paul follows it with this: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). Salvation by grace alone through faith alone is so much more than simply mouthing the words “Jesus is Lord.” We are not saved by a profession of faith. We are not saved by praying the Sinner’s Prayer. We are not saved by signing a card or walking an aisle. We are saved by a living and active faith (James 2:14-26), a faith that manifests itself in repentance, obedience and love of God and our neighbor. Salvation is not a transaction; it’s a transformation. Paul says it best when he says we are “new creations” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).” 

GotQuestions.org

The Great Exchange

“Salvation is not a transaction, it’s a transformation.” Yes, I love that. But it is imperative to define “transaction” in that context. Salvation is not me putting out specific words and God putting in salvation because I parroted the right phrase. In that sense, salvation is not a transaction. But salvation is the exchange of my sin for the righteousness of Christ. In that sense, it is a transaction.

Self Examination

Have you been transformed? Or, like the boy from the beginning, have you only just begun to understand that God is calling you to do more than a repeat-after-me prayer? Don’t be fooled by cheap grace. Examine yourself and see if you are in the faith. Your confession of faith must be accompanied by repentance and change.

Answer the call, repent and believe.

*Click the block quote to be redirected to Got Questions and read the full explanation of how grace can be cheapened.

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Plan to pray

It sounds very mechanical and unspiritual. Plan to pray. Does it mean we plan and schedule in prayer like we schedule regular doctor appointments or dental check-ups? It doesn’t sound very meaningful. Shouldn’t we long to pray? Shouldn’t our being ache to enter into the presence of God?

Yes, the desire for regular communication with the Lord should fill our hearts. But the reality is, we often don’t do what we don’t plan for. So plan to pray.

Where and When

Plan the where and when of daily time with the Lord. Where are you least distracted? When can you devote all your attention to Him? Then, protect that time. The accumulation of little choices that prioritize prayer will create a habit of meeting with the Lord. It will bless you like little else can.

What

There is little satisfaction in arriving on time to your secluded spot to pray, and then struggling to know how to proceed. Know what you are going to do in your time with the Lord. Start by asking the Lord to meet with you.

 

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Perhaps you should follow a bible reading plan. I’ve attached two links at the end of this post that are a fantastic place to start.

Organize your thoughts so your prayer time is more than asking God to meet your pressing needs. I journal the acronym H. E. A. R.. Highlight a meaningful verse from your daily text. Explain the text in your own words to ensure you have understood it. Apply the text to your life. Respond to the promoting of the Holy Spirit. Do you need to repent or change your actions, thoughts, or habits as a result of what you have learned?

Be accountable

Each day of the week I pray for a different group of people, knowing that by the end of the week, I have prayed over everyone. Monday is family. Tuesday is church leaders. etc. I keep this list by my computer so I can send out brief messages to tell them how I am praying for them. It spurs me on, knowing that sharing my heart for them encourages them.

Perhaps you need to give a friend permission to ask you hard questions about your prayer life. Perhaps you need a prayer partner. Ask God to show you what might help you grow in prayer, then make a plan to implement the change.

Helpful links:

Bible reading plan that covers 100 essential bible passages every believer should know.

Bible reading plan that covers the ministry and person of Christ.

Growing Up, How to be a disciple who makes disciples (great book, and it is where the first reading plan and H.E.A.R acronym are found)

When life gets in the way of your plans

The Lord’s timing is perfect.

When the demands of life press down hard let that truth sink deep. The Lord’s timing is perfect.

When edits for two books are due, as race day fast approaches and school steals far more time than expected, the Lord’s timing is perfect. When ministry commitments demand attention while there are mouths to feed, clothes to wash, and a home to keep, the Lord’s timing is perfect. He give us everything we need, moment by moment, as we depend on Him and offer all of self for His glory.

When you wonder, “How much more can I give?” The Lord answers, “Give me it all.” Because He is worthy.

Holy delays bend human schedules and bow stubborn hearts.

God might be more interested in how you respond to life’s impositions than removing them from your path. 

Unexpected interruptions cause anxiety to surface but the Spirit fights back. He is sovereign. Prioritize one day at a time. What has God called me to today? What will most glorify Him right now?

One choice at a time, you can follow His lead and trust that He will provide what you need to serve Him well. He who calls you is faithful.

Sheep follow the Shepherd, trusting His voice. He leads His own to green pastures and beside quiet waters.

The answer is found in more—more of what you have the least: time. More time with the Lord. More time in His Word. More time to rest in green pastures and drink the quiet waters.

To follow His voice we must know it. We come to know Him by spending time with Him. The alarm rings a bit sooner each morning and He comes first. Then, one by one, tasks are completed. Edits addressed. Race training accomplished. School is prioritized. Ministry demands met. Bellies fed. Clothes washed. Home kept. One choice at a time, God provides as I seek Him first. He leads me to green pastures in His Word. The quiet waters of early morning stillness with Him restore my soul. We must seek God above all other things.

Let your praise rise to the Lord from a thankful heart. Good gifts come from above and stir total surrender. All of your life. All of your dreams. All of you.

For only the Lord is good. Only the Lord is worthy of praise. Only the Lord.