To Christmas Sunday, or not to Christmas Sunday?

Alright folks, it’s almost Christmas.  You guys are shopping, doing Christmas parties and wearing ugly sweaters; I won’t keep you for long for this post.

A few days ago, a person I follow, Jon Acuff (@JonAcuff), tweeted:

Shoutout to churches cancelling services this Sunday. We pastor’s kids often leave faith because the church stole our Christmas every year.

A lot of people, myself included, found a lot of humor and appreciation in his tweet.  But others didn’t and lit him up like a Christmas tree.  The 6-7 Year Debate as begun again:  Should churches have services on Christmas Day?  It’s shocking to see how Christians strongly defend having church on Christmas Sunday to the point of arguing against those who don’t.

People tweeted against Acuff, calling him an idolater and offering to pray for his salvation.  I saw an article’s comment section (Pro Tip:  Never go to the comments section. Ever.  Avoid it like sin) saying that churches that don’t do Christmas Sunday should not be called Christians.

I get it.  Christmas is a time for family and friends and most importantly,  for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.  What message are we sending to people when we say we are celebrating one of Heaven and Earth’s greatest moments but at the same time trashing other Christians and churches for not having Christmas Sunday services?

I advise that we check our hearts.  We act like not having church on Sunday is going to rob us of Jesus for that week.  Think about that for a second.  Is this the state of our Christian faith and our hearts, that getting Jesus once a week for a few hours is sufficient?  I think not.

So family, go and celebrate our Savior’s birth, whether you have a Christmas Sunday service or not.  You won’t get any judgmental looks or words from me.

Until next time, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with who he is pleased!” — Luke 2:8-14

Dear Christians, whenever atheists say we’re unloving, this is why.  We do this to each other.  We’ve become the people Christ fought against most, the self-righteous religious who have all of the rules but none of the grace.  Why do people who don’t know my Lord show me more forgiveness than those that do? — Jon Acuff

Stay hidden in the shadow of His wings,

– Jon Pannell

Advertisements

The Distracted Christian

**Disclaimer:  I am in no way a Greek scholar.  If you are, I would love to take some pointers from you.  Also, line up what I say with the Word; be a Berean (Acts 17:11).  If I’m teaching incorrectly, let me know.**

I’m trying my hand at blogging once again and hopefully, this will become something greater than myself.

The past few days have been very interesting, to say the least.  It’s not because of the snow, but it’s because of one picture.  This one.

The argument about this particular dress was all over Tumblr at first.  What is white and gold?  Or was it black and blue?  The argument flooded over to other areas of social media until it seemed like everyone, including major news outlets, was weighing in with their opinions.  (By the way, I looked at the whole dress deal for about 15 minutes).

But do you want to know something?

For a moment, we all forgot about the 200+ Christians in Syria that were kidnapped by terrorist group ISIS.  All of a sudden, their lives weren’t as important as the color of a silly little dress.

If you ask me, we Americans have a stunning case of ADHD.  Something happens, and we’re all over it, but we won’t remember it in the course of a few weeks to months.  Don’t believe me?  Pick a major story from the past year, like ebola.  Don’t tell me you forgot about that already!

Now, slightly changing gears to another type of distraction…

Today’s culture has an unhealthy obsession with being busy, and the modern, American Christian is no exception.  We rush from one ministry opportunity to another, meeting to meeting, service to service, etc.  We are everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  Add work, family, school, and more to that equation and we become incredibly stressed and overcommitted.  Usually the first thing that goes to “accommodate” this stressful workload is our time and relationship with God.

Walk with me to Luke 10:38-42.  This passage takes place after Jesus sends out the 72 and they come back, and after His Parable of the Good Samaritan.  The text reads as follows:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village.  And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving.  And she went up to Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Ladies and gentlemen, these are the signs of a distracted Christian:

  1. They serve…WAY too much. Slowing down and stopping seems foreign to them.

“But Martha was distracted with much serving…”

Here, the word “distracted,” perispao, is spoken in the Passive Voice (where something acts upon the subject), which meant that her serving drew Martha away from Jesus’ teachings.  Oh, did you know that the word for serving is the same word used for ministry?  It’s diakonia, where we get our word “deacon.”

Don’t get me wrong.  Jesus requires all of us to serve; it’s the way to greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven.  When we serve, we empty ourselves as we pour into other people.

But what happens if we never get filled again?

This was an area that I’ve struggled with for a very long time, even to this day.  Sometimes,  I hardly have time with God, yet I’m involved with church, small groups, classes, photography, writing, and the like.  And I’m finding myself tired, burned out, frustrated, critical, and unfulfilled.  My friend Roland told me when I discussed my frustrations to him that I was “giving out of a deficit.”

Wow.

I was still pouring myself out to others even when I was empty.  Talk about a ministry where you have nothing and give nothing to those around you.

So, ask yourself, “Am I pouring emptiness into the people around me, or am I draining them with my issues and problems?”  This kind of serving leads to burnout, eventual isolation, and a possible desire to abandon ministry altogether.

  1. They wonder why others aren’t doing as much as they are, or why they have no assistance in their endeavors. They prioritize other responsibilities over their time with God.

And she went up to Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me.”

Martha’s sister Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, hanging on to every word He is saying.  But Martha is busy, busy, busy.  Eventually, Martha gets fed up with Mary doing nothing and she asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her.

Like Martha, we have a huge burden full of assignments, ministries, etc., and we wonder why no one is helping us in our endeavors to serve.  The word “help” is translated as synantilambanomai, which means to “take a share in.” This is spoken in the Middle Voice (the verb emphasis the subject).  Like Martha, we want someone to help us accomplish and lighten this burden imposed on us.  Truth of the matter is that we want other people and not God Himself to help us.

  1. They are overloaded with many things.

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…”

The words for “anxious” and “troubled” in the Greek mean that Martha was disturbed in her thinking due to the cares that were troubling her.  In the same way, Distracted Christians have too much on their minds at any given moment of the day.

  1. They forget what’s most important. Their identity is found in their service instead of in God.

“…But one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion which will not be taken away from her.”

Christ said to Martha that one overarching thing is necessary in the midst of concerns and needs, and it’s what Mary chose.  This “good portion” is agathos meris, a share of something that is useful and life-giving.  The word for “share” is also used in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), meaning “inheritance,” a share that belongs to the children of a father.

Get this, folks.  The good portion that Jesus is talking about is something that breathes life into us; it’s something that we should treasure.  Jesus imparted life, eternity, salvation to those who had time to accept His teachings which will not be taken away or revoked.  This is why having time with God is so critical.

We have avoided spending time with God in favor of that TV show, or so we can make a commitment to a meeting, class, or work.  I’m not exempting myself from this; I’ve done this countless time.

We become too busy and distracted for God.  The same God who breathed life into us, reconciled us, sees us as His sons and daughters, who adopted us into His family.  He longs to be with us.  But we push Him aside.

And when things go wrong in our lives, we wonder where God is.  Or better yet, we pray a half-hearted prayer to Him.  What’s going on with us?

Somewhere along the line, we forget who we are.  Like Martha, we find our identity and worth in serving and working instead of being a child of God, sitting at His feet and hearing what He has to say.  People who find their identity in their work and deeds will find problems really quickly.  Instead of finding security in God, we find it in the praise we receive and the “likes” on our social media.  When that fades, so does our identity.

Folks, the only way you can lose your salvation is if you worked for it.  Salvation is a gift given to you; you just have to accept the gift.

So, how can we get out of a distracted and shallow to empty life?

  1. Find a time to sit at the feet of Jesus and protect it.

Get together with God sometime in the day.  He wants to talk to you.  He wants to teach you.  To put it in more “relevant” terms, He wants to hang out with you.  It can be in the morning, during the afternoon, or before you go to bed.  You have the same 24 hours in a day as a celebrity or a fellow Christ-follower.  Protect that time no matter what.

Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to His teachings.  This was written in the Passive Voice, meaning that something compelled her to sit down and listen.  We can be so distracted and so busy that a moment like this can pass us and we wouldn’t even notice.

Folks, God saved you from a life of sin and eternal condemnation.  Isn’t He worthy to spend time with?

  1. Slow down.

In this Speedy Gonzales type of world where everything is go, go, go, sometimes we need to stop and rest.  Relax.  Lay our burdens and anxiety at the feet of Jesus, for his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11: 28-30).  The more time you spend with Jesus, the less stressed and worried you become.  If God provides for his creation, He will surely take care of you!  Being anxious is a time and life waster!

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? — Matthew 6:27

  1. Prioritize the “one thing necessary.”

I want you to think of the most important thing or things you have to do today.  Now replace that with Jesus.  This may sound like a hard thing to do, but put the most important thing aside and spend time with Jesus.  Give Him your undivided attention.

  1. Always choose the “good portion.”

When you sit and listen to God, you are confirming your identity in Him as His son or daughter, which will not be taken away.  Your inheritance and treasure is in Him.  When everything else fades, only He remains; all that other stuff, the praise and adulation of others, will fade.  Why put your identity in the temporary?

Folks, what will you choose?  Will you sit at Jesus’ feet and heed His teachings, or will you burn yourself out with distractions and service?  One of them leads to a fulfilling life.

Before I close, I want to quote from A. W. Tozer from The Pursuit of God (emphases mine).

The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture.  It is too slow, too common.  We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action.  A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals.  We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God.  We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.

The tragic results of this spirit are all about us.  Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance (prevalence, priority, superiority) of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in externalities (outward forces instead of the Holy Spirit), quasi-religious fellowships (seemingly Christian), salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit:  these and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady (disorder or disease) of the soul.

I hope this encourages you and builds you up.  If you have questions, let me know!

Until next time, be hidden in the shadow of His wings.

Jon Pannell