Did you get the one gift you dreamed of opening this Christmas?

This was the question pastor Drew Derreth asked during his Christmas morning sermon. As I listened, I looked around at each of my children. My three youngest were still dressed in their PJs (a privilege reserved for Christmas). I was confident they would answer with a resounding “Yes!” but I wasn’t sure about my two older children. The magic of Christmas morning seemed to be wearing a little thin for them. As Drew spoke, I tapped my eldest on the shoulder and gave him an inquisitive look. He smiled back politely. He seemed determined not to show any disappointment despite never finding the one gift (an expensive drone) under the Christmas tree. He shared his siblings’ excitement over their gifts and gave many thanks for what he received, but he seemed a little let down.

Can you relate?

Disappointment is hard to hide, especially over the long term. We may acknowledge we have no right to complain, but the life we dreamed of having is not the life we wake-up to. Our gratitude feels forced, not natural. We long for authentic joy and we do what we can to quicken its return, but no matter how hard we try we can’t seem to conjure up the deep joy we desire.

Why is it so difficult to manufacture joy?

Young children make joy look so easy. Christmas morning convinces me that they experience the most joy despite doing nothing to produce it. Mom and Dad are the ones who plan long and labor hard. They budget, shop, cook and wrap. Where are the children while the parents exhaust themselves labeling presents and tying every last bow? They are dreaming peacefully in their beds. Strangely, childrens’ joy seems the greatest because they don’t have to work for it. Kids need to do only one thing excellently in order to experience pure, raw joy. They need to know how to receive gifts — something every kid does instinctively.

If you are finding it hard to manufacture joy, maybe you’ve forgotten the secret every child knows instinctively — joy comes most naturally from receiving and delighting in good gifts.

The Bible, like the old Sears catalog, inventories all kinds of wonderful gifts God has to offer, but the best gift is pictured for us in Isaiah 9:6. The good news for all who circle this gift and place it on their list is that they are guaranteed to receive it.

“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

This gift provides the greatest joy because God, the most lavish giver, knows we crave a “who” more than a “what”. Lasting joy comes from a person; not a religious ritual, nor a set of wisdom principles, nor moral victory, nor any created thing. This incredible person, though born in weakness as a child, will carry all authority and power on His shoulders. As such, he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. As a Wonderful Counselor he will prove himself not only wise, but also gentle and loving and good. He will reveal precious insights about God, ourselves and our world. Even though he is born a child, he will be called Mighty God. As fully God and fully man, he will reconcile man fully to God. As Everlasting Father he will dote upon His children and eagerly attend to all their needs and concerns. As the Prince of Peace he will end all strife and alienation: spiritually toward God, relationally toward one another, psychologically toward oneself.

If you didn’t get that one gift you desired this Christmas, look past all the ribbons and bows and see Jesus. Take him for yourself and discover the desires of your heart. He alone can restore a deep and lasting joy.

Featured Picture Credits

Overcome the “Fear of Missing Out”

In 2013 the word FOMO was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. The Fear Of Missing Out is the “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere”. College students and young adults have a reputation for being severely afflicted with FOMO. As a freshman I wrecked my health by depriving myself of sleep to pack my day (and night) with excitement: pizza runs at 2am, all-night gaming, road trips and over-the-top pranks. But, it’s not just young adults who suffer. Sometimes FOMO plagues us all. Families pack weekend after weekend with serial sporting events and leave little room for spiritual or relational nourishment. FOMO shows up during the Christmas season when we run ourselves ragged to keep every tradition and then spend money we don’t have.

FOMO is amplified by social media. Technology now gives us the ability to see all the good times friends had without us. Facebook show us exactly what we’ve missed.

How do you know if you suffer from FOMO? Here are 5 common symptoms:

  1. You find it difficult to commit to social invitations. Are you concerned something better may come along and you will miss out on a better opportunity?
  2. You are restless. Are you looking for the next thing to provide you a sense of excitement? Has it become increasingly difficult to enjoy simple pleasures God provides each day?
  3. Your mind wanders elsewhere. Do you have difficulty being present emotionally or mentally with the people you live with daily — your spouse, your kids, your neighbors and friends?
  4. You constantly compare. Has social media stopped being about “staying in touch” and turned into “keeping up”? Do you waste hours online and end up feeling jealous and exhausted by the great things others are doing in their lives?
  5. You believe having more or doing more will make you happy. Do you crash when you can’t handle “the more” you think you want? Have you begun experiencing a bi-polar lifestyle of extreme highs and lows that leave you feeling strung out?

How do you overcome FOMO?

  1. Recognition is the first step toward healing. Until you admit that FOMO is ruining your joy you won’t be able to overcome it. Don’t minimizing FOMO’s impact on you.
  2. Identify your triggers. What sets off your Fear of Missing Out? Consider removing those triggers for a time (or permanently). Fast from social media, leave your phone in your car, or take a break from relationships that feed your FOMO.
  3. Reflect more deeply.  Ask yourself, “Will I truly be happier if I have ____ or if I do ____?” When you identify a lie, you can starve it and feed on the truth. Sometimes less is more. Ask yourself why FOMO is such a common human experience. Could it be that you were made for something more than this broken world currently offers? If you are missing out on what God has in store, FOMO may help spur you to search in a new direction.
  4. Look To God: Only God can satisfy. Our Fears Of Missing Out can only be calmed when we look into Jesus’ face and see the one who came “to make all things new!” (Revelation 21:5) Once we do, our patience will return as we become convinced that no matter how inadequate our current situation God will, one day, restore what is lost and broken. Ultimately, we will not miss out on any good thing!
  5. Read the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. The author speaks from experience. He suffered from FOMO like none other and offers advice for how to overcome.

Chances are you don’t need more good times. You simply need to choose to enjoy what you already have. God has created a world of simple pleasures which are often free and usually the best. Enjoy a brisk walk, a warm drink, a healthy meal. Sit quietly with a friend or family member and listen. Treasure the people near you.

Remember, at Christmas, even God thought it best to slow down and content Himself with less when He became human.

Featured Picture Credit

The Most Influential Person of All Time

51OOB97bKFLTime Magazine published a special edition in April 2012. The cover read “The 100 Most Influential People of All Time”. It was global, pluralistic and offended almost no one. Joel Stein wrote, “If you’re a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew or a Zoroastrian, you have no reason to get upset. I’m hoping, however, that no Scientologists see this.”

To say that Jesus Christ should make the top 100 is a given. The ball dropping in Times Square will soon flash 2016, reminding us that we still date time after him. But should Jesus top the list as “The Most Influencial Person of All Time”?

Scientists would likely choose Newton, Galileo, Darwin or Einstein. But we must ask, “How did science come about in the first place?” It rose in medieval Europe; not Asia, nor the Middle East, nor Africa, nor the Americas. Many societies developed alchemy, but only in Europe did alchemy turn into chemistry.  Only in Europe did astrology lead to astronomy.  Why?

The most important victory in history, was the victory of reason which occurred within Christianity.  Dr. Rodney Stark clarifies in his book The Victory of Reason,

“While other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guide to religious truth.  . . from the early days, the church fathers taught that reason was the supreme gift from God and the means to progressively increase their understanding of scripture and revelation. Consequently, Christianity was oriented to the future, while other major religions asserted the superiority of the past.  . .  Encouraged by Scholastics and embodied in the great medieval universities founded by the church, faith in the power of reason infused western culture, stimulating the pursuit of science and the evolution of democratic theory and practice.”

Alfred North Whitehead, co-author with Bertrand Russell in the landmark Principia Methematica admitted to his distinguished, yet shocked, audience at Harvard in 1925, “faith in the possibility of science. . . [was] derived from medieval [Christian] theology.” 

However, can we really say Jesus stands out on top if we look at His influence from a global perspective? China, a secular country of over 1 billion people, has been committed to a communist and atheistic ideology for several generations. Yet consider a recent statement by, Zhao Xiao, one of China’s leading scholars.

“One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world. We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system.  Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”  (Aikman, David. 2003. Jesus in Beijing. Regnery. 2003. p.5)

Zhao Xiao later confesses, “I thought I could never believe in God, because I am an economist.”¹ He now attends a Christian house church in China. Currently China is a hot-bed of church growth and some scholars estimate there are nearly 100 million Christians in the underground church.

A book co-authored by an atheist and a Roman Catholic (The Economists’s John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge) titled God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World records,

“Almost everywhere you look, from the suburbs of Dallas to the slums of Sao Paulo to the back streets of Bradford, you can see religion returning to public life. . . One poll in 2006 – fifteen years after the fall of the Soviet regime — discovered that 84 percent of the Russian population believed in God while only 16 percent considered themselves athiests. [Even] Mikhail Gorbachev has shown signs he is a Christian.”

Jesus Christ continues to change cultures and individuals. I see this reflected on college campuses. I’ve only been a campus minister for 20 years, but more students than ever are attending our events and seeking answers about Jesus. Time magazine may never call Jesus “The Most Influential Person of All Time” but the evidence continues to accumulate.

This Christmas I pray more and more people discover what over 3 billion followers profess about Jesus. He is Immanuel — God with us!

¹ (Micklethwait and Wooldridge, God is Back. Penguin Press, 2009. p18)