In Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” we are introduced to a person whose very presence is the anthesis of joy…Ebeneezer Scrooge. Described as a bitter, cold-hearted, mean-spirited and miserly old man — His nephew Fred comes to invite him over for Christmas dinner, and the conversation allows us to see the different perspectives of the two men regarding Christmas time…
Fred’s description of Christmas is the ideal is it not. That Christmas is supposed to effect us and open us up to the working of God and to charity towards our fellow neighbors…we are to live with hope, peace, joy, and love. Scrooge is pessimistic about this view of Christmas, and finds little need for it. He’s too busy to be bothered by it. Too important to waste time considering it even. And when asked to give it a chance, he would rather go about his life.
Christmas wishes to reorient our life circumstances and this is not easily accomplished. It didn’t come easy for God, and it doesn’t come easy for us. Take, for example, Scrooge in the Christmas Carol for a moment…what is about to happen to him that will interfere with his well structured life, and will attempt to upset his notions about everything? (three spirits of Christmas are coming to visit) Ok - so, let’s hear the words of Luke this morning and apply the principles of these words to Scrooge’s life as he is confronted by the power of Christmas.
Luke 3:7-8 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
You ever wonder how people get to the point where they can be called a “brood of vipers” from a notorious Bible character. Perhaps, the spirit of Christmas Past can provide some insight as to how this develops:
Luke 3:9-14 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
When God interferes in our world at Christmas time, he offers a new way of life that breaks the traps of the past. Let’s take another quick look at Scrooge as he is visited by the spirit of Christmas Present. The Spirit of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to view Christmas morning, a day in which he refuses to participate. Ebenezer is asked to SEE the world around him differently.
Luke 3:15-17 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The spirit of Christmases yet to come shows Scrooge a look into a potential future.
Luke 3:18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.
To appreciate the good news, we must confront the bad news. James Pope comments in his blog Knowing the Bad News Unlocks the Good News: “Understanding sin is essential to fully comprehending what the Lord has done for us. Remembering what the Lord has done for us brings gratitude and love. Again, to those who want the Church to de-emphasize sin, Jesus provides this warning: But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little (Luke 7:47).”
By showing Scrooge the story that he was trapped in, Christmas releases him to live a different life. He resolves, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will remember the lessons of the Past; I will live in the Present; I will live toward the Future. The spirits of all three will strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me that I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”
When we live in the good news of Jesus’ coming, we are free to experience deep enjoyment. At Christmas, the Lord is at Hand! Let us acknowledge Jesus’s coming to save us from our real and deep sins, and let us resolve to live in the joy of Jesus this Christmas time and all the year long — as long as God provides breath for our lungs!
The rest of Scrooge's story is one of great enjoyment and the love of life…The reason? Scrooge SEES the world differently than he did before…Experiences the world differently than he did before. He Admits his shortcomings and asks others to forgive him and behaves differently than he did before. Lord, grant us this same ability!
The Christmas Carol ends this way: “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more. And to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew. And ever afterward it was always said of Ebeneezer Scrooge that he knew how to keep Christmas, and keep it well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed...
GOD BLESS US, EVERYONE!”
An attitude proclaiming that there is no way a person can ever change to be anything more than who they currently are.
I often wonder how it is we can talk about transformation, recovery, and personal growth in a culture perpetuating a “be the best you, you can be” mantra. Meanwhile, the church proclaims that we are to look, be, act, and grow more and more like Jesus…not our natural selves. Recovery programs start with step one, the admission that we are powerless to control ourselves, and our lives have become unmanageable. Perhaps your boss has given you a “personal growth plan,” which is a way to communicate the standards and skills you are to have if wanting to continue working or progressing in your career. Yet, how does all of this play out in a world where a person in the midst of glorious self-discovery and “authentic me” cannot be tainted by the expectations of church, recovery, or work (or family, friends, and education).
I find the word “authentic” to be one of the most overused and abused word in our culture. We talk about having authentic relationships, yet can only relate to each other through what is good; good times, good memories, and good qualities of a person. We talk about having authentic conversations, but cannot not bring up controversial issues, and so we stick to a more comfortable shallow common ground with each other while the real heart issues simmer underneath the surface of our communities and nation. I could give more examples, but a part of this conceptualization of authenticity is being “organic” which by definition means untainted and natural. So, while I like both of these words, and strive to be both authentic and organic; the culturally acceptable definitions of these terms and their rhetorical power often keep us at a distance, seeing each other as broken pieces striving to look more put-together than any of us really are. In the midst of this ongoing plot, is the dehumanization concept of the “give-up.”
One would think that the Christian Community would have a great Gospel message to proclaim to the brokenness of this current culture. The Bible is extremely clear that when a person decides that he or she can differentiate between good and evil unassisted, the consequences are the very things that the Lord God fought against and continues to fight against. The biblical concept for humanity’s efforts in being their own gods and creating their own gods is “sin.” While several biblical writers continue to address the sin problem that has come into the world through Adam, Eve and everyone else, Paul writes to the church in Rome telling them that God has continued to fight against sin through things like the Torah, but even that was tainted through the presence and power of sin. So, God sent Jesus, his son, to be the vessel in which grace could be poured out upon sin-filled humanity. Jesus, as a person who actually lived the righteousness of God, served as an example to be imitated. Paul claims that we are offered new life through Christ, free from sin and now in under a new authority—God! We show our gratefulness by striving to be a righteous and holy people. But as the “authenticity gospel” of American culture has crept into the church, Christian notions of confession, repentance, and accountability are not practiced. In their place, we have substituted dehumanizing practices, and I will try to explain them below:
A Proverb that Comes to Mind: Proverbs 28:13
People who conceal their sins will not prosper,
but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.
A Proverb that Comes to Mind: Proverbs 10:31-32
The mouth of the godly person gives wise advice,
but the tongue that deceives will be cut off.
The lips of the godly speak helpful words,
but the mouth of the wicked speaks perverse words.
A Proverb that Comes to Mind: Proverbs 27:17
As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.
The church is called together for a reason, so that we can be connected to one another. Society is the same, and we reclaim God’s intention for humanity when we seek to be connected in meaningful ways. As a close this rambling and hopefully provoking post, I am reminded of the song we sing from time to time, an addition to the traditional hymn, “Just As I Am…”
I come broken to be mended, I come wounded to be healed.
I come desperate to be rescued, I come empty to be filled.
I come guilty to be pardoned by the blood of Christ the Lamb.
And I'm welcomed with open arms, Praise God, just as I am.
We are called out of dehumanizing practices and attitudes, and into the re-humanizing grace of Jesus. Please choose to wholeheartedly participate!
The Issue: How a person looks on the outside determines his or her value and worth and how we treat them.
We have our criteria, what makes a person look trustworthy and attractive. We also have our list of features and/or attire that diminishes trust and attractiveness. Let’s just think through a few things that we use to determine the worth of a person:
What would you add to the list, I’m sure there is more to consider but I want to close with a thought from the Old Testament story of the selection of King David. God has this great line in the story, see if you can find it!
1 Samuel 16: 6 When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 8 Then Jesse told his son Abinadab to step forward and walk in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “This is not the one the Lord has chosen.” 9 Next Jesse summoned Shimea, but Samuel said, “Neither is this the one the Lord has chosen.” 10 In the same way all seven of Jesse’s sons were presented to Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse replied. “But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats.” “Send for him at once,” Samuel said. “We will not sit down to eat until he arrives.” 12 So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes. And the Lord said, “This is the one; anoint him.” 13 So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the flask of olive oil he had brought and anointed David with the oil. And the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day on. Then Samuel returned to Ramah.
I wonder what might be our approach to folks, if we could look past the outward appearance and see the heart. Maybe broken…Maybe mended…Perhaps pure…Perhaps not so pure. It is interesting to me that God chose and man described as dark, handsome, with beautiful eyes…but it was David’s heart that God really selected. When we learn to look past appearance, it is the heart that allows us to “humanize” each other and truly say, “I select you,” in a conversation, a look, or a relationship. Let’s re-humanize the world!
I read a statistic that might be right…not sure. I read that since Columbine, we have had 200 school shootings that have killed 400 children. What I know for sure is that I rarely enter a theater, or enter a school building, or even attend a concert, or teach a college course, or sit in a church meeting in which I am not reminded of people going about their day only to have it end in tragedy.
I think about my children, and I morn the notion that they have drills to practice how not to be shot like I used to have drills about how not to be fatally hurt by a tornado or fire. I have witnessed “increased security” in every aspect of my life, whether I’m going through the airport or entering Beaver Stadium to watch a football game.
What has happened to us and among us? Why are the conversations always the same? Why are those who engage in violence always portrayed as deranged individuals acting on their immoral whims as if they are something inhuman and other than the rest of us? Why do we debate gun control and increased security without influence, without change, and most importantly, without result? When called upon to pray, what exactly should we being asking God for in moments that are all too common? How much loss can we experience? Who has a solution? What if this was my child?
You see, if it was my child I wouldn’t be sitting here blogging about it…I would be speaking the truth to an American Culture that is inept in its care for each other, that has closed its ears to hearing anything other than what it already knows, and that has preached a gospel of human freedom while truly being a manufacturing plant of dehumanization and oppression.
Yeah, I’m fuming tonight…but I’m angry at the very thing about which I think God is also angry. I could ask a thousand questions and I could debate dozens of solutions…but unless something fundamentally changes in our care and treatment of each other, what good are those conversations…and quite honestly—what profit are our prayers?
What if God’s response to our prayers for help would actually criminalize us? What if God asked us some real questions like: Have you read the Bible I gave to you that tells you how I want you to love each other? Have you read the part about my son Jesus who emptied himself to the point of death so that humanity might know my commitment and my love? Are you living in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit or have you reduced my presence to funny languages and moments of raising your hands in a song? And where is my church, my people, and how are they “re-humanizing” by reimagining the neighborhoods I placed them in in full view of My Kingdom?
I guess my point is that when we see the systemic problem we have, then we can hold that young man accountable for his horrific and evil actions as he opened fire on schoolmates. But we must also understand our inability to prevent an ever deepening chasm of sin and evil that continues to, for some strange reason, wake us from our apathy every so often to scream of injustice and crime before crawling back into our caves for more hibernation from the terrible wintery conditions we cannot seem to escape.
I wonder how much it would take to live out the words I said everyday in my school growing up… “One Nation, Under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Is this still a statement of core value, or just an ideal that sounds great, but is not attainable and is pursued at great risk? When I pray regarding this recent tragedy tonight, I’m going to ask God to hold me accountable for these words I profess and I’m going to ask God to create an uneasiness in my spirit until our children cease dying as a result of a degenerating cultural norm.
And when I cry out the words that so often are said by Christians in the midst of tragedy, “Come Lord Jesus.” Maybe I am asking Jesus to come back and take us home with God. But maybe I am also asking Jesus to come here and reign in our lives and influence our culture so that in His tangible presence, evil will flee. And somewhere in the midst of this is the very notion that where I am as a child of God, Jesus has come with me.
- My heart and prayers go out to the families who have lost family and friends.
- My heart and prayers go out to a young man who came to the illogical conclusion that shooting
classmates was an answer to his issues and problems.
- My heart and prayers go out to a nation that is so set on finding solutions to problems we create by our
unwillingness to admit that this is bigger than us and beyond us.
- Open our hearts, open our eyes, open our ears: let Your People lead towards love and peace!
I took the kids to buy their Valentine cards last night. Going through the aisles at Target filled with chocolates, candies, stuffed animals, “hatchables,” and cards for every type of relationship on the planet…they all reminded me of what Hayley and I have made a habit of doing some time around Valentine’s Day. We spend time together. I like to think I have “graduated” from the heart shaped chocolate boxes and annual stuffed animal (which was a staple in our dating relationship between 1997-2001) and now it is about have some extended time together, usually at a well-picked restaurant of her choosing (she finds good food!), sharing and connecting.
In a fast paced life, we can buy things that remind our loved ones how special they are…and that does help. In addition to all of the monetary ways to say, “I Love You,” we can also just be present…it costs nothing and builds deeper intimacy than all the chocolate, roses, and teddy bears we can buy. Below is an article, I believe it was written by Christi Straub and posted to Joshua Straub’s blog. As we think about this week of love and intimacy, as we make our plans for Valentine’s Day, the Straubs provide a way of thinking about intimacy that goes beyond the holiday to every day, and celebrates the normal routines that build love and connection in our marriages.
Last Thursday morning, I fell out of “like” with my husband, Josh. And if I’m honest, it happens fairly often.
Here’s how it went down: The night before we chose not to clean up the kitchen after dinner. This is rare in the Straub home, but on this night, we abandoned it all for a family dance party—leaving behind an overflowing sink of dishes, food on the table, sticky refrigerator, and crumbs on the floor screaming for us to step in them.
I was almost proud of myself. Choosing people over projects, something against my get-‘er-done nature. Then, Thursday morning came. I was making the kids’ lunches for school. Josh was unloading and re-loading the dishwasher. #teamwork
Then the comments started. Josh’s running commentary about how nasty the table was and how much food mysteriously ends up on the floor under our blessed children’s chairs. The garbage smells. The counters are sticky.
It hit a nerve and my defenses flared: “Stop. I get it. You think I don’t know that?”
Sure, we chose not to clean up the kitchen together, but somehow the diatribe triggered my all-too-familiar lie: I’m failing as a mother and wife, again.
He didn’t mean to hurt me; he wasn’t even directing the comments toward me. Truthfully, Josh pulls more than his man-sized weight around the house. He didn’t deserve my defensiveness, but those truths didn’t matter when it triggered my lie. I was angry at him for making me feel like a failure, and I didn’t like him because of it.
I fell out of like with Josh that morning. And I bet if you were to ask him, he didn’t like me much in that moment either.
One lesson we continue to learn is that like is a feeling, but love is a choice. The intimacy in our relationship isn’t based on some grand vacation we take or date night we have. Intimacy is built on the choices we make each day—and more often than not, how we choose to handle these moments of dislike in the here-and-now.
So how do we grow in intimacy in our marriage, when all of hell and our hellion-like natures are warring against us? We’re practical people who need practical things to hang our hats on, so here are five everyday ways we’ve found help us build intimacy in our marriage.
1. Be willing to endure negative feelings.
Josh’s favorite definition of intimacy is from a psychologist named David Burns. “Intimacy is the willingness to endure the negative feelings you get when you get close to another person.”
I know—downer, right? Culture would like us to believe that negative emotion in our marriage is a sign toward a way out. But what if it’s actually the way in?
To clarify, this post is not about abusive or coercive situations. We would never advise enduring negative emotion that comes with being treated in such a way. Instead, for spouses experiencing the everyday ups and downs of being married—insecurities and all—actually pressing into the negative emotion can make or break our marital intimacy. I was hurt because I felt like Josh was criticizing me for not keeping a clean house. Once he knew he hit a nerve with me, he immediately stopped and asked what was going on underneath my anger.
What if, instead of getting defensive, we press into the negative emotion and give our spouse the benefit of the doubt. Asking, “What could be going on underneath their accusation?”
When we empathize with, and understand that feeling, intimacy grows.
2. Tuck each other into bed.
We tuck our kids into bed, why not our spouse? We find going to bed together is one of the best ways to stay connected. You can cuddle, pray together, and debrief the day.
And for the love of all that’s good in our marriages, let’s leave the phones somewhere else.
3. Be mindful of disconnection—and act on it.
We know whether or not we feel close with our spouse. We also know those moments when disconnection starts to kick in. Instead of ignoring those feelings of disconnection, act on them.
Sometimes all it takes is one simple gesture. Writing a note. Buying a little treat. Sending a text. Planning a date. Putting the kids down early. Making time to close that subjective gap we feel often doesn’t require a lot, it just requires our intentionality.
4. Share with your spouse what God is teaching you.
My default was to pour out my heart and hot tears to a girlfriend and come home to give Josh the brief synopsis. My friends saw the raw me, while Josh got the Cliffs Notes version. I wanted to open up, but it felt unsure and so deeply private. But one tip-toe at a time, I began sharing what God was teaching me.
When we share with one another what God is teaching us individually, it gives insight into our deepest selves. Vulnerability breeds vulnerability.
I’m learning to listen with empathy when Josh shares his fears, instead of correcting or fixing or critiquing. It’s opened him up to want to share more with me and I’m getting a private peek into Josh’s relationship with Jesus because he feels more comfortable sharing it with me. Those insights have allowed me to pray for him and encourage him in ways I’ve never been able to before.
5. Talk openly about sex.
Sex is often a deeply personal subject for women. Sex holds great power to bring together and to divide. Great sex is a mutual willingness on the part of both spouses to give pleasure, not merely receive it. Because of this, nobody should feel coerced or like they have to give in to sex. On the other hand, neither are we to withhold sex for a long period of time from our spouse (1 Cor. 7:3-5). If the act of marriage is about serving one another, it’s no wonder that that the enemy often twists sex to feel like another chore after we’ve been “serving” our families all day.
So we started to talk about the elephant in the room. The wanting; the avoiding. Giving each other insight into the whys of our default behavior. Our new understanding of one another’s view gave way to a new rhythm and desire to pursue togetherness, instead of allowing it to cause division.
Bringing the elephant into the light has brought freedom, and true intimacy requires us to feel free—to share our raw selves, to be truly known. Because being truly known and truly loved is intimacy to its fullest.
Christi Straub, M.A., M.B.A. is a native Canadian, wife to an American, and momma to two feisty preschoolers. She and her husband Josh are the cofounders of The Connextion Group, a company designed to empower marriages and families. Passionate about families in her generation, Christi writes and speaks on helping moms discover their identity and have marriages they’d wish on their children. Her honesty, wittiness, and transparency are contagious. She is also the producer and co-author of the video curriculum The Screen-Balanced Family: Six Secrets to a More Connected Family in the 21st Century. You can watch Dr. Josh + Christi live each week on Facebook Live talking about marriage and parenting in the 21st century. When she and Josh aren’t working together, they’re playing trains or having tea parties. (And trying really hard to put the phones away.)
Dr. Joshua Straub has two cherished roles, as husband—to wife Christi—and dad—to son, Landon, and daughter, Kennedy. He serves as Marriage and Family Strategist for LifeWay Christian Resources and is the president and cofounder of The Connextion Group, a company designed to empower marriages and families. He speaks for and consults with corporations, organizations, and churches about family wellness. As a family advocate and professor of child psychology/crisis response, Josh has trained thousands of professionals in crisis response. He also speaks regularly for Joint Special Operations Command and for military families across the country. He is author/coauthor of four books including Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well and creator, along with Christi, of TwentyTwoSix Parenting, an online community of parents offering discipleship tools for their kids. Together, they host the Dr. Josh + Christi podcast and their weekly Facebook Live broadcasts reach tens of thousands of families.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.