The decision

January 17, 2008

This is how I feel

Decisions that are the BEST decisions are not always the easy ones or the most convenient.  Sometimes good decisions are easy, but not as good as the best decisions.  When I first came to my present church in May of 1999, I decided that in any situation, as best as I could, I would put the best decision for the church ahead of the most convenient decision for me (I changed this slightly for marital purposes later on).

So when people would come to me and want to share their heart with me, but ask me to keep it in confidence, I would say (and I still say) that “anything you say is confidential, unless it places the church in any harm or risk, in which case it can no longer be just me, but others have to be involved, so now, feel free to tell me whatever you like.”  or…

If someone decided to bash someone (like a leader in the church) to me, I would respectfully tell the one venting that the best thing for them and for me is to talk to the person they are venting about, and that they need to do it quickly. Typically this never went over very well.

Now as I sit in the chair I sit as the lead pastor of this church, occasionally I have to make decisions that are hard, and not easy.  To be honest, sometimes it sucks.  Sometimes the best decisions are not the easy ones, but they are the best. (at least I pray they are)

I think on this topic as I think about the message for this week, the third in a series about our spiritual lives as Christ followers (or not) called, “The road”.  The easy part is not getting on that road.  Not making the commitment to Christ.  Not surrendering our will over to the God who created us. But that’s not the BEST decision.

The hard and the best decision comes after you’ve taken a step toward the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  That’s where the journey gets difficult.  Wow!  My head hurts…and all this before lunch.

Until next time…


Giftology: A sermon

December 16, 2007

Our services were cancelled this Sunday due to inclement weather.  Because of this, I have placed my sermon transcript on my blog this morning.  Later, I will place a recording of the text online as well.  Have a great Sunday morning!

Matthew 2:9 – 11 – “After this interview the wise men went their way.  And the star they had seen in the East guided them to Bethlehem.  It went ahead of them and stopped over the place the child was.  When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!  They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him.  Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” 

What we have been looking at over the past several weeks is how to celebrate Christmas, and not just celebrate a holiday.  Because if we want to celebrate a holiday, we could celebrate a holiday however we want, but it we want to celebrate Christmas, we need to celebrate the way Christ intended us to celebrate Him, especially if we’re going to make a big deal about the title of the holiday. 

Like most conversations about the Christmas season, we’ve talked in this series so far about making Christ the “Reason for the Season” and making Him the focal point of how we’re celebrating, but where this series differs is in applying truths that hold not just to this month, but to the rest of the year.  In a sense we’re not celebrating Christmas, but we’re celebrating Christyear! 

My question for us today is this:  What is the appropriate way for me to give gifts and how does the idea of giving gifts fit into God’s plan for how I should be living the rest of the year?  Because giving gifts isn’t evil, and in fact, the reason we give gifts to others is rooted in God giving us a relational gift: His Son, Jesus Christ.  So how do we give gifts to others in a godly way, and how do we apply that – not just for a day, a month, or a particular season – but as a new perspective on living? 

Now as I’ve talked about the last several weeks, I absolutely love Christmas!  And I say the same thing today about gifts.  I really love gifts!  I love giving them.   I love getting them.  In fact, I’d like to share with you my top 5 Best Christmas gifts ever: 

5.       Gift:  Waterbed (wavy, not one of them stiff ones)  Year:  1988         
Giver:  My parents, Marty & Susan Holman

4.       Gift:  Ten speed bike         
Year:  1987         
Giver:  My Parents, again 

3.       Gift:  Ben Roethlesburger Jersey         
Year:  2005 (Super bowl year, by the way – coincidence, yeah right)         
Giver:  My wife, Carie. 

2.       Gift:  Civilization 4, the video game         
Year:  2005 (This was a every good Christmas)
Giver:  Carie’s mom, Angela 

1.       Gift:  Guitar Hero games and controllers                  
Year:  2006         
Givers:  Carie, Angela, and Mike Burns 

So before we really get into today’s sermon, I want you to know that I get gifts too, and I accept them, and I love them.  But this brings me to a question: Doesn’t it seem like sometimes at the end of gift giving or gift getting you feel empty inside?  Doesn’t seem, and maybe not as a kid, because you just received a whole lot of things, but as you got older, even if you get a guitar hero, or even if you just watched your kids get all the stuff they want, that there is something missing?  Whether it’s a guitar hero or a nice pair of socks, something seems amiss about a time and a place where I can come and give gifts to those who don’t need gifts, and then I hope for the best possible gift I can get as an adult.  

Oh come on, don’t act so self-righteous, you all know you’ve struggled to get the best gift at a yankee swap, to the point of dissing someone else’s chance of getting something good. And it’s not only that, but something feels empty about setting aside a time and a place when we are supposed to be extra nice to people.  Uncle Jack and Cousin Matt hate each other, but they need to “put on their best smiles and be nice” because it’s Christmas! 

I know, I know, you’ll hate me for this.  But the truth is, it really is a modern way of thinking.  That I need to set aside time, about a month out of the year, to be really nice to people.  To give gifts to people who I wouldn’t normally give gifts to. 

Maybe right now you’re thinking about the Bible, and how Scripture promotes holidays and special celebrations where the Jews were to celebrate special things.  But the truth is that each time Scripture talks about a special day, either in the OT or the NT, it always puts the focus of that celebration on God, and the implication being that each time we celebrate something, that the focus of that celebration be put back on Him.  

(Isaiah 1:13 – “Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offering disgusts me!  As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days of fasting- they are sinful and false.  I want no more of your pious meetings.”) 

So where does that put us?  What do we do?  Of course, our purpose here at Fellowship Church is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.  An important piece of that purpose that we often miss is “to lead.”  So many times we follow.  We follow culture like a puppy dog follows his “best friend” or like a junior high boy follows young girl  he likes.  We follow whatever the trend says.  But our desire here at Fellowship is to be leaders. And so we want to use culture to our advantage, not to be led by the culture in which we live. 

And there are times when Culture and our beliefs disconnect, and when that happens we need to begin speaking up, not just with our mouths but with our actions.  Remember, this series is more about rethinking our way of life than it is about rethinking Christmas. 

So what does God have to say about gifts?  And about Gift giving?  Mucho Grande. I searched all through Scripture, and it certainly isn’t a narrow search. Spread out throughout all of Scripture, the word Gift is used 154 times, and the word Giving is used 219 times in various ways, but for the most part, the two types of gifts the Bible mentions is the type of gifts that you and I give and receive and spiritual gifts that Paul often refers to.  Our focus will be on the former. 

But today I want to look at a passage in Proverbs a book of wisdom in the OT, that talks about gifts.  Now it does not talk about Christmas, as the passage that was read earlier discusses, but it does focus on gifts, and the types of gifts that are not good.   

This book (of Proverbs) was written by one of the richest, most powerful men in all the world at the time of its writing.  He was a king.  People were always giving him gifts.  And this is what he writes.  We’re going to look at 2 verses today in Proverbs 22. 

Proverbs 22:15 – “A youngster’s heart is full of foolishness, but physical discipline will drive it far away”  

That is, a child (or anyone who gets whatever they want) will be spoiled and will ultimately act however they want to act.  I mean, you don’t need a Bible verse for this, do you?  You’ve seen that kid in the mall, even this Christmas season, acting out because they are not getting what they want when they want it.  You’ve seen the temper tantrums of the spoiled. Maybe it’s someone in your children’s school?  Maybe it’s someone at church?  Maybe it’s at the store over the hoidays?  Wherever it was, you know that this proverb is true.  That the child, left to his or her own devices, will ultimately act however they want to.     

“But physical discipline will drive foolishness far away.” 

This is not just for young people, but the author is assuming that older people have figured this out.    In other words, discipline in your life and in my life – The discipline to say no.  The discipline to not buy that.  The discipline to not act on that impulse.  The discipline to say no to that night, that weekend, that proposition, will in a sense, drive foolishness far away. 

This is true of many areas of our life.  This is true of hygiene. This is true of homework.  This is true of marriage and relationships.  And this is true of buying gifts at Christmas.  

So is the next verse… Proverbs 22:16 – “A person who gets ahead by oppressing the poor or by showering gifts on the rich will end in poverty.” 

That there is something, there is a connection between your money, and how you use your money in your relationship with others that is directly connected to how successful you will end up being in the long run. That is, It may seem like a good idea at the time to be able to buy a gift inexpensively at the sake of the child who made the item you’re buying, and to not have to think about that process, but in the end, it will turn out badly for you. 

Or, It may seem like a great idea to shower your kids with the maximum amount of gifts possible in order to make them happy and unwanting, or to shower your boss with the gift that’s gonna make him see you in some sort of a good light, or give gifts to people who might have more money than others and ignore people with whom you don’t care how they see you, but in the end, it will not turn out good for you, but it will turn out bad and, and you will not get more but you will have less, and you may even end up in poverty. 

You see, when you spend unwisely, it does not help you, it hurts you.  And the stats when it comes to Christmas spending are not pretty in America.  455 Billion dollars on gifts.  And to make matters worse, Consumer credit debt right now is 2.4 Trillion.  And when people spend unwisely, foolishly if you will, or without the discipline of saying, “I will not spend more than I can afford”, than the end is poverty.  

It only makes sense. And the writer of this proverb, who’d been there and back again, who was one of the richest men in the world at the time, and who was spoiled as a child and spoiled his own kids, in the end said, listen, God has set up the world in such a way that he will get the glory, not you, so you better treat people a certain way in all aspects of life, including your stuff and including the gifts you give.  

So What can I do and what can you do? The answer is to give Relationally, because God gave relationally. In other words, Because God gave us His Son, Jesus Christ as a relational gift, we can then rise above the trap of materialism and overconsumption and give relationally to our family and friends, without “making the rich, richer and the poor, poorer.”  Here’s how we can do that: 

1. We can give gifts to meet needs.

That’s what love is all about, right?  love is meeting needs.  So we ask the question, What does this person need?  If I care enough to give this person a gift, I should know what this person needs.  I could ask.  Here’s an interesting concept, if you ask someone what they need for Christmas, and they answer, “I don’t need anything”, take them up on that, and tell them you’ll give a gift (in their name) to someone who does need a gift, and do that.I can hear the complaints now – “But that’s not the Spirit of Christmas if I don’t get my friends gifts” No, that’s not the spirit of 21st century, modernistic, commercialistic, make us all rich and fat Christmas.  But it is the spirit of my Jesus who loved me enough he knew what I needed – a Savior. 

2. We can give gifts to express my love for those I love 

(We don’t have to express our love by spending more) If you think you have to spend more to love more, than you have it all wrong.  Some of my favorite gifts from my wife (with the exception of the Steelers Jersey, which is more about the emotional attachment than the gift) have been cards, notes, text messages, and little things she does for me throughout the year, including Christmas. Could it be that there is more to be said about the effort of giving a particular gift than the purchase of buying an expensive gift? 

3. We can give gifts to express my love for God  

So we can ask, What is the gift that I can give this person that can show how much I love God?   Now listen, it doesn’t have to be from a Christian bookstore, though it can be.  I’m not even saying it has to be a Christian gift, trust me on this one.  I’m simply saying that if you give a gift, does it come out of an expression of your love for what God has given to you? For as we’ve seen in the last several weeks, the gift that God gave us was so special and so relational that it had an amazing impact on the entire world.   

And as leaders, and as culture creators and culture cultivators, I want to have an amazing impact through my gift giving on my entire world.  My family, and my friends, and my coworkers and my children and anyone I would give a gift to. 

I want to give relationally, because God gave relationally  Because He sent His Son down to this earth to give of Himself, and become our Savior, saving us from a separation from God that was too deep for us to cross, but not too deep for Him.  

So this Christmas, before you go out and get gifts for everyone, think about this:  What is the gift that will link this person (the person to whom I’m  giving the gift) to my heart?