Merry Christmas Everyone – Whatever that Means!

adventcandlesI’ve been thinking a lot lately about the true meaning of Christmas. I’m not going to claim that I hate the secular aspects of Christmas, because that would just be an outright lie.

I don’t like just how commercial it has become, but I definitely can’t claim to hate all of the secular traditions.

However, I do dislike how the true meaning of Christmas often gets entirely overlooked. But to just remind people that it’s really about the birth of Jesus Christ seems somewhat pointless. While often overlooked, this fact is not exactly unknown. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t know what the real meaning of Christmas actually is.

So, again, saying the true meaning of Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ seems kinda pointless. “It’s about the birth of Jesus Christ.” Really? Don’t want to offend, but, so what? A more relevant question might be “what is the true meaning of Jesus Christ?”

Or, to put it another way, just what was this Jesus dude all about?

That question can be answered in any number of ways, but I think its fitting to look at it from the perspective of the Advent season.

During Advent, a candle is lit on each of the four Sundays prior to Christmas Day. Each has a particular theme: hope, joy, peace and love.

These word, these concepts, are actually very useful in helping us understand what Christ stood for, and what he advocated.

Christ Brings Hope

One of Christ’s many titles is Immanuel, which means “God is with us”. The name Jesus means “God is Salvation”. Both remind us that God does not forsake us. They help us remember that we are never alone. When I think of Christ as a beacon of hope, I’m reminded of one of my favorite scriptures:

“And you shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings; but you shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”

This passage helps us understand that Christ wants us to turn our concerns and troubles, whatever our burdens might be, over to him. And knowing that is defiantly a good reason to have hope.

Christ Fosters Joy

Another of my favorite verses of scriptures is:

“Adam fell, that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.”

I love this because it directly answers the greatest question of all: “what is the meaning of life?” – that makes it an extremely profound verse, all the more so because of how simple it is.

We are born, and we live, to have joy. That’s it. That is why Christ, who is God, created us in the first place. That is what he wants for each of us. And if we follow his examples, putting others before ourselves, helping each other, we tend to find a deeper meaning to our purpose, and in doing so, things tend to happen that result in joy being more abundant. Its when we become too self-focused, too materialistic, and take others for granted, that we undermine our own potential to experience joy.

Christ Seeks Peace

Not just global peace, but individual peace. A lot of Christians talk about converting people to Christ. That’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that. But for a while, I’ve been thinking that what we should also be striving to convert people to peace, and to the things that Christ sought to convert people to, such as compassion and charity. Everybody needs some form of tranquility, and we each have the potential to be generous and caring. What would the world be like if we focused some of our time on helping people find what they may be missing, helping them to find peace, and to be more generous and compassionate?

Christ Promotes Love

Love is perhaps Christ’s greatest cause. And love is the basis for all of the above: hope, joy, peace, and also compassion & charity. Love is the foundation for building and sustaining holistic communities; and its also the means to establishing and nurturing sincere relationships with one another – whatever those relationships might be.

The more free we are with our love, the more likely we are to see everything else that Christ advocated explode! But our capacity to love people is often undermined by various circumstances, including our own fears.

So, how can we grow our capacity to love people, and express our love in ways that will have a positive impact on each other and people we don’t even know?

It has to begin by allowing ourselves to be loved. Allow yourself to be loved, and your own capacity to love others will increase.  Do not be afraid to be loved.  Do not be afraid to love others.

***

Its all a circle.

And as we become more comfortable being loved and loving others, everything else will be magnified…our joy, our peace, our hope, his joy, her peace, your hope, etc.; and in turn, these fuel love, and it just goes on and on.

This is what Christ was, and is, all about. And therefore, this is the deeper meaning behind Christmas.

So, my hope for everyone I know, and everyone you know, is that during this Christmas season, and beyond, you will never lose hope, that you’ll always find ways of having joy, that you’ll ensure that from time to time that you’ll enjoy some peaceful moments, and that you’ll love life, yourself, and everyone else; that you’ll allow yourself to be loved and in turn love others.

God bless!

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Lead with Grace

shepherdTwo weeks ago I was talking to some people about different leadership styles in the church, and how leaders handle various situations differently. At one point I was trying to express how I felt leaders should deal with all issues, especially those that, if mishandled, could cause resentment.

I’m not sure where it came from, but suddenly I said “they need to lead with grace”. I kinda liked that. Even impressed myself 😉 – I liked it so much that I mentioned it several times today in a meeting I attended with several church members from across our mission center.

All church leaders, all ministers, all disciples, all members, when making decisions, when weighing options, when enforcing policies and positions, when dealing with both paid staff as well as volunteers, when dealing with issues of doctrine and theology, and in particular, when working through any controversial issue, *must* lead with grace.

In other words, we should not be cold, or heavy-handed, or callous in how we handle any matter that we are working through.

We are a church, and that means we are a community of people. And, as in all communities, there are differences of opinion, and sometimes, that requires people in positions of authority to invoke “the official stuff” (policies, positions, principles, church law, doctrine, theology, scripture, etc. etc.), and that is perfectly fine (especially if you’re making a reference to scripture).

However, how we deliver the message is of paramount importance. This is why it is imperative that when we do so, when we deliver that message, whatever it might be, we must lead with grace.

In fact, if we truly lead with grace, we might find an alternative solution that we would not otherwise have considered. As Stephen Covey discusses in his book “The 3rd Alternative”, there are always more than two courses of action. However, if we are unwilling to lead with grace, we might be blind to other possibilities.

Sometimes, we might feel that there are no options, because we do have policies that, if strayed from, may seem to warrant enforcement.

I’m in favor of supporting church policies. But we still need to lead with grace.

In 2007 President Veazey presented an inspired document to the church that was approved for inclusion in the Doctrine & Covenants as Section 163. That revelation includes the following words:

“Scripture is not to be worshiped or idolized. Only God, the Eternal One of whom scripture testifies, is worthy of worship….” -7b

This counsel was given to the church because, throughout history, mankind has had a tendency to worship scripture instead of God, to the detriment of many.

The Latter Day Restoration Movement, including Community of Christ, has not been an exception. We must not be so narrow minded and short sighted, that we, through our use of scripture, to justify our actions, or positions, etc., ultimately worship scripture instead of God.

The above counsel is not just guidance, but an admonishment, perhaps even a rebuke. And because of this guidance, the church is rightly moving away from worshipping scripture.

Yet, there are those who seem to worship policies. I have had conversations with people in the past who have almost become outraged to learn that, inadvertently, a particular policy was not adhered to. This has happened even when the policy was a minor one. I’ve actually been taken aback on these occasions at how annoyed people can be when this happens. It also has struck me as likely that if the policy in question were to be changed, or dropped from our books, they would not have cared. I sensed no loyalty to the particular policies in question, just an overzealous need to respond with sharp criticism over the fact that a policy had been strayed from.

Policies are not canonized, so if we can take the position that we should not worship scripture (even making that stance itself a verse of scripture), we would do well to not worship policies. Instead, we should lead with grace.

Section 163 also included this deeply profound statement:

“There are many issues that could easily consume the time and energy of the church. However, the challenge before a prophetic people is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead.”

In his 2009 “A Defining Moment” address to the church, President Veazey took the above, and transformed it into a question that he posed to the church.

“So, after all that is said, what matters most?”

The concept of what matters most was also referenced in Section 164, when we were told that the mission of Jesus Christ matters most.

As a question, “what matters most?” is a brilliant thing to ask. When we deal with anything, including church policies, we need to ask that question. Again, I’m not advocating that policies be ignored, but we should still take a moment to pause, and ask ourselves, “OK, truly, sincere, honestly, what really matters most here?”

Lead with grace.

I also love how that verse in Section 163 starts: “There are many issues that could easily consume the time and energy of the church.” Yes indeed. And that is why “the challenge before a prophetic people is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead.”

Lead with grace.

We are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We are not called to be Pharisees. But we run the risk of becoming just that if we fail to lead with grace, if we fail to consider what matter most. So, just keep it simple. Consider what matters most, and lead with grace. Always.

Lead with grace! ~ Lead with grace! ~ Lead with grace!