December 13, 2019

Five Christmas Essentials

Written By Cary Schmidt

The pace of life in 2019 is faster than any human being can possibly sustain. We weren’t designed to process the vast volume of noise or to accomplish the incessant stream of activity and obligation that life offers up to us. 

One example of this is simply how God operates—He is never in a hurry, and He designed so many valuable parts of life to move slowly.

Think of Jesus—

…He could do anything, and yet He chose to do very specific things.

…He could have been born and lived in any time and place, and yet he chose the simple, 3mph pace of first-century Galilee.

…He could have come and done His work quickly, and yet He chose to grow in a virgin’s womb for nine months, and then grow slowly through childhood and young adulthood—not actually starting his ministry until He was 30 years old.

…He could have traversed the globe, but He chose to walk within about a 90-mile radius for the duration of his life.

…He could have healed everybody He ever met, but rather chose to heal very specific hearts for very specific purposes, likely disappointing many others.  

…He could have labored 24/7, nonstop with no need of rest or restoration, and yet He chose to walk to and from Jerusalem at least nine weeks each year to worship, celebrate, and feast with the nation of Israel.

…He could have handled a frenetic pace, frantic demands, and a vastly more productive schedule; and yet He chose to keep it simple, focused. He walked the path His Father defined for Him.

Profound. So how about you and me? Will we let life and people and schedules and expectations and obligations eat us alive? Or will we let our Father define our life pace and give us restful patience in what He has designed for our flourishing? 

Just what are the essentials, especially at Christmas, when so many opportunities present themselves? How do we sift through the demands and opportunities to zero in on the valuable, the meaningful, the eternally significant? After a fantastic year of wonderful blessings, forward moving ministry, fruitful initiatives, and gracious provision—I’m happy to rest! 

Here’s where I’m anchoring my priorities this Christmas, and I encourage you to do the same:

1. Worshipping Jesus and Enjoying His Presence

In Israel last month, I was blessed to spend several mornings walking in Galilee and Old City Jerusalem. I imagined what life in first century must have been in these places. One thing I couldn’t get away from—Jesus walked everywhere. 

It’s hard to walk in a hurry. It can be done, but it isn’t fun or easy; and more importantly, walking wasn’t really designed for speed. When you walk, you’re forced to think, to feel, to experience your environment. You’re forced to slow down. I love to walk for the simple reason that you can sense and feel the environment in a way that driving or riding a bus can’t provide. Drop me into a big city and I would rather walk it because walking allows me to experience it.

I encourage you not to let this Christmas be a drive-by of Jesus, the Christmas story, and the redemptive narrative of God’s heart. Don’t tour-bus it because you’re in a hurry. Appoint some time—mornings, evenings, a day off, several days off—when you will sit quietly and restfully to soak in the gospel, or when you will attentively walk with Jesus and thank Him for His grace in your life.

2. Bringing a Vertically Healthy Soul into Horizontal Environments

Will you enter environments depleted, frustrated, irritable, and edgy? Or will you be able to bring your A-game? How will the happiest, strongest, most rested, more joyful, most contended youshow up? Who will you give your family? The best you? It will only be by intention—strategic and careful pace and health. 

Exhaustionis our number one enemy to loving and living well. When we’re tired we’re grumpy, negative, and demanding that the world “make us feel better!” What we often need in these moments is a nap. Spiritual Depletion/Neglect is our number two enemy, which takes us back to point one. 

What good is a family gathering if the relationships are combustible? What good is gift-giving if it doesn’t truly reflect our love for Jesus expressed towards others? What good is celebrating if it’s all just a thin cover for the fact that we’re deeply unsettled and unhealthy.

I encourage you—let the gift-giving be reflective of genuine, generous love for Jesus directed toward others. Let the family gatherings be ministry opportunities. Enter the season with a heart that is vertically right with your Saviour so that you can horizontally minister with joy and delight. 

3. Loving and Thanking Those God Has Given to Me

As we’ve been studying Emotional Health in Psalms, one thing regularly resurfaces—the psalmists viewed God as their source of gladness, not other people, not circumstances, not material wealth or possessions. They received gladness from God and poured out that gladness on others.

This past week we thanked our church family with a devotional gift. We thanked our deacons and finance team for their excellent ministry. We thanked our church and school staff team for their diligent service. More than ever I realize that I am weak, but providentially surrounded by strong, gifted, godly, exceptional people and gratefully standing on their shoulders.

Whose shoulders are you standing on? Who has God providentially placed in your life? His call to you is to love them as He loves them—your spouse, children, grandchildren, Christian friends, extended family. Will you “go at them” seeking only to receive from them this season? Or will you reverse the flow and ask God to make you a source of gladness for these hearts that Jesus loves.

Release the “changing” of these people to Jesus—that’s His job. Embrace your assignment to love them with the same patience and purity that Jesus loves you. Dana and I want to love well this season. We may not be able to “be everything” to “everybody,” but we can be on assignment—God’s grace specifically to those He has given us to serve.  

4. Honoring Jesus and Gospel Mission with a Devoted Heart

I love my church, in part because Jesus loves the church. Our church family is His idea and His doing. He put us together for such a time as this, and He gives us the opportunity and freedom to celebrate Him together and invite others to Him this season. 

I want to honor Him by worshipping with my church family and growing in His word faithfully. I want to honor Him by giving the gospel to anyone I can this season. I want to honor Him through a Christmas offering of worship, thanks, and love. I want to honor Him by loving His church and accepting my assignment in His community of believers.

Much of what we give this season will be soon forgotten, broken, lost, or outdated. What we give to Jesus and His church will never lose its value and will grow in fruitfulness with every passing month.  

5. Preparing for a Fruitful and Faithful New Decade

You may be thinking, “Cary, we haven’t even celebrated Christmas yet; don’t bring up New Year!” But hold that thought. 

We are nearly two weeks away from 2020—the beginning of a new decade. What will this decade be for you? Will it pass without thought? Or will you steward it strategically? 

Would you pause and consider—what did God do in the last decade? What do you celebrate from the last decade? What do you regret? And now looking forward, I challenge you to prepare your heart and life—to align your values and priorities for a faithful and fruitful new decade. 

I can’t believe God sent us to Emmanuel seven and a half years ago. As I write this post, a new church roof is nearing completion, new walls are installed in the fellowship hall, gym renovation plans are in process for our school, the construction contract for new bathrooms is being signed, and parsonage repairs are in progress. Over seven and a half years, we are about $1.5 million dollars into the restoration/reconstruction of God’s church and school—and all of it will essentially be our gift to the next generation. 

It reminds me of when I said to Dana nearly eight years ago—”…This will be a decade of reconstruction projects.” Little did I know what that would mean and how God would miraculously provide for it every step of the way. It wasn’t my will or in my life-script—but it was God’s assignment for me, and His plan has brought me into abundant joy, authentic relationships, and rich community shaped by the gospel. It’s all a book-length story of grace and miracles! Looking back, I just drop my jaw with wonder. Wow! God has graciously let us see His work revived for future generations.

So, what does God desire to construct in and through your life in the next ten years?

What dreams would He give you to chase? What work is He calling you to and inviting you into? Don’t think in days, weeks, or years. Think in decades, and decide now that you will make this decade strategic for the gospel and the glory of God.

This would be your best decade!

Stewardship of life will also mean that in the coming weeks you give care and attention to how you live—what you eat, what you spend, what you give, how you schedule, and how you enter 2020. Moderation is so valuable at a season like this. I encourage you to be God’s wise steward for your one life and family—steward with courage, passion, and vision. Give yourself to Kingdom work, and watch what God will do!

Will you slow-walk through this season with Jesus? Will you spend time dreaming Kingdom dreams for your next ten years? I wish you a holiday season of flourishing spiritual and emotional health, and I wish you the BEST decade of your whole life starting in 2020!

If Emotionally Healthy Holidays interest you, then join us for this sermon series either live or on podcast.

Also, be sure to connect to the Leading in the Gospel podcast where we are presently discussing emotionally healthy leadership.

Finally, be sure to catch every session of our Emotional Health Weekend recently held at Emmanuel!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Decade!