What would it look like to truly follow Jesus’ warning not to “build our house on the sand”? How can we be sure we’re obeying His command to avoid “working for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life”? I don’t want to waste a minute on activities with no eternal impact – but how is that possible?
The holiday season is the perfect opportunity to think eternally, yet there’s no time of year where we’re more tempted to operate in the here and now. Thanksgiving and Christmas are about the Lord’s never-ending provision and promise, but even Christians and churches fall victim to America’s myopic, consumer-driven versions of those holidays.
Maybe it’s no coincidence that the chapter and verse of John 12:25 are the same numbers as Christmas Day (12-25) – “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Hating and losing our lives sounds extreme and impractical. But that’s exactly what Scriptures repeatedly asks of us – to die to selfish desires and worldly expectations, exchanging temporary happiness for eternal joy. Jesus “for the joy set before him He endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2). Hebrews 11 repeatedly affirms that all those enshrined in Scripture’s Hall of Faith endured immense suffering because they looked forward to what lay ahead. My life verse is Acts 20:24 – “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race…
Isn’t it worth considering how we would live differently if we actually followed those examples this Christmas season, and focused solely on the eternal? If you, me, our churches and even ministries refused to invest any time or money in what will not last, it would change everything…
You and I Would…
- Shop Less – We frantically scour the malls, then watch kids rip open presents Christmas morning, only to stop playing with those toys or break them a couple days later. God gave us the only gift that lasts forever – Jesus.
- Relax More – It’s in the best interests of businesses for you to scramble and spend, so advertising encourages you to hastily go into debt buying food for parties and gifts for distant relatives. Imitate Mary rather than Martha and sit at the feet of the Lord in Bible study and prayer this holiday season.
- Stop Stressing – Strained family relationships, travel and social commitments raise our blood pressure but we can be calm in the midst of the storm by “fixing our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
- Invest in Relationships – “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galations 6:8) Use holiday time with family and friends making disciples who make disciples, living out the Great Commission.
- Love Our Neighbors – Perform an act of kindness for neighbors, coworkers or complete strangers and watch it open the door to sharing the “reason for the season”. Lead people toward Christ in the way that He modeled, by first demonstrating His love for them and then telling them who He is.
- Go Where Jesus Would Be – Instead of rushing from store to store, consider “Where Would Jesus Be” (WWJB) over the holidays; likely wherever people are suffering and searching for eternal answers. Don’t let perceived OBLIGATIONS to shop, spend, attend parties and see family redirect our attention away from our OPPORTUNITY to worship, serve and share the Gospel.
- Donate to Ministries with Eternal Impact – #GiveAnEternalGift by supporting charities that promote dignity by working with families down paths to self-sustainability and eternal hope, not short-term hand-outs.
And Churches Would…
- Challenge Members – Equip churchgoers to take full advantage of the numerous chances Thanksgiving and Christmas provide to talk about eternity. Teach members how to witness and ask hard questions, rather than simply inviting people to a church service. Launch relational compassion initiatives that give them a chance to practice what they “preach”.
- Choose Empowering over Experience – As we discussed the past few weeks, faithful Christ followers like Mark are leaving churches because they weren’t given ample opportunities for growth or impact. Youth pastors tried to make church fun, but Mark’s daughter Emily found more interesting events and people elsewhere. Designing church activities around institutional growth objectives instead of personal growth goals won’t engage those who take their faith very seriously.
- Change Metrics – Optimize church offerings to meet eternal impact numbers (e.g. footprint expansion through disciple multiplication) rather than short-term measures (e.g. nickels and noses). Heavy focus on attraction and retention strategies in recent decades is backfiring in our consumer culture as Americans increasingly “shop” and “swap” churches – while Church growth, influence, impact and perception continue to decline.
- Maintain External Focus – It’s tempting to see Thanksgiving and Christmas as prime time to invite everyone into our churches. Holiday attendance metrics have even made our outreach events more about advertising than eternal impact, hoping that those who want nothing to do with church will darken our doors. When they don’t show up we blame them for their obstinance and worldliness, when it’s primarily the church’s lack of compassion and empathy at fault. Seasonal events actually do more harm than good because families are still hungry and hurting in January, but the church is back in its “4 walls” celebrating its “kindness” back in December – and the community sees that hypocrisy.
- Combat the Commercialization of Christmas – The answer to the secularization of Jesus’ birth isn’t boycotting stores for saying “Merry X-mas” or “Happy Holidays”. That won’t “put Christ back in Christmas” or stop Black Friday and Cyber Monday from encroaching upon our Thanksgiving. Our defense is to model an eternal perspective, not ephemeral consumerism. Christians should prioritize BELIEVING over BUYING in how we invest our time, talents and treasures. Pastors should prioritize COMPASSION over CONSUMPTION in how their churches challenge member to live out GC2 (Great Commission and Great Commandment) rather than catering to attract and retain “customers”.
- Ensure Outreach Segues to Year-Round – The only cases where compassion events are (eternally) helpful is when they serve as catalysts for ongoing engagement. The phrase “make Christmas last all year long” is trite but carries with it a powerful connotation. Relational assistance that continues past the holidays inherently views each and every person in need, regardless of social or financial status, as a child of God – treating them as nobility, not a number.
And Local Ministries Would…
Stop transactional, temporary social service solutions that recent studies confirm are both demeaning and ineffective:
- Creates a sense of shame in their inability to provide for their own families
- Perpetuates the false dichotomy and narrative that the “rich” are coming to the rescue of the “poor”
- Allows those helping to mentally “check the box” once their “good deed” is completed
- Isn’t materially changing the fortunes of those in poverty
Start programs that are enduring and relational:
- Empowering families to discover their own path to self-sustainability
- Appointing mentors or advocates to walk alongside them, ensuring accountability as they progress down that path
- Wrapping larger circles of support around those in need, building close and lasting relationships
- Providing not just help but the only source of enduring hope, found in Jesus Christ alone
It’s Your Turn
After 2 years of design and development, Meet The Need is nearly ready to launch the first family support technology solution based entirely on relational, eternal principles.
Imagine the challenge widows and fatherless children face – coping with tremendous loss, particularly during the holiday season. Research shows the enduring impact that forming a web of support has on the emotional and spiritual well-being of those dealing with trauma. Meet The Need leverages Artificial Intelligence to rally friends, family, churches and charities around each family in need. We provide information and resources to help families navigate their way to a better future. All at no charge! Beta tests are already underway with selected widow and orphan ministry partners.
For nearly two decades, Meet The Need has been on the forefront of innovation around city-wide collaboration, hunger relief, homelessness, foster care and disaster relief – all across the United States. It’s exciting to be expanding our work specifically to bless widows and orphans.
#GiveAnEternalGift to enable Meet The Need to provide widows and their children help for today and hope for tomorrow. Meet The Need Ministries, Inc. a 501(c)(3) non-profit and public charity so your donations are tax deductible. If you give by November 27th, your contribution will be doubled by a matching grant!