So today we start our Christmas series and I have to tell you I’m really excited for this because we are going to really be addressing somethings that we all have challenges with in one way or another.  Can we just be really honest here for a minute and say something?  The holidays can be really hard!  Ok, now it’s out there and we can move on with the talk today.  If you are like me you often get the perfect image in your mind of the beautiful holiday season to come…you can just see it right?  The food, the laughter, the children playing and happy, the snow gently falling…yeah, me too.  I often feel like Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation looking off into the distance picturing the perfect holiday meal, and presents, and time with family and friends…and well, let’s just say that dream of what it could be just never seems to come together the way I drew it up in my head.  Usually by the day of the big family get together, there’s stress, there ends up being hurts and I leave what should be a beautiful time tired, and just glad it’s over!  Well that shouldn’t be, and today I’m going to start a discussion with you that could lead you into the best Christmas season you and your family have ever had!  It’s because we are going to show you how to bring God with you on all of your travels this holiday season.

Look some of us are just more “Christmassy” than others.  Some of us are blasting Christmas music before Thanksgiving, and some of us just aren’t all that excited for the Holidays.  Often times that is because the holidays bring a lot of stuff with them.  For many of us this is a time to face and re-enter relationships that we have been able to avoid all year long.  We feel old issues and emotions start to resurface and what seemed exciting a few months out, now is looming out ahead of us as we feel old hurts, emotions, wounds, even anger or rejection start to move up from places we had hidden down deep inside us.  So stress joins the process, which leads to fights with the spouse, and emotions you don’t want to feel, add the busyness of planning, packing, wrapping, plus the financial challenge of buying too much stuff for too many people and don’t forget preparing meals to all of that, and all of a sudden have a pretty volatile situation on our hands!  But we can’t say that can we?  I mean this is the time to celebrate the birth of our Savior and what kind of a heathen or Grinch wouldn’t be excited around this time of year?  So here’s the deal, we need to be prepared for this time and we can.  We need to be able to re-enter relationships and not be crippled by harmful emotions…and we can.  You know what, today I’m going to show you the best way to enter all the mess of the holidays and come out the other side free and healthy.  I want to show you how to engage your parents, siblings, even our children who we love but may not always respond well to us, and friends in a successful and healthy way.  Here’s how we do it, we take God with us all through the Holidays.  We take God with us to the homes we visit.  We literally take him to the table to eat the turkey and ham and the best way to bring God along is through prayer.  We want you prepared this holiday season.  We want you protected as you walk in and out of the Christmas parties.  We want you able to respond with love even in the challenging moments, and most of all we want you leaving the Holiday’s and heading into the New Year with freedom and energy, and joy.  We do this by inviting God into all of it.  We bring Him along and allowing Him to flow into and out of every relationship, party, visit, and trip.  So today’s focus is on prayer, but I want to start by looking at the life of Jesus, specifically how he responded to people.

You know through Thanksgiving I was really impacted by this thought about Jesus’ life.  He sat at a lot of tables and feasts in his time on Earth.  I mean if you read the Gospels he was eating with people a lot and as I headed towards my own Thanksgiving Day feasts I just kept thinking and reading about the different tables He sat at and how he acted, responded to people really struck me.  I think because of who Jesus is (God in skin) sometimes we can forget that he dealt with so much emotion too.  He dealt with people issues, tons of busyness, tons of people needing things from Him.  Jesus dealt with family issues, and just so much public scrutiny from the religious leaders who often seemed to be literally at these parties just watching him eat.  Think of the pressure, the emotion, the frustration Jesus must have felt as he dealt with so much human ‘stuff’ from people.  Tons of people swarming Him wanting healed, tons of people trying to catch him slipping up just once…even his closest friends and family just not getting Him or the mission that He was on.  I mean, think of all the really dumb things people he cared about said to Him, which happened a lot.  Think of the distraction and exhaustion you would feel in His shoes…and what impacts me the most about Jesus is how he responds to all of that.  He responded with love.  Jesus was focused.  He was so poised and had so much compassion even in the most chaotic of moments…and I just can’t get that out of my mind. Try to picture this as if it was you…try to feel it.  Now here’s what is even cooler…Jesus’ life is literally a road map for you and I on how to live.  He is showing us how to do it, and he sat at tables and dealt with it all too.  So we can read and learn from Him.  You can’t read these stories without seeing that Jesus responds incredibly well as he deals with people, religion, and some really messy dinner parties.  Jesus takes all the chaos, the hate, the stupidity, and the mess in stride and responds with love which isn’t easy to do, but can be done if we bring God with us into each moment of our lives.  So let’s look at Jesus’ life…after all the Bible does say this…

1 John 2:6 Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Christ did.  NLT

So that is pretty clear right?  We are to live our lives as Jesus lived His and while I stand amazed at how Jesus responds in the middle of all the chaos of people, there are clear reasons why He was so good in those moments.  Yes I know He is God in skin, but he also very clearly laid out a way to live, that would allow you and I to live with health and freedom from all the mess and also and maybe most importantly to respond with love in the middle of the chaos of life.  This is so beautiful, listen to Jesus’ words here…

Matthew 11:28 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 29 Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 30 Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” MSG

Isn’t this awesome?  Are you catching what Jesus is saying?  Hey, if you are tired come to me.  I can show you how to recover your real life.  I can show you how to take real rest.  He is saying I can and I did show you how to live freely and lightly!  And I love the phrasing in the Message version where Jesus says that if we walk with Him, and work with Him, and learn from Him we can learn the unforced rhythms of grace…wow!  And isn’t this something we all crave?  Scripture tells us to live as Jesus lives.  Jesus says we should watch Him and learn from Him.  He will teach us how to live in a new freedom that we never knew existed prior to Him…so there must be something to that right?  This really starts to show you something amazing about Jesus.  Christmas is the celebration of Jesus stepping into our mess as a human to save the world from sin.  Which is absolutely amazing, but how cool is it that while on this Earth he literally walked, and talked, and related well with others, and lived a life on this Earth that literally becomes our road map on how to live our lives.

Jesus navigated through a ton of things in his life on this Earth.  He dealt with people issues…I mean can you imagine how many people needed healing and were coming to Him all the time?  It wasn’t like there was a doctor’s office or two with efficient modern day medicine…there was a ton of need coming at him all the time.  His schedule was busy with people pushing in on Him all the time on what they wanted him to be or to do next.  Think of the hate and judgment and scrutiny he dealt with from the religious leaders of the time…I mean they are following him around, listening, weighing, measuring, just trying to catch him in a sin or a mistake.  Think of how it would feel to have his family and his closest friends just never seeming to really ever get it, until his death and resurrection.  Think of how many dumb things people would say to Him that he just absorbed with grace and love.  They didn’t see that He is the Savior of the world…and Jesus always responded with love.  He went from meal to meal, from party to party, from town to town, and sat at a ton of tables, with a lot of different people with different personalities and issues and in all of that ‘crazy’ he is able to stay centered and love, and to respond with an amazing amount of peace.  Jesus in all of this clutter engaged people, felt for them, and listened to them.  Try to personalize this for a moment if you can.  I have to tell you when I go to the Hepner Holiday meals and we are sitting down to eat with 10 grandchildren, 8 adults things get so crazy that I can’t hear or listen to or feel anyone!  Yet Jesus sat in these moments and could look you in the eyes and love you regardless and we are to live as Jesus lived…and we can.  You see Jesus was prepared for these moments, and we can be too.

I wanted to show you just a couple of Jesus’ moments at the big feasts and how he responds, because it is so impactful and I love this because he has two very different hosts at these two dinners.  The first is one of my favorite moments where Jesus is eating with Matthew the tax collector which by the way is the worst of the worst of people in those times.  I think this was the kind of meal Jesus enjoyed being at with the company he would want to keep.

Matthew 9:10 That night Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to be his dinner guests, along with his fellow tax collectors and many other notorious sinners. 11 The Pharisees were indignant. “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” they asked his disciples. 12 When he heard this, Jesus replied, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do.”  13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices.’ For I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.”  NLT

So Jesus has invited Matthew to be his disciple and is eating dinner with him that evening.  Notice that Jesus doesn’t see Matthew the “tax collector” or other notorious sinners…he sees them as people as children of God who need a Savior, who need love and that is what Jesus does, and I want you to notice who hates what he is doing and how he responds.  The church people of that day don’t like it and push back on him which leads Jesus to say something that I just can’t get out of my mind…

“For I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.”  Jesus

Oh man I love that.  Jesus responds with love…and pushes in on the religious to do the same.  Let’s look at another dinner party that Jesus was at and how he responds.  This one I believe was more awkward, because this time Jesus is at the house of a Pharisee, and I’m pretty sure this party wasn’t nearly as fun as the one at Matthew’s house!  But I want you to see how Jesus responds as this scene unfolds.

Luke 7:36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to come to his home for lunch and Jesus accepted the invitation. As they sat down to eat, 37 a woman of the streets-a prostitute-heard he was there and brought an exquisite flask filled with expensive perfume. 38 Going in, she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping, with her tears falling down upon his feet; and she wiped them off with her hair and kissed them and poured the perfume on them. 39 When Jesus’ host, a Pharisee, saw what was happening and who the woman was, he said to himself, “This proves that Jesus is no prophet, for if God had really sent him, he would know what kind of woman this one is!” 40 Then Jesus spoke up and answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.””All right, Teacher,” Simon replied, “go ahead.” 41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people-$5,000 to one and $500 to the other. 42 But neither of them could pay him back, so he kindly forgave them both, letting them keep the money! Which do you suppose loved him most after that?” 43 “I suppose the one who had owed him the most,” Simon answered. “Correct,” Jesus agreed. 44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look! See this woman kneeling here! When I entered your home, you didn’t bother to offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You refused me the customary kiss of greeting, but she has kissed my feet again and again from the time I first came in. 46 You neglected the usual courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has covered my feet with rare perfume. 47 Therefore her sins-and they are many-are forgiven, for she loved me much; but one who is forgiven little, shows little love.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then the men at the table said to themselves, “Who does this man think he is, going around forgiving sins?” 50 And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” TLB

Jesus responds with love, with compassion, and peace.  Jesus always responds with love.  Think of the peace and love he shows even as he deals with so much craziness.  Think of the public scrutiny.  Think of the social taboos that he is breaking.  He is loving on sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, and the religious cannot handle it.  Jesus always responds in a Godly loving way…always.

Ok, so quick time out…Now this is just a thought but do you notice that Jesus responds with love, but there are others in these two stories who do not.  I want you to see this, in both stories we see a group of hard hearted people who do not respond as Jesus did and ironically they are they religious leaders of this time.  These are people who love God.  These are people who pray, and know the Bible better than you and I know it, but they respond to people completely opposite to the way Jesus did…so how does that work?  Amazing isn’t it?  Ok time back in.

Jesus always responds in a Godly way and it’s because he was preparing his heart for those moments long before they ever happened.  He was ready for all of it.  Jesus was working on His heart condition behind the scenes which allowed Him to be great when everyone was watching.

Luke 5:16 …Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. NIV

It’s very clear…Jesus often withdrew to places where he could be alone and prayed.  He wasn’t walking blindly into a situation without being sure to do the heart work behind the scenes…this allowed Him peace, and love, and the ability to focus even as crowds of people came.  Jesus was ready.  You know over Thanksgiving many of us get up and decide to run in a Turkey Trot 5k race.  They are always lots of fun and make us feel a lot less guilty about the amount of food we are going to tear into later that day…but there are two types of people running those fun Turkey Trots.  There’s the guy that has been running all year and is ready to go on race day, and then there’s the other guy, who didn’t run until about 3 weeks prior to the race, now his brain may tell him to go on race day but his body is probably going to disagree at some point in mile 2 or 3.  It’s because they haven’t done the work behind the scenes all year long to have a successful run…this guy typically doesn’t have as much fun at the Turkey Trot as the other one because he wasn’t doing the work needed all year long to be fit enough to enjoy this run.  It’s the same principle.  In the moment you find yourself in the group of people who may say rough things, or around people who have or may hurt you, this isn’t the time to realize your heart isn’t prepared to engage the mess…we need to live as Jesus lived, and Jesus spent time with God often.  He was prepared.

Now let’s go back to that little timeout we called a bit ago.  Because we looked at this idea that the religious leaders were pretty hard hearted and they responded in judgmental and harsh ways towards people, they didn’t love as Jesus loved, they were the polar opposite.  But here is the thing about them…they were prepared too.  They spent time with God, yet they didn’t respond the way Jesus did.  So what is up with that?  These religious leaders of the time prayed every day…probably more than we do.  They literally memorized books of the Bible…meaning they knew the Bible extremely well.  They gave money to the church and they loved God and wanted others to love God as well, so what is the deal?  They spent time with God and the product of their lives isn’t the love that we see in Jesus.  So there must be something different in the time Jesus spent with God, compared to the time these religious leaders were spending with God.  You see Jesus spent time in relationship with God, it was profoundly personal as a father talks to a son.  He wasn’t just going through the motions, and checking off all the right boxes…he was in a life changing relationship with God.  The religious leaders were doing all the right things, but it was more out of duty, it was the thing you do…it was not leading them to love others.  The time they spent with God was not transforming them from the inside out, it was more a duty then the love of God pouring in and out of them.  This is the difference between relationship and religious duty…one leads to life change, and one leads to a lot of work without the product of love.

So how can I be so confident in saying this?  I mean I wasn’t there.  How do I know what the Pharisees and Sadducees were doing in the private time with God?  Well I know this because true faith comes out in our actions.  They didn’t love.  Everything in a personal relationship with God leads to a life changing love pouring into you and coming out of you.  It allows you to respond to people in a very different way and listen to me, the more time you spend in a personal relationship with God the more His love goes in and comes out of you!  You can’t even help it because you are spending time with God who IS love.  This is why Jesus responds so well to people, even in the hurtful moments…even when his friends and family say the dumb thing that he wished they wouldn’t.  It’s because He is the reflecting God in His actions and God is love, this is what is in Him and this is what comes out of Him and should be in us too.

1 John 4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. NIV

It’s amazing to think about but the religious leaders prayed, knew the truth about their scriptures and missed this greatest principle of our faith which is love.  Jesus didn’t seem to fit the religious box of that day, and he didn’t seem to follow all their rules very well, so they followed the same practices but came to very different conclusions.  Jesus prayed, he knew the truth of Scripture, and He spent time in relationship with God and through that love was able to love others well. While all there practices didn’t lead towards a life of love, just more things for them to do…and frankly they seem pretty miserable.

This is a different way to move in and out of all the chaos of all the people and dinner parties, and events we walk into is it not?  It starts with love.  When we love we are showing God to this world, so in our loving actions we are literally bringing God with us into our Holidays.  I think it’s so important to understand the time that Jesus spent with God…regardless of the busy life he lived and just how meaningful that time was.  Jesus was always prepared.  He was very intentional in everything he did regardless of how people pushed in on him he took time to center on God and time to rest as well which really allowed him to stay composed through all of the pressure he was under.  Jesus was great in the moment because he was intentionally preparing himself for the chaos of life.  He didn’t just go into it blindly which is very important for us to see.  Many of us will head into the holidays and be so busy preparing food, wrapping presents, and packing the children into the minivan that before we know it we are walking in the door to a situation that we know is challenging internally and we have never taken the time to prepare our hearts or invite God into it.  Jesus didn’t live that way and we shouldn’t either.  Jesus was prayed up and ready and we must be also.  Listen He had some advantages on you and I being God in skin and all…I will tell you that you simply cannot respond as Jesus did without preparing your heart and inviting God into these moments with you.

So you might be thinking to yourself, “Well Sam this is great but what exactly does this look like I don’t even really know how to pray, let alone how to bring God with me into these moments.” Well for the rest of my time I would like to get really practical with you and I want to ask and answer some questions for you about this idea of bringing God with us into our Holidays.

Questions #1 – WHY?  Ok so the first and maybe most obvious question you would have about bringing God with you into the holidays is probably; WHY?  Why would I need to invite God into my family Christmas Celebrations and parties this holiday season?  It’s not like it’s a spiritual battle or anything right?  Here’s the thing, it actually is a spiritual battle and you need to see it and recognize it as spiritual warfare.  I want you to see this, you are a child of God.  This means you have incredible value and the enemy would like nothing more than for you to feel tired, beat down, and like less than the royalty that God created you to be.  So why do we need to take God with us into the holidays?  It’s because this is a world is at war and even though we are wearing fun Christmas sweaters, and decorating and celebrating…and hanging out with loved ones we can take on wounds that we then can carry on through our entire lives.  We need to see this for what it is and be ready…

Ephesians 6:10 God is strong, and he wants you strong. 11 So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. 12 This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. 13 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. 14 Truth, righteousness, 15 peace, 16 faith, 17 and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. 18 In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. MSG

Make no mistake about it we must be ready because the spiritual battle is real and there is no timeouts for the holidays, in fact this is when the enemy can hit us the hardest.  We need to be prepared.

Questions #2 – HOW?  So you may be saying how do I arm myself?  What does it look like?  Well it really is what we have been talking about throughout the talk.  We spend real and meaningful time with God, which allows God’s love into our hearts, which then flows out of us and into others, this is all made possible because of Jesus and his amazing work for us on the cross.  Practically speaking this means that we are carving out a time each day to engage God without distraction.  I know, I know, you don’t have the time but I think if you think about what you actually give your time to, your probably do have the time…and when you do come before God try to be yourself.  Be honest and real.  Maybe journal your thoughts.  Read some of the Bible.  Not sure where to start? I would say start with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John…and just start reading about Jesus’ life.  Try just a chapter at a time…for me I like to use a parallel Bible where I read the same chapter in both the NIV and the Message versions…this really helps me understand what I’m reading!  We also need to pray.  Prayer is the key.  It is your time with God in conversation which means you are talking…and maybe more importantly listening for God to speak…and He will to you in His own way.  So are you wondering how you should pray?  Well Jesus teaches us how to do that too.

Matthew 6:6 “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” MSG

Do you see it?  Get alone with God, and just be yourself.  As you spend time with Him look at what happens…this is so important.  The focus shifts off of you and onto Him and you begin to sense God’s grace…this is an awesome place to be and sure makes life easier when you’re in this spot. Jesus continues…

Matthew 6:9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ NIV

A couple things I want you to see here…first of all when Jesus says “This then is how you should pray.”  I’m thinking this then is how we should pray.  And I want you to notice the prayer.  It starts with Father…not far off God, but Father in Heaven…it’s personal and loving.  Hallowed be your name…just centering on the awesomeness of God and who He is…and a major acknowledgment of God and His will.  He prays for enough provisions for the day, and about forgiveness for us and that we can forgive and also for personal protection from the evil one.  This is just awesome and literally gives us a template on how we should pray.  And just to remind you of the whole concept of our actions being a HUGE part of our faith Jesus says this next…

Matthew 6:14 “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. 15 If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part. MSG

There is a direct connection between what God does and what we do…so important to see!  So here’s the point of this whole day.  We are heading into the holidays…and like Ghosts coming out of the past we can really get beat up if we don’t go into these days prepared.  When we bring God along we can step into the chaos, and hurts, and emotions, and fun, and pain of all the time we spend with people, some of whom we maybe tried to avoid all year long and now know we will be sitting at the table with them soon, listen our response is a big deal.  We want to walk into and out of these holidays different…and that happens when we invite God into it.  Look at how Jesus lived his life…he spent the time with God needed to be centered, and respond to all kinds of crazy situations with love and grace.  Jesus spent time with God often.  He was prepared and he didn’t just get so caught up in all the clutter that he forgot to ask God to be part of His day and we are called to live as Jesus lived and love as Jesus loved.  This only happens with help from Him.

So this holiday season I challenge you to prepare.  Spend time with God, real time in a friendship with God.  And as the day approaches prepare for the spiritual war that it is.  Put on the full armor of God, arm yourself with God’s word, and pray.  And as you pack up to head down the road, on that day circle up as a family.  Hold hands with your spouse and children, or family members and ask God to come along for the day.  Pray over your trip.  Pray for travelling protection.  Pray for physical, emotional, and spiritual protection as you relate and party with people and pray for your heart in those moments!  Pray that you can respond with God’s love, seeing who they are maybe for the first time and giving back love even when it isn’t easy.  And you know what pray for the people you are going to be with…even the one you want to see the least.  I’m telling you the holidays are not easy, but there is a way to navigate them differently this year, and it starts by intentionally inviting God along for the ride.

Our job is to live as Jesus lived and as we celebrate His birth this year I think I’m most grateful right now for the road map he gives us by how he lived his life!  We can have a successful Holiday run, and it starts and ends with inviting God into all of it with us.