HOW TO ENJOY THE HOLIDAYS AGAIN

“Where’d the magic go?”

That’s the heart’s cry of countless adults every time the holiday season rolls around. We long for the days when wonder was the only feeling we had come late November. We were excited and believed anything could happen, that dreams could come true! But somewhere along the line something broke. Not only did the magic seem to go away, but even the basic sense of joy disappeared.

I think it’s because the older we get the more responsible we become. Now that we’re grown-ups we have stuff to do. We don’t get to just be there; we don’t get to just enjoy, we have to produce. There are cookies to bake, presents to buy, boxes to wrap, and parties to attend. The most wonderful time of the year is often the most stressful time of the year. It’s why we get annoyed when we come across the rare person that’s giddy when the radio starts playing Christmas carols before Thanksgiving (Confession: I listen to Christmas music all year… I just can’t help it!). But I don’t think it has to be this way. I think that even for the person who likes Christmas the least, it can be a season of joy, fun, and beyond all that, full of wonder. So here are a few ways to bring the magic back. Maybe a few ways to be a little less responsible.

  1. Slow down. I know, you just thought about closing your internet browser because I sound like an idiot talking that way. I get it. You can’t stop. You can’t just not go to the office party. You can’t just not buy gifts for your family. You can’t just not bring a dish to pass for the block party. You can’t just not. But I don’t mean physically, I mean mentally. In those moments, the very moments that make the memories, stop to cherish them. Protect that moment in your mind. Look around the room. Smile at each face and thank God for them. With each of the eight dozen gifts you’ll wrap, thank God for the one you’re giving it to. Ask Him to bless their holiday. Slow down without stopping, because I know you can’t do that
  2. Sing loud for all to hear. I know, that’s not original to me. Buddy the Elf was the one that famously said, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.” Yes, the songs can be cheesy. Even the ones at church can be super high and out of your range, but sometimes we need to force ourselves to participate. Did you know singing uses a different part of your brain than speaking? And science is showing that music significantly lowers anxiety. So just try singing Jingle Bells and Silent Night this year—see what happens.
  3. Spend time with kids. The Bible tells us that bad company corrupts good character. Well maybe we’re hanging out with too many grown ups. That magic we’ve lost is still very present in kids, and if you spend any amount of time with them they’ll share it with you. They’re still completely irresponsible, so they aren’t stressed out when it comes to this time of year. No, they’ve actually been looking forward to it! Ask them questions about what they want for Christmas. Ask them what their favorite ornament on the tree is. Ask them about what they’re getting or making for someone else. I promise you’ll smile.
  4. Watch your favorite Christmas movie alongside someone else. The best movies are ones you share with others. It’s tradition in our home that we watch at least one Christmas movie as a family every week between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s always a mess of popcorn kernels, spilled hot chocolate, and too many questions to find answers for…but it’s great. Even if you aren’t married or have kids, invite some friends over and make a night of it. Watching Elf? Dress up. Watching A Christmas Story? Have a bb-gun shooting contest…just don’t shoot your eye out, kid.
  5. Make it spiritual. Confession: I don’t see the jingle bells and holly as the opposite of Jesus. I look at it as the biggest birthday party imaginable for the greatest one imaginable. Think of how much decorating you do for your kids’ birthday parties. Streamers, balloons, and cake are that much different than tinsel, ornaments, and cookies (did you think I’d say fruit cake?). The “holidays” for me, whether the world wants to see it the same way or not, are the largest and most extravagant celebration ever. And He deserves every bit of it.

Nothing too game-changing here. But hopefully it makes your season bright. Merry Christmas everyone! And just think, on December 26, Christmas is just 365 days away…

 


JP

After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.

ABOUT THEM

Have you ever listened to yourself pray?

Seriously, when was the last time you sat down and thought through what you talk to God about? If you’re like me it’s probably been a long time, if ever. Recently I was reading Paul’s first letter to Timothy and I came across a few sentences that got me started thinking about this. Check them out:

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior… (1 Timothy 2:1-3a).

I can’t help but notice that Paul skipped me. He skipped you too. As he talks about prayer and the subject of our prayers, his focus is on other people.  It’s about them. That prayer inventory I’ve been doing on myself has not yielded very good results. I pray for myself more than anyone else. “God help me out of this jam,” or, “God show me what to do in this situation.” Sometimes it’s, “God help the boys to sleep through the night so I can get some sleep.” Me, me, me.

But Paul challenges me (and you) to pray for others. And not just as part of our normal prayer routine, but as the primary subject. We should be praying two things: 1) that God would help them, and 2) prayers of thanks for them. I so appreciate the lack of complexity here. Thank God for them and ask Him to help them… simple. In other words, go to God on their behalf; speak up for them. Pray for them what we so desperately want for ourselves; and when we do, God is pleased. What an interesting thing: God is pleased with us when we pray for others. It certainly speaks to the selflessness that is such a deep part of what it means to be like Jesus, who died for everyone else.

And we simply can’t move on until we note what might be the most difficult part of these sentences for some of us. Paul tells Timothy to pray for all who are in authority. All is a tough word here. There are no exceptions or caveats… just pray for the authorities. When was the last time you asked God to help our president? When was the last time you thanked God for him? Democrat, Republican, or anywhere in between—it sounds like we’re called to pray for the president; whether we agree with them or not, we should certainly be praying for them. Hard stuff to be sure, but it can’t be glossed over. I wonder what would happen in America if the millions of Christians that live here made a daily practice of asking God to help the president, with an emphasis on God’s will above our own. And did you see the reason we pray? Peaceful, quiet lives.

It might feel frustrating to come back to that prayer inventory. It sure is for me. And by the way, I don’t think God doesn’t want us to ever pray for ourselves. He longs for an intimate relationship with each of us; that’s for sure. But it seems that at least part of growing to be like Jesus plays out in selfless, others-centered prayer. The beautiful thing is, if others are following God’s instructions… they’re praying for you.


JP

After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.

EXCUSED: WRESTLING WITH READING THE BIBLE

Confession time. I’m a pastor and I struggle to regularly read the Bible. I’ve been wrestling lately with the dissonance between what I say and what I actually live out in my life. Every Sunday I preach from a passage of Scripture and tell others to read it every day. Then the week hits and life happens and the excuses flow. I have a long list of excuses, too. Do you? For the next minute or so, I thought I’d share a few of mine with you, and maybe you’ll find we’ve got some things in common.

I DONT HAVE TIME. This is, without question, my most common excuse. I’m constantly telling myself (and God) that the day’s hours just simply ran out. I mean, does that sound like passionate devotion or what? I love God so much that spending time listening to Him through Scripture gets placed dead last on my priority list and more often than not, has no place on my schedule.
Yet, it’s amazing how much time I have to watch television and surf social media – there’s always time for that. Facebook reports the average American spends 40 minutes per day on its site. This leads me to question whether its that I don’t have enough time, or that I don’t make enough time. It’s always the latter, isn’t it? The solution is simple: let’s reevaluate our priorities and make time for what’s most important.

I ALREADY KNOW WHAT IT HAS TO SAY. I grew up going to church every Sunday (and Wednesday) of my life. The only excuse for not going was being sick. And, by the way, being sick in my house was defined as including vomit or having a triple-digit temperature. If you weren’t sick and you weren’t dressed when it was time to leave, you were going in your underwear. Because of that dedication—which I’m very thankful for—I’d heard every Bible story in the book and had memorized countless verses by the time I was a teenager. David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo, these were stories I could tell forward and backward. I’ll admit though, back then it was more about the Bazooka bubblegum reward than the discipline of hiding God’s Word in my heart. It’s easy for me to think of the Bible as something I’ve mastered. As a pastor, that misguided notion is amplified by Scripture often taking the role of a work-related document for me instead of the Living Word.
Here’s the crazy thing though: do you know how many times I’ve seen the original Star Wars trilogy? I think I can say, honestly, that I’ve seen each of those movies at least once each year for the last 25 years of my life. I know every line, every move and even the name of Luke Skywalker’s uncle and aunt, and yet I never get tired of it. In fact, I notice something new every time I watch them. Yet, for some reason I don’t allow myself to see the grandest adventure ever told in the same way. Maybe it needs to become more about enjoying the parts I do know and keeping an eye out for the bits here and there that I missed before. Or, maybe I need to be okay with knowing what I do, and celebrate that like I do being a “Star Wars nerd.”

I LOVE ME MORE THAN I LOVE GOD. It’s shameful, but it’s the absolute truth. I love my comfort. I love my sleep. I love my shows, music, social events, money, and family time more than I love God. If He truly is the most important thing in my life, wouldn’t deeply knowing the pages all about Him be the highest and most looked-forward-to thing in my life? This is one I never say out loud, but it’s one that’s true. It’s the message underneath the first two excuses I’ve listed.
When I was going to school in Chicago, I would get letters from Heidi (my wife now, girlfriend then). The mailbox door wouldn’t even have shut before I’d torn the envelope open and began pouring over the words inside. It was one of the signs I loved her. My hope is to grow in my love for Jesus to the point where I look forward to the moment I open His letter in the same way.

It’s an incredible thing, the God of the universe getting His thoughts on paper for us to know Him better. Seriously, think about that — it’s an absolutely crazy thing. When I think about it long enough, it makes me scratch my head and open my mouth in awe. And so, I’m finding it more and more difficult to come up with excuses. Let’s get to it.


JP

After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.

 

THE TENSION OF TRANSITION: 4 WAYS TO NAVIGATE THE NEXT CHAPTER

We’ve all come to the end of a chapter in a book and anticipated the start of the next one. Whether the previous section was good or bad, the anticipation of those next few pages is always urging us to read on. When it comes to new chapters in life, though, this just isn’t the same. Whether a new job or a new house, a new church or a new school, the ‘newness’ of something doesn’t always make it as exciting or as easy as what we’ve just come from. Change can be scary and overwhelming.

One of the newest (and biggest) chapters of my life is only two months old as I type. Transitioning into my new role as the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church has felt like a chapter change if ever there was one for me! It’s been exciting and terrifying all at the same time—which isn’t easy. If you’re working through transitions as well, pull up a chair; you’re not alone here. Living in the tension of transition can be difficult, but I think (by God’s grace) I’ve been able to make some progress. So, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned along the way, and perhaps they’ll be of help to you with whatever chapter you’re heading into next.

  1. Be dependent. My kids are completely dependent on me, without apology. Whether it’s a diaper needing changed or a meal needing prepared, they’re constantly reliant on me. Yet, as adults, dependence seems totally countercultural. We live in a society that prides itself on being independent, marching to the beat of our own drums. However, I’ve learned that independence has gotten me nowhere fast. In reality, I’m completely in need of God’s direction—His strength and wisdom. So instead of running from dependence, learn to lean into it, into Him.
  2. Be connected. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had people that know and love me come alongside me in this journey. They’ve been my cheerleaders, prayer supporters, and listening ears. If I’m being real here, the tension of transition comes with many fears and a lot of uncertainty. Having a handful of friends I can be honest with about my fears has been so crucial throughout this process. As you head into the next chapter of your life, get connected; be courageous enough to invite a few trusted friends into that journey with you.
  3. Be mentored. The greatest gift I’ve received through this entire transition was a year of close companionship with Joe, my predecessor. There is no amount of class time or pages read that could ever add up to the insight and wisdom I’ve gotten from him. Joe spent countless hours with me answering questions, brainstorming, and telling stories that prepared me for where I’m at now. Find someone who’s already read the chapter you’re about to start and get their notes!
  4. Be yourself. So often I feel like I need to fit the mold of what everyone else is envisioning for me, for my position, for this church. I’ve learned, though, that just like I can’t read a book from someone else’s perspective, I can’t navigate life from someone else’s shoes. I’ve got to be myself. While I love my predecessor with all my heart, I could never be him. So as I continue on in this new chapter, I’m prepared to not have all the answers; I’m prepared to learn some as I go; I’m prepared to make mistakes. In the midst of all this, though, I’m most prepared to be myself.

Nothing earth-shattering here, just some things I’ve learned (some easier than others) as I’ve navigated this journey over the last year or so. Hope it helps you!


JP

After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.