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A Skeptic Goes to Church

A Skeptic Goes to Church

By Colman Murphey


I wasn’t raised in a church, but I decided to attend a year ago, and here I am a year later, still attending. I’ll try to sum up the reasons for that decision as concisely as I can, because I really could write a thousand-plus words about it.

Back in my college days, I listened to a lot of Jordan Peterson’s podcasts (I can maybe feel some eyes roll at this statement). He cracked the defenses I’d built up in my ignorant youth against all that is traditional. Suddenly, I became aware that the stories in the Bible contained powerful truths that pertain to the lives of all people, religious or secular. 

My memory isn’t perfect (probably due to the undergraduate alcohol culture) but I think it was after hearing many things that Jordan Peterson had to say that I started to notice a light emanating from the people of faith I encountered in random places. By light, I mean that their behavior resonated positively with me in some way. I did not literally see light around them.

I remember I felt particularly good when a stranger at the financial aid office said “God bless you” as thanks when I directed him to some other administrative office he was trying to find. I remember Anna and Nick, who were fellow counselors at the summer camp where I worked. They did not keep their faith a secret, and it seemed they were working with children for all the right reasons. I remember George, a history major studying at CUNY Hunter College in Manhattan whose coptic faith seemed to animate his passion for history. I felt these people were particularly admirable and I would remember them years later. 

During the pandemic, I moved to Kansas City and I had to start rebuilding my social life. I made a few friends through work, but I was also ready to try new things. Over the years, I had consumed a great deal of media produced by public intellectuals like Jordan Peterson and Glenn Loury. I found myself not as comfortable sharing my thoughts or being myself around the people I usually associated with through school and work. I hate confrontation, and I can be very timid when it comes to sharing contrarian views, so politics and religion were off the table most of the time, even though I was deeply interested in those topics. 

At the time, I was doing an online church with some friends back home, and I remember how those sermons empowered me to face the challenges of my job when other activities didn’t. They also provided me with validation for certain beliefs. The thought crossed my mind that maybe going to church in person would be a good idea.

Weirdly enough, I found a link to the Gospel Coalition’s website through a math pedagogy page I was exploring for work. 

I typed in my zip code and Christ Community’s Downtown Campus was the closest church to pop up. I emailed one of the pastors, who suggested we get coffee. When we met, I was relieved by his understanding demeanor. It made me feel relaxed, and I felt comfortable talking openly around him. He invited me to church on Sunday. 

Upon arrival at my first Sunday service, I was warmly greeted by a stranger my age who introduced me to his friends who were similarly welcoming. This receptive environment and the relationships I began to form kept me coming back. I eventually joined the men’s group where I got to meet and converse with guys from all walks of life about topics of masculinity and faith. This environment of a unified group which also contained so many diverse opinions was such a welcome change from others I inhabited in university and at work. Many of the people I met at church were admirable like those other Christians I’d encountered, which didn’t feel like a coincidence. Church has felt like an answer for a deep yearning for community and meaning that I sometimes forgot I had. 

While I’ve found community at church, I wouldn’t consider myself Christian in the colloquial sense. I’m not yet willing to concede that the miracles in the New Testament are historical or more than symbolic. After watching many hours of debates about the resurrection of Jesus on YouTube, I came to the conclusion that if I were to someday believe that Jesus really did rise from the dead, my belief wouldn’t come from rational arguments. Maybe rational arguments would play some role, but the belief would mostly come from something more akin to a feeling powerful enough to fend off the disbelief. 

That isn’t to say that scholarship on the historicity of the gospels hasn’t altered my views. It was interesting to learn from the Wikipedia page on the historicity of the gospels that John’s baptism of Jesus, and Jesus’ crucifixion at Calvary, are held to be historical facts. John’s baptism is supported by something called the criterion of embarrassment which essentially just says early Christians wouldn’t have made up that story since it might have been used to argue that John was in authority above Jesus. The writings of first century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus make reference to Jesus’s crucifixion at Calvary and therefore serve as strong evidence for the historicity of that event. Now that I’ve seen how some aspects of the gospels stand on historically solid ground, I am more open to the possibility that the gospels as a whole may be historically true. 

I also have yet to satisfy many questions before I’m willing to take next steps with Christ. There are other spiritual practices outside of Christianity that seem to produce positive changes in people. How is Christianity reconciled with cognitive behavioral therapy, Buddhist meditations, or reports of positive changes in behavior from therapy involving psychedelic drugs? What about the positive effects that MDMA therapy has reportedly had on people experiencing PTSD? How is Christianity reconciled with the findings of research where cancer patients had their death anxiety alleviated by doses of psilocybin? I want to understand how Christianity can incorporate these findings, and I feel confident there’s a way. I still have a lot of exploring to do, and, in the meantime, I’ll keep attending church.

The Grave Injustice of Legalized Abortion On Demand

The Grave Injustice of Legalized Abortion On Demand

This January marks the 49th anniversary of the landmark United States Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision. On January 22, 1973, the highest court of our land circumvented legislative process and declared by judicial fiat that abortion on demand is legal. Discovering a constitutional right to privacy relating to abortion as well as drawing an arbitrary line around fetal viability, the court deemed the unborn less than human, depriving them of the right to life. 

I believe the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade was morally, legally, and scientifically bankrupt. In many ways Roe v. Wade tragically echoes the Dred Scott v. Sandford case decided in 1857, which declared that Americans of African descent were not American citizens and instead categorized as property. This immoral court ruling perpetuated racism and provided the ongoing legal cover for the cultural legitimacy of slavery. 

As a nation we look back at Dred Scott and shudder with visceral incredulity and moral outrage. How could this be? We wonder how the highest court of the land could legally sanction and codify such glaring injustice. We are aghast how a culture could be so easily deceived, callused, and morally blinded. Yet, as a nation for 49 years we continue to legally sanction abortion on demand, justifying it by sound bite pro-choice rhetoric and sleight of hand obfuscations. 

Make no mistake: dehumanization is the same deceptive force that fuels the taking of unborn life. The abortion industry is rooted in a history of eugenics that targets minority children for eradication. We cannot turn a blind eye to the compounding evils of Dred Scott and Roe and their lasting impact on minority and under-resourced communities in our country. 

We must not be deceived by the seductive arguments of “my body my choice,” sex without consequences, and placing career and comfort above the lives of the unborn. Our culture, on the one hand, praises autonomy and self-indulgence above all else, while on the other, dismisses the real needs of women facing unplanned pregnancies. We must be counter-cultural. We must recognize the humanity and value of each unborn life and do everything we can to support each woman walking the difficult road of unplanned pregnancy and motherhood. We must show unwavering compassion both to the unborn and the brave mothers who carry them. 

We also must not be deceived by the supposedly noble goal of making elective abortion, “rare and safe.” Like the immoral slavery industry of old, we have an immoral abortion industry that has no vested interest in making abortion increasingly rare. This abortion industry is driven not only by an ideology deifying personal choice at the great expense of denying the right to life of the unborn, but also motivated by great economic gain. How should we respond to this grave injustice that leaves the innocent in the jaws of death? 

From the inception of Christ Community, we have had an unwavering commitment to uphold the sanctity of life for all human beings, unborn and born. Along with an unwavering commitment to the sanctity of human life, we are whole-heartedly committed to extend compassion to those who have been and continue to be so deeply wounded by abortion.

The Gospel of the Kingdom we embrace as broken sinners like you and me brings the heart-arresting hope of healing and wholeness. If you have been wounded by abortion and would like to talk with someone, please contact one of the pastors at your campus. You are welcome at our church. Our staff desires to be there for you in any way they can. 

How should we respond to the grave and glaring injustice of abortion? Let me suggest a few reflections for us to consider. 

First, we need moral clarity around legalized abortion on demand. We dare not confuse the legality of something with its morality. Legal legitimacy does not necessarily mean moral legitimacy. As followers of Jesus guided by the clear teachings of Holy Scripture, the unborn are image bearers of God, have unimaginable intrinsic worth and are to be cared for and protected (Psalm 139:13-16, Jeremiah 1:5). We are called to protect the vulnerable and give a voice to the voiceless (Proverbs 31:8-9). 

Second, in a highly rancorous partisan culture, we must not confuse legalized abortion on demand as a partisan issue. Legalized abortion on demand is first and foremost a moral issue. Regardless of our partisan views and commitments, addressing societal injustice is the responsibility of all of us, both as citizens of this nation and citizens of the Kingdom of God. 

Third, we must continue to advocate with tenacity in the public square, in the halls of government, and in the courtroom for moral laws in regard to abortion. 

Fourth, as the prophet Micah reminds us, we are called not only to do justice, but also to love kindness and walk humbly with God. Moral clarity and properly motivated justice zeal must always be forged and formed in intercessory prayer guided by kindness, compassion, and humility. The moral clarity of our minds must be shaped by the Christ-like love in our hearts, expressed in the truth-laden, yet gentle tone of our voices. 

Fifth, as a church family we have and will continue to work with and support crisis pregnancy centers like Advice and Aid that helps those with unplanned pregnancies and offers support for those healing from the wounds of abortion. We will also continue to advocate for adoption and support birth mothers and adoptive families. 

Sixth, let us pray for a spiritual awakening for our nation and not lose heart (Luke 18:1).  An awakening where the church and people of all goodwill might gain moral clarity and address the most compelling injustices of our time, including the grave injustice of the destruction of unborn human life. Pray also for the U. S. Supreme Court as it decides perhaps the most important abortion case of a generation, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In this case, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to walk back, or even end, the constitutional right to abortion it pronounced in Roe v. Wade. 

For those of us in our church family who reside in Kansas, we have an important  opportunity this upcoming summer to support the Value Them Both Amendment. If you have not yet heard about the Value Them Both Amendment, I would encourage you to become informed and involved as the Lord may lead you. Even the smallest of steps of involvement will make a difference. 

Passing the Value Them Both Amendment is crucial to protecting pro-life laws in Kansas and preventing Kansas from becoming a safe haven for the abortion industry. In 2019 the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the Kansas Constitution provides an “inalienable” right to abortion–even more radical than Roe v. Wade. One consequence of this ruling is that Kansas’ pro-life laws are in danger of being stricken down by the courts. Another consequence is that if Roe v. Wade is overturned at the federal level, then Kansas will continue to recognize a nearly unlimited right to abortion. The only way to reverse this tragic course is to amend the Kansas Constitution, and we have the opportunity to do so with the Value Them Both Amendment in August 2022.  

As a church we have been, and will continue to be, non-partisan. However, in regard to legalized abortion on demand, this is not a partisan issue, but a moral one that transcends partisanship. I am grateful for a church family that embraces both uncomfortable truths and compassionate grace. How my heart longs for a day when the unborn will be valued, cherished, and protected. I hope yours does too. 

Seven Ways Sharing Your Faith Grows Your Faith

Seven Ways Sharing Your Faith Grows Your Faith

A few years ago, I was attending a church plant that failed. After several years of stagnant growth and little evangelistic fruit, the leaders decided to close the doors. I felt like a failure. I thought, “If only I was a better evangelist, then more people would have come to faith, joined our church, and it would still be open today. Here I am, in school learning to be a pastor, and the first church I am a part of goes up in flames!” I wondered if this evangelism thing was just something I was not cut out for. But that would be okay, right? Not every Christian needs to be a ‘super-soul winner’, right?

For many Christians, evangelism can be guilt and shame inducing. We know that we should share our faith, but so few of us do. Even as some of us try, a lack of fruit feels like failure. Seeking to alleviate the guilt from these experiences can lead to questioning the need for all Christians to share the gospel. You may have had this exact reaction when our church announced our plan to grow in evangelism through e90 (the practice of praying for 9 people for 90 seconds a day, for 90 days).

From “Do I have to?” to “Wow! I get to!”

Perhaps our perspective needs to shift. Instead of only sharing out of a sense of duty, what if we viewed the practice of evangelism as something that was good for us? While sharing our faith is certainly a command Jesus gives, it is something He commands for our own benefit! I want to encourage you to sign up for theFormed.life as we go through e90 so that your faith can grow as you seek to share it with others.

We should keep in mind that one does not need to convert others to Jesus to be a mature Christian. We are to tell others about Jesus, but we are not responsible for their  response. Even Jesus had many reject Him and His message. We should focus on being faithful in the process, not on the end product. 

How is this faithfulness in evangelism something that is for our own good?

How Sharing Our Faith Matures Us

Not only is evangelism a mark of Christian maturity, but it is also a pathway to Christian maturity in other areas.

  1. Evangelism grows our trust in God. As we step out of our comfort zone, our faith is strengthened by our need to rely on God. If you feel inadequate and unprepared to share the gospel, what a great opportunity to trust in God, who is the only one who can draw people to Himself. As you pray each day for your nine, you are developing the habit of inviting God into this area of need.
  1. It builds our love for others. Our broader postmodern culture implicitly defines love as merely tolerating another’s preferences. In this mindset, evangelism is a hateful enterprise. However, if you think of love as seeking the best for another person, what better way to love someone than to introduce them to the One who can lead them to fullness of life! Atheist magician and comedian Penn Jillette once remarked how loved he felt when a fan gave him a Bible and shared the gospel with him even though he still completely disbelieves in God. He said, “How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate someone to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” Seeking to have those around us come to know Jesus, if done with their best in mind, is a loving act that develops a greater love for them within us. We hope praying for your nine will be used by God to give you His heart for them that “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
  1. Sharing our faith transforms our lifestyle to be more missional. If we seek to make evangelism an integral part of our lives, we will develop habits that allow us to consistently partner with God in His mission of redeeming creation. This is why every Friday, theFormed.Life invites you to take a small step in developing missional habits. Telling others about Jesus invites us to critically examine our own lives. Do we live as though the gospel is true? The fear of hypocrisy that paralyzes us from sharing our faith can be an invitation to go deeper in our own discipleship. 
  1. Practicing evangelism enables growth in our theological knowledge. The year I gained the most theological knowledge was not while in seminary, but rather when I went to community college and was actively sharing my faith with classmates. Getting hard questions from others motivated me to read theology more rigorously than any systematic theology test could. This is why in theFormed.life we reflect deeply and biblically on the gospel twice a week. On Thursdays we look at a single passage that articulates the good news. On Saturdays we focus on one chapter of the Four Chapter Story, reading one passage explaining that and reflecting how we are living that story today. As we share the gospel, we will have greater motivation to understand the good news more fully.
  1. Not only does evangelism develop our theoretical knowledge but it also grows our practical knowledge of God. As a pastor, I am better able to understand a congregant after visiting their workplace. By seeing where they work, how they invest their energy, and knowing more about what their labor produces, our relationship deepens. Similarly, seeing God at work in His mission of wooing people to Himself allows us to experience the truth that God loves everyone in a deeper way.
  1. The practice of evangelism enables us to praise God and thank Him for how He is at work. This is why every Tuesday theFormed.life shares a short story about how God is working in someone’s life through their witness to Jesus. We want to hear more of these moments from you so that we can join you in praise and thanksgiving! Let us know how God is at work in this practice for you. You can sign up for that by texting “e90” to 913-379-4440.
  2. Not only does this practice increase our intimacy with God, but evangelism also can lead us to greater intimacy with one another. So many Christians can feel isolated as they share the good news in contexts where they might be the only believer. However, focusing on evangelism should lead us to treasure the hope we share in common as believers. We desire that doing this together as a church reminds us we are not alone in our witness. We encourage you to press into community even as you reach out to others individually. Make gathering on Sunday mornings a priority. Discuss the joys and challenges of this practice with others in your community group. Let’s grow together in this.

….

When my church closed its doors, God reminded me that it’s not the end product He cares about but rather being with me in the process. He does not need me to evangelize to save people. Salvation is His job, not mine. He wants me to develop deeper intimacy with Him and others by sharing my faith. Evangelism is not something He wants from me, but for me and for my good.

I pray that this would be true for you, that “the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ” (Philemon 1:6). I encourage you to join us in theFormed.life as we engage the discipline of evangelism together.

More Resources:

Root, Jerry., and Stan Guthrie. The Sacrament of Evangelism. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011.

“Atheist Penn Jillette Doesn’t Respect Christians Who Don’t Evangelize” 

Humble Confidence…

Humble Confidence…

I am a big fan of Mike Rowe and his podcast “The Way I Heard It.” Recently, he had two episodes that highlighted an important truth. We could use a little more humility and a little less certainty in our world. In episode 181 entitled “Off by Roughly Two Trillion” he recounts a time when he was narrating  a science program and he proclaimed with certainty there are over 200 billion galaxies in our universe. Two weeks later, he had to re-record that episode because new data had come out indicating the number was actually closer to two TRILLION galaxies. He was off by quite a bit, but he sounded equally certain in both recordings. A few weeks ago in episode 185, Mike Rowe proclaimed he was “Off by Roughly Two Trillion, AGAIN!” In this episode, he reveals that new, new data seems to indicate the figure of 200 billion is more likely correct. Again, with great certainty, he proclaims these “facts” to the world.

I remember interviewing at Christ Community for my job back in the year 2000. I had no idea where Kansas was on the map (don’t judge me, the weatherman stood in front of Kansas and I was never good at geography). During the interview I was introduced to several ideas and thoughts which drew me in. One of the ideas I heard from Pastor Tom which I could not shake was that of “humble confidence.” This was a phrase I had never heard before, and it not only struck me as profound, but it captivated me as a theological principle because of its rich meaning and broad application to real life.

I enjoyed, and am very grateful for my upbringing and how it molded me. I was blessed to attend a Christian liberal arts college where ideas were not spoon fed as “the way.” Rather, concepts that theologians have debated for centuries were presented fairly from all angles and we were taught to think and decide for ourselves where we landed in the debate and what we believed. In this kind of setting, I think I learned that the idea of certainty was something reserved for a very small number of ideas, especially when it came to theology. There are core beliefs that all orthodox Christians can agree upon, but entire denominations were formed over the disagreements people have had over the secondary issues we find throughout Scripture. So, while I had this basic understanding and held this viewpoint, I did not have a word to summarize this framework. When I heard “humble confidence” I was captivated. YES!

I can be humbly confident in my ideas, but I could be wrong. I am not certain about most things. This does not make these ideas or theological truths less meaningful or important, but when people far smarter than me can debate both sides with equal credibility, who am I to say my way is THE way?

What I loved was that Tom Nelson, who was really smart, was humble enough to say “I could be wrong.”

This year I have often asked myself where all the humble confidence has gone in our world. The opposite of humble confidence is certainty. One author I read recently equated certainty with the lack of humility and I think I agree. When I present myself as certain about something, I communicate I am right and you are wrong. I communicate “end of discussion.” In casual conversation as well as more formal communications coming from all sources, I get the sense of certainty rather than humble confidence. The way I see “x” is the right way to see it and, by implication, your way is wrong. I wonder if more civil dialogue would take place if  we would approach the table of conversation with the posture of “I could be wrong.” Would we be more “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19)?” Would we, as Saint Francis prayed, be more likely to “seek to understand rather than be understood”? 

I know I could use a strong dose of humble confidence in my life. What about you?

Word Made Flesh

Word Made Flesh

Christmas is over. The season of joy, celebration, and anticipation has been replaced by bills, dirty dishes, and gloomy weather. It’s time to throw the tree to the curb, return the weird gifts you have no use for, and count down the days until the kids go back to school. Christmas music is finally done playing! And now the over/under date has been set for when you’ll break your New Year’s resolution (January 17 for me this year).

It’s the same thing every year – our eyes grow big with childish delight as we drive through the Christmas village. Our hearts flutter with excitement over the perfect gift we’ve found for a loved one. The Christmas season is full of anticipation, and then suddenly it’s over. Time to move on, because a new year is starting with new goals, new work projects, new classes, and on and on.

The Advent season is the time when we celebrate the coming of Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” But the Good News of “God with us” does not end with His birth story. We need to keep reading. “Emmanuel” is not about Christmas, it’s about an entire life. And now, as we enter what experts call “the most depressing time of year”, we need to remember that Jesus’ story is not over. 

The Gospel of John doesn’t have a story of Jesus’ birth. Instead, he summarizes in one phrase: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14). Jesus, God’s Word, who was also God himself (John 1:1) became human and dwelled among us. There were more than three decades between the first Christmas and the first Easter – that was a long time for Jesus to dwell among His people.

In the new year, our sermon series will transition from Jesus’ coming to His dwelling. We’re calling the series Word Made Flesh, which comes from John 1:14. We’ll be digging into the Gospel of John, to meet the God who became human. Who turned water into wine and drove out the money-changers in the temple. Who confronted “good” religious people like Nicodemus and immoral outsiders like the Samaritan woman at the well, telling them both that He alone is the source of eternal life.

As we wrap up this Christmas season and move into a new year, we hope that you will join us as we continue to read the story of the life of Jesus, the Word made flesh, the God who dwells with His people.

Ways to Avoid Becoming Terrible at Christmas

Ways to Avoid Becoming Terrible at Christmas

I love Christmas. But I hate how easily Christmas can deform us. What do I mean? 

I really love Christmas. I sing Christmas songs in July. Our family seems to have a thousand traditions jammed into December. We are one of those families who wear matching pajamas on Christmas Eve. I don’t think I’ve ever had the thought, “Well, that was too many Christmas carols in worship.” I love the smells, the bells, the sweaters, the peppermint everything…I could go on. 

But I find myself often disturbed by who we — Christians — become around this time of year. Children throwing tantrums because they didn’t get the toy they wanted. Adults throwing tantrums because they didn’t get…the toy they wanted. Debt skyrocketing. Patience running thin. Depression rates increase. Family fights are the norm. It’s the hap-happiest season of all…!

Why? Partly because we’ve replaced the shared longing for Christ in Advent with the materialistic lusts of Christmas. More than that, our rhythms and idols are heightened during holy days (aka holidays). In a culture with extravagant wealth when compared historically and globally, we tend to leverage that wealth toward meeting our deepest needs of security, safety, meaning, and belonging rather than looking to Christ. This time of year can easily become the heightened worship of materialism, and so it should be no surprise that at this time of year we get more of materialism’s fruits: hurry, selfishness, isolation, and loneliness. 

Now to the key question: how do we fight this? How do we recenter our longing for Christ and His desires in a way that brings change in us for the better this Advent? The answer lies not just in a surrender of the heart but also in a change of practice. The apostle Paul reminds us that grace propels us to walk into good works (Ephesians 2:10). So what do we do?

Here are three practices that the Holy Spirit can use to help reorient the Christmas holy day into being a day that makes us more whole. 

#1 Read the Christmas Story from the Bible and Talk about It. 

When Christmas morning rolls around, we can tell ourselves that we’ve outsourced the telling of the Christmas story to a movie or a previous sermon at some point in December so that we feel like we’ve checked that box. 

What’s Christmas morning about? Is it the shredding away of the wrapping paper to find our dreams met in the items around us? Or is it centering on the Christ child once again? 

What if we put away the phones, the apps, the slideshows, and just get out the good ol’ Bible. Grab coffee and open the book. Gather around it with others or alone and read of God come to us. 

Don’t rush it. Sit in it. Ask questions of this critical moment in history. Ask God to give you a deeper appreciation or a more rich understanding.

Remind yourself that God is the greatest gift given to humankind, and allow Him to relativize how much the gifts under the tree are to satisfy our deepest desires. 

Now, I hear the pushback. Gabe, that may be fine if you’re single or married without kids. But you don’t know my kids. You’re right. I’ve got three kids under the age of 8 as I write this. I know the questions that go through our minds as parents: What if they start to have a distaste for the Bible because I require them to sit through a reading and engage? What if it ruins the day? What if I lose my temper? Can’t we just relax on this day? Geez?! 

Materialism wants us to focus on instant gratification and avoid discipline. The gospel calls us to gracious parenting with our eyes set on who the children are becoming. I want us to call our children to know the Scriptures and know the Jesus who is at the center of all this. And just because they don’t look as engaged at first when reading the Christmas story as they do when they open presents, that doesn’t mean they won’t be more grateful for those times 10 years from now. 

Think about what you want your kids to say to their kids? What you want your spouse to say about you at your funeral? What if they said, “They always brought us back to God’s word. They didn’t want me to miss the greatest gift of all. I wasn’t always grateful for it, but they wouldn’t let me give my heart to stuff that wouldn’t fill my heart.” Can you imagine? 

So very practically, here are some of the traditional texts to engage with on Christmas:

  • Matthew 1:18-25. This is the passage of how the angel came to Joseph to tell him to stay with Mary even though she was pregnant with a child that wasn’t his. 
  • Luke 1:26-38. This is the passage where the angel comes to Mary and tells her she is to have a child. 
  • Luke 2:1-21. This is the classic passage of how Jesus was born and the shepherds came around the manger. 
  • Matthew 2. This is also a powerful passage of the foreigners (the Magi) who came to find Jesus, and how Jesus quickly became a refugee. A powerful reminder just how similar those early situations are to today.
  • Revelation 22:1-8. This is not as traditional in present day Christmas celebrations, but this text captures our advental longing for Christ’s second coming and the beauty of His coming presence. 

#2 Invite Others into Your Christmas Holy Day.

We can idolize the nuclear family in  western. In other cultures, extended family and even neighbors were included in holy day celebrations. Idols always destroy the vulnerable. Always. And some of the vulnerable in our culture are those who are single, whether young or older, and away from family. 

It’s fascinating that at the first Christmas, Mary and Joseph weren’t alone with Jesus. The shepherds joined them because God invited them (Luke 2:16). And throughout the gospel narrative we see again and again that Jesus himself defines the most important place of belonging not as the nuclear family but those who do the will of the Father (Matthew 12:50). Now this is in no way an excuse to exclude or avoid those who are related to us in a natural way (1 Timothy 5:8), but it is to expand our boundaries of belonging and inclusion. 

So on this Christmas, yes, call your grandma, but what about calling your Christian sister too? I’m not about making your Christmas day hectic, but maybe there’s one person you can reach out to who is in your life because you share Christ? Maybe they chose singleness like the apostle Paul encourages us to (1 Corinthians 7:7), or maybe singleness and isolation was a result of painful exclusion (James 1:27, 1 Corinthians 7:15). Regardless, we are made for community, and the church is to be the family of God in a very real sense. Who can you reach out to include this Christmas? 

Each Christmas there is someone Allie and I invite into our home that we hear is without a community on Christmas, and it is always better because of it. We don’t make any real adjustments. We just invite them into our lives to do Christmas with us, and it makes our Christmas day more beautiful. Try it out.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t add the importance of gathering with the church community around Christmas. It’s always fascinating to me that during a holiday centered on the beauty of Christ and His body, the Sunday after Christmas is one of the least attended Sundays in the year. I get there are reasons like travel and so on, but one important step in caring for the vulnerable around the holidays is to show up at church. We need each other, and if we don’t show up there – at our worship gatherings – we leave so many feeling even more alone when we need each other the most. 

#3 Be Radically Generous with Your Words. 

I don’t know how many times I have read the card on their presents for my kids, but they can’t even focus because their sights are set on the toy that is yet to be revealed under the wrapping paper. With such an emphasis on stuff during Christmas, we forget that some of the most powerful forms of generosity have to do with our words toward and for one another.

I recognize you need to figure out your rhythm with your family, but what if there was a part of Christmas day – maybe it’s even after the giving and receiving of the physical gifts – where each person shares something they are grateful for about the person sitting next to them? If you are a married couple, maybe you intentionally set time aside to speak your delight over one another?

I know, I know. Some folks are giving me the “you’re crazy” look right now. That just sounds hoaky, right? But why? We need to hear this from each other (1 Thessalonians 5:11). We need to hear from those closest to us that they are grateful for us. That’s even more important than whatever thing is under the tree. What if this year you did that for each person with you on Christmas morning? What if this year you just modeled the way? 

Let’s Become Better Together

Those are 3 practices that if we leaned into them during and around Christmas, the Holy Spirit would actually strengthen our bonds, encourage our faith, and train our mouths to anticipate Christ’s second coming. 

My hope is not that everyone does these exact three things. My hope is that this has given you a more biblical imagination for what God can do in and through you this holy day. It doesn’t have to be chaotic. It doesn’t have to be deforming. Christmas can be a time to give life, to form life, and to invite more into a shared life with Christ, if we are willing to allow our practices to communicate Christ at the center of Christmas once again. 

From all of us at Christ Community, Merry Christmas!