CHRISTMAS CLASSICS SERMON SERIES
DECEMBER 21, 1997
Just the mention of the title brings forth many vivid thoughts in our minds, doesn’t it? Some of us think about that two-week block of time when our kids get a break from school. Others of us think about the stumbling, bumbling Griswald family of movie fame. Others think about going somewhere whether it is cruising, skiing or hunting. To take a vacation means that you disengage, you back off and pull away. Sadly, many of us take a vacation from Christ during this time of year. Simply put, we disengage, back off and pull away from Him with the net effect being disillusionment and despondency that permeates our lives.
Friends, God doesn’t want it to be that way. God does not want us to disengage, back off and pull away from Him. Instead, He wants us to engage, to see, to draw near to Him. He wants us to have the ultimate Christmas vacation. He wants us to carry around the spirit of Christmas every day of the year. So I guess the question that begs to be answered is, how is this accomplished? How do I keep from taking a vacation from Christ during this time of year? In other words, how to I engage, seek and draw near to Him?
Well I have been asking that question of a lot of people recently and I decided to poll our staff and their families about what they do to keep Christ at the center of their lives during Christmas. I though I would bring them out for today’s message and allow them to tell you what they do. Their words, I believe, will mark us, will challenge us, will impact us to do what God wants us to do during our Christmas vacation.
First meet Preston and Dedo Mitchell. Preston is our Spiritual Development Pastor. He and Dedo have been a part of this church since its inception. Also we will find out how she got that name, Dedo. Next we have our Singles Pastor, Troy Page. The single Singles Pastor. Next we have Mitzi and Paris Wallace. Paris is our Student Pastor. He is the point man over the junior and senior high area. Last but not least, they hail from the great state of Montana, Mike and Karry Johnson. Now Mike is dressed like it is going to snow. I am sure it snows all the time in Montana during the winter. Great trout fishing too. But you have never invited me to your place, never, Mike.
ED: Mike is in charge of our children’s ministry and we have some 850 children who attend our church every weekend. That is from newborn to fifth grade. Our staff members are having so many babies, we are pretty much helping that growth. Anyway, Mike, what are children thinking about during this Christmas vacation time?
MIKE: Well, I think the kids are thinking pretty much what we thought as kids. There is so much wonder, excitement, anticipation that comes with the holiday season. There is really no other time of year that brings out such intense, strong emotions in a child as Christmas. I think if we asked everyone here on stage about their childhood memories, most of them would center on Christmas time.
I remember as a child the excitement as my father would climb up into the attic and pull down all of the Christmas decorations. I remember the wonder as the tree went up. I remember all the smells, my mom cooking the turkey, the cookies. My mom, next to my wife, is the best cook in the world.
KARRY: That was real close.
MIKE: Being involved in Christmas plays at church, fires in the fireplace, snow falling on my bedroom window Christmas eve. But now as I have become an adult and have two children, Kaitlynn and Annie, I have begun to see that Christmas is really an incredible time of opportunity as parents. We can take all of those feelings, those emotions that naturally occur around Christmas time and help associate them to Christ. Karry and I want to raise our two daughters to know and to love God and we use the emotions of Christmas to build upon the joy and happiness and the love that naturally occurs. And we can tie that to Christ. Then we can build upon those emotions all year long.
ED: Karry, practically speaking, what are some things we can do as parents to mark our children during the holidays?
KARRY: I remember when I was pregnant with out first daughter, Kaitlynn, and I was due in December. I remember hearing accounts of Mary and it seemed so real to me since I was pregnant like she was. I remember feeling very peaceful and enjoying the season. But then the baby was born and everything changed. Anybody who has had a new baby in the house knows what I am talking about. It gets very loud and very wild and things get crazy. I remember that Christmas when we sat down and began to open our presents. As soon as we started to unwrap them, Kaitlynn started to get real fussy and cry so we had to focus on the baby and take care of her. This went on and on. Every time we would sit down to open the presents, Kaitlynn would get upset and we would again have to focus on her. Finally, after three days we got the presents unwrapped! It was a long Christmas. But looking back on it now, that is what Christmas should be all about. Christmas should be focusing on the baby and not on the presents. I think children tend to focus on presents because we, as parents, tend to draw their attention in that direction. We ask them what they want. What we are trying to do with our kids, we are trying to incorporate the birth of Christ into everything. Even going shopping, as we are fighting our way through the crowds of people, we can talk to the children about how Jesus was born because He loves every single person we see. I know a lot of people here probably do the birthday for Jesus party. I think that is a wonderful thing to do.
ED: Excuse me for a minute. Birthday for Jesus. You mean cake and candles for Jesus around Christmas time.
KARRY: Kids love birthday parties and I think that is a fun way to incorporate His birth into the holiday season. It gives kids something to look forward to as well. A couple of twists that you can do with that is to invite over friends who do not attend church or aren’t Christians. We can share why were are giving a party for Jesus. Another thing we want to do as our kids get older is turn that birthday party for Jesus into more of an intimate family time. We would have candlelight, and make it a quiet time of reflecting on the birth of Christ. We would like to have each person bring a special gift for Jesus for the coming year. It might be something as simple as one child saying, “I know a kid at school who doesn’t have any friends. This year I will try to be their friend.” That would be something they could work toward during the next year that would be real special. I think the key we are trying to work on is bring our conversations and the things we do over this holiday vacation back to the birth of Christ, to the baby.
MIKE: There is nothing wrong with presents. We believe there is nothing wrong with Santa Claus. There is nothing wrong with trees and lights on the house and all of the festivities of the holidays but we really believe that it is a question of priorities. If you are spending more time talking to your kids about the presents, more time talking about Santa Claus than you are talking about Christ, then you need to question your priorities. Again, there is nothing wrong with those things, but first and foremost in our conversation and actions, it needs to be Christ. And then the others will fall into place.
ED: That is very well said. How many families do we have here who are in your thirties with one or two children? Please lift your hands. Numbers. Isn’t that something? This is kind of a continium here. Place yourself in their shoes and think about what they have said. They have told us some good things to do during the holiday season. Now lets move over to Paris and Mitzi. As I said earlier, Paris is our Youth Pastor. I will begin with Mitzi. You and Karry grew up in broken homes. A lot of people erroneously think that if you are a pastor or pastor’s wife that you grew up in a Beaver Cleaver household and it is not true. We are finding that about half of our students come from divorced homes. Going back to your teenage years, Mitzi, what are some of the things that you did during that time that actually assisted you as you were living through some of the trauma in your life?
MITZI: There was a lot of turmoil and fighting in my home between my mom and my dad during my teen years. That was difficult. I think the tension between my parents put stress on my relationship with my father. So through my teen years we didn’t really have a significant relationship and that was hurtful and painful to me. I felt like I had missed out. I think the thing that really helped me through was that I plugged into my youth group and my church. They gave me the support I needed. They also provided an outlet for me to escape from the trouble at home.
ED: Let me stop you right there and say something. I know a lot of parents show up with the junior high and high school students week in and week out here at Fellowship Church. That is great. We want you to show up corporately. In fact, the Bible says that we are to join together in worship, in a large group. But, parents, I beg you if this is your church, make sure you have your junior high and high school students involved in our youth ministry. It will provide an anchor, a foundation, a base of support that will serve them very, very well. We have so many things going on in our youth ministry right now. What pains me is to see countless parents coming in with their students and doing the church thing and leaving. And when the world caves in for the kids, they have no Christian peers, they have built no relationships. You have got to take relational risks, as an adult, as a child. There were many times growing up in my household, a preacher’s household, where I didn’t necessarily want to go to children or student activities. But my parents told me it was a value that they believed in and that I had to go. Now looking back, I just thank them for that.
MITZI: I am thankful that I had a strong mother who encouraged me to be active in the youth group and in church. If a youth is not finding their support system in a positive way, they will find it elsewhere.
ED: And that is why we see so many students involved in gangs and other destructive relational patterns. For example, how many high schools and junior high schools do we have represented in our youth ministry?
PARIS: I know we have 17 senior high schools represented.
ED: And you can see just the breath and the scope of what we are talking about. Mitzi thanks very much. I know many here can identify with you. Paris, junior high and high schoolers start to understand the score. They see Madison Avenue, they understand the commercialization of Christmas. They delve into it just like adults. What would you say to those parents and those students about the Christmas deal.
PARIS: I think the hard part for teenagers is that there is so much pressure to fit into a certain group or look a certain way. Along with that comes what you dress in, specifically brand name clothing. There is nothing wrong with brand name clothing unless it becomes what we seek after more than other things in our life that are better for us. Matter of fact, just recently we talked to our junior high group on this subject. We asked how many of them had asked for a brand name clothing item for Christmas. All of them raised their hand. I asked what would happen on Christmas morning when they opened the present and it was exactly what they wanted but instead of being a Tommy it was a Target. I asked what they would do. We told them that night that there are a lot of brand names we might try to seek after but that the most important brand name that can mark our lives is Christ. Especially at Christmas, but also for the rest of the year. That is difficult. To try to change that, we have to provide things that give them an outlet to see why they call themselves Christian. During the holidays we have a five-week period when they give offerings. They take those offerings and purchase clothes and food for needy families. Our junior high students have raised $1,000 and yesterday they purchased gifts that will be taken down to Mexico by a delegation of junior high families. Our senior high students adopted four families in South Ft. Worth and they took clothes and toys to all the families and also food. So by giving them the outlet to reach out to the world around them, they begin to understand what Christmas is all about.
My wife and I are going to do something beginning next year when our son, Keegan, will be two. We want to start a tradition where Keegan will open five, six or eight gifts, how every many there are. Then what he will do is choose one to rewrap and give away. That means several things. We have got to get on the phone to connect with a family to deliver the gift to. The second thing is it means mom and dad will have to do the same thing. Our giving something will model for him as well.
ED: And these values are more caught than taught.
PARIS: Hopefully, when he becomes 16, 17 or 18 years old, when he is opening stuff under the tree and has six presents laid out, he doesn’t choose the worst gift to give away. Hopefully, eventually he will choose the best gift to give away because of the realization of what God has given him.
ED: OK, let’s say I am a father with young children. What is going on with the children’s ministry and the preschool ministry?
MIKE: We have got numerous activities, but on a weekend basis, we have a really high quality children’s program that meets through all of the services. I would encourage parents, to get their children plugged into Children’s Church where they can start making friends. Especially as we move out to our new building, there is going to be more opportunity to see kids that they go to school with every day. “Wow, he believes what I believe.” That will strengthen their faith. But as they get involved in Children’s Church they will get involved with summer camp and VBS and children’s basketball leagues and Noah’s Arkfest and all of the big activities that we do throughout the year. For the preschool we have numerous activities too.
ED: Now Paris, say I have got a junior high school student.
PARIS: Well, if a family comes next weekend, junior high and senior high students meet separately during church. Odds are that kids will see other kids that go to their school. That always helps, but if that doesn’t work, an activity definitely does it. We just took the kids caroling and climbing. We took them caroling for some families first and then went over to do rock climbing.
ED: Now, lets talk to Troy. Troy are you single? How old are you? Twenty-nine years of age. Troy spent some time in the marketplace, now he is a pastor doing a great job. We have 2,000 singles coming to our church every weekend. As Preston says, that blows me away. But really, that is a reflection of the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. About half of the populous happens to be single. So we have a lot of singles and single parents. Our church could not survive without the leadership and involvement of the singles. Some of the people you see on the stage, about half, are single adults. They are present in each ministry of the church. Troy, I know that singles are going through a lot during the holidays. It is a complex time. Talk to us about that.
TROY: For a single person, things are a little bit different. Mike was sharing that for a child Christmas is a time of anticipation, of wonder, of excitement, or happiness. For a single person, we don’t have the children around to create that atmosphere. However, we still want that Christmas experience. We still want to have the joy of Christmas in our lives. It seems that all too often, when Christmas day is over, when you are through eating, you sit back a realize that it didn’t have that punch that it used to. I think the reason it becomes that way is because we become too self-absorbed. As single people we will try to fill our lives with things that we think will make that Christmas experience. We try to go to every party we can possibly go to. We try to go to all the Christmas productions and programs. Then we also try to fill our lives with things. What can I get for Christmas? What is that great gift I can give to myself or get somebody to give me that will make Christmas for me? Despite all those efforts, we still wind up empty. I think that a lot of that is because we have just become selfish. The Bible tells us that true joy comes from being in the presence of God. I think that we need to take time during the Christmas season to get into the presence of God. All you have to do is sit down in a quiet place alone, open your Bible and read the Christmas story. Maybe read it from a different viewpoint. What does this mean to me? How can I apply this to my life? Then spend some time praying to God. I think that once you do that, you will be full of God. And as your cup gets full, it begins to overflow into the lives of other people. Singles have time to spend with others. So I think that is a real key to having a great Christmas vacation.
ED: I know a lot of us are married here. One of the things I would like to put before you is to invite a single to lunch or to your home. Oftentimes, after meeting in these large gatherings, singles are very lonely and here we are going off with our families. So that will help both the single and your family. How many single men do we have here in the service? Just lift your hand. Whoa. How many single guys do we have in the twenties? Most of them are across the street in our singles bible study now. How many single ladies do we have? How many in your twenties? I’ll tell you what. Troy looks kind of lonely up here, doesn’t he? What is your name? Terry. Would you mind just coming up and sitting next to Troy? Please, be a great sport. Terry, turn around for a second. Have you ever been to our church before? Great, because if you hadn’t, you would never come back again. Terry, where are you from originally? Brimingham. My family is from Alabama and Mississippi. So that is wonderful. You are here with your sister, she is your twin. Gee, my wife and I have twins.
Terry, you can sit down right here. Troy, she is from Birmingham, Alabama. Are you an Alabama fan? Do you like the Crimson Tide? Oh, you like the Golden Eagles. Are you dating anyone pretty seriously right now? You will not meet a better guy than Troy. Oh, wow, this is fun. You know church should be a social place. I met my wife at church. We do a lot of things here just to meet people, especially in the singles department. So, we want to deepen our relationship with Christ and become fully devoted followers of Him. But in the process we want to meet as many people as possible. We do weddings here all the time. I don’t want to press anyone here, but I am open next weekend.
TROY: You just want me to get married so that I can start doing weddings. Premarital counseling is not my thing.
ED: Let’s move to Preston and Dedo. I have known Preston and Dedo for a long time. In fact, they were among the founding members of our church seven years ago. We began with about 100 people and they were part of the 100. Preston at that time was part of the corporate world. He worked there for sixteen years. Little did he realize that he would become a pastor. God has used him and Dedo and their mature family in a dynamic way. Dedo, I have got to ask you, how in the world did you get the name Dedo. You have got to make the all-name team.
DEDO: My real name is Deborah Ann. When I learned how to talk, I said Dedo and it just stuck.
ED: LeeBeth, our daughter, she is eleven now but when she was little she used to call herself Deda. But we just went ahead and called her LeeBeth. Anyway, Preston, how do we keep Christmas intact as kids get older. How do you keep everything together.
PRESTON: I think the challenge with families that have older kids, and we have a daughter who will be in high school next year, it is easy to slack off on Christmas traditions. Let’s face it. Our kids are busy. We are hauling them all over the place. It is a busy time. But Dedo and I have always believed that it is important to continue with family traditions. Hopefully, one day they will leave home. I hope. Whitney is thirteen and in five years she will be off. So we want to share with Whitney, Mallory and Cameron all of our traditions so that when they leave home to begin their own families they will carry those traditions with them.
ED: You know, I think that when I was a teenager I thought tradition was weird. I wanted to forge my own future. Once you hit about 18, 19, 20 you begin to want to get back home for Christmas and to get involved in those traditions. There is something powerful in that. Dedo, you do a great job in keeping those traditions going. You could probably write a book DEDO’S DYNAMIC CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS. Tell us what you do to keep the family together, to keep them there. Some helpful hints.
DEDO: Before we had children we always traveled just before Christmas. When we had children and they got to be a couple of years old, we decided that we would stay home for Christmas Eve and Christmas day.
ED: Now I hope that you all didn’t miss that. What she is saying isthat they traveled. Now I think it is fine to go to grandma’s house. But then, when you have children, it is their opinion and mine also, that parents should stay home. I think you make a mistake when you travel with children to grandma’s house or grandpa’s house on Christmas Eve and spend the whole day with them. Let me tell you why. I think that you will miss starting your own traditions at home. I think it is fine to take off on Christmas afternoon, to wherever you choose to go. But I think it is important to spend Christmas Eve at home and Christmas morning at home.
DEDO: Well, we always try to make the week of Christmas a family time. We limit parties and do family things. We will go ice skating, to the movies, decorate Christmas cookies. Just fun family things like that. One of the things that I did growing up that we do now is every Christmas eve, while there are a lot of packages under the tree, the children get to open only one. Well the one package is from Preston and I and they always know what is in it; a pair of jammies to sleep in Christmas Eve.
ED: Does Preston get the footie pajamas?
DEDO: But they always look forward to that even though they know what is in it. Another thing that we have done is to collect an ornament every year that has the date on it. So from 1980 we have been collecting those. Then each child gets to pick out a dated ornament each year and that becomes their special ornament. We don’t have a real glitzy tree, but a child’s tree. And they are real proud of it. Everything on there means something to them. So some day when they begin their own families, they will take all their own ornaments and start their own traditions with those.
I think probably the most fun thing that we do is make our own Christmas wrapping paper. We get long sheets of white paper and tempra paint and make red and green handprints. Sometimes we have even walked in the paint. This year they were dying to have the dog step in the paint. I nixed that. But they do enjoy wrapping the presents in the paper that they made.
ED: Preston do you have anything to add to what Dedo has said?
PRESTON: We love tradition on our home and Dedo does do a great job. One of the things that we have become more cognizant of as the kids have gotten older is how important it is to teach them to give rather than to get. But here is the deal. Most of us as parents will teach our kids that, but we fail to model that ourselves. We fail to give something to a needy family or whatever. What Dedo and I decided to do this year for the first time is add up all the money that we spent on Christmas presents and give a portion of that as the best gift we can give, a gift to the church. We teach the Christmas story here at Fellowship 365 days a year to countless thousands of people. We feel that will model something to our children. I think that is really the essence of what Christmas is all about and what God did for us when He gave His only Son.
It is interesting. Our son, Cameron, just this week finally grasped that concept and he invited Jesus to come into his heart. It will be our most memorable Christmas because of that.
ED: There are a lot of people here who show up every weekend. I feel that many of you do not understand what it means to know Christ personally. Some of you think that just because you were born a Baptist or a Catholic or a Lutheran, etc. that you are a Christian. Some think that believing in God and Jesus is enough. Well the Bible says that even Satan and the demons in hell believe in Jesus so much that they actually tremble. Belief is part of it but just believing is not going to get you where you want to go. I feel many of you are facing a Christless eternity right now and you are duped into thinking you are a Christ follower but in reality you are not. So to become a Christian you have to ask Jesus Christ to come into your heart. In other words, you have got to make your heart Christ’s home.
The Bible says simply that Jesus stands at the door of our hearts and knocks and we have to open the door to Him. And that is the way a person steps over the line and makes a faith decision. We admit the obvious to God, we admit that we are sinners. We tell Him that we believe He walked down the staircase of heaven with a baby in His arms, that Jesus was born in a manger, lived a perfect life and died a sacrificial death for all of our sins. We tell God that we believe that. Then we come to the point where we open the door and invite Him into our heart.
So I challenge you children, students, single adults, couples, wherever you are, make sure that you have stepped over the line and made this faith decision. Make sure that you have made your heart Christ’s home. And that is our prayer for you. Look again at the people up here because generally speaking they represent a nice continium; children, youth, singles, married couples. Think about Christmas vacation. And think about your destination this Christmas vacation. Maybe your destination is just to ask Jesus to come into your heart. Maybe your destination is to do some of the things that they talked about. I don’t know what it is. God knows. But I think you know what to do. And it is our collective hope and petition to God that you apply these words and become not only hearers of these words but does as well.