December 24, 2007
We all want that white Christmas, don’t we, that white Christmas, that Hallmark moment when everything is going and flowing? And we’re giving the right gifts; we’re receiving the right gifts. There are no family feuds or subtle innuendos. It is just like great. Well one would think because I’m a pastor that I always have a right Christmas. One would think because I’m a reverend that everything is pretty smooth around the Young household during the Christmas season. Well I’m going to share with you what happened to us last Christmas because I refer to last Christmas as the Christmas from hell.
It all started several weeks before the big day when Landra, one of our 12 year old twin daughters, came running into the house holding her right arm and she said mommy, daddy, I hurt my arm. I think I’ve broken it. I looked and sure enough it looked broken. So we jumped in the car and headed to one of the doctors in a box. A really nice physician looked at the arm and he x-rayed Landra’s arm and came back in the examination room and said honey, you’ve broken your arm. Now tell me, how did you do it? And she looked at the doctor and she said I was running and I tripped and fell on a rock. He goes ouch, that hurts. You’re going to need a cast, young lady. And the cast was put on and you know what happens when you have a cast. When you have a cast everyone always asks the question, how did you hurt your arm? How did you break your arm? And Landra would say, I was running and tripped and fell on a rock and that’s what happened. She told the story over and over again. Several days later she received a gift from her good friend in California. She opened the gift and it was a very expensive gift. I could tell it cost over a hundred dollars. And Landra goes mom, dad, I want to buy Jayla a gift like this, match the gift. Do you ever do that? Sometimes you receive a gift and you think it’s not going to be that much but you think they spent a lot more on me than I ever thought about spending on them. So you run out to the mall and you try to match the gift. Well Landra was feeling those feelings. And Lisa wisely asked Landra, how much money do you have? Landra said, I don’t have any. She said, well you’re in a tough spot. Then we began to talk and we told Landra, here’s the deal. We’ll let you spend $25 on Jayla. And Landra responded with, that’s so unfair. $25? She spent a hundred on me. That’s unfair. She stormed up to her room. Several hours later I hear this squalling. Landra goes, I found a hundred dollars. I found a hundred dollar bill. We’re like, where in the world did she find a hundred dollars? We say, Landra where’d you find the hundred dollars? She said well do you remember this summer when we all went to Hawaii to celebrate granddad’s 70th birthday? Well you know those shorts I was wearing in Hawaii, I was looking through the shorts and I found a hundred dollar bill that granddad had given me. Because you know, he gave all the grandkids a hundred dollars. That was true. And we were like Landra, what are you doing wearing shorts in the winter? Well I was just looking through my closet and found the hundred dollars. It sounded pretty reasonable. She said now can I buy Jayla the expensive gift? We’re like well if you want to blow your money, go ahead. So Lisa and the rest of the Young clan went to the mall and Landra got the expensive gift. Then later our oldest in from college, LeeBeth, begins to scream throughout the house. Where’s my hundred dollars? I had it on my dresser and it’s gone. Well take a wild stab at who she accused first. Landra, you stole the money. You’re a thief. I said Landra, look at me in the eyes; did you steal the money from LeeBeth? And she looked at me with those big brown eyes and said no, sir, I did not. LeeBeth said yes, you did. Landra said no, I didn’t. Yes, you did. No, I didn’t. I said girls, girls, you’re both pretty. Stop the arguing. I mean I’m reffing a cat fight that quick. I said let’s just relax. Well, we began a couple days later the marathon of Christmas services we do here at Fellowship Church. Last year we did 22 Christmas services. We had 44,000 people attend. God blessed in just phenomenal ways. It was a great, great time. And I knew after the last service that my lovely wife, who is also was a great cook, was going to cook this five star meal for the family. I knew that everything was going to be just great. I knew it was going to be that Hallmark moment. But remember, it’s the Christmas from hell.
So after the last service I go home and sure enough the meal was perfect. Then after the meal we walked to our den and sat down and it was cold and rainy. The fire was crackling, the Doberman’s were sleeping and we were giving and receiving gifts. White Christmas was on in the background. It was a Hallmark moment. It was a right Christmas. I’m thinking, this is what family is all about. This is just great. Isn’t this just over the top? This is off the chain. Suddenly, though, let’s get ready to rumble. In this corner, LeeBeth; her opponent, Landra. Another fight broke out. Dad, I’m telling you, Landra stole the money. She was lying to you. She stole my hundred dollars. They were at it again and we were opening gifts. I’m like man, I just preached my guts out and we’re going through this wheels off experience? Finally Lisa stood up and said I’ve had enough. This is chaotic. I’m going back to our bedroom and I’m going to take a bath and I’m going to read and no one bother me. So Lisa turns and leaves the den and the Doberman’s follow. The other kids leave and it’s just Landra and I in the den. And I’m just looking at her. So I’m thinking to myself, I have watched all these cop shows. I have seen how they interrogate people. I really like Jack Bower. He really knows how to do it. So I began to just get inside her brain and try to unlock the deception and the lies. I went at her this way and that way and after 15 minutes Landra goes dad, okay, I stole the money. I stole the money. And she ran out of the room. And I’m sitting there going, I cannot handle this. I’m an emotional basket cake. I’m drained. I’m full, though; I feel good. I’m thinking to myself, I’m just going to sit here and enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas.
Then after about 5 minutes another scream. It gets worse, I’m telling you. I have just set you up. Another scream and now Landra’s 12 year old twin, Laurie, began to scream, Landra has run away from home. Dad, Landra has run away from home. I said Laurie, you know what, I don’t care. I said where’s she going to go? It is raining. It is as cold as a wedge outside. We live in the middle of nowhere. She doesn’t have any money unless she stole some more so let her go, Laurie. But dad, you have to look for her. Please. I said okay. I go out to our garage, look around, Landra is not there. I stick my head out of our garage. It is pouring down rain. Then I try something, I began to say, Bobby? Cindy now some of you got that. If you’re over 40 you got that. That was a Brady Bunch reference. That was my favorite episode. Do you remember that, when Bobby and Cindy got lost in the Grand Canyon? The greatest actors and actresses in world were in that family. Man, were they unbelievable or what? Of course, I didn’t hear from Landra so I went back in the den and sat down. Laurie was begging me please, look out front. So I walked out front and I have kind of a stigmatism and I’m nearsighted and I can’t see that great. And I’m looking out and it’s raining, cold and I’m looking out going Landra, Landra. I said Laurie, she’s not answering so too bad for her. And as I was walking inside I hear this, yes, sir. And I look and standing out in our front yard in the middle of the rain with a faux fur coat on, drenched, her hair matted to her face, a little shoulder bag over her left shoulder, right by our old barn on our property, there’s Landra. And I go, I don’t want to walk in the rain to pick her up but I thought you know what, I feel sorry for her. So I walked out in our front yard through all the slosh and picked Landra up and took her inside to our bedroom and placed her in Lisa’s lap. That’s what any caring father would do, right?
And Landra was crying and she started confessing. She said mom and dad, I’m sorry I stole the money. Will you forgive me? And I said Landra, your mom and I love you to death and we have forgiven you even before you asked. That’s how much we love you. Yes, we forgive you. And then Lisa wisely said, Landra, don’t you feel so much better now? Don’t you feel just as white as snow, as clean as you can be because you have gotten this stress and this pressure and this guilt off your shoulders? Don’t you feel great? Then Landra said, no, because there’s something else I have to confess. Something else? Yes. You know my broken arm, I didn’t break it running and falling on a rock. Do you know the horses that live across the fence? I jumped on one bareback and he bucked me off. Landra, why didn’t you tell us? Why weren’t you honest with us? Well I was just afraid. Then you know parents, work with me here, you know when you have those defining moments with your kids? Do you know what I’m talking about, those moments? I know God gave me these next words because I’m not that smart. God gave this to me. I was like, what do I say and then boom. It was like the Holy Spirit of God said say this. So I said Landra, if you lie, Landra, and you continue to lie because once you lie it starts a chain reaction of lies. And if you live a life of lies, Landra, it will keep you separated from the ones you love, alienated from God. You will be out in the elements. Do you remember how cold you felt, Landra, how lonely you felt? That is what’s going to be in the cards for you if you live this way. The bottom line is your mom and I love you too much and God loves you too much to allow you to get away with this behavior, do you understand? Yes, sir. But I was just afraid.
Think about that for a second. Because that whole exchange is analogous to your relationship and my relationship with our heavenly father. You see, we’ve locked eyes with our heavenly father and we’ve sinned. We’ve lied. We have all the cover ups and the shams and the Bible says in Isaiah 59:2 that your sins have separated you from God. We’re out in the elements. And our sin has caused this dramatic delta, this gargantuan gap between ourselves and God. It is just something that we do. We sin. God’s holy and perfect; yet, we drop the ball. We mess up and it’s caused this gap, this delta between ourselves and God. Maybe right now you’re in the elements. You’re saying in your heart of hearts, you know what Ed, I’m in the elements. And maybe you’re at a point in your life where you thought it would do it for you. Maybe just maybe you made a certain amount of money or you’re in that position or you’ve acquired that home or boat or whatever. And you thought years ago that being where you are today would give you that Hallmark life. It would be nirvana. It would be off the chain for you. You thought you know what, if I had a couple of children or if I married this person then that would do it for me; yet, during this moment of introspection you know you’re out in the elements. You know that something is sideways. You know that something is gnawing in your heart of hearts because you’re not home.
You know whenever I’ve tried to run away from God I have run right into him. Because during a Christmas Eve service like this a lot of us are by the barn. We’re near that broken down barn; the manger is what I’m talking about. Because as we think about the manger, as we think about the implications of it and as we think about the love of God, it messes us up. What are we celebrating today? We’re celebrating the birth of Jesus. Think about it, our heavenly father placed forgiveness on an ordinary piece of farm furniture. Jesus, though, grew. He became a man and lived a perfect life. He was betrayed and beaten to a Roman cross. And when he stretched his arms out on that cross he said I love you this much. We’re the objects of God’s love. So God sent Jesus to do the forgiveness work on the cross and then he was buried and rose again. So the good news of Christmas is, we’re forgiven. So turn to your neighbor and say you’re forgiven. Just say that. You might not feel it. You might not have even realized it, that we’re forgiven. Well Ed, you don’t understand how far away I am from God. You don’t understand what I’ve done. You don’t know my past. You don’t know my family of origin. Well you know what, I don’t. God does and he’s crazy about you.
If you’re in the elements right now do you know what God’s doing? Read Luke 15, that’s what God’s doing. Jesus talked about in Luke 15 there was a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. And everybody dropped everything to find the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. And a party was thrown when something that was lost was found. So again, our heavenly father is calling your name just like I called Landra’s name, through the elements. And maybe you hear that small voice and I would just encourage you to jump into the arms of Jesus because Jesus has paved the way. He wants to pick you up by his grace and take you home.
You know, we all want to be home for Christmas, don’t we? We will anything to get home for Christmas. Planes, trains, automobiles, we will bust it to get home. Could it be that this homing device has been placed there by our heavenly father? Could it be that our desire to come home is really just a shadow of a bigger desire to make our lives home to Jesus? So jump into his arms. Many of you need to do that because Jesus wants to meet you right where you are. Now the moment we make that decision, that grace reception, here’s the cool thing. Vertically, we’re right with God. Now you think Bing Crosby was the first one that ever performed White Christmas. Wrong. The first one that ever penned the whole White Christmas thing was the prophet Isaiah, thousands of years ago when he wrote this in Isaiah chapter 1:18, he said “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” So if we’ve made this grace reception we can do more than just dream of a white Christmas. We can experience a white Christmas because nothing is as pure as the life and the heart of a forgiven sinner. So that’s the vertical thing. And if I’m right with God vertically then I’m going to bust it to be right with others horizontally. There are some marriages right now hanging from just a string, a thread, because of a lack of forgiveness. There are friendships that are all fouled up, families that are imploding because of a lack of forgiveness. Maybe you’re still upset at someone who hurt you in your past and there’s no way your future can flourish until you make peace with your past. Well Ed, wait a minute, I don’t even like the person. You don’t have to like them. We’re called to forgive them because we’ve been so greatly forgiven vertically, horizontally we should rush to forgive others.
I like that word forgive, don’t you? For, it’s for you. And we give it but we can’t give something we have not first received. So just think of one person, just think of one person in your life that the Holy Spirit of God is bringing to your mind right now. Who is that person when you think about them your conscience flinches? Who is that person? You probably need to do some forgiveness work with them. And all I have to do is look to the cross, vertical and horizontal, and that should motivate me to forgive.
You know when we were talking to Landra after I told her about her situation and being out in the elements and that’s no way to live I added one thing. I said Landra, I want you to do some homework during the Christmas holidays. She was like, what? I said yes, some homework. I said I want you to make a list, and I’ll help you Landra, of all the people you’ve lied to. She said even the doctor? I said even the doctor. And Landra, I want you to ask them to forgive you. She said you mean to say I’m sorry? I said no, I’m sorry is faux forgiveness. Have you ever had someone do that? I’m sorry if I hurt you. I’m sorry if you took it the wrong way. What is that? When I say that I’m still in a position of power. I’m saying you’re hypersensitive. You’re an igmo. When I really give forgiveness I say, I’m sorry; I’m wrong; will you forgive me? I become vulnerable. It is authentic. It is a stance of humility. That’s what I want to challenge you to do if you’ve been made right with God and made this grace reception. I want you to do that. Because there’s no telling what will happen in your life and mine when that occurs. Because you know what, last Christmas our family learned a great lesson about forgiveness. And really, it was not the Christmas from hell; it was the Christmas from heaven because we had a right Christmas. Do you have a right Christmas? Are you as white as snow? You’re only one prayer away from making that commitment. Why don’t you do it?
Let’s pray together.