with Bob Condly
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A Negative Nativity?

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Feeling excited about Christmas? Or a little somber? If so, you’re not alone. Lots of people battle despair and depression around this time.

Why is that?

Writing for Psychology Today, Ray Williams lists several reasons:

  • Rebellion against excessive commercialization
  • Comparing oneself with others
  • Pressure to spend money you don’t have
  • Expected attendance at undesired social gatherings
  • Loneliness and loss

Which of these have you battled? How many have you observed in your friends, relatives, or co-workers?

Some people react by disparaging the holiday. To borrow a phrase from Spiro Agnew, these “nattering nabobs of negativism” criticize the value of Christmas. Think Scrooge, Old Man Potter, and the Grinch.

And King Solomon.

Solomon?

Didn’t he live centuries before the birth of Christ? Yes, but skim the book of Ecclesiastes and you’ll conclude–this is one gloomy Gus!  

“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’ . . . 14I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” – Ecclesiastes 1:2, 14

Not exactly Yuletide sentiments!

The virtues of Christmas–hope, warmth, and generosity–can alleviate meaninglessness and depression. But Solomon points to a problem that the holiday cannot solve.

“The end of a matter is better than its beginning.” – Ecclesiastes 7:8

Jesus’ birthday, while celebratory, was never intended to bear the expectations some folks place on it. A wonderful event, Christmas is but the start of a larger and more magnificent story. And as Solomon stressed, the end is more important.

Through Christmas, we embark on a journey toward the goal of the gospel: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.” – 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

So you needn’t succumb to seasonal sadness. True, in some respects, Christmas is under attack in America; “Happy Holidays” has replaced “Merry Christmas!”

But regardless of what our culture permits or forbids, we can rejoice in the gift of God’s Son.

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.’” – Luke 2:10-11

The purpose of Christmas? That Jesus would become your Lord and your Savior.

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9

A place in the Father’s family; that’s the blessing Christ’s birth makes possible for you.

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” – Galatians 4:4-5

Positive Repentance

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Last week’s blog post explored the biblical significance of the principle of pivoting even though the Scriptures seldom use the term. Two verses call door hinges “pivots” (1 Kings 6:34, Isaiah 6:4) and two others refer to pivoting as the act of changing direction (Ezekiel 1:17, 10:11).

My situation at the singles retreat epitomized the spiritual application of the word. I functioned as a hinge from a sermon about suffering to an announcement about a square dance. You could say I altered the direction of the retreat!

Hinges work only when they’re joined to two different objects. For a door to swing open or shut, its hinges have to connect to both the door and the frame. I connected myself to the speaker’s message and to the expectations of the audience. I didn’t criticize either; instead, I served as a point of transition, a way to redirect the energy in the room. That’s pivoting.

As I was writing the post, it struck me that this concept pervades the Bible. Pivoting reminds me of repentance.

When you pivot, you change direction to get a benefit. According to the gospel, you turn from your sins and trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and new life.

“For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” – Ezekiel 18:32

“‘So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?’ 18When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.’” – Acts 11:17-18

In popular imagination, repentance is something negative and gloomy. You feel remorse for your sins and regret what you’ve done. This has scriptural support.

“Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” – James 4:8-10

But what if that’s not the whole picture?

In basketball, you pivot to find an open space so you can either shoot the ball or pass it to a teammate. In business, you pivot by dropping a product or service that’s floundering so you’re free to pursue another opportunity.

And here’s the key. When you pivot, you don’t abandon the old; you accept it as the basis for your next step. Larry Alton clarifies this positive dimension: “In a pivot, you aren’t totally abandoning your current situation. Instead, you’re looking for new options that may arise out of your current state.”

When Jesus cast thousands of demons out of a hapless victim, the liberated man wanted to tag along with Him. But, Christ had another idea.

“Jesus did not let him, but said, ‘Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ 20So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.” – Mark 5:19-20

The man returned to those who had loved him but feared his tortured and wicked condition. Now, they would see the same person–transformed and redeemed. His pivot shocked them.

Jesus called His first disciples to pivot from one form of fishing to another.

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19’Come, follow Me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ 20At once they left their nets and followed Him.” – Matthew 4:18-20

Rather than disparage their occupation, the Lord adapted it to introduce Peter and Andrew to life in the kingdom of God. These apostles didn’t abandon fishing so much as they discovered a new form. They pivoted the focus of their labor from fish to people.

And Paul chose to share the gospel by commending and then correcting the misguided religious zeal of the Greeks.

“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there . . . 22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship–and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.’” – Acts 17:16-17, 22-23

The apostle would have been right to criticize the Athenians for their dedication to idols and statues. Right but ineffective. So he chose to help them pivot. Instead of keeping them in religious ignorance, he would reveal to the them the God they’d missed. These Greeks could repent by retaining the value of worship but finding fulfillment in God’s revelation through Jesus Christ.

Gospel ministry exposes spiritual blindness, selfishness, and demonic oppression. Jesus doesn’t shy away from confrontation and neither should you. Turn from whatever is holding you back from God’s best. Don’t let shame or embarrassment keep you from moving ahead in a new direction.

As Alton observes, “Entrepreneurs often put off a pivot because they feel like it’s a sign of weakness – as if they’re publicly admitting failure for everyone to see. But the reality is that the opposite is true. A pivot shows that you’re aware of your surroundings and willing and able to recognize new opportunities as they arise. Investors, business partners, and customers respect this.”

Repentance isn’t just about feeling guilty and humiliated. It’s an acknowledgment that God loves us in spite of our failures and is calling us to follow Jesus into a new life–one of purpose and fulfillment.

Dare to pivot toward the positive; that’s the purpose of repentance.

 

with Bob Condly

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