Putting Christ Back in Christmas

Brace yourselves.  The calendar has turned over to December, which means that the inevitable discussion on the “War on Christmas” will soon see its opening salvo for 2013.   

It is inevitable.  There will be an outrage by a prominent figure about how we have lost our moral fabric because as someone was buying gifts with money they don’t have to impress people that they don’t always like, the cashier will commit the unthinkable sin of wishing us a “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

There will be gnashing of teeth as a town or city somewhere will have a “Holiday Parade” rather than a “Christmas Parade” as Tulsa had done several years ago and was subsequently boycotted by one of it’s senators. 

The chorus of those who would profess to be Christians will shout that the “Political Correctness Police” have overstepped yet another boundary and that we should not take the “Christ out of Christmas” as the batch of perceived slights against Christendom freshly reveal themselves for this holiday season.

As a person who would say that Jesus is the most important thing in my life, who has devoted my life to the service of God’s Kingdom, and spends all of my waking moments trying be faithful to that devotion, I have to ask: “What exactly do you mean by putting the ‘Christ back in Christmas?’”

If by putting Christ back in Christmas you mean we recognize that our fellow man is just as much a beloved child of God as we are, then let’s put the Christ back in Christmas. 

If by putting Christ back in Christmas you mean we recognize that the humility of Christ compelled Him to love those who were considered unlovable, served those who were considered unfit to be served, took on the unwanted task of washing the disciples feet, and bore the punishment that we deserved by willingly accepting the cross, then let’s put the Christ back in Christmas.  

If by putting Christ back in Christmas you mean we understand that our empty words of proclaiming the gospel without demonstrating God’s love for people through service and social justice is the modern day equivalent of a noisy gong or clanging cymbal, then let’s put the Christ back in Christmas.

If by putting Christ back in Christmas you mean we understand our actions of service and social justice fall short of the Great Commission because we fail to connect the dots to the reason why we serve thus making us a disorganized version of Habitat for Humanity, then let’s put the Christ back in Christmas. 

If by putting Christ back in Christmas you mean we realize that Christ did not die on the cross and raise for the dead so we can fulfill a self-imposed sense of ritualism or obligation by attending weekly services but rather He wants, demands, and deserves to have our lives serve as living sacrifices, then let’s put the Christ back in Christmas. 

If by putting Christ back in Christmas you mean we abandon our perceived and petty outrages and focus on actual instances of persecution, then let’s put the Christ back in Christmas. 

If by putting Christ back in Christmas you mean we quit trying to make certain words and phrases are said by our politicians, retailers, and public figures and remember that God is more concerned with our heart, then let’s put the Christ back in Christmas. 

If by putting Christ back in Christmas you mean we encourage our spiritual leaders to be less concerned about the institution of the church and more concerned about the mission of the church, then let’s put the Christ back in Christmas. 

If by putting Christ back in Christmas you mean we separate the false doctrine of linking monetary success to God’s blessing and remember that in God’s economy the needy are provided for and those who do not depend on God are made poor, then let’s put the Christ back in Christmas. 

If our plan is to do anything less than this, then the only thing that I have to say is this: Happy Holidays. 

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The Hope of #SFBatKid

San Francisco recently did something extraordinary.  They changed their name for the day.  With the name change, they changed their entire persona.  For the day, their priorities shifted.  One of the greatest stories of 2013 has to be when San Francisco morphed into Gotham City, in which BatKid was needed to save the day.  

Miles Scott is a 5 year old little boy who was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 18 month old.  For a very young little boy, he was fighting a very adult battle.  As of June, he has ended treatment and is now in remission.  His battle with cancer caught the attention of the “Make a Wish” foundation.  When asked what Miles’ wish was, he said that he wanted to be Batman for the day.  Not only did the foundation grant Miles his wish, they exceeded even his wildest expectations.  

Dateline: San Francisco….err…I mean…Gotham City, November 15, 2013.  BatKid wakes up to what should have been a normal day, but little does he know that an unprecedented crime wave is set to hit the city.  Police Chief Greg Suhr calls on BatKid to save Gotham from the impending anarchy.  With time of the essence, BatKid is called to rescue a damsel in distress who has been  captured and left on the cable car tracks.  BatKid sprints to his Batmobile (a donated black Lamborghini) and races to the scene to protect the innocent.  

As BatKid was finishing with the damsel, little did he know that his day was just getting started.  The Riddler was in the process of making an unauthorized and forceable withdrawal from a local bank.  Only BatKid could save the day.  Using the Gotham Police department (SFPD) as an escort, the caped crusader makes his was to the bank to thwart the attempted robbery.  Edward Nigma (AKA The Riddler) was no match for the likes of BatKid.   

After an eventful morning, BatKid and his family treated themselves to a well deserved lunch.  Crime though, takes a break for nobody…well maybe a little break to finish lunch at the Burger Bar.  The San Francisco Giants mascot Lou Seal had fallen into the evil clutches of the Penguin.  Arriving at AT&T Park, BatKid once again saves the day as he rescues the beloved Giants mascot.  A day that had the potential to end in disaster turned into the caped crusader’s finest hour.  For his efforts, Gotham held a ceremony at city hall where he was presented the key to the city and a public indictment of The Penguin and The Riddler was read to a cheering and grateful crowd.  

In a remarkable way, the three major sectors of society came together to give us one of the greatest stories of the year.  This story goes beyond just the facts of the story.  There are nuggets of truth that are too big to ignore.  These nuggets are the difference between this story being a one hit, feel good story and being a launching pad in how we interact with each other, how we minister to each other, and the hope that we can offer each other.  

It is my theory that there are three major sectors of any successful society: private, public, and non-profit.  For this story, each came together in a unique way and contributed to it’s success.  

The private sector of society is responsible for the production of society.  In a balanced and successful society, the private sector is where profit is originated.  In our BatKid story, the credit goes to The San Francisco Chronicle (who changed it’s name to the “Gotham City Chronicle” for the day, KGO-TV, and of course the owner of the Lamborghini all contributed to make sure that BatKid’s day exceeded even his wildest expectations.  

Generally speaking, the public sector is responsible for general safety.  Even when those with religious community disagree in certain principles, there are overarching concepts that transcend doctrine that need to be protected.  The public sector identifies and enforces these concepts in the form of laws.  Kudos to the San Francisco Police Department and the mayor for making sure that the public was safe as the crowds gathered.  

The non-profit sector serves as society’s conscience as it brings level of humanity to both the private and public sector to make sure it has a strong moral compass.  In the past, religious organizations took this responsibility in society.  In the past, the church has been instrumental in the creation of schools, hospitals, and any other service that the community needed.  The church continues this work and goes unnoticed for a lot of it.  The non-profit sector in this story is headlined with the “Make-A-Wish” foundation as they continue their calling to grant the wishes of kids who are fighting serious medical conditions.  They deserve an immense amount of credit for what they do.  

All of these organizations conspired to give BatKid a day he would never forget and story that has universally awakened the miraculous power when people come together to impact a child’s life in an extraordinary way.  It is an example of the potential that we have as a people when these three sectors of society cooperate with each other for the common good rather than compete with each other for actual or perceived power.  Let this be the template for us all moving forward as we continue to tap into the miracle of coming together.  

The thing that I noticed the most though was that the crowd was not only supportive of BatKid, but they were clinging to the hope that this event represented.  The crowd looked at these three sectors on how they came together for this individual and that gave them hope.  Too often they hear stories on how the private, public, and non-profit sectors try to do things that they are either ill-equipped or uncalled to do.  Naturally this has produced conflict.  That conflict has spilled over into all three sectors to the point where the approval rating government officials is exploring all time lows, the cynicism of private industry is exploring all time highs, and the effectives of the non-profit and religious sector and the church is exploring an era of diminishing influence that should be a concern to society as a whole.  

People are looking for hope.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that when we came together as a society to offer it without an agenda outside of serving a 5 year old that has spent as much time in a hospital as he has out is telling, and the crowd noticed.  The crowd was and is looking for hope.  Crowds grew and people were literally climbing trees and lampposts to get a glimpse of BatKid in action.  The template of cooperation has been established and we would be wise to employ it again.  


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Adrian Peterson and Hero Worship

I graduated from The University of Oklahoma in 2006.  I was fortunate enough to see Adrian Peterson burst onto the scene.  I remember watching Adrian Peterson’s first collegiate game against the mighty Bowling Green State University Falcons.  I remember standing (because you don’t sit in the student section) with a friend watching this specimen of athleticism.

Adrian Peterson was a great Sooner.  His freshman year he finished second in the Heisman balloting behind Matt Leinart.  Adrian Peterson is a phenomenal running back.  Countless stories have been written about what he did last year less than a year removed from major knee surgery.  As an avid fantasy football player, I owe Peterson a huge thank you for carrying so many of my teams to fantasy victory.

Like a lot of people I was saddened to hear about the death of Peterson’s 2 year old son.  As a father, that is the nightmare scenario.  My stomach turns just thinking about what I would do and how I would react if I lost one of my girls.  The outpouring of support for Peterson was well-documented throughout all of the sports world.  I mourn with Adrian and the mother of the child for their loss.  I weep for the loss of a child.

However, Peterson is no hero.  It is the story that surrounds his son’s death that proves this.  As the emotional reaction began to subside and the truth about Peterson’s behavior as a father began to surface it became clear that Peterson, although a superstar athlete, was no hero.  The fact that Peterson had only met his 2 year old son 2 months prior to his death reveals that Peterson does not deserve the status of hero that we are so quick to bestow on him.  Since this tragedy, further stories have surfaced that Peterson has had multiple kids with multiple women.

On one hand, I think we have set ourselves up for failure.  We have mistakenly translated incredible athletic ability with morality and that is our mistake.  Some of our expectations for our professional athletes are unrealistic.  I have written on how it is unfair that we placed so much weight and expectation on Tim Tebow in a blog that I wrote in January 2012.  (See “Tebowing” on my blog: larsenphillip.wordpress.com)

On the other hand, this serves as an opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities.  Our heroes are not NFL running backs or other professional athletes.  Our heroes are fathers who take time to lead their households.  Our heroes are parents who take the time to frankly talk about God’s purpose for spiritual health, sex, work, and many of the other pressing issues or our day.  Our heroes are fathers and mothers.  Our heroes are pastors and teachers.  Our heroes are those who invest in one another and in all things point to Christ.

It is ok to continue to watch Adrian Peterson.  It is ok to have Adrian Peterson on your fantasy team.  Check that…it’s not ok to have Adrian Peterson on your fantasy, you should trade him to me.  What is not ok is to make Adrian Peterson (or any other athlete) something that he is not: a replacement for the true heroes in our lives.

Phillip Larsen is a follower of Christ and a member of West Metro Community Church in Yukon, OK.  He is a published author who released his first book: “Suit Up” along with an accompanying 4 week small group study associated with the book.  “Suit Up” is available at www.suitupbook.com and on Amazon.  He also manages a blog at larsenphillip.wordpress.com.

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Renewal and Provision

Many if not most of you know that I have released my first book: “Suit Up”.  For those who have supported it’s release and the ministry behind it to this point, I want to say thank you!  As I have released the book and am working to get it to the point where it is sustainable, I am doing something that I swore two years ago I would never do again…work in a restaurant.  So far this jump back into “The Industry” has been a good one, and this is in large part because I am working for a restaurant that is committed to serving their employees as much as their guests…which has been nice.

Last night, I was working at the restaurant and it was especially slow.  I had worked the lunch shift and was in the middle of working the dinner shift.  After making all of $10 at lunch and getting absolutely stiffed on my first table I was not off to a promising start.  Compound that with the fact that it was pretty crazy slow, and the prospect of the night being a bust was very real.

I was approached by a colleague about the prospect of leaving earlier than usual due to the lackluster amount of business (not an uncommon practice in the restaurant).  I weighed the decision back and forth.  In fact, I changed my mind about 3 or 4 times before settling on sticking it out and making as much money as I could.

As the night progressed, it got a little busier.  At one point I struck up a conversation with a table that wasn’t even mind, which is hardly a shock for me.  The subject of my book came up and I talked about my reasoning for writing, what my hopes were, and some of the subject matter.  They seemed really intrigued.  Since I have released, I have started the practice of carrying a couple copies of the book with me…because you never know.  I asked the table if they wanted to see a copy and they said yes.

They were really impressed with the content and asked how much the book was and told them it was $15 (sales tax included in the price).  They were interested in buying it, and also asked me to sign it, which I obliged.  However, instead of slipping me $15 or…they slide a dollar bill that has Ben Franklin’s likeness.  I reach for my cash hoping that I had change to break it.  Then something happened.  They said that change was not required and that I should keep it!  Talk about a blessing!

God called me to write a book.  He also called me to self-publish and self-promote it.  Although the plan on it’s release and transition to sustainability was not exactly how I would have planned it, would have liked for it to happen, and from my very limited perspective was less than ideal, my job is not to question the calling or even the method that it was carried out, but to be faithful to his prompting.

During a time where I was frustrated with work, frustrated with all of the work that is required to self-publish, self-promote, and in essence be an entrepreneur, this was God in essence saying:

I have called you to it, and I will bring you through it.  I’ll take care of what is required and this ministry will thrive, if for no other reason that I am God and I already have the future under my purview.  You asked for a vision that is so big that they only way for it to succeed is if I, the God of the Universe, show up.  That is going to require that you, as my follower, let me work and do what I do best…provide.

Needless to say, my night got a lot better and my commitment to what God called me to do was renewed.

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Boston Marathon. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”

Once again, we have been touched by tragedy.  Once again, we are left to stare our own humanity in the face as we hear of innocent people getting hurt simply because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Once again we are left to sort through our own struggles and face the reality that evil exists.  

Hate is not a too strong a word for this.  I HATE this.  I hate that people are hurting.  I hate that fear and anger has permeated our society.  I hate that because of someone’s twisted viewpoint that they believe that inflicting death and destruction against the innocent will further their cause.  I hate that people who terrorize don’t realize that terrorism is a 100% failure rate.  Not only do terrorists always fail at what they’re after, they pretty much always succeed in strengthening whatever it is they’re against.  I don’t think I am alone in this feeling and to an extent, I think it is justified.  I believe that we have a natural sense of justice and want those responsible to be held accountable.  

I have recently become a fan of Bob Goff, and he posted on his Twitter: 

“We’re sad, but we’re not afraid.  Not before; not now.”  

I love this, because it is perfect and concise.  We are sad because of the injuries and loss of life.  We are sad for the families because of the lives that will forever be changed because of lunacy and evil.  But we are not afraid.

The words of Jesus are more poignant now more than ever.  

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).  

This is another instance of scripture where to get some meaning, we have to dig in a little bit.  Jesus says that those who mourn will be comforted.  By doing that, He says that there will be times where we will mourn.  In essence Jesus is saying there will be times where injustice and lunacy will carry the day.  However, Jesus says that in those times, when we are mourning, we will be comforted.  

I believe that this is much a command from Jesus as it is a statement of fact.  Jesus is commanding those who follow Him to be a comfort to those who are mourning.  He is not commanding us to rationalize, look for meaning, or even try to project a particular sin committed by others as reason why something like this happened.  Jesus is calling His followers to be comforters.  Today, there are people who are mourning.  We are sad with them.  We are hurting with them.  But, because of Jesus, we are not afraid. 



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Sticky Bombs

Saving Private Ryan is one of my all time favorite movies.  It might be because I am World War II buff.  It might be because I am a Tom Hanks fan.  It might be because it is simply a well made movie.  Part of the reason might be because when I went to see it at the movie theater the first time, it was with my dad.  All of these contribute to the fact that Saving Private Ryan is on the list of my favorite movies.  


There is a scene in Saving Private Ryan towards the end that has always been interesting to me.  Tom Hanks has found Private Ryan [Matt Damon], which was his mission.  Private Ryan has orders to return home and live a long life, because all of his brothers had been killed and it was Tom Hanks’s job to let him know that he had a ticket home.  

Tom finds Private Ryan in a French town babysitting a bridge.  This bridge was valuable not only to the Ally advance but also the German defense.  Therefore it was important that the bridge either stays under American control, or is destroyed to prevent the German tanks from crossing and turning back the Ally advancement.  

Something incredible happens, Private Ryan is finally informed that he no longer is required to fight and has a ticket home, but rather than sprinting towards that opportunity, Private Ryan stays with his unit.  Tom Hanks is committed to protecting Ryan and completing his mission.  If that is going to happen, the Tom Hanks is going to have to protect Ryan…in the face of a superior advancing German force.  

Tom Hanks comes up with a solution to even the playing field against the prospect of German Tanks and that is the sticky bomb.  The process of a sticky bomb is that you take a standard issue G.I. sock, fill it with some sort of explosive, fashion a fuse, coat it with axle grease, and viola…a bomb that sticks…its a sticky bomb!  

Of course this turns out to be the X-factor.  The sticky bomb disables the tank, and in the face of impossible odds, the day is won.  

When looking at the story of Private Ryan, and the fact that it was the sticky bomb that served to be the crucial, there is something to be learned.  I believe Paul was familiar with the concept of the sticky bomb.  More specific, Paul was familiar with taking what he had around him and using it to his benefit.  Paul was resourceful and that is evidenced by the fact that he supported himself in his ministry by selling tents and that he used his Roman citizenship which afforded much safer travel during his missionary journeys.  Paul made sticky bombs.  

I think we can all agree that there are times where praising God is not easy.  There are times where things happen that defy logic and reason.  There are times where we will feel burned or even betrayed.  Those times hurt.  Those times are even scary.  But those times are not devoid of opportunities to see God at work.  Those times have elements to be combined to make a sticky bomb and continue to make everything we are for the Kingdom’s cause.  

God has given me another opportunity to make a sticky bomb.  God will present us all with an opportunity to make a sticky bomb.  With that opportunity, the only question is whether we are committed to the mission?  Are we committed to making sticky bombs? 

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Old Faith and New Faith

Realizing that God has called you to serve Him in ministry is an incredible thing.  Think of it this way, God is asking you to be His partial mouthpiece in the Body of Christ.  He is asking you to direct the hands and feet of the Body of Christ.  He is directing you to exercise the spiritual muscles of the Body of Christ.  I am beginning to realize that this is a daunting task, and one that is too big for an individual.  I am realizing that leaning on God as my strength is more important than ever.  God has lovingly brought me along and has been my portion and prize.

There is one thing that I have started to think about and that is the difference between Old Faith and New Faith.  I recently had a conversation with a dear friend and we talked about the difference between old money and new money.  Having neither old or new money, I do not have a point of reference, so I had to lean on their understanding between the two.

She had told me that you can tell the difference between old and new money rather easily.  Old money doesn’t care to flaunt their money.  They go about their business in a quiet way and in a way like they have been there before.  Old money isn’t interested in the accolades and the notoriety of their wealth.  They are the ones that make an anonymous donation to their cause that they are passionate about, and nobody is the wiser.

New money is the opposite.  New money typically wants you to know that they have money.  They can’t wait to show you their new stuff.  They want you to know that they have done well…and have the toys to prove it.  The most poignant example of new money can be found on the cover of the website TMZ.  Paparazzi follows them around, because they will flaunt their new money.  In a society that lives vicariously, new money is good for a story.  New money seeks publicity, and when they make a donation to their cause, it is usually with a stipulation that a building be named after them.

I started to think about how this relates to faith and have concluded that there is old faith and new faith and the comparisons are strikingly similar to the above comparison.  Old faith is one that goes about it’s business in trying to please God everyday in a way that tries to advance the kingdom.  Their prayers are heartfelt.  When they are asked to pray in public, it feels that you are witnessing an ongoing conversation with an old friend.  Most of their spiritual disciplines are done in the “secret place” where only God sees and blesses it.  Old faith recognizes that storms will come and go.  Old faith recognizes that sometimes the storms are good, because they blow away things that aren’t rooted down and removes things (or even people) that don’t need to be there.  Old faith is a faith that has progressed from spiritual milk to something more substantive.  Old faith wants the name of Jesus to be talked about more than their own.

New faith though is immature.  New faith wants everyone to see how they pray.  New faith is more concerned sometimes about looking good rather than being good.  New faith has an excitement that is sometimes lacking in old faith (which is a good thing).  New faith doesn’t recognize that the storms will come, but when they do it is a catastrophe.  New faith hasn’t quite gotten past spiritual immaturity.  New faith gives and serves, but makes sure everyone knows about it.

Let me be clear about something.  I am not saying that new faith is worse than old faith, or vice versa.  That is not the case.  Also, I am using the terms old and new loosely because old and new faith has nothing to do with the amount of time you have been a believer.  I know people with old faith that are still teenagers and people with new faith that are close to retirement.

I am finding that when you start to see ground taken from the enemy, that he is not terribly pleased about it.  I believe that scripture is true when it says that our battle is not against flesh and blood but the spirits and authorities of darkness (Ephesians 6:12).  In other words, if you are going to choose to follow Christ in this regard, get ready to be on Satan’s radar and on his to-do list.  Get ready for the storm and to survive the storm, an old faith…a mature faith…is what is needed.

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