Steven Furtick - When Reality Isn't What You Expected
This is an excerpt from: Don't Make A Scene.
Does anybody think Christmas is overrated? I do. I think it's overrated. I know that's a lot to say. Don't throw me out of the church. Don't disrespect me as a man of God. I love the story of Christmas. I love the message of Christmas. I love the meaning of Christmas. My Christmases as a child were delightful. I mean, you can't have better Christmases than I had as a child in terms of enjoying the season. That's not what I mean. What I mean is I think we've done Christmas a disservice in the way we present the story that actually happened. In cultural terms, I would say we have sanitized the salvation process to the point that it doesn't even resemble the revelation we see in the Scripture.
There are so many ways this is reflected in our songs. Let's take the songs we sing at Christmas, for example. They're beautiful. I sing them, too. I love them. They're wonderful. I sing them all. I love them all. They're great. But Jesus cried in the manger. I know it says, "Away in a manger, no crib for a bed. The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head". But I've had three babies, and they were born in hospitals in good conditions, and they screamed their heads off, so you're not going to get it past me that Jesus, who was fully God and fully man, wasn't screaming in a barn having to sleep next to animals. Don't even try to tell me he laid on the straw comfortably and didn't scream. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was screaming his head off, and Mary was screaming, too. Screaming at Joseph for making her ride on that donkey to take the census and not having the foresight to book a hotel ahead of time.
One day I'm going to write a whole CD called Christmas Got Real, and it's going to have Christmas carols like they really happened. In my Christmas carols, the little Lord Jesus isn't going to be asleep on the hay. Jesus is going to be colicky. Jesus is going to be screaming. "All is calm…" What Christmas planet are you from? All is calm? "All is calm…" Again, it just shows me the one who wrote that hymn had a different frame of reference than my frame of reference. Again, I had a good family, but extended family? That's a whole different… My mom is here. She will back me up. My uncles would bring so many girlfriends through I didn't know what to call them. "Do I call her aunt, too"? I'll never forget my mom looked at me once and said, "Don't you call her your aunt. That's not your aunt".
Everybody say, "Real Christmas," where your expectations collide with your reality. That's really the problem, isn't it? The problem is all the people in our lives don't read the script for how they're supposed to act to make our Christmas what we expected it would be. I mean, if they would all just get on the same page and all take their places and fall in on their mark, we could have a good Christmas. Touch somebody and say, "Christmas could be perfect if you would do it my way". Most of us make a scene in our minds that we want Christmas to look like. Not just Christmas, but what we want Monday to look like too. We get this imagination. What do you do when the ideal collides with the real and what you pictured Christmas would be like? When your memories of how it was collide with the reality of how it now is? This could be empty seats at the table. This could be strained relationships that won't resolve.
I'm not saying Christmas is overrated in the spirit that it really exists. I'm just saying I think we have downplayed the drama of what really happened to create the first Christmas to the extent that we are disappointed in ourselves that we can't create perfect manger scenes because we're all trying to manage the scene of reality that exists in real life. When we compare that to "All is calm" and you look in your life and see that all is chaotic, what do you do? I want to talk about these elements briefly today. 1. The chaos of Christmas. I made a note to myself that says, "Hurry on this point," because this isn't really the point I want to make. So it's just, "Hurry. Don't get all bogged down on this point and use up all your clock".
What I want to say about the chaos is really, really simple: embrace it. I didn't say create it; I said embrace it. I don't believe chaos should be a lifestyle, but in certain seasons of your life chaos is inevitable, and in those seasons, embrace it. The Bible says that after Joseph had considered this he took Mary home to be his wife, and when he took her home he took along with her all of the circulating chaos, all of the scandal, all of the criticism that would accompany his decision to be with a woman who had apparently been unfaithful to him, a woman who during the time of betrothal had all of a sudden shown up pregnant. 2. In order to embrace the chaos, you always need the context.
I want to talk about the context. Matthew does something interesting to help us with this. Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience, and he knows their interest will be in discovering the lineage of Jesus Christ. They would have been familiar with this lineage through which the Messiah came, and those first 17 verses I did not read to you, because I didn't think you would enjoy hearing about them or be interested in them, would actually be interesting for them to look at. This is because if you read the lineage Jesus came through that Matthew takes the time to establish before he gets to the actual story about what happened when he was born or the miracles he worked when he was a grown man or the price he paid as he gave his life, Matthew starts his gospel establishing context. Context is so important.
You know, we're in a political season right now, and I don't pay much attention to the rhetoric, because all they're doing in presenting news to us is taking things out of context to present them to us in the most bombastic fashion. They take this thing and this thing then they take it all out of context, even though the person actually said the words. There are some candidates who you don't even have to take them out of context. They're crazy in context. Generally speaking, the way they attract attention is to take things out of context. By the way, this is how the Enemy introduced deception and sin into the world. If you want to study it, it was a case of context. God told Adam and Eve, "Of all of the trees in this garden, you may freely eat". That's permission. "But don't touch this one or you're going to die".
There's a permission given, and there is a consequence established. When the snake comes slithering up to Eve in the third chapter of the book of Genesis, he takes God's words out of context. He says, "Did God really say you can't eat off any of these trees"? In fact, that's nothing like what God said. What God, in fact, said was, "You can eat from any tree, but if you eat from this tree it's going to be harmful to you," but the Enemy knows he can always divorce you from your destiny if he can get you out of context. I almost called this whole message Let's Keep Christmas in Context. Let's remember Herod was trying to kill all the baby boys under the age of 2 at the time when Jesus was born. Let's remember we're not living in the first day and time or the age or the era where there has been violence in the world. Let's remember that Christ who was born ("O holy night") was born into a violent world. Keep it in context.
If you ever go visit the Holy Land and you ask them, "Can I see Bethlehem"? they'll probably tell you, "You don't want to go there. It's a ghetto". It's a beautiful place, but it's no place you would want to visit on your itinerary for a vacation, because God is born into contexts that people reject. Jesus was born to a virgin, to a Palestinian girl. That is the context of your faith. When Matthew says, "Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Joseph…" you might want to skip over that stuff, but go back and read it, because if you read that whole lineage it will give you a context for the message of Christmas, that Jesus came through a lineage of murderers, and Jesus came through a lineage of fugitives, and Jesus came through a lineage of liars, and Jesus came through a lineage of backstabbers.
One woman who is mentioned in the context of Christmas is a prostitute, so before you look down your nose this Christmas on people who don't have their act together, you'd better remember the context of Christmas is that Christ came into the world through sinners, for sinners, and you're one of them! Context is everything. Context is so helpful for determining why someone is committed. If you meet someone who is really committed, I bet you they went through a season of struggle. If you meet someone who is committed to their job or committed to their calling or committed to their ideals, the most successful people I've ever met, if you get a little bit of back story and see… You need a little bit of backstory to understand the baby in the manger, because if you go straight to the baby you'll miss it. Matthew says in verse 18, "This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about".
How did he do it? Did God drop him down out of heaven in a handcrafted box? Did God put him behind glass and send him through the clouds and drop him into palatial spaces where royalty resides? No. "This is how…" In chaos and in confusion, through the lineage of sinners. The most successful people I've ever met went through a season that was so difficult that now they are driven by their desire to never have to go back there. That's why they stay up late, and that's why they work hard, but you'll never understand their commitment until you've understood their context. Some of you haven't struggled enough, and you will never be successful until you struggle, because you don't have the context yet that can contain success, so why would God give it to you?
God is not going to drop blessing into somebody who has never been in a barn. Your struggle today is a setup for your success tomorrow, but you have to go through some stuff in the cradle before you can get to the cross. You have to establish a context. Context. Context can also help you understand someone's celebration. There are people who will be really happy this Christmas getting less than you got, because their context is they've never had it before. They'll take shoeboxes through Operation Christmas Child (we supported Samaritan's Purse for years), and when they drop them off to the kids, toys that your kids would walk past, these kids will cry over. Context.
The person sitting next to you might be a little more exuberant than you. When we were worshiping, they might have been kind of loud, and you might not understand that, but if you understood their context, you might understand the person next to you didn't even think they'd see their thirtieth birthday, but God stepped in some kind of way and delivered them from all their fears. When I start preaching and when we start praising, there's a celebration. Do me a favor and touch somebody and say, "You don't know what it's like to be me. You don't even know all the fights I had to fight. You don't even know the wars God won on my behalf. You don't even know what I stepped across to get to church. You don't know what it cost me to raise my kids". Context.
We went to a baseball game a year ago that Graham was playing in. A kid on the other team hit the ball, and the ball dribbled past the pitcher. The kid got on first base, and the whole other team starts cheering like the boy had hit a home run, like he had rounded home plate, like he hit a grand slam and won the World Series. All these parents were going wild, which I thought was ridiculous until one of the parents told me the reason they were cheering was that the kid had never played sports before, and when he came out there he didn't even know how to hold the baseball bat, because there was no dad in the family. It was his grandma that brought him out. Just to see him make contact…
That's the context, to understand that somebody's small step is a big success. Maybe there are some things this Christmas you need to put in context, because if you would put it in context you would celebrate your crazy kids. If you put it in the context of somebody's kid isn't with them this Christmas, somebody's kid is in prison, somebody's kid is in the hospital, and somebody's kid is dead… It would help you appreciate your living parents to understand that somebody has no living parent to visit. Even though your mom has dementia, it might help you to see a little bit of joy in a hopeless situation if you could ask God to give you a context. I'm going to say something else about context.
The reason some of us don't have compassion is because we don't have context for other people's conflict. Compassion is a result of context. It's kind of easy for a white man in America to say racism doesn't exist anymore and see things on TV and say, "Well, they're always complaining," about black people. Because you have no context for the conflict, you have no compassion. You've never had somebody follow you around a store because of the color of your skin. You've never had to have a talk with your kid about how to deal with the police officer on that level.
Now when you hear somebody else's conflict, you don't have any compassion because you don't have any context. Christmas is God stepping into humanity and giving us a context for compassion that he would breathe your air, that he would take your sin, that he would take your shame, that he would walk your earth, that he would walk your mile, that he would take your struggle. It's easy to criticize somebody whose context you've never experienced. "If I were the pastor of that church…" You don't know. Well, start one then. Context.
It's really easy for a straight person to talk about what a gay person ought to do, but until you've spent a day in their context you'll never understand the feelings they have associated with the church because of people who quoted Scripture at them but they quoted it out of context. Please, please, please, please don't use the gospel as a context for hate. Please don't use the gospel as a context for judgment. Please don't call yourself a Christian until you're willing to be like the one who carried your cross. Context! You have to put it in context. We treat people better when we put their conflict in context.