Dismantling Christmas – A Fresh Vision for Taking Down Your Christmas Tree

Dismantling Christmas

I need to tell you a story…it seems half real and half dream. It happened after Christmas, on a day just like today. My story is called: “Dismantling Christmas.”

Dismantle? That’s a strong Word. It’s from the late 16th century, from the Old French word: desmanteler. Des expresses reversal, and manteler means “fortify.” It means to destroy a defensive capability or fortification.

You see, woven right into our post-Christmas tradition is an opportunity to celebrate dismantling. Maybe it is better to say that we can celebrate the power of brokenness. 

There’s a common tradition that many of us usually put off…it’s taking down the Christmas tree…it’s dismantling Christmas.

The day finally came when it had to be done…to be honest it happened when I was in a mood. Not a good one at all. The Christmas spirit had gone awol…no sugar plum fairies…no aroma of chestnuts roasting…the figgy pudding was gone! I was not happy to be taking down our Christmas tree.  

It wasn’t at all like when we decorated the tree. Our Christmas tree decoration comes with great fanfare. There was a fire crackling and music playing…”It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!” 

We had hot chocolate and special cookies. I love finding Aunt Mary’s antique ornaments and placing them in just the right spots for the greatest visibility. I love the ornaments that bring back memories of our children and trips that we’ve taken as a family.

Decorating the tree is all joy…taking down the tree is…NOT… 

You can imagine my surprise when I wasn’t alone in our living room with our tree. You can choose not to believe this, but Jesus was there, standing by the fireplace. It looked like He wanted to help me dismantle Christmas. 

In fact Jesus climbed the small ladder and reached to the top to take down our star. I don’t know whether it was the glare from the recessed lighting, or a ray of sun from the window…but I could barely see his face as he reached for that star. 

He was brilliant…radiant…a light Himself. 

As he took that star in His hand, I squinted just so that I could see His face. At once I remembered that He came to this earth as a light and the Bible says that men chose darkness instead of the light. 

I started thinking about other men…really bad men…like Hitler…

But then I remembered my own choices. I felt that inside of me, there is a love for darkness. 

I didn’t dwell there long…I didn’t want to. 

I pushed those feelings down…built up my fortress. I thought about all the good things I’ve done…and I started feeling strong again.

I took the star from Jesus and placed it in its box. Jesus didn’t even pause. He went right for the ornaments. I watched Him reach for the red Christmas ball in the center of the tree. It was my favorite. It was old, but beautiful. He took that red ball off the tree with care, it’s almost as if he knew it was Aunt Mary’s.…

I watched him with the red ball…it was like everything went in slow motion in my mind. 

I started to see flashbacks to a very different scene. From reaching from the red Christmas ball, to the garden of Gethsemane. 

I could see Him kneeling in that garden. He was in agony as He wrestled with the reality of the cross. “If there is any other way…but not my will but Yours, Father, be done.”

I remembered that in the Bible it says that Jesus sweat was like great drops of red blood that night in Gethsemane. I also remembered how alone He was that night. If only His friends had stayed awake with Him in prayer. I thought about my own weaknesses in prayer….

Fortify Richard…don’t let Him see your weaknesses…

Before I knew it, Jesus was done with the ornaments and ready to take down the strings of garland strung around the tree. As he reached for the top strand on our tree, I could see the form of His back in the white robe he was wearing. He tossed the first four feet of garland behind him and as it landed on His back, I could actually hear it…the crack of the whip the guards used after Christ’s mock trial. 

As Jesus pulled down the garland, I could see the stripes that were put on His back. The violence made me turn away. I had to pull it together. I focused on Graham’s toys and thought about other things. It was beginning to be too much. I really didn’t want Him there any more.

But I heard the scripture that I knew so well…

“By His stripes you are healed.”

By the time I could get it together and refocus on our tree, Jesus was reaching for the lights. 

As He circled the first string of lights in his hand, I could not believe how much they looked like a crown of thorns. I saw the wicked men pushing down that crown onto his brow. I saw the blood streaming down His face. I was now taking each scene very personally. I felt like I was in them with Him.

Jesus now invited me to participate with Him. I reached into the tree to move it outside. He reached for the top of the truck, while I reached in to the bottom of the trunk. As I did, I felt the prick of a needle on my hand. 

I just let the visions happen now. I couldn’t fight it anyone. I became defenseless.

His hands were stretched out onto the beam of the cross. The sound of the massive hammer hitting the steel was relentless.

I looked with disbelief into His eyes and I shook my head. I caught a glimpse of His hand on the tree trunk. It was there, the mark of His suffering. 

While at the base of the tree, I saw how empty the bowl under it was. It was once filled with water, but now completely dry. 

I heard His cry: “I thirst”

We took that tree outside and laid it on our lawn. Was that the same tree that glowed on Christmas morning?

It looked so much smaller…some branches were completely void of needles. It was lifeless.

As I stared at that lifeless tree, I saw in my mind the Pieta…the statue by Michael Angelo of Jesus lifeless body in the lap of His mother. 

I don’t know how long I stayed outside, I lost track of the time. 

When I walked back into the living room, I was alone again. I stared where the tree had been. Back in the corner, under the corner of the skirt that covered the base. I saw something shining. A small box with silver paper and a bright red bow. 

It was an unopened gift…it had been hidden by all the decorations. No one had seen it until Christmas had been dismantled. 

I wept as I held that gift. I thought that is how salvation comes…

Our fortifications must fall…

Our self-interest must be stripped away…

Our boasting must be broken…

Our defensiveness dismantled.

The real gift of Christmas comes in the dismantling. 

I wondered how many missed the greatest gift of all because of all that decorates Christmas.

I’ll never look at taking down the Christmas tree the same. The fortified Christmas must be dismantled to get to the real reason for 

Christmas. Once you clear away the ornamental, you can see the real gift. 

You find the beauty in brokenness…

Beauty in Brokenness – Isaiah 61:1-3

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,

    because the Lord has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

    to proclaim freedom for the captives

    and release from darkness for the prisoners,

 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

    and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them a crown of beauty

    instead of ashes,

the oil of joy

    instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise

    instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

    a planting of the Lord

    for the display of his splendor.

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Avalon Beach Church Live on Facebook Today

Well…it’s been a great 7 season run without canceling for the weather. But today we just be meeting together virtually on Facebook Live. You can join us here at this link:


Tania and I pray that this week is filled with “visions of rapture bursting on your sight!”


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ABC Ready to Begin 7th Season!

We are all set to begin our 7th season of Avalon Beach Church on June 21st at 9am. The New Jersey governor has raised the number for outdoor gatherings to 100 people effective immediately and he plans to increase that number to 250 on June 22nd and possibly to 500 on July 3rd. We will be asking families to maintain social distancing not only for your health but our witness as well. (https://www.nj.com/coronavirus/2020/06/nj-coronavirus-stay-at-home-order-lifted-by-murphy-as-state-reopening-moves-forward.html)


Many of you will recognize that last phrase from the much-loved hymn “Blessed Assurance.” The hymn writer also penned this line: “Watching and waiting, looking above. Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.” Sight is at the core of this great hymn.

The irony is that Blessed Assurance was written by Fanny Crosby. As a little girl, because of the mistake of a doctor, Fanny lost her sight. But she was able to see what many miss…visions of rapture…intense joy!


Bring your beach chairs, invite some friends, help us spread the word. We will be on the 30th street beach at 9am on June 21st.

Who knows what will burst on our sight!

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How should the church in America respond to the Covid 19 Crisis?

How should the church in America respond to the Covid 19 Crisis?

#1. Let’s embrace this crisis as a sabbatical reset for the entire globe.

In the physical realm, the animals and the atmosphere are being renewed. This can be a season of renewal in the lives of individuals and communities in the spiritual realm as well. This can be the “year of the Lord’s favor,” this really can be “Jubilee!”

Read: Luke 4:18-21 and Isaiah 61

#2. Let’s recognize this crisis as a warning shot to get perspective for the end of this age.

In what is known as the Olivet Discourse, Jesus describes calamity on the earth as the beginning of birth pains. Birth is not something you want to stop…you want to move through the pain because of what you know is coming. The church exists to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom in the whole world as a testimony to all nations. Jesus said, “Then the end will come.” We must wrestle with the question of how we might continue to be in mission when ministry structures that have existed for decades are closed down. What would our missionary endeavors look like if we believed that travel could be shut down worldwide?

Read: Matthew 24

#3. Let’s use this event as a catalyst to develop the two-winged ability that caused the first-century church to soar.

There is no doubt that the reason Christianity grew spontaneously and eventually conquered the whole Roman world was the power of corporate worship (one wing) and house to house worship (second wing). This dual experience in worship was not only necessary, but it was also effective. People really loved one another. The Body of Christ was activated in spiritual gifts instead of simply consuming as spectators. It is interesting that in John 16:32, Jesus describes a time when “you will be scattered each to his own home.” That is certainly a foreshadowing of what has already taken place in Asia and what certainly could take place around the globe. Small groups of people meeting in homes may not just be a reality imposed on us by persecution. We have seen a new reality in this global pandemic. We must make ourselves ready.

If ever there was a time when we should be willing to meet together for worship in home groups, it is clearly an essential move now!

Read: Acts 2:42-47; 5:42; 20:20; Matthew 18:20; Colossians 4:15

#4. Let’s believe and declare the absolute sufficiency of Jesus Christ.

When the promised land was being divided up, the Levites (the priestly tribe) did not receive anything. Why? God declared that He would be their portion. This pandemic is going to wreak havoc on the economy. This is a test for believers. Is Jesus really enough? Those who love Christ have become the “priesthood of believers.” We bring God to the people and bring people to God. In this economic pressure cooker, we are being tested as to whether Jesus really is enough. Do we believe in the Lord’s Prayer that we have been praying all of our lives? Is it enough to have “Daily Bread?” Are you OK with Jesus as your portion?

Read: Deuteronomy 10 & 18; Colossians 2

Steps for us to take right now:

#1. Receive renewal, be sanctified. Read: Galatians 2:20; 2 Timothy 2:21; 2 Peter 1:2-4

#2. Establish SCOPE in your home.

We’ve got worship songs with lyrics on Youtube, and a plethora of Bible Studies and sermons available to us. Do this with your family now and when you are able, invite some friends, neighbors, and others from your church family to join you. This is how the church will soar at the end of the age.

#3. Don’t allow yourself to ease back into what was normal before this pandemic.

If this warning shot from God is going to be effective, we will have to say “no” to things that don’t have eternal value and “yes” to things that will further God’s mission in this world. Practice the sufficiency of Christ.

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Wedlock – Some Thoughts about Jesus, Jessie and my Grandson

Wed·lock – /ˈwedˌläk/ – noun

The state of being married.

Late Old English wedlāc ‘marriage vow’, from wed ‘pledge’ (related to wed) + the suffix -lāc (denoting action).

We don’t use the word “Wedlock” very much anymore, it’s “old” English now. If we’ve used that word in our vocabulary, it probably came with two other words always in front of it: Out of.

“Out of wedlock” used to be a brand of shame in our culture…a child born outside of the boundary of matrimony. But it is hardly even noticed in our “new” English conversation. In fact, according to a recent study, 40% of all children born today are born “out of wedlock.” Another study indicates that 61% believe having a child outside of marriage is morally acceptable and only 35% believe it is morally unacceptable.

On September 21st, 2019, my newest grandson was born here in Lancaster Country, PA. He was born out of wedlock. Does that matter? Yes. I am a second-generation conservative evangelical preacher. My Dad was “saved” at a Billy Graham crusade in Philly the year before I was born. He left a brand new home and a good job to be trained as a pastor when I was one-year-old. I grew up in a home that honored the Bible and cared about people’s eternal destiny. 

I answered a “call” to ministry as an 18-year-old college student. I started preaching in a little church when I was 20 while finishing college and seminary. I have served Jesus in Kingdom building ministry for the last 37 years. Our ministry continues to honor the Bible and care about people’s eternal destiny. One of our greatest joys is that our four children, who have withstood the difficulty of growing up in a pastor’s family, love Jesus. My wife, Tania, and I love watching them follow Jesus and grow in their faith.

A couple years after Jessie, our first daughter, was born, I wrote this song for her:

With two brothers before you,
What a joy to behold
A baby wrapped up in pink
With her hair in a bow.
In the image of your mommy
A little lady is here
And with each passing day,
These are the things we hold dear:

You can smile with your eyes
Change my mind with one touch
Sing a song about beauty
Squeeze my neck with a hug
You’re so sweet, you’re so tender
Send my heart for a whirl
You’re my princess, my Jessie…
You are daddy’s little girl.

Well the years pass so quickly
Won’t be long ‘fore you’re grown
One day we’ll hear wedding bells
And then a home of your own.
So we’ll treasure these moments
Thank Jesus every day      

For our precious little girl
And memories time can’t steal away.

We prayed for the spouses of our kids and hoped for the Biblical order…you know…first comes love, then comes marriage…you know the rest.

Based on all that we believe, Jessie took the wrong road. But I can’t wait to tell you what she found at the end of that road.

Jessie isn’t the first to take a wrong road. How many of us wish we could retake certain trips we have taken on a less than ideal pathway? One of my favorite stories in the Bible involves Peter and Jesus not long before Christ was crucified. Jesus is trying to prepare his disciples for the reality of His death. In Mark 14:27, Jesus looked into the eyes of His closest friends and said: “You will all fall away.”

Peter takes a good hard look at his comrades and basically concedes that they could definitely fall away. But he is “rock” solid sure that he will not. “Even if all fall away, I will not.” Peter is full of prideful presumption, he can’t even fathom falling. It is divinely ironic that he will share the limelight that very night with a rooster! By the end of the evening, after denying Christ three times, he will have lost his strut and his cockiness. 

How does Jesus deal with Peter’s fall? Even before Peter shouts with curses his denial of Christ, Jesus makes a “can’t believe it’s true promise.” Mark 14:28 says, “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Christ was promising: “I will walk the way of suffering and be nailed to a cross and put in a tomb. But after I have risen from the dead, I will also walk to where you will be at the end of your wrong road. I will be waiting for you in Galilee after you have denied me.”

I wrote a lot more about this encounter in “Scattered Sheep – For Those Prone to Wander” (You can find this on Amazon). Let me wrap this part up here by saying that Jesus is promising Peter He will be waiting for him at the end of the wrong road.

Back to our Wedlock story…Jessie took a wrong road according to God’s Word. I can’t sugar coat that and stay true to the Word of God. But I also want you to see how Christ has revealed Himself to us through this pathway.

In January of 2019, I led a retreat for the Wesley Network staff in Ocean City, NJ. That is where both of my girls, Jessie and Corrie, lived at the time. On Friday night at about midnight, Jessie called us and asked to come over. We would find out later that she had moments before taken a pregnancy test and saw that it was positive. When she got to our house, she immediately fell on her knees. With tears streaming down her face, she said: “Dad and Mom, I am so, so sorry. I know this is wrong.” Sobbing, she told us about a relationship with a man that she had broken off a month before and that she just found out she was pregnant. She just kept saying over and over again, “I am so sorry.”

I had all kinds of thoughts running through my head. Some of them were selfish, some angry. The thoughts that won the night were from Jesus. I thanked Jessie for coming right to us. I still can’t believe that her first move after the pregnancy test was to find her parents. I reminded Jessie about her identity in Christ and that we are not defined by our darkness, but by Christ’s destiny for us. 

What took place that night was almost sacramental. Tania and I were privileged to lead Jessie in a prayer of repentance. It was heartfelt and real. We were able to walk with her in receiving Christ’s forgiveness. It was immediate and full. Then…this is such a miracle…we were able to pray prayer’s of blessing over this precious child. This all took place within the first hours of finding out she was pregnant. 

Jesus kept showing up on this road. Several months later, Jessie was in the hospital with bleeding. Tania and I know firsthand the pain of miscarriage. We also know from pastoring that 1 in 4 pregnancies end with this result. I felt like I could see the prognosis in the faces of the doctors and nurses. I was preparing for the worst. But that little baby just kept kicking!

On Father’s Day of 2019, I got one of the best cards I’ve ever received from Jessie. She wrote about her feelings for me and that she had decided to name this baby Richard Graham. He would be my namesake, along with another pretty good preacher named Billy. I couldn’t wait to tell my Dad the news. I made a gamble with my first question on the phone call to him, but it paid off:

“Dad, who are your two favorite preachers?” I asked.

He replied, “Well, you of course. And then Billy Graham.”

We celebrated that his newest great-grandson was named after both of them. 

From the moment Richard Graham, we call him Graham, was born, he was been one of the purest expressions of joy our family has known. In this season, Jessie and Graham are living with us. I can’t describe to you the feeling I get when he waves his arms excitedly, crinkles his nose, and smiles a great big smile just because I’ve walked through the door. 

Maybe the clearest way that I have seen Jesus on this road is through my daughter. Jessie is absolutely one of God’s favorites. She loves with a ferocity that few know. Watching her walk this path with grace and
glory has been a highlight in my life. She certainly did not dream of single-motherhood or living with us in a townhouse at this stage in her life. But she has not lost one facet of beauty in walking out her destiny in Christ Jesus. 

Jessie went down the wrong road. But what she found at the end of that road was forgiveness and grace. No…it was more than that. Jesus went ahead of her down that road. He was waiting for her there.

Wed·lock – /ˈwedˌläk/ – noun

The state of being married.

Late Old English wedlāc ‘marriage vow’, from wed ‘pledge’ (related to wed) + the suffix -lāc (denoting action).

I’ve got a new take on this term now. The etymology is from two words that basically mean “the act of making a pledge.” I still believe in the pledge of matrimony. But there are more pledges from God:

Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Psalm 127:4

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139:13

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9

You may be prone to wander and maybe you are on a wrong road right now. Keep your head up…look around you. Our Savior goes ahead of us. You can find him at the end of that road. He’s the one with a glimmer in His eye and grace in His hands. 

(Please know that I have published these thoughts with the full support of Jessica Stevenson)

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