Yes, Christmas is Coming — That is a good thing!

wpid-IMG_20140119_144828.jpgEvery year we get to this time of year and two things happen:  People start playing music and other people start complaining about it.  It generally strikes me as funny how Christmas decorations start to whip people in a frenzy.  It is as if they have suddenly realized that this holiday is now coming and there is so much to do.  I am one of the people they are annoyed with because I have embraced fully the season of Christmas.  In fact, I look forward to it all year.  I do this because it brings such excitement to our home (and also there are cookies)  At the same time, I tend to keep it simple when it comes to Christmas.  We set a budget and we stick to it.  We do not use credit cards for gifts.  We don’t waste time trying to impress people because they know better anyway. We just enjoy the season.  There is no reason getting stressed out and maxed out in debt in order to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  In fact, I think it misses the point of the whole season.

Jesus Christ came as a baby in a most humble way, to extremely ‘insignificant’ people and the world has never been the same.  What are we to learn from that?  I think it comes down to two salient truths:  1)  Focus your heart on gratitude and worship and 2) Take time with people over time with stuff.

Focus your heart on worship and gratitude

The point of our lives is God’s glory.  We exists for His glory.  When we remember this, it makes each day significant for us.  I realized that my life is in His hands and my heart leaps with joy.  This is the heart of this season.  God did not just leave us alone in our sin; He came so that He would die for the people (even me and you) that rejected Him.  It is amazing that Christmas actually has very little to do with pickled herring.  (and that is probably a better thing than I would like to admit)

Take time with people over time with stuff

We have spent time over the past few years helping family and friends not buy us gifts.  We would much rather spend time doing something with people than receive a package in the mail.  Sure we get our kids a few gifts, but we save more money for things we can do throughout the year as a family.  This actually creates a better overall family atmosphere and sets up our family time as important and an integral part of our entire year.

So Christmas is coming and yes it is a good thing.  Who knows maybe your humble Christmas might be the one Christmas you remember for the rest of your life and aren’t paying off for the same period of time.

A game of follow the leader with a 2 year old leader.

Follow me
Follow me

We went out after dark this past weekend.  I guess that is not as dramatic as it sounds seeing as it gets dark at like 4:30.  But still it is a big deal to take the family out to dinner and then to a store.  The two older boys needed shoes and the younger two needed nothing.  So we needed to divide and conquer.  I figured since my idea of shoe shopping is not doing it, I would let my wife take care of the shoes and I would chase the other two through the store.  It turned into a game of follow the leader.

It was actually quite funny because these two had no agenda.  They just wanted to walk the perimeter and see what they saw.  They would look at me and say “come on dad.” I followed along and tried to prevent anything from falling off shelves.  My daughter would stop and check on random things saying, “oh, cute” as she touched them.  Someone had a cart full of baby stuff and she climbed up the side of it and admired their things.  When the couple looked at her she said, “hi, I am Claire, this is Siah (Josiah) and that’s daddy.”  Then we were off.  Kids have a way of finding the toys and so we ended up there.

This is where it became so fun for me to watch.  They touched all of the toys and pushed all the buttons.  I actually did too.  But I loved their enthusiasm as they took things off the shelf and said, “oh, cool” and quickly went to show the other one.  They did not ask me to buy anything.  They were just excited to be touching toys that they don’t own.  It was actually quite the sight.  I loved it because they were so simple about it.  Everything was amazing, even the toys that I know will break in 30 seconds.  They loved them all and had such wonder about it.   It was such a calm moment that I stopped to thank God for it.  There was no chaos.  There was no rushing.  There was just enjoying the moment together.

Christmas brings that out of adults too, but it is usually stifled by stress.  I know so many people will talk about what it means to enjoy Christmas and remember the birth of Jesus, but the honest truth is that so many people still get roped into the consumer driven Christmas.  It is sad, really, because there is so much more to it than presents and credit card debt.  Kids teach us things like that as they run around in the dirt or build things out of snow.  They show us how this whole “enjoying of life” thing works when they walk through a store with no agenda and showing kindness to random people.  (some of them ignoring her)  Kids are learning too many negative things from the adult world surrounding Christmas.  I think it is time we stop and follow them around for a while.  It will give perspective and it will make you get your hands full of paint.   It will make you slow down and appreciate an early morning.  But, I believe it will also bring back a little of that  sparkle that is missing  in so many today.

I hope you have a Merry Christmas and find that the celebration brings joy, not stress.


Remember to give and receive and give again.

IMAG0329Christmas is such a magical time.   There is just something about lights and snow that makes me want to drink hot chocolate with candy canes.  It brings families together and brings people to church for candlelight services.    There is something very intriguing to us about a silent night that was interrupted by a chorus of angels praising God for the birth of Jesus Christ. The only thing is that each year it seems like we add more distance between that scene in Bethlehem and what Christmas has become.    Yet,  no matter what we try to scream at each other, Christmas still means something valuable to all of us.  We don’t just enjoy it, we long for it.  It is the one time of year when we throw out all caution about leaving the lights on and we add more lights to our home.  I mean, it is Christmas — it only comes once a year!

Steeped in all of the commercial and political correct jargon is the reality of what has taken place.  Sure a winter solstice is happening, but Christmas was not that big of a deal until it became a celebration of Jesus.  It provided a time for us to gather together to tell the story of God taking on flesh to save people who have rejected Him.  It allows all of us to start to answer the question about what this is all about and how we can have hope in a future.  Jesus is the gift we need and He is where the focus needs to be.  The story actually includes us.

Think about what would happen if you received a gift that would save your life.  If your life literally hung in the balance and you got what you needed to live, would you put that gift on the shelf?  I know I would open it up and apply it to my life.  If I knew someone else with the same problem as I had, I think it would be a nice idea to try to save them too, wouldn’t it?

Who wouldn't want to watch this sheep?
Who wouldn’t want to watch this sheep?

In Luke 2 there are shepherds out tending to their flocks.  It says that they were living in the fields.  I would imagine that it was an ordinary night of sheep watching.  Then God showed up and His glory shown around them.  In other words, they knew that it was the Lord who was showing up to tell them something.  Despite their fear, they are able to calm down and hear about the Savior who has been born.  The gift is a baby and not just any baby, the Savior of the world for all people!

So they go to see and they find the baby in the manger.  What they do next is what I think we need to remember — they went and told everyone!  There is good news and they want the world to know.

This challenges me to make sure I don’t miss out on the giving part of Christmas.  There are people all around us who have never received the gift of forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus Christ.  We must not keep Him to ourselves.  I know it is not politically correct to talk about Jesus, but it is far worse not to.  The Savior has come for all people.  (yes, even them)

I believe that all of the rhetoric and media hype over things people say is just a distraction from what really matters.  We need to keep our head on straight.  Jesus Christ is the way for anyone who will come.  Christmas is a holiday to celebrate that.  The Bible is truth and God does not need us to defend any of it.  We are to share the gift of Jesus with the world around us.

As you receive the blessing of drawing near to God because of Jesus, remember also to share Him with others.

Merry Christmas! 


Jesus’ Birthday List

What do you give someone who has everything, literally?  Now before you think of that difficult person in your life to shop for, let me redirect your thoughts for a moment.  We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas and yet we get the gifts.  This has been a consistent issue that my 4-year-old son has had this year.  Just the other day he said, “I want to give Jesus something for His birthday, but nothing I give Him he will want.”  That got me thinking.  What would be on a wish list for Jesus.

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together – Colossians 1:16-17

Obviously, Jesus is not going to want some material gift.  As the creator of everything, getting a new electronic toy is not going to be meaningful to Him.  So, maybe our focus needs to be on things we do for other people.  After all, that is what Jesus modeled, right. What would his list look like?

There are some deeply troubling needs in the world.  Would the top of his list have things like a cure for cancer, food for the hungry, the end of human trafficking?  Would that special gift be that all would have access to medicine or clean water?  Maybe those are too large to try to wrap our mind around.

Well, then how about family needs? Could there be marriages reconciled?  Maybe some parents and children need to find a way to love each other.  How about the financial strain that plague so many families?  Could that be remedied with self-control?

Perhaps instead of something like that, you would look at your own life.  What am I doing for Jesus, is it enough?  Are you showing His love to other people?  Are you avoiding sin or are you embracing it, rationalizing it as ‘not too bad’? Do you prioritize worship, prayer and the reading of the Bible?  Is that what Jesus wants?

While all these things seem nice, I believe that the answer to this question comes in a statement Jesus made.

 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  – Matthew 22:47-49

If we limit what we do for Jesus to a simple material item, or something that is done for Jesus out of duty, we are missing the point.

Jesus was not concerned with material things or having people do something for him out of obligation.  All he wants is for you to love God with all your heart as you follow Him and then love other people.  If we are loving God and people, the needs that are out there would be addressed.  If God has your heart, it gives perspective to life’s struggles and hope for a future.  When we love God we desire to be with Him, we cast off sin and turn to His ways.

Remember the story of the rich young ruler in Luke 18?  He came to Jesus and described how much he had done for God in his life and still he felt like something was missing.   He had kept the commands, or so he said, but realized that without eternal life he had nothing.  Jesus said, “You still lack one thing.  Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” -Luke 18:22

Jesus was not after this man’s wealth, but He realized that the one thing holding Him back from loving God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength was his wealth.  As it turned out, it was the one thing this man was not willing to part with and even the promise of treasure in heaven didn’t entice him to follow Jesus.

There lies the answer to what Jesus wants from us– our life.  He wants us to choose to love and follow Him.

So, while we don’t have a present under the tree wrapped for Jesus, we do have a life that can be given to Him.  Each of us will make a big difference in the world when we love God with passion and love other people.

We told our 4-year-old son that it was not about something we could give to Jesus that he could open, like Legos, but it was living God’s ways.  It is by not doing things our own way, but rather follow God’s ways.  It is by helping other people and showing His love to the world.  For him, we made it personal with things like being kind to his brother, sharing and helping his friends.  They are all ways he can practice his love for God and people.

This Christmas Season give to Jesus what he has wanted all along, your heart.

Thankfulness Overflowing Before Frantic Store Going

Thanksgiving is first
Thanksgiving is first

If everything I have belongs to God, then I must learn to appreciate what I have.  If I have been given everything in need in Jesus Christ, then I must appropriately overflow with thankfulness.  This is a healthy way of life.  Instead of looking at what other people have or at Black Friday ads and hoping to get something you don’t have, you look at all that you do have.  It is a lifestyle that sometimes is hard to do with all of the stuff around us, but it is so freeing to say “thank you” for even the most mundane things as a realization that nothing comes from you.   It is all God’s!   This type of attitude makes us happier people and even keeps us away from burdens like unnecessary debt.  Yes, that was me tying frivolous spending to a lifestyle of thankfulness.

Christmas is coming up again.  But did you know that before Christmas is this holiday called “Thanksgiving?”  What is making matters even more interesting this year are the number of stores once again opening on Thanksgiving.  It seems like some retailers are pushing things up every year putting their own bottom-line over their employees family time.   I understand the need to make money as a business, but I also know that people need time to stop to give thanks.  It is not just about turkey and football, it is about health and worship.  It is about happiness and time with family.  So, just stop and give thanks without looking through all of those ads and desiring to buy things that you cannot afford.  And please do not buy my family gifts that you do not have the money to buy.  That defeats the purpose of this season, in my opinion.

But Christmas comes soon enough --
But Christmas comes soon enough —

Instead we need to find our foundation in Jesus Christ.  It is in Him we live, move, and have our being.  It is in Him where we received everything we could ever possibly need.  And actually it is really the gift of Jesus we celebrate at Christmas anyway, not the material items we give each other.  You have been given fullness in Christ!  He is available right now, offering Himself to you.

Soon it will be time to deck the halls and I am looking forward to that.   But let’s not forget about Thanksgiving first.


Why is this funny?

I happened to see a piece of this video on the news this morning.  Of course they were all laughing about it.  Evidently the idea was the have parents tell their children that they ate all of their Halloween candy.  The parents were then to post a video with their reaction.  Then everyone laughs at the kids for crying.

Why do people do stuff like this?  Is there any reason to lie to your children in order to get some cheap laugh out of it?  There were comments on the video saying how spoiled the kids were for crying about their candy.  How about how attention driven the parents are for using their kids as pawns to get attention?  It just does not strike me as the kind of respect I want my children demonstrating to other people.

What do you think?  Am I being too harsh?

Parenting Through Media Draw

Our kids are surrounded by media choicse
Our kids are surrounded by media choices

It started for us when our youngest was in kindergarten.  “Hey dad, my friend has an I-Pod.  Can I get one?”  Before I could even get my mind in a place to answer the question I needed to come to grips with the reality of 5 year olds with I-Pods.  What are they doing with them?  What music are they listening to?  Why would any adult give their 5-year-old an expensive piece of technology?

Once I pulled myself together I said, “no.”  At that point he was content with the answer.  He is now in 4th grade and there are kids in his class with i-Phones.  I wonder now who it is they are calling and who desires to give their 9-year-old a smart phone with a data plan?  Where does the madness end?

Now I know I sound mean and out of touch.  I assure you I am not against technology, in fact I have a smart phone of my own.  I do understand that appeal of the technology, I mean who doesn’t like to play Subway Surfers or Angry Birds?  But I do have real concerns when parents hand over the internet to their child with no apparent oversight.   Their innocent clicking on some sort of video or link could lead them to a place that no parent wants their child to be.  So, we have had to come up with some ways to help our kids navigate this media draw.

 Demonstration – Our answer has been to demonstrate wise media use and let our children play games on devices we have control of so that there are no accidental encounters with things we don’t willingly bring into our home.   We make the choice to avoid video games that are violent, sticking to sports or other fun family games.  I don’t play games I don’t want my kid to play.  I believe the example does make a difference.

 Oversight – We do not have computers in bedrooms and do not allow our kids to play on the computer without our oversight.  It is not that we don’t trust our kids, but rather that we don’t trust people putting things on the internet supposedly for kids.   Call me old-fashioned all you want but the battle is for the mind.  We have an obligation to help our children stay away from things that will distort their mind.

Saying No and Limiting Time –  This is not some sort of break-through concept, but it is a necessary idea to come to grips with.  I have no issue with kids playing games or using certain electronic devices.  What I think is problematic is the lack of any real boundaries.  My kids will beg me to play games on my Nook or phone, but I limit it to only a few times in a week.  It seems like they enjoy the time they do have more this way and they find other things to do with each other.  If I did not ever provide boundaries, they would play on these things every waking moment.  That does not lend itself to a healthy worldview.

Not Comparing – Every family needs to make choices for their families.  I know it is easy to look at someone and criticize them for their choices, but how helpful is that?  I would rather invest my energy in helping my children make wise media choices while choosing godliness.  There is far more at stake here than rules on video game use.

As it relates to so many things, here is a verse that seems to come up a lot when communicating with children.

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,” Titus 2:11-12

It is possible to make wise choices, say no to ungodliness and say yes to things of God. Let’s do our part to steer our kids to God in everything!