howtoapplyga

Need some ideas for gifts this Christmas? In your quest to find that “perfect gift” for someone, you probably won’t find these in a store or in your online shopping cart, but they should be on everyone’s list nonetheless. I hope these six gifts give you a ton of ideas and most importantly, I hope they will add JOY and SIGNIFICANCE to your Christmas season.

1. The Gift of Simplicity. 

Americans are in the habit of trying to out-PACE, out-SPEND, and out-DO each other. We are in the habit of extravagance. Most of us are over-extended in both time and money. This is why the holidays are often a more stressful time for many families. Maybe it’s time to shift gears this season and practice a simple Christmas.

To know what a ‘simple Christmas’ looks like, I suggest taking your family on a missions trip to Mexico (or any third world country). You will certainly gain a new perspective on ‘needs’ vs. ‘wants’. One year in Mexico, a woman broke down in tears because we gave her a solar-powered light for her home. She had never had “light” at night before! She was ecstatic because they could extend their day by several hours. Most mission-trip experiences will teach some important lessons: 1) a newfound appreciation for the things we HAVE (contentment). 2) You CAN be truly happy/content with LESS.

Remember, we “set the pace” for our children. If we are continually busy, if we are  overly-extravagant gift-givers, they will be too. (Our values are more caught than taught). Sometimes, we are so hurried and hustled, we don’t even enjoy the family events we’re doing in the first place. We are grumpy. We are tired. Instead, take time to relax & savor the season. Enjoy the moments. Soak it up. Create some margin in your calendar and with your finances. Try not to get caught up in trying to ‘outdo’ yourself year after year. Don’t get caught up in ‘comparing’ with other families and their spending habits. This can be overwhelming and exhausting. Here are some questions you can ask yourself on keeping it simple:

  • Will I regret this (purchase, appointment, event) later?
  • Will this deplete or return my energy?
  • Will this stretch/stress my finances?
  • Will this tax my schedule?
  • Is this good timing (or are we forcing it)?
  • Will this create more/less margin for my family?

If we’re not careful, we crowd so much IN, that we unintentionally crowd Jesus OUT. Keep your FOCUS and keep it SIMPLE this Christmas. Fewer gifts. More ‘experiences’. A less-hectic schedule. Remember, to truly capture the “reason for the season”, sometimes ‘less’ is ‘more’. Oh and by the way, this IS NOT A POPULAR practice! Your family and friends will think you’re nuts. But chances are, you’ll get more sleep, more joy and more fulfillment from the holiday season than ever before. (and it won’t take nearly as much time to clean-up afterward). Here are some ideas for a ‘simple Christmas’:

  • Limit the number of gifts you exchange to three per person. (Jesus received three gifts from the Magi)
  • Tell extended family members you will forego exchanging gifts for this season.
  • Limit your decorating to ONE TREE; and only one box of items for the inside, & one box for the outside of your house. (sorry, Clark Griswold–take this season off)
    • Or, ONLY put up a tree and a Nativity set.
      • (read “The Reason for the Season” in this blog for another perspective)
  • Set a boundary for the number of evening commitments you make as a family & stick to it! Learning to say NO takes discipline (you can’t get time back)
  • Whatever your budget was for last Christmas, cut it in HALF!

I recommend the book Simple Christmas for further resources on this subject.

2. The Gift of Generosity.  

Christmas is known as the “season of giving”, but sometimes that gets lost in our consumer-driven culture. Nobody wants to be selfish, but sometimes we need a little help when it comes to thinking of and prioritizing others first. What are some ways you can be generous? What are some ways you can focus more on giving than receiving? How can you instill the core value of giving to your kids? How can you intentionally think “outward” vs “inward”?

Here are some suggestions on adopting generosity this Christmas:

  • Set a standard that you will spend more to bless another family than you do on gifts for your own family. (this may radically change your perspective/priority on spending)
  • As a family, save your change for a year and give it to help someone at Christmas.
  • Give each child a budget & and have them buy a gift for their siblings.
  • Sponsor a family through Angel Tree,
  • Sponsor a child through Compassion International.
  • Start a “pay it forward” chain at a fast food restaurant for lunch or at a Starbucks (pay for the person behind you)
  • Pre-pay for someone’s groceries or go to a store and tell the cashier you will pay for the next person’s entire bill. Go to the layaway department at a toy store and pay for the toys set aside anonymously.
  • Write Christmas cards and deliver them to a Senior Care home.
    • Go Christmas caroling at a Senior Center (pick 2-3 short songs and go room to room–they don’t care if you have a good voice or not)
  • Sponsor a foster family/Group home
  • Ask your church if there is a family you can bless anonymously.
  • Serve at a local food bank or homeless shelter

Every year, we set aside a sum of money and choose a family to ‘bless’. Usually, we give the gifts and/or money to the designated person or family sometime in late November or early December. Then, we set a sealed envelope on our tree and before we open ONE gift on Christmas morning, we will open the envelope and read to our family how we were able to help someone. This is one of the kids’ highlights every Christmas! Last year, we chose to sponsor a child from Compassion International, so we read her biography and wrote letters to her on Christmas morning. Since Christmas truly is the ‘season of giving’, giving the gift of generosity will keep this principal at the forefront of every Christmas.

3. The Gift of Recycling.

For some reason, the art of “re-gifting” gets a “bad rap”. But for families on a budget, this can be a lifesaver. One year when our kids were little, we knew we weren’t going to be able to afford many gifts. So in October, we took some of their toys that were a little ‘worse for wear’ out of their room. Over the next month, we cleaned them, replaced missing/broken parts, put in new batteries and put them all under the tree on Christmas morning. They had so many toys, they didn’t even notice a few were missing! On Christmas morning, they walked into the room amazed and excited to see all their shiny ‘new’ toys under the tree! Here are a few other ways to stretch your dollar this Christmas…

  • Have a garage sale (de-clutter) & use the money to buy gifts
  • Shop for your family gifts at a second-hand store
  • Look for household items you can ‘repurpose’ & re-gift. (Pinterest has tons of ideas)
  • Use your craft skills to ‘make’ all your gifts (nothing beats that personal touch)
  • Sell larger items on OfferUp or trade for items you want.
  • Buy gifts a year in advance (after-Christmas sales) this takes extreme discipline and forethought 
  • Give a hand-made coupon book for services around the house (washing the dishes, folding the laundry, taking out the trash)

4. The Gift of an Experience. 

When you give a gift, the joy is temporary, but giving an “adventure” will last a lifetime. They will tell stories about an “experience” for the rest of their lives. And, you will have given them the most precious gift of all: a memory. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Polar Express
  • North Pole Experience
  • Build a snowman or go sledding
  • Zoo Lights
  • Glendale Glitters
  • Drive around & look at Christmas Lights
  • Go to a Hockey Game
  • Go to a tree farm and pick out/cut your own Christmas tree (this is a big deal for those of us raised in the city)
  • Go to Top Golf or Bowling together
  • Take a ‘road trip’ around town for a holiday themed ‘progressive dinner’
  • Do a family 5k or ‘fun run’
  • Go to Disneyland for Christmas
  • Rent a cabin in the woods and have Christmas ‘away from home’.
  • Grab a group of friends and have a Christmas character costume contest

One year, we rented a limousine with another family and drank hot chocolate, watched the movie “Elf”, and drove around looking at Christmas lights. Our adult kids still talk about that! One year, we took a road trip to see my wife’s family back in KS and got caught in a blizzard. It took us 23 hours of driving, but what an adventure!  The point is to try something out of the ordinary. Unpredictable. Give them a story to tell. Nothing draws a family closer than an experience.

5. The Gift of Presence. 

The best way you can spell “LOVE” to your family is T-I-M-E. This year, give them the gift of complete, uninterrupted, undivided attention. Put away the mobile devices and engage with your family. Enjoy rich conversation. Laugh. ‘Notice’ each other. You may simply call a family member you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Surprise them by just ‘being there’. True happiness requires deep and significant interpersonal connections. That’s a fancy way of saying, just do stuff that intentionally draws you closer together as a family!! Here are some ideas that have worked for us:

  • Complete a puzzle
  • Play a board game
  • Giant Jenga
  • Giant Connect Four
  • Giant Sequence
  • Dominoes
  • Bop it!
  • Corn Hole tournament
  • Play “Rudolph & Friends Scene it”
  • Make Gingerbread houses
  • Bake/decorate cookies
  • Watch your favorite Christmas movies
  • Make/decorate ornaments together
  • Nerf Wars

One silly thing we do every year is our annual…NERF WARS. It started one year because we gave our kids some nerf guns early for Christmas and the idea just took off! This is a hilarious melee of running around and pelting each other with nerf darts from an impressive arsenal of nerf weapons. It’s goofy, but our entire family gets in on the action and we go all out! It promotes fun and togetherness in our house (but we’re a little crazy sometimes). The point is to find something that draws your family together and do it. Give the gift of presence this Christmas.

IMG_1834

6. The Gift of Tradition. 

A “tradition” is the transmission of customs from generation to generation. They are consistent and replicable. They can add tremendous depth and significance to your holidays.  What are your favorite family traditions? What do you remember most about your childhood?  What customs would you like to repeat (or establish) for your family?

  • Christmas Traditions

The ‘ambiance’ we create is part of Christmas tradition around our home. Holiday candles (smell is the strongest scent tied to memory), decorating the house inside and out, baking holiday goodies and Christmas music–all help create the ‘atmosphere’ of Christmas.  The annual family photo, visiting out of town relatives, watching our favorite Christmas movies together, and attending Christmas Eve services at our church, are also on the list every year. Opening one gift on Christmas Eve, singing Happy Birthday to Jesus on Christmas morning are also a few of our favorites. As I grew up, my dad always gave me a ‘kid-gift’. He always wanted us to approach Christmas with the “joy and innocence of a child”. The last three years of his life, he gave me a bluetooth-controlled flying saucer; a remote controlled truck; and virtual reality glasses. I looked forward to his goofy gifts every year (and YES, I played with them!!)

We also try to coach our kids on other popular Christmas traditions and where they come from. We’ve found the book, Why Does Santa Wear Red? to be helpful in our discussions of Santa, why we exchange presents, the origin of the Christmas tree, etc. We love to have fun and embrace the “awe and wonder” of the season in all kinds of ways.

  • Family Traditions

Simply put, a tradition is something you do that creates anticipation. By far, the most significant tradition that creates anticipation for our family each holiday season is ADVENT. The word “advent” literally means to “celebrate the arrival” of Christ’s birth.  This ensures that Christmas isn’t just a one-day celebration, but rather, the entire month of December is counting down the days to the most significant date in history: the birth of our Savior. It is something that we look forward to every year.

We start by making an ‘Advent calendar’ (there are a gazillion ideas out there). Our calendar has little doors for every day in Dec and inside is a piece of paper. On the paper, there is a reference to read from the Bible, a reference to a book about a popular Christmas tradition, and a family activity.  Here are some examples from our family Advent calendars over the years…(there are several similarities from year to year)

Our format is simple: every day before school, we gather 15 minutes for our family ‘huddle’. We rotate who will do the day’s reading. The kids actually get ready for school ON TIME in anticipation of what we’re going to do that evening! Some events are more elaborate. Others involve ‘life events’ that we simply do together (kids sporting events, etc). There are dozens of books on this subject, but these are the ones we have found most helpful in shaping the Advent season in our home over the years:

Advent has been so significant over the years, that our married adult daughters have all talked about starting that tradition with their families. A tradition can be a rallying point for a family. It is part of your legacy. Remember, it doesn’t need to be extravagant, just consistent. The sights, sounds & smells of your house around the holidays…all help create an atmosphere of tradition. It’s something to look forward to again and again, year after year.

 

What’s the GREATEST thing about these GIFTS? They LAST A LIFETIME. I hope these SIX GIFTS are on your list, because I believe they will add JOY and SIGNIFICANCE to your Christmas celebration. I hope this has been helpful, and I hope you have a Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Advertisements

Halloween: A Christian’s Guide

Posted: October 26, 2018 in Uncategorized

1414784176_Halloween-Hero-1-H-600x335

How does a Christian parent “navigate” Halloween? Is it good or bad? Celebratory or satanic? Here’s a CONDENSED version of the history of Halloween and some ideas of what we can do with it:

A Christian Perspective on Halloween: Hallowed or Harmful  (excerpt from CBD article 10/20/98)

Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, the Celts, inhabitants of Britain and Ireland, observed a festival on October 31.  Unlike modern-day Halloween, theirs was no children’s holiday.  The Celts and their priests, the Druids, celebrated Samhain, a festival that marked the eve of the Celtic New Year, which began on November 1.

The fall harvest was complete and winter loomed ahead. The Celts believed the power of the sun was fading. For the next several months, darkness would prevail.

The Celts believed that during Samhain the veil separating the living from the dead was at its thinnest. They believed that on the evening of October 31, evil spirits and the souls of the dead passed through the barrier and entered the world of the living. Departed family members would revisit their earthly homes. The thought was frightening — and exciting!

The Celts believed these spirits and dead souls could torment the living. Crops might be destroyed, babies stolen, farm animals killed. But this was also an opportunity to commune with the spirits — and divine the future. The Devil, the lord of darkness, was ordinarily feared, but during Samhain, his power would be called on to foretell the future.

Trick or Treat

The Druids were charged with appeasing the goblins and preventing harm to the people. Huge Samhain bonfires were lit to guide the way of the spirits. Various sacrifices — including human — were performed to assure a good year. Several ancient authors commented on the gory religious rites of the Druids.

It is believed that, like many pagan cultures around the world, the Celts left out food for the spirits, hoping that a “treat” would prevent an evil “trick.”  Centuries later, descendants of the Celts continued to observe the Samhain festival by dressing as evil spirits. They roamed from house to house demanding food in exchange for the “spirits” leaving the home unharmed. They carved demon faces in hollowed-out turnips and lighted them with candles.

That night they also practiced many customs designed to divine the future. Young people roasted nuts in Samhain fires to see which would crack first — and tell them who they would marry. The person who retrieved an apple with his mouth from a tub of water assured himself of a lucky year. Obviously some of these customs (like “apple-bobbing”) have remained with us, strictly as amusement.

All Hallow’s Eve

When Christianity began to spread through Europe in the third and fourth centuries, the pagan temples were torn down. But pagan worship never completely disappeared. The festival of Samhain remained a primary pagan festival.  Belief in spirits may have waned, but many of the old Samhain traditions continued to be practiced — especially by the children. Primarily in Ireland, children dressed as spirits went from house to house demanding a treat. If they received none, they performed an unwelcomed trick. They were play-acting the part of evil spirits that had to be appeased, just as in the old Samhain festival the people believe they really did have to appease spirits.

In the 700s AD the Church decided to combat this festival by replacing it with a celebration of the Lord of life. Instead of honoring evil spirits and the souls of the dead, the church chose to recognize the saints — or hallowed ones — who had lived godly lives. The Church seemed to be saying, “All right, if you must have a day to celebrate the dead, then celebrate those who died and are now with the Lord.”

So November 1 came to be called All Saints’ Day, also called All Hallows’ Day. The evening before was called All Hallows’ Evening. From that we get the modern name of Halloween. But pagan customs continued. And with the growth of witchcraft in the Middle Ages, additional symbols became associated with Halloween — black cats, witches, bats, and skulls.

Halloween in America

Irish immigrants in the mid-1800s brought to America the Halloween customs we’re familiar with — costumes, trick-or-treat, carved Jack-o-lanterns, etc. (The Jack-o-lantern is simply an American version of the hollowed-out turnip, mentioned earlier. The pumpkin did not grow in Ireland and Britain.) Unfortunately, they also brought “tricks” with them — which often involved breaking windows and over-turning sheds and outhouses.

Even though the practice of actually performing a trick if no treat is given has faded, the custom of children going “trick-or-treating” has become an established American tradition. Only in recent years have parents hesitated to send their children into the streets because of the increased danger of accidents, poisoned food, and menacing strangers.

Nonetheless, despite the dangers associated with trick-or-treating, Halloween is celebrated more than ever. In fact, the night is the second most popular party night of the year (after December 31) for “baby-boomer” adults. Many adults look at it as the one night of the year they can dress up and act foolish.

But while children and adults innocently imitate ancient Celtic customs, darker practices persist. Witches and Satanists still consider Halloween to be one of the strongest times during the year to cast a spell. On Halloween most witchcraft practitioners participate in a ritual called “drawing down the moon.” In this the chief witch of the coven (group of witches) becomes, they believe, a channel for the moon goddess. During this ritual the participants, both male and female, are ‘sky-clad” — that is , naked.

Stonehenge, the mysterious ancient stone formation in England, is often the site for bizarre gatherings of occultists, some of who believe they are modern-day Druids. (Many people believe that Stonehenge was a Druid religious site.) And evidence persists that some Satanist and voodoo groups offer sacrifices — usually animals, but, possibly, human babies.

The Biblical Response to Halloween

Witches and Satanists are, of course, a small minority. Few people who celebrate Halloween these days ever think about the darkness that underlies most Halloween practices.

A beaming child dressed in a black pointed hat and matching gown — with a wart carefully drawn on her nose and a trick-or-treat bag held tightly in her hand — is hardly thinking of death or the spirits of departed relatives. Nor should she be. She’s thinking of candy and fun. She’s glowing because of her delight in her special costume. And she’s anticipating the adventure of her house-to-house pilgrimage.

Merchants also look forward to October 31. The sale of candy, costumes, decorations, and party goods make Halloween one of the major retail seasons of the year. Surely, no one can deny children or adults all the Halloween fun simply because of its unsavory history. Can there really be anything wrong with this lighthearted revelry?

Does the Bible have anything to say about celebrating Halloween?  In Corinth, meat that had been sacrificed to idols was sold in the market. People who bought it then ate it in honor of that particular pagan god. Speaking of his freedom to eat food that a pagan had dedicated to an idol, the apostle Paul said, “Everything is permissible” (I Corinthians 10:23). After all, he didn’t believe the pagan gods really existed.

If we apply Paul’s statement to the celebration of Halloween, then one could argue that Christians can dress in ghostly costumes and practice the traditions that have been passed down from the ancient Celts. After all, the supernatural powers they tried to appease don’t have power over those who belong to Christ.

The Bible says that Jesus destroyed the power of death when He went to the cross. By Jesus’ death and resurrection, anyone who gives his or her life to Jesus doesn’t need to fear evil. But Paul didn’t stop with a statement of his freedom. He said, “‘Everything is permissible’ — but not everything is beneficial.” It is in this light that Christians need to examine how to observe Halloween.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

WHAT TO DO WITH IT:

REDEEM IT. Halloween may have had pagan roots, but in many ways, the modern version demonstrates the REDEMPTIVE POWER of the cross.  2 Corinthians 5:17-19 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW creation: the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ…”  The truth is, Halloween is what you choose to make it. Stay away from any ‘appearance’ of ‘darkness’. Remember, the Church ‘reclaimed’ Halloween back in 700AD and turned it into a celebration of All Saints day (All Hallows Eve). It has been redeemed. We usually love it when we benefit from something that’s been redeemed. No one complains when they see their kids playing on massive playground sets built from recycled plastics. Those plastics have been put to better use! No one complains about huge city parks or recreation centers paid for by ‘drug money’ seized by the police. What once was intended for evil has now been purposed for GOOD. It’s time to take Halloween and turn it into something FESTIVE and FUN. You have been redeemed and so has Halloween. Don’t feel guilty about celebrating it.

RECLAIM IT.  While Halloween remains the biggest satanic ‘holy day’ on the calendar, it’s time to reclaim it. It is not something to RUN FROM, but rather RECLAIM. Put a stake in the ground and ‘claim it’ for Christ. Show an “unbelieving” world how it can be celebrated in an innocent and fun way! 1 John 4:4 says, “You, dear children, are from God, and have OVERCOME them, because the one who is in you is GREATER than the one who is in the world.”  The power of GOOD can overcome EVIL. Yes, it’s good to be educated on the pagan roots of Halloween, so that we’re AWARE; so that we can AVOID and STEER CLEAR of any appearance of, or association with, evil. That’s where you need to lean on the Holy Spirit to guide you on what to do. I just stay away from anything macabre. There are a gazillion options for costumes and decorations out there to have fun with!! (Read Philippians 4:8; 1 Corinthians 10:23,24 for further reference) And because the power of Christ inside of us is so much greater, we don’t have to FEAR it, we can make it FUN!

RETELL IT. What’s the best way to SHARE the GOOD NEWS or BE the GOOD NEWS to your neighbors? I don’t think it involves locking the doors, turning off the lights and staying indoors on Halloween. Jesus didn’t avoid certain towns, no matter what their pagan practices were. He took the good news TO THEM. Go OUT! Get to know your neighbors. Walk the streets with your kids (or greet the trick-or-treaters at your door) with a SMILE. Talk to people & get to know them. Halloween is the one time a year where your neighbors COME TO YOU! 1 Corinthians 9:22,23 says “To the weak I became weak to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in it’s blessings.” The writer, a murderer-turned-Christ-follower named Paul saw the value of being culturally relevant to win people to Christ. Maybe we should set aside personal preferences and simply ask ourselves, ‘what will win more people to Jesus’? (see also Matthew 28:19,20)

We have decorated our house in pumpkins & “harvest festival” themes for years. Our neighbors flock to our place because it’s the ‘fun one’ on the block. Friendships with our neighbors have been formed, our kids have made friends, and we look forward to it every year. I have seen Halloween events literally transform and “bond” a community.  We even have people driving from far away to check out each years’ decor! Sadly, we have had people leave the church we attend, just because we had a pumpkin patch in our front yard! I think sometimes Christians need to examine their own practices in light of the gospel that gives freedom. In my opinion, a greater good is being done through the redemption, reclamation, and retelling of Halloween.

Our kids associate Halloween as a fun family time. We usually watch some animated Halloween-themed movie (Nightmare Before Christmas; It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Hocus Pocus, Corpse Bride; Coraline; Hotel Transylvania; Haunted Mansion, etc) and have dinner together before the ‘festivities’ begin. We usually have games for trick-or-treaters to stay and enjoy, like a bean bag toss, an eyeball toss (ping pong balls painted like eyeballs), bobbing for apples, dart throw, and some sort of bouncy house. We have a prize table set up where kids can choose between candy and/or other prizes like stickers or little Halloween themed tattoos, pencils, etc. (non-candy options are a huge hit with parents). In it’s ‘hey day’, we even had face painters, a hot dog vendor, flame throwers and more!  Our neighborhood still talks about it. The point is to make it fun in your own way and CLAIM it for Christ.

————————————————————————————————————————————–

WHERE DID THAT COME FROM? (quick reference guide)

Costumes – The meaning of costumes has a couple possible ‘origins’ 1) The Druids gave a large feast, which was eaten by the townspeople, in honor of the souls of the people who died the previous year. The ghosts were then escorted out of town by the people dressed in costume representing the souls of the dead. And, since ancient people also believed that goblins and other unfriendly spirits were around them on Halloween, many dressed up as goblins in order to keep the malevolent beings from bothering them. As if to say, “Hey, I’m a goblin/ghost just like you!”  2) The early Church would honor the saints (All Saints Day) by dressing up as them in costume.

Black Cats – The Celts believed all black cats were reincarnations of people. They thought ‘bad magic’ had changed them into cats.

Witches – In Scotland, people once believed that all witches met on Halloween, when the devil called them together and they danced all night.

Jack-o-Lanterns – These ‘lamps’ were hollowed out and used to light Halloween gatherings in Ireland. The name ‘Jack-O-Lantern’ is from an old Irishman named Jack who, according to legend, was rejected by Heaven (because he was a miser) and by Hell (because he played jokes on the devil). Thus he travels the face of the earth, lighting his way with a lantern. People in England and Ireland first carved out beets, potatoes, and turnips, placed a candle inside them, and used them as lanterns. Pumpkins began to be used with Irish immigrants came to America.

Trick-or-Treating – This practice has two possible origins 1) The Celts believed that “treats” left outside their door would appease the evil spirits and prevent a “trick”. 2) Irish children offered to fast for the dead in return for money or an offering.

Apples/Nuts – The Roman festival of Pomona, the goddess of fruit, included giving apples to the gods. Dunking (bobbing) for apples and other apple games derive from the belief, probably from England, that they could be used for telling fortunes. Offering nuts was a method of honoring the goddess Pomona in the Roman festival. The English threw nuts into a fire, and the way in which they burned would foretell the quality of love between two people. If the nuts exploded, then a bad marriage was predicted. If they burned quietly, that meant a good marriage. Anyone want to burn some nuts?

Pumpkins/Scarecrows/Candy/Harvest decor – When these ‘ancient’ Halloween traditions blended into modern day customs, it collided with the ‘harvest’ culture of middle America. The use of hay bales, corn mazes, hay rides, pumpkin patches, scarecrow decor, pumpkin pies, pumpkin EVERYTHING, have all become a part of Halloween ‘mainstream’ here in the US. Halloween is now the #2 largest consumer-spending holiday, eclipsed only by Christmas.  We will spend $9.1 Billion on Halloween this year, with 190 million Americans will participating in Halloween festivities.

 

 

 

For those of us who experienced the 90’s, you probably remember this scene from the movie “City Slickers”. The premise behind the movie was basically that these men from NY had lost their identity, so they travel out west to a cattle ranch to sort of ‘find themselves’.  In one of the most pivotal scenes in the movie, Jack Palance’s character, “Curly” the trail boss, turns to one of the men & says, “Do you know what the secret to life is? It’s this.” (and he holds up 1 finger) “Just 1 thing.” The man says, “That’s great, but what is it?” To which Curly replied, “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.”

It’s a great question for all of us in light of a brand new year: What is your ONE THING?

As I was thinking about this, I made a note of every THING that intersects with my life in a typical week. Like most adults with kids, my schedule is pretty crowded:

  • Serve at church
  • Spend time w family
  • Get kids to school
  • Work
  • Pay bills
  • Get kids to practice
  • Physical Fitness/ Exercise
  • Social Media
  • Do stuff around the house
  • repeat

There are so many THINGS that occupy our time that if we’re not careful, we’ll allow the URGENT to replace the IMPORTANT. We’ll unintentionally CROWD OUT the most important things. We’ll get bogged down with the LITTLE things and fail to pursue our BIG dreams and GRAND adventures. Not because we don’t want to do them. They just get ‘lost’ amidst all the other things we’re doing.

Perhaps most striking: I noticed in my weekly schedule, I was doing almost nothing to realize the larger goals I had for myself. My ROUTINE wasn’t getting me any closer to my DREAMS.

This is where the book, ONE THING has been revolutionary for me. It helped me to look at my life as a series of goals I can set for myself. It coached me on how to break my large goals down into smaller steps I can take each day, each hour, etc. Here’s an example of some of the goals I have set this year:

My Personal Goals 2016

Now, I structure my week with the goal of simply ‘moving the ball forward’ in each category every day, no matter how small the progress. For example, if my goal is to save $ for a family trip to Disneyland, I may go without my morning latte and deposit that into my envelope designated for that event. Or, if it’s to run a half marathon by the end of the year, maybe I start by going on a walk around our neighborhood. In each case, I’m making progress. If I want to memorize a book of the Bible in a year, I start by memorizing two verses a month.

This gives me a sense of accomplishment each day. This gives me a series of “wins” in almost every category. It builds my confidence. It makes me happy. It gives me purpose. It is my MOTIVATION.

Even the apostle Paul knew the importance of ONE THING (singular focus) when he was writing to the church in Philippi:

Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

OK, I know it’s a ‘loose’ fit, but the point is that Paul wrote to the church in Philippi so that they would be reminded of their PURPOSE. So that they would not lose sight of their GOAL. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I’ve got the most important part of my equation figured out. All the rest of my life’s pursuits come second to following Jesus. Now, the rest is fun.

Just finished another post. Just chalked up another ‘win’. Hope this has been helpful. 

My hope for you this year is for you to find your ONE THING.

How do you put Christ at the CENTER of Christmas? How do you keep Jesus the REASON for the season?

We love to decorate our house for Christmas. Inside & out, it’s completely transformed. Sometimes I swear we need a PODS storage unit just to hold all of our Christmas stuff.

  • Inside = snowmen, garland with lights, trees, animated fiber-optic Christmas village, etc.
  • Outside = Entire yard covered in lights. Featuress Icicle motion lights, Twinkle lights on trees, inflatables, Snowflakes, Candy Canes, etc. We even have Santa pulling reindeer skiers on a lake of lights, It is an all-LED display that we spend a couple weeks on.

Our display is so crazy, we even had to add extra outlets just to make sure we had enough ‘juice’ to power our yard. It just may be one of the FEW SITES VISIBLE from OUTER SPACE.

Well, a couple years ago, a storm came through town and the rain tripped all the breakers except one.

IMG_7859

Sometimes, God has a way of reminding us of what’s most important. In the light of the illuminated Nativity, we made two observations:

  1. We couldn’t believe how BRIGHT it was when NOTHING ELSE was lit.
  2. We couldn’t believe how much it STOOD OUT when we removed all the CLUTTER.

Now, we actually rig up our lights differently. Today, each dimmer is timed to turn off so that eventually, each night, only the nativity is lit two hours longer than the rest.

One of my favorite verses of the Christmas story, is when the angel appeared to Joseph and said:

Matthew 1:21 (NIV) She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

This is a simple reminder not only that Jesus came into the world, but that he gave his life for our sins. That is the reason for the season.

JOY

Posted: January 1, 2016 in Christmas Thoughts

What brings you JOY this season? I think that’s a good question for us to consider, especially in light of the Christmas season.

In 2015, I had the privilege of spending my Thanksgiving leading Christ’s Church of the Valley’s mission trip to Costa Rica. For me it was a great reminder that life’s pleasure has nothing to do with possessions. There were several highlights of our trip, but here was the stovetop where most of our meals were cooked. The propane was pretty expensive, so they used it sparingly and cooked many of our meals over an open flame.

IMG_6282

I also met a little boy named Jefferson. He blew out his only pair of shoes playing soccer with us, but he made sure to keep the shoelace because he knew his mother could put it to good use.

IMG_6228

Yet despite what they lacked in some of the comforts and conveniences that we enjoy here in our country, I never heard any complaining. In fact, they were some of the happiest people I’ve met.

What is it that brings you JOY? I was reminded of a passage from the very first Christmas…

Luke 2:8-11 (NIV) And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

I don’t want us to miss the words from the angel in vs. 10 = “GOOD NEWS of GREAT JOY.” It’s not hard to look around and see plenty of BAD NEWS.

  • Look around at what happened this year in San Bernadino (mass shooting).
  • Look around and compare what you have (or what you don’t have) in relation to others.
  • Look around your table and notice someone who’ll be missing from your holiday celebration. My dad passed away Nov. 20th, so my family and I are wrestling with this even as I type these words.

Today, I think we need a constant reminder…of the GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY the angel talked about.

Jesus has been born to US!  He is our SAVIOR. His PRESENCE gives us PEACE. His PROMISE gives us CONFIDENCE. His sacrifice gave us ETERNAL LIFE. His FORGIVENESS gives us FREEDOM (from guilt, shame, fear).

He really IS the GOOD NEWS. He really does bring JOY.

It’s my hope this year that you’ll experience the JOY of knowing Jesus.

Among my most prized possessions is a picture that sits in my office. It hasn’t always been there. In fact, I’ve only had it on my shelf for a few weeks.  In that short amount of time, the visitors and staff who swing by will almost always ask, “Who is this?” or “What is this a picture of?” Inevitably, the comparison is made, “This looks like a scene from the Andy Griffith Show”.  Well, close. The Andy Griffith show stopped airing in 1968. This picture was actually taken in 1975. I was 4 years old.

FullSizeRender

It’s a picture of Dad taking me down to the fishin’ hole in Payson, AZ. It’s where I caught my first fish. It’s where we enjoyed some camping, rock collecting, hiking and exploring. We had campfires and smores and walked to natural springs of water where we drank straight from the stream.  There’s a lot of memories captured in that image. There’s a lot of emotions harnessed in that frame.

What’s most special to me about this picture, is that dad kept this in his office from 1975 to 2015–40 years!  I found it when we were cleaning out his workspace.  F-O-R-T-Y years?

I’d like to think it was dad’s way of remembering. I’d like to believe it was his way of unwinding. I would sometimes see him pondering while typing at his computer. He’d be facing his wall of shelves opposite his computer screen. I’d like to think he was looking at the picture. As if he was taking a mental break. As if the therapist was taking some therapy for himself. (he was our staff ‘counselor’) It was his way of being ‘out’ even while he was ‘in’.

My dad loved his job, but his greatest joy wasn’t in his WORK. It was in who he was OUTSIDE the office. He made great effort and took great joy in being a great husband, father, and grandfather. He recharged by continuously ‘reinventing’ himself through various interests over the years: photography, quad-riding, camping, hunting, astronomy, rocket building, shooting & reloading, etc. He even taught himself Spanish!  And…to top it all off…he even bought a boat two months before he passed away. To do more fishing!

As a transplant, dad always knew he was living on borrowed time. He was prepared to die. But he never waited for it. He was too busy living.

That’s how I want to live.  James S. Stewart said it best, “Let us live as people prepared to die, and die as people prepared to live.”

Since losing dad, I’ve found myself.  At least I’ve learned a little bit more about myself, what makes me tick & what matters most. I appreciate LIFE more. I value deeper RELATIONSHIPS. I seek out ADVENTURES and look for life’s STORIES to tell, no matter how big or small they are. I hoard MEMORIES and cherish RICH CONVERSATION. I know true FAITH is contagious. That most ‘ministry’ has nothing to do with what people see ‘on stage’.  I now trade QUANTITY for QUALITY. I’ve learned my FAMILY is my first MINISTRY and that being a pastor isn’t something you ever really ‘retire’ from.  And I’ve discovered that EVANGELISM isn’t something you DO. As a Christ follower, being an EVANGELIST is who you are.

And while I love my JOB, I understand my IDENTITY needs to be more about who I am OUTSIDE the office.

And speaking of the office, I now put more pictures of the kids on my shelves.  So they can remember. So they can discover. So they can find themselves.

I learned all of this…by finding dad.

 

One of my favorite Christmas films of all time is “A Christmas Story”. You know the one I’m talking about, with Ralphie & his Red Rider BB Gun. Apparently, I’m not alone. According to the web, it has been ranked as the 3rd most-watched Christmas film of all-time, and has been seen by millions of people around the world.

This past week, I learned that a man in Cleveland bought the house the movie was filmed in, and had it completely restored to it’s original appearance in the film. He also turned it into a museum, complete with several props used in the movie. But that’s not all…each year, a person can  bid on a 2 night stay in the house on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day.

Package (4 people) included:

  • Two night stay in the Christmas Story House
  • Bunny suits for your entire group
  • Secret Santa Decoder pens
  • A keepsake leglamp delivered in it’s trademark FRAGILE crate.
  • And a picture of you holding the Red Rider BB gun prop used in the film.

Interesting, huh? What was most interesting to me was that this year, the winning bid closed out at $8,700!!–and that did NOT include the airfare to/from Cleveland.

Some people will literally go to great lengths to insert themselves into the Christmas Story.

But God went to great lengths to insert himself into OUR STORY.

Over 1000 years before Christ was born, the prophet Isaiah foretold:

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV) Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (which means “GOD WITH US”)

God would fulfill his long-held promise to live with us when Jesus was born.  But Jesus was born with a PURPOSE…

John 3:16,17 (NIV) For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son. That whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send his son to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

This season, we remember not only HOW he came, but WHY he came. That is the real story of Christmas.