My wife and I are very thankful for our jobs.  Not only are we doing work that we love, but we also get some great benefits.  One of our favorite benefits is the time off around Christmas.  It makes travel plans flow more smoothly, allows room for family time, and lets us rest a bit.  This year, however, we decided to take on a special project…potty training our two year old.

When we trained our first child to use the toilet, it was a nightmare wrapped in a series of anticipated paper cuts…miserable.  However, our youngest is taking to it rather well.  That’s good in that it has been pretty stress free and will save us money on diapers.  However, it also means we have to stop every 20-30 miles to use the bathroom during holiday travel.  That is an even bigger problem when everything is closed on Christmas day.

Deep down, I fully support closing your business in observance of Christmas day.  Give your employees the day off to spend with family.  Put your focus more on respect and love than making money.  However, boy was I thankful for the handful of gas stations that we were able to find on Tuesday.

Yet, as I exited each establishment, often without buying anything, my eye was caught by the lonely employee spending Christmas at work.  I spoke to a few of them, trying to be cheerful and thankful.  But I felt as though they needed more.  So that gave me an idea.

Since I am pretty sure that the massive closure of businesses only happens on Christmas, I sincerely hope I don’t forget about this before next December.  Wouldn’t it be a cool ministry to drop in on those working on Christmas to bring a little blessing to their day?  Perhaps I could take a gift, or a pastry or some other sort of treat.  Maybe I could get some friends together and sing some Christmas carols.  There are so many ways to bless these people that are not able to be with their families.

At first, I thought this would be a great venture to take on in our travels.  However, that would limit the number of Christians available to serve in this way.  Then I realized that it would actually be more impactful and organized if we did it within our own home towns. 

Find out beforehand which businesses will be open in your area on Christmas day.  More than likely, these will all be gas stations.  Get a ministry team together and figure out how to serve these people.  What kind of ministry would have a big impact on their day at work?  How can we show them the love of Christ when they are stranded away from loved ones?  How can we be Christ to them when they feel all alone?

Let the planning begin.

 
Merry Christmas!  Today is the day that we celebrate the birth of our Savior.  A miracle birth, nonetheless, with a virgin mother and a host of unlikely visitors.  The Messiah came to earth, not as a warrior looking to lead Israel out of oppression, but a baby prepared to live the perfect life that we couldn’t and die the death that we all deserve.

Today is His birthday.  While I maintain that the celebration of the resurrection is a more important Christian holiday, Christmas represents a time of hope, love, and peace that seems to be a bit more inviting.  Christmas gives us more time to spend with family, showing our love through quality time and, of course, gifts.  Christmas gives us time off of work and that makes the holiday feel more special.  Christmas is full of warmth, joy, and anticipation.

However, we sometimes get drawn in to the pressure of buying the perfect gift, the expectation of making everyone around us happy, and a busy schedule that keeps us from experiencing Christmas as advertised.  We end up focusing on our to-do lists and family obligations more than the love that Christ’s birth represents. 

God wrapped Himself in flesh to come down here and save us from ourselves.  We need to make sure that we keep this significance in mind as we get bogged down in the hustle and bustle of our celebrations. 

Now, go worship our Savior.  Go love on your family.  Experience the peace, hope, and love that this season represents.

 
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Now that I’ve established my stance on Christmas music, I bet you are wondering about my views on other Christmas traditions.  Well, I’m glad you asked. 

If you asked my wife, she would probably tell you that I am the closest thing to a real life Ebenezer Scrooge.  She threatens me regularly and tells me that I have to get into the Christmas spirit for our kids.

As it turns out, I am not that cynical.  I enjoy the season very much, actually.  I love watching people open gifts.  I love sharing the miraculous story of Christ’s birth.  And boy do I love the food.

My only two qualms, really, come with the music and the Christmas cards.  The music really gets on my nerves.  But, as for the cards, I really just don’t get the point.  You are going to send people a card to tell them Merry Christmas?  A card?  With words written on it?

Why on earth wouldn’t you just tell them in person or call them on the phone?  My goodness, with modern technology, there are hundreds of ways to get in touch with people.  And we buy little pieces of paper and postage just to say Merry Christmas?  Seriously, it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Also, there is the fact that over $2 billion are spent on Christmas cards in America annually.  I would go into how many homeless people could be helped, hungry people fed, and so on but that may be a little much.

Regardless of my thoughts on the subject, my family fully participates in the Christmas card madness each year.  As my wife requires my participation, I make sure that we have high standards.  If we are going to spend time and money on this, we have to do it right.


This year, this is what we came up with:





















What do you think?

Does your family get excited about Christmas cards?  Do you decorate your fridge or a door frame with them?  Can we still be friends now that you know how I feel about them?

Are there any other Christmas traditions that you just don’t get?


 
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During this time of year, it seems like I am involved with a potluck every time I turn around.  And since I have to go to so many, I unfortunately take the easy way out.  I’ll bring cups, or drinks, or chips and dip.  Yeah…I’m that guy.

As my office potluck came around this year, my boss started poking fun at me.  She started saying things about my inability to cook and my lack of kitchen prowess.  Thus, I have decided to prove her wrong.  I am breaking out my recipe book and I plan to show up with a beautiful, delicious, homemade white chocolate raspberry swirl cheesecake.












Yeah, that looks good doesn’t it?

So yesterday, I went to Wal-Mart to get the ingredients.  When I got to the check out counter, I was fully prepared to engage in meaningless pleasantries with the cashier and get on with my day.  However, she caught me off guard with her response to my empty question of “how are you?”

She said, “I’m blessed.”

I know people usually have their go-to phrase, and that may have been hers.  However, it was different enough to catch my attention.  She didn’t say she was good or fine to let me know she was doing well.  She told me that she was blessed, implying that her mood or well-being didn’t matter as much because she had something that was bigger than all of her problems.

I’m not saying that,”I’m blessed” should become the new, “Just fine, how are you?”  But how is God’s love evident in the way that you carry yourself?  What are you doing to let people know that you have something different in your life?  How do your daily interactions point people to Christ? 


 
Christmas has become a jumbled accumulation of various priorities, traditions, and practices.  There are some commonalities between most families, and some things that have become unbreakable traditions with loved ones.  However, if we break it down to the basics of this celebration, Christmas is a birthday party.

If your birthday is December 25th, unfortunately, I am not talking about you.  Unless Jesus is reading this…then…I am talking about You.  We are celebrating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God that came to save us from our sins.  God came to earth to live a life like ours.

The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  (Luke 2:11 NLT)

Everything about this season revolves around new life.  New life in the form of a baby boy placed in a manger.  New life in that the Living God came to walk among us.  New life in the salvation that Christ’s birth, and ultimately His death and resurrection, provides.  New life in the form of our renewed relationship with our Creator.

So how do we celebrate this new life?  We take the time to recognize the blessings in our lives.  We enhance our lives with gifts, affection, and special meals.  We spend time with those that mean the most to us.  And, sometimes as an afterthought, we take the time to think about the new life that this season brings.

However, there are people out there that don’t have the same blessings that we do.  There are those that don’t have gifts to give or receive, loved ones to share affection, or any food to eat whatsoever.  They may not feel loved, cared for, or important.  They may not know the hope that comes with the new life that Christ brought on that first Christmas.

It is our job to show them that hope.  It is our job to represent new life to them by giving of ourselves: our time, money, energy, and love.  We can give gifts, give food, volunteer, and spend time with people that need these things to understand that they are loved and that Christ provides a hope they may never have known existed.  If we choose not to be Christ to those in need, how will they ever know who He really is?

Let’s give Jesus some new friends for His birthday.  Let’s introduce people to the new life that we celebrate each Christmas.

 
Each year around the middle of November, Christians everywhere enter into X mode.  When you are in X mode, any reference to the letter X or its likeness automatically sends you into a rant as if you have been unfairly outbid on “Storage Wars.”  It’s Christ-mas, not X-mas.  I get it.  I could not agree more. 

However, is it really in the spirit of Christmas to go all “we shall not be moved” in the Wal-Mart parking lot because a toy manufacturer got lazy?  Is it Christ-like to berate everybody that looks like the Monopoly guy because the card in the Community Chest says "X-mas Fund Matures: Receive $100?"  I don’t think so.  Feel free to take your money elsewhere or even write a strongly worded letter, but please don’t make a scene.  That never ends well.

Since I feel like all the Xers out there have “Keep Christ in Christmas” covered, allow to me tackle the rest of the word.  Now, I have never heard anybody alter the last three letters in the word Christmas, but it seems like the meaning is butchered more often than Everybody Loves Raymond reruns air on TV Land. 

Contrary to popular belief, Christmas is not some sort of English-Spanish hybrid that means “more Christ.”  In fact, the word originally meant Christ-Mass.  For those of you forced to go to Catholic school as a kid, you probably know that mass has a more specific meaning than “Catholic church meeting.”

Actually, the word mass actually refers to an observance of the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper.  This observance gives believers a time to reflect of the true sacrifice of Christ, focusing on how He broke His body and spilled His blood so that we may be reconciled with our Heavenly Father.  While Protestant denominations observe the Lord’s Supper in various ways, most of them do it on a regular basis.  However, how often do we associate it with Christmas? 

Usually, during this time of year, we view Jesus as a little baby.  There is so much joy in the celebration of His birth, it can be hard to picture the rest of His journey on earth.  However, without the rest of the story, without the sacrifice, is His birth even worth celebrating?  I know it goes against everything you are used to, but during Christmas this year, take some time to reflect on the bread and the cup.  Make it a point to remember the sacrifice and ultimately the resurrection that makes our salvation possible.  This year, even if you are in maximum X mode, let’s all try a little harder to keep the “mas” in Christmas.

 
Everything you read about the holiday season is that it should be a joyful time, full of love, rainbows, and puppies.  You aren’t supposed to be sad or upset during this time, or you’ll ruin the fun for everyone.  (Note:  By holiday season, I mean the span of time that contains Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Don’t get all judgey on me.)

I hope I am not the first person to tell you that this is not true.  The pressure to be happy during this season is false and sometimes it can make your circumstances more painful.  Perhaps this is your first Thanksgiving without a loved one that passed away.  Maybe this will be your first Christmas without getting to see family that moved away. 

There is a chance that you may not feel at all like celebrating this holiday season, and that is okay.  It may be that, instead of looking to share joy with everyone, you’d just like a hint of peace.  But how do you find peace when things seem so hard?  Paul gives us a pretty clear explanation on how to begin the process here in his letter to the Colossians.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17 NIV)

We often think of peace as a passive act, or even the lack of an action at all.  That makes it easy for us to read this passage and totally miss the power of peace that Paul is talking about.  He says that the peace of Christ should rule our hearts.  He doesn’t say that peace should camp out in our hearts or occasionally visit our souls, but it should take control of and command our every word and action.

Fortunately, he also gives insight on how to give way to peace so that it may stand a chance in our hearts that have a tendency to be selfish and full of worry.  In order to allow the peace of Jesus Christ to rule our hearts, we must continually soak in His word and His spirit.  Verse 16 says that we should let His word dwell in us richly, as we teach, spend time in discussion and fellowship, and sing songs of praise.  If we truly put our hearts into these things, and do them solely for the glory of God, then our hearts will be open to the peace that comes with knowing that God is in control.

As soon as we allow the Lord to take the lead in every aspect of our lives, we will spend much more time giving thanks to Him and will spend much less time dwelling on our pain.  Who ever thought that letting go of controlling your own life would be such a peaceful thing?  The Apostle Paul did.  Let’s follow his lead as we go throughout this holiday season.
 
If you are connected with me at all on social media, you are probably aware of the battle that took place in my home this weekend.  Since we will be out of town after Thanksgiving, my wife wanted to go ahead and put up Christmas decorations in our home.  I strongly opposed, but of course I lost.  So this is me trying to get into the Christmas spirit so my family will stop calling me Scrooge.

Christmas takes on many different meanings to different people. For many children and, unfortunately, some adults, Christmas is a selfish holiday. They focus on what they want and how they can make sure they get it. On the flip side, many parents and grandparents make Christmas all about the children, working to ensure that they get all of the gifts they could ever want.

For the many non-Christians that celebrate Christmas, while they spend their time talking about Santa Claus instead of Jesus, the focus is on making people happy. Sometimes it is family, sometimes friends, and sometimes good deeds for the less fortunate.

Many Christians, on the other hand, try to keep Christmas old school and focus on the birth of Jesus. While there are some disagreements about how much to include secular traditions in our celebrations, we all agree that Jesus deserves to be the center of attention. It is His birthday, after all.

But how do you think Jesus, Himself, would celebrate? Based on His teachings, I believe that the answer is pretty clear.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13 NLT)

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. (John 13:34 NLT)

And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ (Matthew 25:40 NLT)

I believe that, while He would spend all of His time doing it, Jesus would make a special effort to celebrate His birthday by loving people. He would make sure that everyone celebrating His birth feels His love. He would meet their needs and wrap them in His loving comfort.

Since our goal as Christians is to be as much like Jesus as possible, why is it that we don’t spend more time celebrating His birth by loving one another? Sure, we send cards and occasionally exchange gifts. But how can we claim to love God if we are not meeting the needs of our fellow Christians? How can we celebrate Christ if we are not obeying Him by taking care of “the least of” our brothers and sisters?

We love each other because he loved us first. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters. (1 John 4:19-21 NLT)

Let’s all focus on fulfilling this command this Christmas season by showing the love of Christ to our fellow Christians that need it the most. And yes, that includes doing so on Black Friday.

 
I have a confession to make, and I am looking for a support group.  I am not necessarily embarrassed by this issue, but it has caused me some grief over the years.  My heart has been called into question, as has my faith a time or two.  This topic has even become an issue in my marriage.  Surely I am not that only person who…whew, here it goes…hates Christmas music.

There...I said it.

During high school, and during college breaks, I worked at a department store.  During the Christmas season, my boss rotated the same 2-3 Christmas CD’s over and over….and over…and over.  I grew so tired of these songs that I would become angry when hearing them anywhere, even outside my job. 

While it was a pretty vast collection of Christmas songs on those albums, it certainly did not contain every popular song.  However, all other Christmas tunes were determined to be awful by association and the genre has been ruined for me forever.  FOR-E-VER!

Yes, I understand how it sounds when I say that I do not like songs about the birth of my Savior.  I realize that it makes me look shallow, selfish, and “Scrooge-ey.”  But I just can’t help it.  Pretty much the worst day for me each year is when one of my favorite radio stations commits to a full-time Christmas playlist.  (Note:  This happened last week...in EARLY November.)  The second worst day is every day after that until it stops.

I love Jesus.  I’m glad He was born and still lives.  I love hearing and telling the Christmas story and sharing His love with everyone.  I love eating lots of good food.  I love watching people receive gifts. And I really love giving gifts.  But I absolutely cannot stand Christmas music.

Am I the only one in this boat?  Are there any other “sacred traditions” that you have trouble getting into?  Please tell me that I’m not alone.

 
I really hope no kids read my blog.  I’m not too worried, though, since I am pretty sure both of my readers are adults.  Either way, if you believe in Santa Claus, you might want to stop reading right now.
My wife and I recently started Christmas shopping for this year.  That, of course, leads to conversations of what gifts will be from us to our children and what gifts will be from Santa.  And we have to figure out how can we guide our children's gift requests to prepare them for what we actually bought for them

Many Christians dismiss Santa Claus and refuse to mislead their children with the idea of a fantasy philanthropic fat man that gives free gifts to all the kids on earth.  I’m not going to pass judgment either way.  But, no matter which side of the argument you are on, at some point you will probably tell your children that Santa does not exist.  I beg you, please don’t crush them with the “I’m sorry, I’ve been lying to you for years” routine I’m sure you were dealt in elementary school.

If you’re still reading this, then I’m sure you are well aware of how unreasonable it is for Santa Claus to exist.  You know that reindeer can’t fly, elves make cookies instead of toys, and the magical delivery of toys all over the world in one night seems incredibly unlikely.  To your children, however, this is what they have known to be reality for their entire lives.

As a math guy, I like to have logical, rational evidence about a subject before I make my final verdict.  Simply dismissing ideas because they seem implausible is definitely the easy thing to do, but it’s really no fun at all.  That’s why I have spent some time thinking about practical, logical reasons that Santa cannot exist.  This is how I intend to break the news to my own children in a few years.  I plan to present this list as though I recently figured it out and I will act as if I am as shocked as they are.  Feel free to use this list as you see fit.

1.  Copyright/Trademark Laws – This may not have been an issue in the age of custom wooden toys and trinkets, but in the modern age of branding and patents, toys being constructed by elves just doesn’t make sense.  Think about it.  Why on earth would Sony take on the liability of Playstation 3 consoles built and programmed at the North Pole?  Do you think Fisher Price would take a hit for a faulty Big Wheel the elves messed up on because they were rushing to make a quota?  There is no way that name brand toys could be constructed by Santa’s helpers.  That’s an impossible scenario.

2.  Lack of Duplication – Have you ever heard the story about the kids that got the exact same gifts from Santa and their parents?  Me neither.  Surely, with millions of homes being visited every year, there would be a last minute gift purchased that would be an exact replica of a Santa gift.  That.Has.Never.Happened.  The only possible explanations for this are:  a. parents do not buy gifts, b.  Santa magically comes up with something new when he arrives at each home, c. Santa doesn’t exist.

    a.  Seriously, look at my bank account.  Parents buy gifts.  This cannot be the correct explanation.

    b.  If this is the case, it doesn’t make sense for Santa to ask you what you want for Christmas.  Letters to Santa do not matter.  Elves do not construct toys “just for you.”  These are vital aspects of the story of Santa, so it would be a direct contradiction to assume that Santa does not determine gifts before his arrival.  This cannot be the correct explanation.

    c.  Since the first two options have been eliminated, the only explanation for the lack of duplication of gifts is that Santa does not exist.

3.  Home Security Systems – There are home security systems that have those crazy spy lasers where, if touched, set off alarms and booby traps.  Well, maybe not the traps.  But even assuming he could magically escape before the police arrives, there should still be an amazing increase in reported home invasions on Christmas Eve.  Based on my research, that is not the case.  So if Santa truly is a fat dude that physically eats cookies and puts gifts under the trees, it would be impossible for him to not set off an alarm or two.  Santa could not possibly enter millions of homes each year. 

4.  The Wrapping Paradox – In the month or so leading up to Christmas this past year, I saw countless conversations on Facebook about whether or not Santa wraps gifts.  Some believe he uses special paper, while others have never seen a wrapped gift from Santa.  This creates a large problem from my point of view.  If you are running an operation as big as delivering millions of gifts all across the world in one night, you would have to be organized.  Your processes would have to be streamlined.  So, for some gifts to be wrapped and others not wrapped, that just does not make sense.  This whole thing must be a sham.

5.  The Cookie Dilemma – At my house, we leave cookies out for Santa.  Perhaps that is only to ensure that I get some cookies, but they are left out regardless.  I would think that most homes with young children that are expecting Santa do the same.  To be safe, let’s assume that only half the homes visited by Santa leave cookies for him.  Let’s also assume they each only leave out one Oreo cookie (I realize the types and brands of cookies vary, but I really like Oreos).  Being even more conservative, let’s assume he only visits five million homes here in America. 

Let’s do the math.  If he visits five million homes, that means two and a half million homes leave out at least one Oreo cookie.  It is absolutely impossible for one person to consume that many cookies in one night.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  Thus, Santa Claus does not exist.

Is this an exact science?  Not really.  Will it be enough to convince my children that Santa doesn’t exist without me telling them I’ve been lying to them?  I sure hope so.  Have I spent too much time thinking about cookies?  There is no doubt.

Do you have any interesting stories about how you or someone you know found out that Santa does not exist?