Archive for December 23, 2010

Christmas & Family

I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to let the value and meaning of Christmas slip by unnoticed. The commercialism of the season arouse our sense of entitlement while our “need to impress” others leaves us void of the true “spirit of giving.” In fact, we may think more about the gifts we hope to receive than the gifts we have the joy and opportunity to give. Some people can become sullen and melancholy thinking about what, or who, they don’t have in their lives. These intrusions do not promote the real value and meaning of Christmas. On the other hand, many of us live complacently in our own little worlds, thinking about our own interests and our own desires. No intrusions, no interruptions, no real intimacy. This does not promote the meaning of Christmas either. Ultimately, Christmas is about the celebration of Christ and what He means in our lives. So, if you will excuse me for a moment, I would be remiss if I did not reflect, at least briefly, on at least one aspect of what Christmas really does mean to me.
In many ways, Christmas is about family. It begins with a family broken. Long before the birth of Christ, God’s children disobeyed Him and created a chasm, a cataclysmic distance, between Father and child. That distance continued to grow as God’s children chose to follow another lover, betraying the One who truly does love and care for us. This constant disobedience caused a growing family rift…a division that grew to enormous proportions, alienating us from our Creator and divorcing us from our God. Repeated adulterous interactions with other gods and behavior that conformed to the lifestyle of the world’s family caused intense pain and anguish in the family of God. Still, God continued to love us. He continued to advance His plan to reveal His abiding love for us. He remained resolute in His pursuit of the mutual, loving relationship with us that He had originally intended. That’s where Christmas comes in.
His plan to restore eternal family relationships included Christ coming to earth as baby; Emmanuel born into a human family. Think of it…when God decided to enter this world, He did so through the doorway of a family. He was born into a family consisting of a teen mother and a stepfather–poor, homeless, isolated, and quite possibly alienated from family and friends. A family so poor and isolated that they gave birth to Jesus in a stable. Jesus grew up in that family. He moved to Egypt with that family. He returned to Israel with that family. He celebrated Jewish feasts and traditions with His family. He honored His parents (the one’s He had created, by the way) enough to listen to them and obey them throughout His life (Luke 2:51). Even at His death, Jesus’ mother, part of His family, stood nearby weeping.
Jesus came to earth as part of an earthly family. He lived His life as part of an earthly family; and, ultimately, He died so we could become part of His heavenly family. He died to reestablish that mutual loving relationship He had with us before we disobeyed, before we left Him for that faithless player named Satan. He died to make us His children–“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God” (1 John 3:1). He died to reveal how much He loves us, His Bride, and to demonstrate the magnitude of His desire to make us part of His eternal family (Ephesians 5:25-27, Revelations 19:7-8).
As we celebrate Christmas, let us also remember to celebrate family. Family is a gift from God…. God’s design to nurture His children in love, peace, and grace. Family is how God chose to enter the world and live as a Man in the world. Family is how God describes His relationship to us. And, because of Emmanuel (God with us) we can spend eternity celebrating our place in the Family of God.

Traditions…Let’s Celebrate

Christmas traditions…watching Christmas specials on TV, setting up a Christmas tree, listening to Christmas songs, singing Christmas carols, setting up a manger scene, spending money to buy gifts, sharing cookies, sending cards, opening gifts, attending Christmas eve services, etc., etc. I’m sure we all have numerous Christmas traditions that we enjoy. I know a family that sets up their manger scene minus the wise men and minus the baby Jesus. The wise men are found resting in another room in the house as they “travel” toward the manger. Jesus is nowhere to be found. As Christmas day approaches, the wise men “travel” closer to the manger while Jesus remains conspicuously absent. Every day, the children search for the wise men and ask about the baby Jesus. Christmas morning, the baby Jesus finally arrives in the stable and the family celebrates by exchanging gifts. The next day, the wise men arrive at the stable and everyone celebrates Jesus by bringing Him their gifts. 
Why do we invest so much energy in traditions? What makes them worthwhile? Here are just a few reasons why experts believe that traditions, not just at Christmas time, are so important to family life.
Traditions allow families put their beliefs into practice. They impart family values to the next generation and establish a family identity. For instance, buying gifts communicates generosity and puts that generosity into practice. Setting up a nativity helps establish a family identity as one that believes in the birth of Christ. These same traditions, and any other traditions you enjoy, celebrate family, intimacy, and life. 
Traditions also reinforce the comfort and security of family members by establishing predictable plans and activities. They give family members something to look forward to, an enjoyable time to anticipate. Because traditions are repeated, family members anticipate their next occurrence and plan their schedules accordingly. The anticipation of a fun tradition encourages family members to make an intentional effort to spend time together. Children, especially, seem to benefit from the predictability of tradition. If the adults attempt to set a tradition aside, the children often remember it and ask that it be continued. It helps increase their sense of comfort and security in the family.
Family traditions involve the whole family…and, they take time. In order for a tradition to be successful, we have to carve out enough time to slow down and enjoy it. That time allows families to build stronger relationships, share love, and enjoy greater intimacy. Whether filled with laughter and fun or intimacy and thought, the time invested in family traditions always add wonderful memories of love, joy, and family to our lives. 
So, go ahead…enjoy a Christmas tradition or two…or three…or more. Make them part of your family life and allow them to help your family grow. To help us all enjoy more family time, perhaps you could share any unique traditions your family enjoys? How do you celebrate your family life during this Christmas season? If you would, please take the time to share the Christmas traditions you and your family enjoy. Go to our Facebook page and tell us about your tradition. Or, make a comment here to tell us about your traditions. We’d love to hear from you.

Traditions…Bah Humbug

Shhh…I’m walking home with Junior Scrooge and trying to convince him to come by my house to help decorate our Christmas tree. Just as expected, he’s a real killjoy when it comes to Christmas. Here I go…be real quiet and listen in.

Yes, you may walk with me, but keep up. No dilly dallying, I’m a busy man…business to conduct. What’s that you say? What Christmas traditions do I celebrate? You’re one of those Christmas lovers, eh? In the infamous words of Ebenezer Scrooge, “Bah humbug!” What good are Christmas traditions anyway? It’s all just a waste of time. Sure, Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, but who needs the hoopla? Just a distressing waste of time and money. I really don’t have the time for the frivolous run around and hypocritical commercial onslaught of Christmas. 

What are you pointing at? That family? I see them…laughing and singing while they decorate their tree. Probably can’t afford the time or money they are wasting though. Sure, they look like they’re celebrating and having fun. They all look happy and full of life…smiling, hugging. Such displays of affection. I don’t need that kind of embarrassing dribble in my life. They need a lesson on the hard realities of life and work. They do seem to enjoy their family though…and share a real closeness. That’s fine for them. They probably think family important. But I have no family. Ah, who needs it? I’m perfectly fine on my own.

Which family are you pointing at? Oh yes, the one singing carols and giving gifts to the needy. Soft-hearted saps. I suppose you’re going to tell me this tradition helps them “practice what they preach.” Well, our world would do well if a few families pass that value on to the next generation. Maybe we’d have a whole generation of families practicing kindness and generosity. Ah, I show my kindness by letting people pull themselves up by their bootstraps, show some initiative, get out there and hustle! Kind of funny–they really do seem happy reaching out to others, sharing this tradition of music. I remember the fun I had as a lad going caroling. Ah, child’s play. Let’s get on here. I have to get home.

Alright, I see that family, too. You really are persistent, aren’t you? I know they make cookies every year. Every year I have to eat a dozen of those cookies…quite tasty, I might add. They can keep making cookies and doing all the other things they do every year for all I care. It keeps those kids secure in their family’s care and out of my hair. See that little one there? Last time she brought me cookies, she practically burst with excitement talking about how much she enjoyed making cookies to give away. Why, I think she is so excited to do things with her family that she plans her schedule so she doesn’t miss it. Good for her…

I didn’t realize you planned to harass me about Christmas traditions the whole way to my house. You must enjoy some traditions. Go on home and enjoy them yourself. I’m sure you have a family…and all the time in the world to waste on those silly activities. I don’t have that kind of time. I don’t have time to slow down and enjoy some silly tradition. I’m too busy. Too much to get done.

So, this is my place. Thanks for the constant barrage of “Christmas hope.” I know my house is dark…I live alone. What am I doing tonight? Well, eating supper, watching TV and going to bed. Oh, you’re decorating your tree? Well, have fun getting your finger pricked on pine needles and sweeping them up after Christmas. Would I like to join you? I suppose you will all sing and laugh while you decorate? Yes? And, probably talk about all the memories that come up around the ornaments? Will everyone be there? Even your lovely son and daughter? They do love to laugh. If I were to come, might we share some cookies? Yes? Well, I suppose I could spare an evening. I would love to come over. Thank you for asking. 

What do you mean “Bah humbug?” Who said that? I would never say such a thing…I love Christmas traditions.

5 Christmas Gifts Your Family Will Love

Every Christmas I have the same dilemma-what gifts do I give to my family? Like an episode of Hawaii Five-O, I begin an investigation to discover the perfect gift. Moving from person to person and place to place I make quiet observations and ask not-so-subtle questions in search of a gift that is desired, needed, and useful at the same time. This year I think I hit the jackpot. My investigations have uncovered 5 gifts, all needed and desired, that family members will love and enjoy all year.

Eat dinner with your family as often as possible. Turn off the TV, don’t answer the phone, gather around the table, and share a meal together. Eating as a family keeps the doors of communication open. In addition, teens that eat frequently with their family are three-and-a half times less likely to abuse illegal drugs. Girls who eat with the family five or more times a week are one-third less likely to develop unhealthy eating habits. And, eating together can be fun. You can talk about the day, make plans for upcoming events, joke around, share funny stories and memories, and learn about one another’s interests. Eating together is a great gift with great benefits for the whole family.

Have a regular date night with your spouse. The strength of your marriage sets the standard for honor, grace, and celebration within the whole family. How we treat our spouse influences the intimacy and respect shared among the whole family. When children see their parents going on a dates and genuinely expressing love to one another, they feel safer and more secure. So, a great gift to your family is to make your marriage strong. A regular date night with your spouse gives you the opportunity to talk, have fun, and grow more intimate. It tells the whole family that relationships are important.

Have family fun nights at least two times a month. Get together with your family for an evening of fun and games. Families love this gift. And, it provides the opportunity to teach important social skills, academic skills, and family values in the midst of laughter and play. I know I learn better when I’m having fun. Family fun nights provide the added benefit of building closer family ties. In fact, “you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than you can in a year of conversation” (Plato). All this while engaging in a fun, relaxing activity.

Encourage each family member in public and private forums. Encouragement expresses your love for that person. Even God recognized and encouraged His Son. The Gospels tell us of three instances in which God acknowledging and encouraging His Son in a very public manner. Encouraging our family members will help build their self-confidence, confirm your loyal alliance, boost their know-how, and strengthen your relationship. Gifts don’t get any better than this.

Take a genuine interest in what interests each family member. This gift is often overlooked, but is still a tremendous gift. Take the time to learn about something that interests your family member. If they enjoy music, learn about the music they like. If they enjoy cooking, learn about cooking and cook with them. If they enjoy the ballet, learn about the ballet and go watch a ballet with them. Whatever the interest, make a genuine investment in learning about that topic…not because the topic interests you but because your family member interests you. This gift will enrich you, your family, and your relationship for years to come.

Wrapping these ideas in a homemade coupon book that includes a coupon for each of these gifts will bring a smile to anyone’s face. It will definitely provide a gift your family will enjoy for years to come.

Between the Lines

Christmas is a wonderful time to build family intimacy. Unfortunately, we can get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of commercialism that we lose sight of family togetherness and the true meaning of Christmas.  We have to look beyond the hustle and bustle of Christmas to find the real meaning of Christmas and “read between the lines” to find what Christmas is all about. Read between the lines in the message below for the true meaning of Christmas.

In a HUShed Tone (so ListEn well)
Amidst  uNenDing   noise
Be   qUiet,  STiLl  &  hEar
Th’angels sing an  OFffering  of 
CH0Ral  praISe To  MAry’
Sleeping in the   sTall…,    IManu’El!