Monday, December 24, 2007

The REAL Reason for the Season

You've probably seen the phrase on signs in front yards, on church signs, and Christmas cards: JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON. The phrase is kinda catchy - mostly because it rhymes. But, for years I read the words and never gave another thought about it. I took it at face value. I accepted it without question. Until this year.

You're probably starting to get a little nervous. You're thinking, "How can you deny that statement? You're about to cross the line."

But, stay with me for a moment.

Yes, we do celebrate Jesus' birth at Christmastime. I mean, without the birth of Jesus, there's no Christmas. No Easter, for that matter.

But, in heaven, around 2008 years ago, God and the angels were celebrating something completely different. They were throwing a party, and the cake didn't have Jesus' name on it. It had your name on it...and it had mine.

You see, WE are the REAL reason for the season.

Because man (and woman) decided that trusting themselves and others was more important than trusting God, we were separated from our Father and Creator. All the good and perfect things our Lord had put into existence were now tarnished. And, from those early days in the Garden until 2008 years ago, there was a chasm that divided heaven and earth. A huge piece of the puzzle was missing.

It's called purity. Righteousness. Freedom. Holiness. These were the characteristics of Godliness we could never achieve unless something happened. A sacrifice.

So, on that night a couple millennia ago, God decided it was time to fix the problem we created. To right our wrongs, and to give us the second chance of all second chances.

He introduced His perfect, blameless, spotless son to us. And, for the next 33 years of his life, we caught a glimpse of his Father's goodness, mercy, and love.

And, because God walked the earth in human form, and because He gave us His Word - the Bible - we are still able to catch a glimpse of our Heavenly Father each and every day.

So, this Christmas, and for days and years to come, remember God did all of this with you in mind. He sent the baby Jesus here with one mission: to die for our sins.

Because He loved us enough to make us the reason for the season.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The 2sday 10

Ten Great Christmas Movies

1. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) G
2. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) PG-13

3. The Polar Express (2004)
4. Home Alone (1990) PG
5. Elf (2003) PG
6. The Family Man (2000) PG-13

7. The Santa Clause (1994)
8. Miracle on 34th Street (1947) G

9. Scrooged (1988)
10. Love, Actually (2003) R

Monday, December 17, 2007

Nothing Normal about Christmas

Think about this. If you were an alien from another planet and you happened to visit Earth between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, what would you think?

You’re flying around and you see multi-colored light displays on the vast majority of houses and lawns. You see wreaths on windows and doors. You see these perfectly cone-shaped green objects adorned with icicles, bulbs, shiny balls, angels, candy canes, and other various objects of sentimental value. You see hundreds of plump men wearing suits of red posing for photographs with screaming children all day long. You see millions of boxes pristinely wrapped in festive paper and placed under and around the aforementioned decorated green cone-shaped object. You hear joyful songs. You see smiling faces (everywhere except in retail stores). The scent of fresh spruce or perhaps warm gingerbread or cinnamon fills the air.

If you came to Earth between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, what would you think?

On the surface, all of these Christmas traditions seem quite preposterous. Silly. Goofy. Downright weird. But, Christmas is not a normal time of year. Not by a long shot.

Christmas is a time of year when the focus is off of ourselves. We dream about ways we can create an unforgettable memory for someone else. We’re selfless. Downright cheerful.

What if we could live like this year-round? I’m not talking about having our Christmas lights up on our homes 365 days a year (if that’s you, the general rule of thumb is to take them down by New Year’s Day – FYI. If you’re going to leave them up, at least continue to turn them on each night). I’m talking about something much more profound: living joyfully.

Our greatest joy came to Earth 2008 (or so) years ago. And, there was nothing ordinary about that first Christmas, either. A virgin carrying the Savior of the world? This virgin riding a donkey for more than a week from Nazareth to Bethlehem? This Savior being born among animals? This Savior sending a special invitation to shepherds – the lowest of the low in society – to come to the birthday party of all birthday parties? Sounds preposterous. Silly. Goofy. Downright weird.

But, let’s back up a moment. Perhaps the most unusual part of this story hasn’t been mentioned. There’s another family involved here. There’s a Heavenly Father and his son. This Father loves his boy – his one and only - beyond comprehension. But, He is going to saying goodbye to Him. But, this is not your typical “see you later.” The Father knows what this means. He knows the torment his son will be subjected to. The mission that has to be fulfilled. The punishment he’ll endure. The mocking. The aloneness. And, his heart is broken.

But, this Christmas story doesn’t end here. It only begins. Because the same sorrow the Daddy feels is overcome by the pleasure he receives by his son’s actions. By his son’s words. By his son’s willingness – eagerness – to honor his Daddy.

Why would a Father send his son to Earth only to die? Because this isn’t a normal Father. Because this Father’s love for his very own son is matched only by his love for his other children – that includes me, and it includes you, if you have trusted in Jesus as your Savior.

Christmas isn’t normal. Not even close. And, if it ever becomes ordinary or routine, we’re missing out on the greatest gift ever. A gift we could never earn. A gift that only the best Dad in the world could give.

I pray THIS year that your favorite Christmas Present is HIS Christmas Presence.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Kids & Dogs

As a parent (and even more importantly, as a human being), one of the things that really disturbs me is seeing parents put their child on a leash. As a father of two young boys, trust me when I say I know what it's like trying to keep up with active children who only have two gears: fast and turbo.

But, to me, when you put your child on a leash, you are broadcasting one message more loudly than to me anything else: "I'm a lazy parent."
I know parents claim that they do this for safety reasons. And, certainly there are some safety benefits to this. But think about the psychological damage this is doing to the poor kid.

I was in an aquarium yesterday afternoon, and I saw a little boy - probably 4 or 5 years of age - whose parents had him on a leash. The kid screamed and whined the entire time he was at the aquarium. I couldn't even stand to look at him because I pitied him. It upset me.

Parents today - and I am speaking in general terms here - take shortcuts. They want to take the quick and easy route. But, what they fail to see is that the easy route in the short run creates an impossibly tenuous route in the long run.

Parenting certainly isn't easy. But, like anything rewarding in life, the journey is often arduous and circuitous.

Don't take the shortcut. You - and your child - will be thankful you didn't.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The 2sday 10

Ten Unique and Little-Known Christmas
Traditions from Around the World

Familyman Ministries

  1. Bobbing for hedgehogs (United Kingdom)
  2. Decorating the Christmas python (Africa)
  3. Icing Vegemite holiday cookies (Australia)
  4. Sea turtle tipping (Hawaii)
  5. Replacing the roof on your house (Florida)
  6. Sweating (Thailand)
  7. Hanging lights and tinsel on your Humvee (Iraq)
  8. Shooting beer cans off of your buddy’s head (Montana)
  9. Deep-frying a turkey stuffed with Twinkies (Michigan)
  10. Avoiding frostbite and being trampled to death by reindeer (Sweden)

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Gift of Appreciation

Some things I just hate to admit about myself. One of the things that I really detest is how selfish I can be. Now, I have gotten better over the years. But, I was an only child and was never really in situation very often where I had to think about others. I was oblivious to the plight of others who didn't have "first choice" of virtually anything they wanted. That's not to say I had a silver spoon in my mouth - our family had tough times. I'm just saying I probably never truly appreciated much in my life as a kid.

Because of that, it has taken years for me to really understand the whole "putting others ahead of yourself" thing. And, even when you "get it," it certainly isn't easy to do. After all, I am me - not you - and it's a heck of a lot easier to satisfy myself than to mess with trying to please you. At least, that's what I used to believe. But, I'm beginning to find something pretty profound in this notion of putting the interests of others ahead of my own - of giving abundantly and unconditionally to others.

It's this: my soul is most satisfied when I give.

Now, this certainly isn't a novel idea. Jesus expressed this idea repeatedly, and modeled this for us throughout his life here on earth. But, quite honestly...reading about Jesus living this way is one thing. Doing yourself is a "whole 'nother" ballgame.

One of the many great ways we put others first at NorthStar Church is our
Adopt-a-Family program. Essentially, these are families in our area who wouldn't have Christmas presents for their kids without a little help. In fact, our church was so gung-ho about "showing God's love" that all the families who were available to adopt were gobbled up immediately. We had to put together a waiting list of NorthStar families who wanted to adopt a family, but didn't get to!

The past two years, our couples small group has participated in this initiative, and while I am certain those receiving gifts were filled with joy, we were the ones who were blessed the most. And, the greatest gift in giving wasn't that the kids got a toy they didn't have, or a pair of shoes they needed. It was the appreciation they had. That a stranger would care enough about them to go out of their way and pay for gifts for them - when they didn't have to!

Sometimes, we can give and it goes unappreciated. That can be tough. And, that's a blog post for another day. But, on those occasions when you know that something you have done has made a difference in someone's heart, you just cannot beat it.

Jesus had it right. You can't serve two masters. You can't be self-serving and also serve the Lord by making yourself available to help others. And, after you've received the gift of helping others, you won't worry as much about satisfying yourself. Because there's no greater satisfaction than when the Spirit is alive and at work within you!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The 2sday 10

10 of the Stupidest Quotes of All-Time
Source: 365* of the Stupidest Things Ever Said

1. baseball great Yogi Berra, on the Broadway show Biloxi Blues: It reminds me of being in the Army, even though I was in the Navy.

football commentator and former player Joe Theisman in 1996: Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.

Shaquille O'Neal, on whether he had visited the Parthenon during his visit to Greece: I can't really remember the names of the clubs that we went to.

Anti-smoking spokesperson Brooke Shields: Smoking kills, and if you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life.

President Clinton, during his grand jury testimony: It depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is.

attributed to Miss Alabama during a leading beauty pageant: Host: If you could live forever, would you and why? Miss Alabama: I would not live forever, because we should not live forever, because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever.

Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson on a playor's injury: There's nothing wrong with his shoulder except some pain -- and pain don't hurt you.

Senior basketball player at the University of Pittsburgh: I'm going to graduate on time, no matter how long it takes.

9.Shaquille O'Neal on his lack of championships: I've won at every level, except college and pro.

10. President George W. Bush - A results-oriented administration ... will make America what we want it to be -- a literate country and a hopefuller country.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Is Your Fire Burning?

I just finished reading a great book entitled Holy Discontent by Bill Hybels, who serves as the Senior Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area. The premise of the book was simple, yet profound: what angers you so much that you just HAVE to get involved and do something about it?

That's a great question. And, a valid one.

Have you ever thought about it? What gets your goat? What do you see going on in the world around you each day that creates, as Hybels says, a "firestorm of frustration" within you? Enough of a firestorm that you say "enough is enough" and you get involved?

Now, for many of us, there are things happening in the world that we'd all say are just plain wrong. Murder. Injustice. The BCS (sorry, I am a UGA alumnus).

But, what is something very specific for you that gets you stirred up? Maybe it's teen pregnancy. Or, single parents who are struggling to make ends meet. Or, kids and adults who cannot read or write. What is an area that has your name "written all over it"?

For me, I think it would be helping people understand that there's so much more to life than just waking up, working, eating, and sleeping. That God has a plan for them. That He is waiting for them to take just a small step of faith so He can bless them beyond measure. It's my passion because I am a living example of that very idea - that God will take something that seems so insignificant and ordinary and mold it into a priceless masterpiece.

What is it for you? Once you figure that out, it's time to get in the game and make a difference! And, once you get after it, you - and those around you - will never be the same!