The five McLane’s had a very simple Christmas day.
- Everyone slept in so we didn’t get out of bed until about 7. A huge treat!
- As excited as the kids were to open presents they were polite and orderly about the whole thing.
- It took Jackson exactly one gift to figure out what this was all about. He loved opening gifts!
- Christmas was pretty low-key from a gift perspective. We’ve gone from extreme to extreme in our house. Sometimes we’ve given them only 1 gift and other years we’ve gotten them lots of gifts. This year, we gave them each a few and they seemed quite pleased. There were some things off of their lists and some surprises.
- Speaking of gifts. While I’m a noted C.S. Lewis-hater, my kids now have a full set of the Chronicles of Narnia.
- Megan and Paul’s “big gift” is a day trip with mom or dad. Megan is going whale watching with Kristen and I’m taking Paul out on the ocean for a day of fishing.
- Jackson’s big red tractor was a big hit. Several times during the day we saw JT crawl over to the tractor and talk to it.
- Kristen made a huge feast! Ham and all the fixings. My favorite.
- For the second year in a row, we channeled our inner Brit and started Christmas dinner with crackers. We all felt quite royal eating our feast with our crowns on. (Yes, mine was pink… quite lovely.)
- Our house rotation continues. This summer we converted our living room to an office and our dining room into a living room. Well, yesterday was our first family meal in the kitchen around the table. We even did highs/lows while we ate. Look at us– real parents!
- Megan, Paul, and I had epic battles throughout the day with our fake nerf guns. Why is it that the cheapest gifts (stocking stuffers) end up being the most fun?
- With Christmas on Sunday it feels like we got ripped off a day. Kristen is off from work today. But I have three projects due this week so I’m off to the office later this morning. (A website, a curriculum, and first steps on a book project)
A Fiscally Responsible Christmas
For the last several years Kristen and I have kept a pretty tight Christmas budget. With all the commercialization of Christmas we take great pride to see December as a month to continue our savings/budget goals. It makes me smile to know we can enjoy Christmas and continue our goals at the same time. Take that Madison Avenue!
For immediate release
NORTH POLE – Citing rising energy costs and increased demands for high tech goods, Santa Claus is forecasting a 13% reduction in the number of gifts distributed to the world’s children on December 25th. The 10 year average gift-per-child (GPC) is 5.2, in 2011 Santa Claus will reduce the average to 4.52.
Santa Claus, Inc. CEO and Chief Delivery Officer Santa Claus reports, “2011 has been one of our most difficult years. Several factors have lead to our decreasing the per gift child forecast to 4.52. (GPC)”
In a briefing given via their 4th Quarter shareholder webcast, Mr. Claus outlined the factors which lead to this decision.
- The price of oil globally has continued to increase costs across the board. While the North Pole complex is able to offset some of these costs with their 2009 initiated solar program during the summer months for toy production and shipping/receiving periods, when winter sets in the plants become fully dependent on diesel generatored power.
- Grain costs for the reindeers has more than doubled in 2011. To offset this for the 2012 season Santa Claus has a team of elves working on a new formula which will combined traditional grains and Fruit Loops with filler from letters children mail to the North Pole during the Christmas season.
- Labor prices for the North Pole plant have continued to outpace inflation. With rising health care costs and new concessions for wage increases after October’s “Occupy Santa” protests, overall labor prices have increased 9% while production decreased 18% year-over-year.
- With newspaper and magazine circulation at an all-time low, Santa Claus’ Wish List and Letters to Santa Claus paper recycling programs have decreased revenue sharply. To offset this loss in revenue, Santa Claus, Inc CFO Mrs. Claus has opened an Etsy shop to sell officially licensed mittens, work gloves, sleigh seat covers, and hats.
- While the release of the Kindle Fire has helped some, North American children are demanding more highly priced toys under the tree for Christmas. Santa has limited each child to one Apple product. Though Santa Claus, Inc is the single largest purchaser of Apple products globally, the price controls by the Cupertino computer maker have not allowed Santa’s elves to negotiate significant discounts. “It’s really a Wal-Mart thing.” Claus reports. “Apple is afraid that if Bentonville hears we are getting a better price than them they will lose their contract.“
- Significant infrastructure investments have been made exploring an additional toy storage depot in the Southern Hemisphere. Claus reports, “While it makes sense logistically to store some gifts in the South Pole, the South Pole elves are difficult to work with. Frankly, they have sticky fingers– and I don’t mean because they’ve eaten too many candy canes. In the 1980’s we tried a similar endeavor and had to cease operations when we discovered South Pole elves were selling gifts on the black market to China during the summer months.“
Despite the reduction in the GPC, Mr. Claus is expecting a Merry Christmas. “We don’t let a high fuel prices, elf labor issues, or Wal-Mart stop us from fully enjoying Christmas.”
The early forecast for 2012 GPC is set to increase significantly in 2012. “Ah yes, with 2012 elections in the United States we will see many more adults on the naughty list. And that’s good for American children as we will be able to spend more on children’s toys.”
Press contact and interview requests: firstname.lastname@example.org
ht to Bob Carlton
Pretty soon you’ll start hearing a familiar Christmas jingle. No, I don’t mean the annoying Christmas muzak you’ll hear at the grocery store. I mean the jingle of the bell ringer outside.
If you’ve rushed by the red kettle as quickly as possible your whole life, maybe you don’t know that it’s a fundraiser for the Salvation Army. Simply put the Salvation Army is a denomination (of sorts) built upon the idea that the Gospel of Jesus isn’t just for people who are accustomed/comfortable going to church. For more than 149 years the Salvation Army has ministered to the destitute, hungry, and homeless.
In other words, the Salvation Army does the work of bringing Good News to those who most need it 365 days per year. They are there every day for the homeless among us. They are there when disaster strikes. They are there when the hurts are bad. And they are there to help heal painful addictions.
Here’s a challenge. From Thanksgiving to Christmas you will see these Salvation Army bell ringers outside of malls, grocery stores, and department stores all over.
Don’t pass a single one. Every time you go in a store with a bell ringer outside drop in a quarter or a dollar. If you have your kids with you, give them the money to put in the kettle so they can start to see the connection between your money and what you do with your money for good.
But wait? That might cost me a lot of money?
Yup, make a choice. You want to save that quarter or dollar– don’t go shopping.
Think of it as a toll. To get into that store you have to donate to the poor. Are you up for the challenge?
Don’t just wish good tiding of joy. Be good tidings of joy.
My post last Sunday about megachurches (and their copycat little brothers) canceling services the day after Christmas generated a massive response. Apparently, there were a lot of people who also felt it was a smidge ridiculous that in America we found an excuse to take a Sunday off while those in other parts of the world risk their lives to worship Jesus publicly on any day. And a good amount of people, especially those who commented, thought the connection between the persecuted church and canceling services was unfair.
That’s OK. I’m a big boy and can handle people disagreeing with me.
There were several spin-off posts generated which I’d like to call your attention to as they are worth reading:
- Do Megachurches Dishonor Iraqi Christians, by John Meunier (Mike took it the family direction)
- Freedom to Cancel Services, by Len Evans (Len went the Fox News route, but he lives in Texas so I gave him a pass.)
- American Christianity and Canceling Church, by Matthew McNutt (Matthew highlighted our ethnocentricity as Americans)
I learned three things from the post and its fallout.
- In general, American Christians don’t feel much of a kinship to non-American Christians. At least the majority of blog commenters would not put kinship above their individual churches rights to meet or not meet.
- Few people latched onto a central concept in the post that the church is our real family. I consider my community group part of my family, I’m left to assume that this family-feeling is not all that common. How can that be so?
- The priesthood of the staff is so deeply engrained that it was nearly 30 comments before someone brought up that churches canceling services could have just managed their resources/staff differently by empowering more lay people and depending on the staff less.
In the end, the post did more than I could have hoped for. Rather than simply getting a pile of people to agree with me or disagree with me… it seems as though the post generated the exact discussion I had hoped for. And getting church leaders to critically think about their ministry is about all I could ever ask.
Last night my friend Gavin Richardson posted an interesting quandary on Twitter. To paraphrase, “Why is it that in some parts of the world people die trying to go to church while here in the states megachurches are canceling services because they did a big service Christmas eve?”
Here was my response, “Easy. It’s a different Gospel. The Gospel of convenience/comfort bears no resemblance to one of suffering.”
Let’s unpack this
In Iraq, Christians gathered for Christmas Eve services in defiance of people who threatened their lives. (And had proven the threat just 60 days ago!)
Throughout Iraq, churches canceled or toned down Christmas observances this year, both in response to threats of violence and in honor of the nearly 60 Christians killed in October, when militants stormed a Syrian Catholic church and blew themselves up. Since the massacre, more than 1,000 Christian families have fled Baghdad for the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, with others going to Jordan or Syria or Turkey. Though the exact size of Iraq’s Christian population is unclear, by some estimates it has fallen to about 500,000 from a high of 1.4 million before the American-led invasion of 2003. Iraq’s total population is about 30 million.
Unfortunately, Iraqi’s aren’t alone. There are Christians killed for worshiping Jesus every day. Throughout the world believers in Jesus suffer daily. If you’d like to hear their stories and understand their struggles more, I’d recommend subscribing to the Persecution Podcast published by Voice of the Martyrs.
For a large part of the world loving Jesus is tied closely to suffering. Many are expelled from their families for following Jesus. Some are sold as slaves. Some are imprisoned. Some experience economic inequity. Many are breaking the law by meeting– even in private. Many are left as outcasts. Many go hungry while their neighbors do not.
In the United States, some Christians won’t gather for services the day after Christmas because their leaders want to give everyone a day off. Their Bible apparently includes an out-clause in Exodus 20:8-11. Their Bible reads, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, except after Christmas when we give everyone the day off so they can spend time with family.”
After gearing up for Christmas services throughout this week, several megachurches will wind down by canceling Sunday worship on Dec. 26th.
Pastors and church leaders say taking that day off allows the staff and volunteers more time to spend with their family during a traditionally busy season.
For a large part of the United States loving Jesus is tied closely to convenience. We do things when it works for us. But when it is more convenient to not do something, we pretend like we don’t even see it.
To summarize: In some parts of the world people risk death threats to worship while in other places in the world we’re taking the Sabbath off so we can spend time with family.
Two different worlds
We, in the United States, dishonor those in the persecuted church when we decide not to meet because it’d be more convenient. Any time you hear a pastor justify something like this by saying “we are putting families first,” you need to call them out. We are called to put God first. Period. 52 Sunday’s per year. 365 days per year. 24 hours per day.
The church is our real family. Coming to church, small group, or other forms of community is real family time. Partnering with those who suffer for the sake of Christ by continuing to worship no matter what is a real family expression of love. Healthy families get together. We suffer together. It is what we do. It is who we are. More importantly, it is who Jesus told us we need to be.
Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” Luke 18:26-30
Taking the Sunday after Christmas off to spend time with family? What a slap in the face to the concept that the church is your family! This is the churches way of telling its congregant… “You aren’t my real family.”
This is what happens when church becomes staff-driven and about programs as opposed to the simple expressions described in the New Testament. (Where one person, maybe, was employed… per city!) Church becomes about doing what is best for the staff and what is convenient to the programs. Staff and programs aren’t bad– they are good. But the organization isn’t and shouldn’t ever be about them. They are there purely to serve the family.
We are to be real family to those without family. We are to be about the business of loving neighbors. We are to take care of widows and orphans. We are to feed the poor. We are to be about suffering alongside our brothers and sisters. We are to be about sacrificing for their sake.
Be reminded that the early church spread fastest, furthest, and had the deepest impact when we had no paid staff, no property, and met in homes or borrowed spaces.
Instead, they depended on one another as equal. Paul paints the picture again and again that the church is a body. We are inter-dependent. When one part suffers we all suffer. And when another part rejoices we all rejoice. Let no one in the church be more important than the other!
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? James 2:1-6a
In the end, the megachurches who take today off (and the myriad of churches who follow their lead, since they are “church growth experts“) are exhibiting the hole in their Gospel. Not to vilify them– but to expose the places we need to help them repair. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time but they got it wrong.
No more groupthink in church leadership. Instead, let’s move forward by compassionately living out what God has clearly told us to do in the Bible.
Nativity – the process whereby someone becomes a native.
Christmas is one of the most confusing holiday’s on the planet. It’s half religious and half a celebration of solstice. The secular vs. religious scales have tipped back and forth over millennia.
That’s a historically accurate tension.
If you are feeling it this year. Welcome. You are in good company. Grab a glass of eggnog.
Some people think that Christmas is a religious holiday that’s been ruined by secularization. In fact, it’s a secular holiday that’s religious people have tried to hijack since the 3rd century when Rome turned to Jesus.
Sometimes Christmas is about revelry. And sometimes it’s about Jesus. Right now it’s a little bit of both, isn’t it?
Centuries ago, Christians strategically capitalized on a holiday which felt like it had something to do with the incarnation of Jesus. Every pagan group in Europe had celebrated some variety of a multi-day winter solstice festival, some marked by the giving of gifts, and as Christianity became the dominant religion in the area we just tried to rebrand it as being all about Jesus.
Every element of our modern Christmas celebration is irreligious and about revelry. The tree, the carols, Santa Claus, the yule log, the Christmas parties, the gifts, the traditional foods, family togetherness. These are all pagan festivities we’ve adopted into a pseudo-Christian hybrid holiday we call Christmas.
The tension you feel is because tension is the intention of the season.
Imagine how it must have felt as Jesus stepped out of heaven and into the arms of a teenage mother? Uninvited game changer. He ruined the reputation of a young woman. He entered the world as a family disgrace. And the political powers didn’t like who people said he was to become so they had every boy his age killed. Like it or not… Jesus’ arrival changed everything. His process of coming here was just as messy as the messiness you feel at a family Christmas celebration this December.
That is nativity at it’s core. The process of becoming a native. Uncomfortable. Foreign. Out of place. Contradiction. Frustration.
And just like Jesus dealt with the tension and contradiction of becoming a native, he asks us to do the same by doing things which seem counter-intuitive. Instead of Good News being about us, Jesus asks us to be Good News to our neighbors. Instead of Good News something we privately keep to ourselves, Jesus asks us to live a life worthy of sharing. Instead of living a life about our family, Jesus invites us into a community of new family.
There’s a lot of tension in this season we call Christmas. It is by design. The tension you are feeling is the tension of bringing Good News into a broken world.
Ask yourself today, “How am I being Good News today to my neighbors? What can I do to be Good News to the family next door?“
Tammy, our fictional daughter, has once again earned a lump of coal as her Christmas present. This is all she is getting on December 25th. You can tell her now. She’s firmly earned it with yet another year of bad behavior. Such a brat!
Megan and Paul, ever reminded of their elder sisters sinful life, have asked that Kristen and I extend grace to the little hellion and give her a full allotment of presents. To which we replied that we have– this year her coal has a red bow.
Some children believe in Santa Claus. Ours believe that once upon a time an elder sister made mom and dad so angry on a road trip that they pulled over and left her on the side of the highway.
At least our fable has an idol threat attached to it.