Mas is just not meaningful.

But Christmas is.  🙂

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11, NIV)

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Published in: on January 7, 2014 at 4:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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What’s the point of Christmas?

This:

Because of God’s tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79, NLT)

Published in: on December 20, 2013 at 9:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Gifts If You Have Little or No Money

  • Handmade cards and gifts mean a lot, but can cost only a little.  Do you have a talent?  Play a song on the piano or juggle or make your famous spaghetti casserole for the one you love.  If you aren’t crafty and you don’t feel like you have any talents, you still write or draw something on paper.  Tell someone how much they mean to you or draw them a little picture of something special about them.  Chances are, they will not remember whether or not you were a wordsmith or an artist, but instead that you took the time to write or draw something for them.  Even the simplest words of encouragement or most primitive drawings can play a melody of love.
  • Most of us know relatives and/or friends who are going through a really tough time this Christmas.  The need can be overwhelming.  Choose one person each day to pray for, and maybe send them a quick card in the mail or a simple email to let them know you’re thinking of them.  The gift of caring can mean more to them than gifts under their tree.
  • The most precious gifts are not gifts that can be bought in a department store.  Gift someone you love the gift of special attention or the gift of words.  Choose to email, write, text, or tell someone you love something special about them every day throughout December–and why not throughout the rest of the year?  That’s a far better gift than mere merchandise.
  • Most of us already know it, but the gift of time is precious.  A family meal, baseball in the backyard, a walk through the neighborhood, or making tents in the living room are all ways to give the gift of time.  You can meet a friend at your home, a park, or for a walk through a nature center, and you can have a great time together without noticing you didn’t have to spend a lot of money!
  • Give the gift of asking Jesus to help you strengthen a quality your friends and family don’t often see in you.  For example, if you’re always losing your temper, pray for Jesus to strengthen your patience.  Do expect to have opportunities to practice the quality you are praying for!  Giving family and friends the gift of witnessing your walk with Christ is the best gift you can give them.  So many spouses would choose to be dirt poor if only their husband or wife would be more tender towards them . . so many children would choose to never open a Christmas present if they could have peace in their home.

This Christmas season (and all year long!), may we be able to say as Paul did:

“You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:35, NIV)

Santa Claus?

God is sometimes seen as someone like Santa Claus, no more interest in changing you than a man in a costume making minimum wage.

It seems to me that there are two major lies perpetuated about the I-AM in our culture, both on opposite ends of the spectrum and both equally wrong.

  • God doesn’t want you.
  • God doesn’t want to change you.

In an effort to disprove the first lie, we have often tried to find shelter in the second lie.  As a result, we have countless untold thousands in the church, or who irregularly attend the church, or who don’t attend church but have sentimental feelings about God, who believe that they are all right with God.

In one conversation I had with a young woman who had at least a bit of an evangelical backdrop through her family, she said something like this,

“I just can’t believe that God gets angry with us.  No.  God doesn’t get angry.  I think that’s wrong.  I don’t think of God like that.”

She’s not alone in her belief.  Many who have some inkling about Christianity have taken truths they feel comfortable with (i.e., God is love) and carved out truths they aren’t comfortable with (i.e., God’s wrath is poured out over sin).

Did you catch the important words in this young woman’s statement (paraphrased by me)?  The new culture in Christianity of God-as-Santa-Claus usually drop catch phrases like this:

I think . . I don’t think . . I see . . I don’t see how . . I can’t imagine . . I believe . . I don’t believe . . My opinion . . The way I see it . .

What is so insidious about their misunderstandings is it’s hard to get them to see God as a pre-defined Being, not as a Being that they can illustrate or story-tell about with their word choices.  And it’s not just a them issue.  I see this very same problem in myself.

Here’s a simple look at why this is so ludicrous.  If I wanted, I could go around saying my fiance, Ben, is a  basketball player.  I could do that.  I could paint word pictures of Ben as the way I want to see him.  But . . does that change the reality that he is NOT a NBA player?  Does my “viewpoint” of him make him a NBA player?

If I actually did this, and seriously did it, people would think I had a mental illness.  Yet, when people subjectively make stuff up about God, most don’t bat an eye.  

What is the big problem with defining God any way you wish?  The answer to that is obvious: You don’t know who God is. 

I don’t think Ben would want to be around me if I kept talking about how great he is at basketball.  After a while, he’d get a hint that I don’t really want to know him at all, I just want to imagine him the way I want him to be.

Don’t you think God feels this same way about us?  He knows our hearts.  He created them!  He knows what we keep inside of them.  If we want to serve a god who does not fit His description, if we refuse to fall in line with who He says He is in Scripture, we are in defiance of our Creator, and we are not genuinely pursuing a relationship with Him.

If I said to you, “I just love Ben.  I love what a great basketball player he is.  He’s right up there with Michael Jordan.”  Do you think I really love Ben, or I love who I want Ben to be?

So many times,  think we have tried to bring people to salvation by allowing them to think what they want to think or keep their misconceptions about God.

Do you not want to believe God would send you to Hell?  That’s ok.  Ask Jesus into your heart.

Do you not want to believe God would require of you to abstain from sexual activity before marriage?  Well, God loves you.  Believe in Him anyway and I’m sure it’ll work itself out.

Do you not want to believe God would require that you forgive the people in your life who have most hurt you?  No problem.  Say this prayer and we’ll worry about that later.

As a result, we have many people in the churches who have fallen in love with a god who does not exist.  As such, we have many in congregations and in the unchurched who firmly believe they are going to Heaven to meet the god they have made up.  They can’t wait to see family members who have died and are “looking down on them”.  They have vague, self-thought-up identifications for who God is: He’s never disappointed with me . . He loves me just the way I am . . He wants me to be happy.

But just like the man in the Santa Claus costume takes it off and goes home at the end of the day, no more planning on buying presents from your wishlist than a man in the moon . . so, at the end of life, these thousands will find the god they costumed up was nothing more than the fanciful thinking of their mind, and all illusion will dissolve like snow in the summertime.  Then they will find themselves face-to-face with an Almighty and Fearful Judge who is not their Father or Savior or Friend, who does not know them, and who will not allow them, stained with filthy sins that have never been forgiven, into Heaven.

This is a serious and frightening reality, friends.  If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, will you commit with me to gently but truthfully help the unsaved realize that they are not going to Heaven and that the god of their dreams is nothing more than a costumed hoax?

And if you are not a follower of Jesus Christ, will you rethink your position that God is whoever you invent Him to be?  Maybe you never realized you were doing it before, but now you see that you have been believing in a fantasy.  Will you release your idea of who God is to Him and allow Him to teach you He is through His Word?  Will you commit your life to Him, give your soul to Him, and get serious about learning who He is?  Will you take the journey of really knowing Him through Scripture, a Bible-focused church, Christian small groups, and fellowship with other followers?

Or will you wait until Judgment Day to find out that the god you wanted . . is not real . . and cannot save you from your sins?

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, NIV)

Published in: on December 1, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Wonder of Christmas

How does God become a baby?

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was already with God in the beginning. Everything came into existence through him. Not one thing that exists was made without him. He was the source of life, and that life was the light for humanity. The light shines in the dark, and the dark has never extinguished it. (John 1:1-5, GWT)

The Word became human and lived among us. We saw his glory. It was the glory that the Father shares with his only Son, a glory full of kindness and truth. (John declared the truth about him when he said loudly, “This is the person about whom I said, ‘The one who comes after me was before me because he existed before I did.’ “) Each of us has received one gift after another because of all that the Word is. The Teachings were given through Moses, but kindness and truth came into existence through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. God’s only Son, the one who is closest to the Father’s heart, has made him known. (John 1:14-18, GWT)

Published in: on May 25, 2013 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Be a “Secret Santa” for Jesus all year long!

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“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!’ (Jesus, quoted in Matthew 25:34-40, NIV)

Why not give the gift of surprise love this year, maybe to someone you don’t know?  That’s what Jesus did when He came from Heaven to help us.  Of course, He knew us, but we didn’t know Him!  He surprised us with love–a love that paid for our sins and gave us the chance to live in His joyful Kingdom for eternity.  Now that is the best Secret Santa gift ever!

Show the love of Christ this year to someone who might have never understood His love or who might be discouraged and about to give up.  Ask Jesus to lay on your heart the people He wants you to reach.

Loving people for Jesus is a holiday event –it’s a holiday that lasts forever!  Jesus’ birth is a gift that never ends for those who love Him.  No matter what time of year, you can give Christmas out to everyone.  You can even be a “Secret Santa” (following in the footsteps of the Giving Christ) all year long.  Here are just a few ideas for starters.  (In each category, the easiest ideas are at the top of the list, and the most challenging at the bottom.)

In the Footsteps of the Giving Christ: Secret Santa Gift Ideas

Foster and Children’s Homes

–Stuff a stocking with small toys and hygiene supplies for children in your local foster care system or children’s home.  You can call ahead and ask what they really need.

–Offer to host a small appreciation for the staff at a children’s home.  You can bring something simple, like bagels, cookies, donuts, or muffins.  (It’s a good idea to not bring home-baked goods without checking first.)  You can bring orange juice and milk.

Hot Wheels Toys R Us

Hot Wheels 20 car pack, available at Toys R Us

–Ask to sponsor a particular foster child, or child in a children’s home, for Christmas.  You can ask for a wishlist or surprise them!  If you are ever in doubt of what to buy a child, there is usually a representative in a toy store who can help point you in the direction of popular toys for a boy or girl.  You can also go online and check out gift suggestions at the Toys R Us online store.

–Ask to sponsor a foster family for Christmas.  Honor the foster parents’ commitment to sponsoring children with a surprise gift!  Your gift to them could be as simple a a couple gift cards to nearby restaurants, or maybe a trip to a massage parlor for the foster mom and a sports store for the foster dad!

–Each year, there is such a great need for quality foster homes.  If you feel called to be a foster parent, why not act on that calling?  Choosing to be a foster parent is taking a step to protect children from nearly unimaginable living circumstances.  The system is broken, and fostering is difficult, but if God is leading you in this direction . . why not act?  🙂

Soldiers and Veterans

Handwarmers Walmart

Grabber Handwarmers 40-pack available through Walmart

–Sponsor a soldier this year.  Items like hard candy, beef jerky, batteries, socks, and hygiene items that are so easy to come by here can be a big privilege to an overseas soldier.  Other ideas are instant hand warmers, notepads, pens & pencils, Fig Newtons, instant drink mixes, coffee, granola bars, mints, cough drops, Nerf footballs, dominoes, board games, and more.  For a list of great ideas, click here.  Add a letter or card with your favorite verse and a few words of encouragement.  If you don’t know anyone who has a relative oversees, you can check with a local church or military office.

–Visit a Veteran’s club or hospital.  Bring a simple gift item, like candy cane sticks and chocolate bars, tied together with a ribbon.  Be sure to check beforehand for good gift items and a good time to come.

–Call a Veteran’s hospital and ask to sponsor a Veteran for Christmas.  Ask for a wishlist, or surprise him/her with special gifts.  Be sure to wrap them to make it feel like “Christmas”!

–You can sponsor a soldier for 6 months or a year and give a gift of time, encouragement, and compassion.  Contact your local church or a military base for more information.

Nursing and Retirement Homes, Senior Centers

–Spend a few hours in a nursing home handing out small gifts and, best of all, giving the gift of time and love.  Call ahead of time to make arrangements with the nursing home.  Bring a small handmade gift or inexpensive Christmas ornaments.

–Some seniors at senior centers sell items to raise money.  While the handmade item they are selling may look outdated, it would more than likely mean a great deal to them for you to buy what they make, more than just donating to the center.  (One year, my mother bought rather meager-looking homemade teddy bears from a senior center for my classroom at school.  I wasn’t too enthusiastic about giving them to the kids, but they were delighted.  Children often don’t receive handmade gifts, and can be thrilled to receive something made with love!)

–Go with a church group and sing or host a party for residents at a nursing or retirement home.

Chenille gloves, Walmart

Chenille women’s gloves (inexpensive and very cozy!) at your local Walmart

–Ask to sponsor a resident at a nursing home who doesn’t have many visitors.  Bring a care basket of items like a flannel blanket, hygiene supplies, fuzzy socks, chenille gloves for women or leather gloves for men, a book of beautiful photographs, a Christmas decoration or small Christmas tree with ornaments, store-bought cookies (if this is acceptable), a comfortable pillow (like a TempurPedic), etc.  Put a bow on the basket or gift package to share Christmas cheer with an elderly person who may not have had cheer in a long time.  Some residents are so poor that they may desperately need underwear, socks, or a new outfit.  These items are not necessarily adequately provided for by the government as many people think.

Sponsor a Child or Children

–Pack a “shoebox” (usually a plastic box) for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child.  Stuff your box with goodies like:

  • hygiene items (hair brush, nice comb, toothbrushes, toothpaste, full-size bar soap)
  • art supplies (Crayola crayons and colored pencils, Ticonderoga pencils, a metal pencil sharpener from an art shop–I recommend quality over stuff-that-breaks-down-quickly)
  • fun toys like a modestly dressed Barbie (this can be difficult to find, you can get a Disney Cinderella doll instead), stuffed animal or small baby doll with an extra outfit, Slinky, My Little Pony, Squinkies, Etch-a-Sketch, play recorder, or Nerf football/ball.

Fill in gaps with packs of unopened gum packages, bracelets or necklaces, hair ties or clippies (on trimmed-down cardboard packaging), lip balm, a crayon box, stickers, or a boxes of floss (you can cut around the packaging to leave it “encased” in plastic but without the extra unnecessary wrapping).

–Give a one-time gift to a reputable organization that shares the love of Christ and basic needs with a child.  At Compassion International, you can give money to help unsponsored children, highly vulnerable children, education needs, medical needs, disaster relief, etc.

–Find a child to sponsor.  This is usually a long-term commitment, depending on the age of the child you sponsor and the age of graduation from the program.  You can sponsor a child through Compassion International for $38 a month.  You will be able to write letters, send money for a birthday gift, and might even be able to visit your child on a mission trip!

Help an Expectant Mom and Her Baby

BPA free EvenFlo bottles, BabiesRUs

BPA free Evenflo bottles from Babies R Us (boy colors)

–Stock up on diapers–for your local pregnancy care center!  Pregnancy care centers help expecting mothers in poverty and at-risk circumstances.  Buy baby clothes, bottles, and toys to bless an expecting or new mother.  Contact your local care center to find out more.  You can locate your local pregnancy care center by typing your zip in here.

–If you have been pregnant recently, you may have a lot of maternity clothes and/or baby toys & items left over.  If you are not planning on having more children, why not donate these items to your local pregnancy care center?  Even if you have a “surprise” child later on, the gifts you gave away will be blessing a mother in need!

–Why not make a goal that every month when you go to the grocery store or Wal-Mart, you will buy 1 pack of diapers for your local pregnancy care center?  You’ll be helping out year-round, but not have to spend a large amount of money at once!

You can support the Baan Huey Nam Kao Church Child Survival Program in Thailand or other survival programs through Compassion International

–Give money to help infants and expectant moms through trustworthy organizations like Samaritan’s Purse and Compassion International.  For example, you can feed a hungry baby or nursing mother for a week through Samaritan’s purse.  Or, you can help an expectant mother receive prenatal care through Compassion International.

–At your next birthday party, host a “baby bash”.  Instead of having friends and family buy gifts for you, have them buy gifts for a baby!  Then, donate these wonderful items to your local pregnancy center.  (This idea comes from a young girl in my area who decided she would ask for baby shower items for her birthday to help out our pregnancy care center!)

–Get your small church group involved in sponsoring a baby shower for a woman in crisis.  Contact your local pregnancy care center for more information on how to sponsor a shower.  Your small group can become involved providing a special memory through a cake, balloons, and baby gifts for a mommy-to-be.

–Volunteer your time a few hours a week at your local pregnancy care center.  The range of jobs may include answering phones, helping to plan fundraising events, or even mentoring women to help them see the positive, wonderful futures they can have in Christ!

–Get your small group involved in a cleaning/repair day at your local pregnancy care center.  This will greatly help your center and save them money!

Women’s Shelters

&

Crabtree & Evelyn Citron, Honey, and Coriander Soap

–Bring ornaments or hygiene items to a local women’s shelter.  You can bring special pampering items like lip balm, hand lotion, and floral soap.  Since children are often brought to homeless shelters with their mothers, you can bring inexpensive toys for all the children from a bulk-toy company such as Oriental Trading Company.  This store often runs free shipping promotions if you buy a certain dollar amount.

–Host a birthday party or Christmas party for the children at a local women’s shelter.  Call your shelter to see how they would most like you to help.

–Volunteer your time at a local women’s shelter.  Just imagine what even a few hours a week could do!

–Get your small group involved in a cleaning/repair day at your local women’s shelter.  Fresh paint and a deep-cleaning can make an older building look much more inviting!

Schools

–Ask a local high-poverty school if there is a child or family you can sponsor for Christmas.  (If you sponsor a child, make sure to ask if there are brothers/sisters to surprise with gifts, too!)

Crayola Crayons 96 pack

Crayola Crayons 96 pack, Toys R Us

–Volunteer for a “party in a box” for a classroom at a high-poverty school.  You can provide party favors (like Christmas pencils), snacks, books for the students, and maybe even a simple craft for the children to do at their winter party.  (The concept for “Party in a Box” was started a year or two ago, I believe in my city.)

–Volunteer a few hours a week at a local Good News Club.  Contact your church for more information.  You can give snacks, a safe environment, and, best of all, the Good News of Christ to children in a school in your area.

–Volunteer to tutor a child at a local school once or twice a week (or less often).  Bring a child small treats during tutoring or a Happy Meal for lunch, and you could be their hero!  Contact your local school for more information.  (Remember to check for the school’s policy on bringing outside food.)  If you do commit to tutoring a child, try to follow-through the whole school year so the child won’t be greatly disappointed.  Your visits may matter far more than you realize.

Help a Sick Child

Emergency Medicine, Samaritan's Purse

Help provide emergency medicine for 50 critically ill people, Samaritan’s Purse

–Donate to Samaritan’s Purse to help pay for a child’s heart surgery, transform the life of a disabled child, or support a whole community by helping pay for a missionary doctor.

–Sponsor a child at a local hospital for a Christmas present or surprise present.  Be sure to check with the hospital beforehand as to what you can bring (you may not be able to wrap gifts) and if you can sponsor a particular child for Christmas.

–Bring gifts for an entire children’s wing at the hospital.  Check for permission beforehand and ideas of what to bring.

A gift of small teddy bears, a Hot Wheels, an Etch-a-Sketch, a Barbie, or bouncy balls could make a child’s day.

Plush animal finger puppets, Oriental Trading Company

Animal finger puppets, available through Oriental Trading Company

But how is it feasible to get gifts for so many children?  Check at garage sales for new (with tags) Beanie Babies.  Sometimes you can get clearance toys or discount toys at local stores.  Be ready to buy in bulk when you shop!  Dollar stores may have coloring books for very cheap (I’d recommend sticking with Crayola crayons, though).  Art supplies (like Crayola crayons) are often on sale right before school starts.

Another resource is Oriental Trading Company.  You can buy small gifts like plush animals, jewelry, beach balls, stickers, etc. for much less cost than buying each item individually.

Inmates at Prisons and Juvenile Detention Centers

A note: How interesting that in Jesus’ prophesy of the praise that believers would receive for their work in this life, one of the four groups (the poor, strangers, the sick, and prisoners) is the prisoners (see Matthew 25:34-36).  Are we “too good” to help prisoners?  If we think we are, then we must think we are too good to help Jesus, because Jesus says we are helping Him when we help prisoners know His Truth (see Matthew 25:40).

–Sponsor the children of prisoners through Angel Tree (a branch of Chuck Colson’s prison ministry).  Angel Tree gives presents to children on behalf of their incarcerated parent.  What a beautiful picture of what Christ does for us!  Just as He gives us gifts to give others than really come from Him, we can help imprisoned parents give gifts to their children that they might have no means of giving without our help.

–Bring a gift for inmates at a local prison.  Check to see what items are acceptable to bring/what items are most needed/wanted.

–If you are interested in volunteering time at a prison in your community, contact your local church and check into Chuck Colson’s prison ministry.

Neighbors

–Write Christmas cards for the neighbors in your subdivision this year.  If this is too overwhelming, then pick just the neighbors who live on your cul-de-sac or close by.

–If you are the Etsy/Pinterest type, you can make something small for your neighbors.  If you are like me and others would be more likely to feel pity for you than happiness over what you made, you can give chocolate bars, small bags of candy from a gourmet candy store, small Christmas ornaments, or items that other people made on Etsy.  🙂

Beaded Message Bracelets

Beaded message bracelets from Rahab’s Rope help women escape or avoid sex trafficking.

–Give a few neighbors a special gift that also helps people in developing countries, such as many gifts from Go Fish Clothing & Jewelry (shop by country) or Rahab’s Rope (support women as they escape or avoid sex trafficking).

Friends and Family

–Choose a friend or family member to buy or make a surprise, “over the top” gift for this year–something they can remember for years to come.  The gift could be a special keepsake that you’re ready to give away, too.

–Most of us know relatives and/or friends who are going through a really tough time this Christmas.  The need can be overwhelming.  Choose one person each day to pray for, and maybe send them a quick card in the mail or a simple email to let them know you’re thinking of them.  The gift of caring can mean more to them than gifts under their tree.

Compassion Card

Dayspring Compassion card

[You can buy small gift items for those in other countries–for example, milk for a child for a week for $4 and receive a card through Samaritan’s Purse–just think, if you buy Christmas cards for $2 each you are paying only twice as much to have a card and help a child!  Or,  you can buy Dayspring cards that help sponsor Compassion International (6% of net wholesale).]

Mathew 28-20

Matthew 28:20

–Give a Scripture necklace or key chain to someone you love.  You can choose whatever Scripture verse you wish at This Word Is For You on Etsy.

Christmas gifts that can change the world

How many gifts have you gotten at Christmas that you’ve forgotten about?  If you could remember how many, I guess you wouldn’t have forgotten them!  But do you think you’ve gotten gifts that would fall into this category? 🙂

And how many gifts have you given that you knew would mean very little to them?

How many gifts have you received that have been a one-year trend or mass-merchandised that were on your giveaway list or in the trash pile by the next December?

When we take the time to find out what gifts make a friend’s heart sing (or locate their online wish list), we love on them.  Loving on people we know is a part of changing the world.

When we take the time to find out what gifts make a stranger’s heart sing, we love on them, too.  Loving on people we don’t know is another part of changing the world.

This Christmas, why not give gifts that play a melody for both those you know and those you don’t know–at the same time?

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17, NIV)

Here are a few ideas if you want help getting started.

Note: Click on any of the pictures to be taken to the website where the gifts are available.

Make this a Compassionate Christmas

Pair a Christmas gift you would usually give with a gift from Compassion International’s Catalog.  Compassion has a track record for stewardship excellence.

Give a gift of food and medicine ($13).

Give a gift of food and medicine ($13).

Malaria killed an estimated 655 million people in 2010 (World Health Organization).  Most of those deaths were African children.

Malaria killed an estimated 655 million people in 2010 (World Health Organization). Most of those deaths were African children.  Give a durable malaria net for $18.

For $84, you can feed a mother and her baby for six months.  For $13 you can give medicine and food to a malnourished child.  You can request a free card in the mail or print one off electronically that celebrates the gift.  If you use the card as your Christmas card, you are not only cutting down on expense, but you also helping a boy or girl in another country receive the same help you would want someone to give your child if you didn’t have the money.

Match the Gift to the Receiver

Samaritan’s Purse Catalog has a variety of blessings that can personalize the gift you are giving.  For example, if you are giving the gift in honor of a friend who teaches, you could choose to donate so a child can read and write ($15).  If a friend loves fishing, why not stock a fish pond in their honor ($50)?

Stock a fish pond ($50) and help an impoverished community.

Stock a fish pond ($50) and help an impoverished community.

If you are giving a gift to someone you don’t know well, or if you weren’t planning on spending much money, you can give something meaningful instead of something that looks cheap and will soon be forgotten.  Giving a blanket ($6) or milk for a week ($4) will mean far more to a child in poverty than some accessory that sits on somebody’s desk until they throw it away.  🙂

Help a disabled child receive medical help.  Children with disabilities are especially at risk in countries of high poverty where they may not be receiving any healthcare services.

Help a disabled child receive medical aid. Children with disabilities are especially at risk in countries of high poverty where they may not be receiving any healthcare services.

Samaritan’s Purse will also send cards.  You can print off the gift catalog online and cut out a picture of the gift you’re giving, if you’re a crafty person.  If you want to be extra clever, you can get a friend something that matches the gift!  For example, if you’re giving your friend a stainless steel water bottle for their jogging career, you can pair it with a donation for clean water ($15 for a family).

Shop to Bless

Bracelet $38, Indonesia

This bracelet ($38) is made in Indonesia under the leadership of Dewi, a local artisan. Go Fish Clothes & Jewelry provides jobs for many men and women on the island of Madura.

Damali Necklace $24

This necklace ($24, Peru) is that much cooler because it was bought at fair-price to provide income for someone in a developing country.

At Go Fish Jewelry and Clothing, you can buy gifts that help people in poverty.  Most of the gifts in the shop have

Artsy, Peru ($18).

Artsy for a good cause. Peru ($18).

been made by people around the world who use their works of art as a ladder out of poverty.  Supporting a store like this one is a way to get a beautiful gift and help people break out of poverty.

 

Give a Gift to Help End Nightmares for Others

Keep a girl in school

Keep a girl in school for three months to help her stay out of the sex trade industry ($60).

Gift of Christmas

Help women who live on the streets of India find out about the Christ of Christmas.  Give a present of food, clothing, and hygiene products.  ($20)

Rahab’s Rope is one charity dedicated to helping girls and women caught in sex trafficking to escape.  Rahab’s Rope has gift cards where you can buy, for example a month of sewing classes ($30) for a vulnerable woman who wants out of the trafficking industry, or you can pay for a girl to attend school for three months ($60) to help keep her out of the sex trade industry.  If you have any friends who are passionate about women’s issues or the rights of women, this is the gift for them!

Organic green tea from Nepal (15)

Organic green tea from Nepal ($15)

Bracelet, Rahab's Rope, $18

Rahab’s Rope also has a shop.  Jewelry or a gift from this store will remind your friends and family that they are helping women trapped in poverty to start a new life for themselves.

Bracelet $49 Rahab's Rope

Rahab’s Rope gifts help women in India escape both extreme poverty and sex trafficking. Turquoise, copper, and crystal bracelet ($49).

Rice sack purse. Large ($28) or small ($22).

Christmas charities

A survey in 2012 shared that shoppers plan to spend about $854 average on gifts this year[1].

Now that looks to me like a powerful amount of money and I get this crazy feeling about what that money could do if I could just get half the U.S. to spend half that money on charities instead?  What would that do for ending world poverty?  What could that do for ending child slavery, sex trafficking, needless infant and child deaths, global illiteracy, helping the lonely masses in nursing homes, giving orphans and at-risk children shelter and safety?

But before I get carried away in my dreams, I remember a couple things.  First, I think the highest number of hits I’ve ever had on my blog in a day was 108.  I don’t think I’m going to get half of America to read this blog before Christmas time (or before the Internet goes out of date and something cooler takes over).

Second, I remember a story God recorded for us to help people, uh, like me, who get carried away with charitable-donations-number-crunching.  See, there was this big collection fund going on, and there was this big to-do about the wealthy and good-looking parading in.  And then, when nobody’s paying attention and maybe there’s a tumbleweed rolling through town because all the important people have passed by, this widow give 2 coins-of-virtual-nothingness, kinda like 2 quarters, I guess.  And then there’s this big “Surprise!” moment, because this was the giver who got the rain down of confetti and bobbing balloons–well, not really confetti and bobbing balloons, but something way better than that.  This was the giver who got Jesus’ attention.  Jesus saw what she did, and it was her two quarters that He got excited about, as a pastor friend of mine explained one day.  Here are all these people plunking down “big, impressive sums” and Jesus is cheering over two quarters.  The disciples were probably like “Wha . . ?”

So . . Jesus doesn’t care about the amount of money.  He cares about what it costs us to give it.  A little gift can make a big difference, and a big gift can make a little difference.

It doesn’t matter how much you have. What matters is how much you are willing to give from what you have. (2 Corinthians 8:12, CEV)

___________________________________

A big thank-you to one of my pastor friends, Pastor Doug.

[1] Survey American Research Group, Inc. http://americanresearchgroup.com/holiday/

The S’s of Christmas Gifts

In your mind, take inventory of all the Christmas presents you’ve ever gotten.  How many can you remember?  Why do you think you can remember those?

Most of us probably only remember with joy the ones that were given from one or more of the three S’s: surprise, sentiment, significance.

  • Surprise is that gift you didn’t expect to see under the tree.  It says, “I gave you something better than you felt like you deserved; I loved you enough to keep the delight a secret until the right time!”
  • Sentiment is that gift just for you, that reaches you just where you are.  It says, “I know you, I know just who you are, and I love you.”
  • Significance is the gift that matters for longer than Christmas day.  The memory of the gift has a snowball of love effect–the blessing only gets bigger as time rolls along.  It says, “I see what you can be; I think about you more than you realize; I want your joy to outlast the moment of unwrapping.”

We have problems giving the 3 S’s.

December is so busy.

Are we not all guilty at times of grabbing something off a shelf as a check mark on our seemingly never-ending list of errands, or stockpiling an on-sale item for months to give away to people we don’t really know but feel obligated to buy for?

As I reflect, I think how odd it is that we do that, when, as gift receivers, we almost always know whether a gift was given with at least one of the three S’s . . or simply as a good deal, regifted nicety, or the first thing seen on an aisle somewhere.

S-gifts always require another S: sacrifice. 

Sacrifice of self: time, resources, and maybe even personal belongings.  But there’s more.

Sacrifice of protection: S-gifts are risky.

If someone doesn’t like the bargain buy, last minute shopping idea, or gift we passed along that we ourselves got last Christmas, we don’t care so much.

But if someone rejects an S-gift, we are being rejected.

The more S’s we pour into a gift, the more scary the gift-giving becomes.

The banners of surprise, sentiment, and significance can only be found on mountains.  And each mountain in this range is steeper than the one before it.  Each climb means more sacrifice–and more risk.

Every December, those of us who give gifts have a choice to make: we can give safe gifts or we can give S-gifts.  But we can’t give gifts that are both.

This Christmas we can package unmemorable things that say, Nice to know you, think nice thoughts about me . . or we can wrap up love to tuck under the Christmas tree that says, You matter to me.

We can give Christmas gifts that cost us pocket change–whatever money is left-over in our pocket, bank account, or on our charge card, and whatever time is still left in our budget . . or we can give Christmas gifts that change the world.  That is the real dilemma of December, and that is a big reason why many of us would rather go from November to January and skip the month altogether.

. . Long ago, God had a dilemma that wasn’t so different from ours.  God looked down from Heaven and saw billions and billions of people to give gifts to.  Only, it wasn’t like a social faux pas for God not to give us a gift.  It was the difference between where we spent eternity.

We think we’re being used when we have to give gifts to relatives we don’t like.  But if God chose to give us a gift, it would mean He would be giving to cranky, cruel, confused, even crucifying people.  If there was ever a time to be uninspired to give a gift, this was it.

God could have chosen to not give a gift at all, and nobody would have blamed Him, but that isn’t who God is.

So He could have reached into His pocket and thrown down a couple thousand sunny days, a handful of rainbows, a dozen shooting stars, a couple million puppies–whatever He wanted.  It would have been no big deal since He can create things with His very language.  If He wanted to be extra liked, He could have made extravagant gifts that we could have oohed and ahhed over that would have been no challenge to Him whatsoever.

He could have wrapped them all in a cosmic light show with a galactic card that said, Merry Christmas, Everyone!  He could have tossed it down from glorious Heaven to the blood-soaked war-torn ground of earth and let everybody fight out who got what.  He could have gone back to His big list of things to do and put a reminder in His phone to send us another package next December 25th.

But He didn’t.

God gave something that He didn’t create.  He gave something that He couldn’t replicate, something that He couldn’t get a refund on if we didn’t want it.

He gave His life.

It was the biggest risk of all.

God poured one Person of Himself into a vulnerable, mortal body.  As God the Father ruled Heaven and Earth, God the Son transformed from no-sinner-can-look-upon-His-righteousness-and-live God to ordinary-little-baby God.

It is the best 3 S’s gift ever.

Surprise–No one expected God to be the Judge of Sin and the Hero of Sinners!

Sentiment–God gave the best “just for us” gift.  He didn’t give a beautiful sunset, a couple million stars, or an extra forest on that first Christmas day.  His gift was to become like us so we could understand Him more. . and so He could die for our race.

Significant–Nothing lasts longer than eternity.  God’s gift wasn’t for a day or a year.  It is a gift that lasts forever.  And it isn’t limited in its use like an everlasting Gobstopper or never-ending supply of mittens.  It is the change of the human soul’s fate.

The sacrifice of the gift is unimaginable; the risk inconceivable.  God could not have humbled Himself more or opened Himself to greater risk than when He became one of us to talk to us face-to-face . . and to die for us as one of us (and by our hand).

And He gave knowing that most of us would turn Him down: shove His gift away, laugh at Him, look for other gifts.

But He gave anyway, because He wanted to serve us.

He gave the Gift as the best surprise, out of the most vulnerable sentiment, and of the greatest significance.  The Gift required the hugest sacrifice given from the deepest heart of service.

This is the Gift of Christ.  This is the Gift of Christmas.

I want to give presents this year that, in the smallest of ways, reflect that Gift.

Because of God’s tender mercy,

the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

and to guide us to the path of peace.”

(Luke 1:78-79, NLT)

What’s the big deal about Christmas?

If you’ve grown up in America, you have probably seen a nativity scene.  A little baby peacefully sleeping or smiling in a manger, maybe with a little halo around his head.

A mother, a father, a few shepherds (depending on how elaborate the set is, maybe some sheep and a donkey, too), and three wise men.  And not the little drummer boy, because he really wasn’t there.

I loved the nativity set as a child, because it was tradition in my family.  I had my own little nativity set, as a matter of fact.  I knew the baby was Jesus, but there was a big jump for me between that baby Jesus all nestled up in a manger and the Jesus who took on the sins of the world and died on the cross.  What happened in between?

A lot of things happened in between, but what I didn’t realize was there was no big jump.  The little baby in the manger was not later, through random circumstances, going to find Himself in the worst human cruelty.

No, that baby was going to choose to be there.  Actually, He’d already chosen, and that was why He was in a manger to begin with.

The cross was in no way unfortunate.  It was the purposeful laying down of life by God Himself.

As I try to imagine that little baby in an animal feeding trough, born about 2,000 years ago, I just can’t wrap my mind about Him being baby God.  There’s no confusion for me in believing the adult Jesus was and is God . . but a baby?

And that’s the big deal about Christmas.  God came as a baby.  As a baby!  As a vulnerable newborn with a soft spot in His head.  As an unwalking, untalking baby wrapped tightly in a measure of cloth.  Now what god, what god that I can possibly imagine, would be willing to experience infancy?  There is an all-out war going on in Heaven and Hell between God and Satan–and God steps off the throne, out of the realm where thousands of angels stand guard, to develop in a poor woman’s womb?

This is something I could never think up in my wildest dreams.  This is beyond anything Sci-Fi has ever made up.  And yet this is the reality represented in the manger.

God as a baby?

That’s the big deal about Christmas.

The Word became flesh, and lived among us. (John 1:14a, WEB)