Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why It's Important for Christmas to Wait Its Turn

I went into a large box store in the days leading up to Halloween. I was shocked to see Christmas decorations and decor up already and ready to sell. I went into a dollar store and was thrown off by seeing Christmas, Halloween, and Thanksgiving decorations lining one wall. Even social media is chiming in with memes about "Santa needing to wait his turn" or "why I can choose to be holly jolly for more than one month a year."

This Christmas mania in October and November sets me ill at ease. I know that it's important to celebrate each holiday in its own season, but I struggle to articulate why.

I want Christmas to wait its turn because the Christmas season, as modeled by the consumer market, is not about anticipating Jesus' birth, but rather the Christmas season has become a time of overindulgence, overspending, greed, and gluttony.

But Christmas is not waiting its turn! And now, it is spreading throughout the year. Advent and the Christmas season used to make up 7%-11% of our year. Advent is a season of anticipating the coming of Christ. It encompasses the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas in the church year. On Christmas and for the next 11 days, many Christians celebrate Christmastide or the 12 days of Christmas. If you celebrate just Advent, it is 7% of your year. If you celebrate Advent & Christmastide, it is 11% of your year. But now, Christmas is spreading like a virus to other months, as it is approaching 25%+ of the year because it is taking over October, November, December, and even popping into July!

The beauty in mixing cultural holidays with the celebrations of the church year is being blurred and lost by the spreading of Christmas. We are missing out on a critical season of thankfulness. As soon as the air starts to turn crisp, we start thinking of what we want for Christmas and what we hope to get. We are not counting our blessings, we are looking for more stuff.

Furthermore, Christmas' meaning has become unfortunately marginalized or lost. We may still read Luke 2 as a family before we tear into our giant pile of presents, but Christmas is increasingly becoming a season to focus on indulging ourselves and surrendering to a bad case of the Christmas Gimmes. We build up our wishlists and dream of what we might get for Christmas.

Additionally, Black Friday, the unofficial start of the secular Christmas season, has been creeping into Thanksgiving. Many people leave a meal called Thanks-Giving to fight over more things to put into their houses!!

We are losing our spirit of gratitude. We are losing our ability to give thanks. We are losing sight of Christ in His manager because our presents block Him from our view. But we can invest in and cultivate a spirit of gratitude. We can relearn how to be thankful.

Ways to Cultivate a Thankful and Grateful Spirit

*Take time to brainstorm all the reasons that you have to be thankful. Not necessarily by posting things on social media, but grab a pen and paper as you write out a list of everything you have to be thankful for.

*Give thanks to God and the people He used to bless you. Thank them for what they have done and who they are.

*Take time to count your blessings.
"Count your many blessings; name them one by one"
"When I'm worried and cannot sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep. And I'll fall asleep counting my blessings."

*Keep a loose grip on your stuff...or it may get a tight grip on you! Look through your possessions to find stuff you can give away and share your blessings with others.

*Volunteer in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen! Serve on a mission trip! Find ways to interact with or serve those who have less. Remind yourself when you are serving them, that Jesus told His disciples that when we serve the stranger, the hungry, the sick, the prisoner, those who lack clothes & basic needs, we are serving Him.

*Commercials, advertisements, and window shopping awaken a spirit of discontentment, envy, and longing. Try to find more wholesome, simple pleasures to replace these activities & their negative repercussions. Take walks in the fall (or winter) weather. Take joy in seeing beautiful Christmas lights displays (as long as you are not becoming jealous & discontented over yours!) through walks or drives around town.

*Make a gratitude tree. Cut out leaves on which you & your family write blessings and things you are grateful for.

*Take time to time to sit in silence and listen to the Lord.

*Find a Bible Study (or make your own) that focuses on rejoicing, be glad, joy, thankfulness, and other similar words. Immerse yourselves in these verses and memorize them.

Remember that you are heading off in a different direction from your popular culture. It will seem like an uphill battle. You may be called a Scrooge or a Grinch for not joining in the Christmas frenzy early. Who knows? After a month of thankfulness and gratitude, you may find that your Christmas season is impacted too.

What other ways do you practice and cultivate gratefulness and thankfulness?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

What Do I Put in My Mind?

What do I put in my mind? Although I could look at this question in terms of dvds, video games, or other forms of entertainment, I will answer in terms of books. Books are my primary source of entertainment, so while there are many similarities between these forms of entertainment, the wording of this post will be asking about books.

A lot of us tend to view the world in terms of black and white, right and wrong, good and evil. Sometimes, especially it seems, when it comes to entertainment, there are a lot more shades of gray than we are comfortable with.

There are multiple categories of books and not all should be read. We may be used to viewing books in two categories (good or evil), but more categories are needed to fit all the different types of books in the world. Today, we will look at three categories (good, garbage, and fluff).

Good, pure wholesome fiction or non-fiction: These books challenge you and spur you on to be more Christlike as you continue to follow His way. Some of these books encourage you to look back at how far you've come, to give you strength to keep running the race ahead of you. These are the best books (in my completely unbiased opinion).

Garbage fiction or non-fiction: These books are filled with trash, due to their language, explicit content, and ungodly examples. Garbage books make you want to take a shower after coming into contact with them. These books urge you to leave the racecourse in the name of your freedom and blaze your own trail through sin-soaked land. The path you are leaving behind is the godly path. These books are better left on the shelf or better yet, in the trash.

Empty, fluff fiction or non-fiction: These books have none (or few) of the negatives associated the garbage books, but neither do they have (many of) the positives associated with the wholesome books. I think of these books like cotton candy or a sleeping potion. They congratulate you for being such an awesome person and give you the impression that you have arrived, that you are done changing and growing.

There's a lot of confusion over the empty, fluff books. A lot of us read them and think that we are reading good books. Yet, instead of challenging you and spurring you on to go deeper into your faith, these books placate you and subtly imply that your race is done. They feed you the lie that you do not need to keep changing and for that reason, they are highly dangerous books.

I do enjoy a good fiction book, but I don't like a lot of contemporary fiction, even those sold in Christian bookstores! Books like Little Women, Little Men, Jo's Boys, Pollyanna, An Old-Fashioned Girl, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, and more along these lines are fiction, but they still challenge me to conquer my little vices along with the characters in the books. I love fiction books that teach great Truths so subtly through their pages so that I can see Jesus just out of sight on the page. Sometimes, I'll even stop reading to join the characters in making a change to my life or house!! At the end of the day when I read this kind of book, I feel pleased with how I spent my time. It was relaxing, profitable, and challenging all at the same time.

On the other hand, when I read fluff books, I read and my life stays the same. I am not inspired to grow and change with the fictional characters. After reading this type of book, I end my day feeling mentally bloated from too much reading and dissatisfied from wasting my day. I am not a better person or more Christ-like after reading a fluff book, and that spoils the enjoyment I get from reading.

So my question for you is this: what kind of books do you read: wholesome books, fluff books, or garbage books?
What books (fiction or non-fiction) challenge you and spur you on in your efforts to be more Christ-like?
What books hold timeless truths and glimpses of the divine on their pages?
What books do you go back to reread when you need encourage to keep in the race?
What books do you recommend to others?