Christmas Eve Podcast: The Nativity Set

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Dec 252011

One of my favorite symbols of Christmas is the nativity set. Over the years I have learned a lot about Christmas, and God’s enduring presence with us, from what I’ve done, and failed to do, with the nativity sets in my life. In this message I share some of those moments and what I have discovered to be the true meaning of Christmas.

My parent's nativity set, and mine, both look a lot like this



Why Kindergarteners Love America

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Dec 142011

Last weekend Chickpastor and I took our kids to see Santa. Before our kid’s turn I slid off to the side to get into position for pictures. While I was standing there, waiting and trying not to be noticed, I got to hear what several kids asked for for Christmas. It was nothing exceptional, just the usual: toys and games.

Yesterday, Chickpastor and I were at our children’s school for their presentations on what they had been studying. The hallway walls were covered with drawings, maps, pictures and answers to a wide range of questions. We had some free time to browse, and came to a section where four kindergarteners had answered the question “Why Do I Love America?”  While this is a school which has no racial majority, a third of the student’s parents are immigrants, and I suspect that these answers were written by the children of immigrants. Here are the four answers:

  • I love America because we have fancy toys
  • I love America because there is less pollution
  • I love America because everyone can drive.
  • I love America because we have food.

Four answers to the question "Why I Love America"

These are things we take for granted every day. Fancy toys, clean water, freedom from discrimination and food are all things we most Americans haven’t had to worry about for so long that when it is our turn to sit on Santa’s lap, we ask for frivolities like iPads and HDTVs and the third season of Dexter on DVD.  As these children showed us, not everyone in our world is so fortunate. Many children have toys that are anything but fancy. There are 884 million people in the world without access to clean water, and over three million people die each year from a water related disease. A woman was arrested in May in Saudi Arabia for driving.  One in every seven people are undernourished.

At Christmastime it is so easy to focus on iPads and HDTVs and to forget that there are real people in real places dealing with life and death problems every day. When you get your chance to sit on Santa’s lap, I hope you will remember these children and their stories. If you want to buy them something instead of getting cousin Eddie another season of Dexter, here’s some places that can help:

Toys for Africa

Lutheran World Relief Water Projects

Amnesty International’s Women’s Rights Project

Lutheran World Relief Agriculture Projects

Podcast: Boxes

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Dec 112011

If  they haven’t started coming already, the boxes will start coming soon. Before too long our trash bins will be filled with boxes of all shapes and sizes.  Gifts aren’t the only things we put in boxes, though. In this message we explore the boxes we try to put God and others in and how to let God be God this Christmas. Based on the arrival of John the Baptist in John 1:19-28

Our Most Spiritual Christmas

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Dec 082011

At least he could play drums.

Last year my wife and I were talking about how Christmas is weird because  it’s Jesus’ birthday but we get presents for everyone but him.  As she described in her blog,  it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to us. Nobody would be thrilled if that was how our families celebrated our birthday, but we all do it to Jesus every year. It just didn’t seem right. So, we wondered, what would Jesus want for his birthday?  Not a present, surely.

So…what? What could we give Jesus on his birthday?

The best thing we could think of was to give to the poor. That, we thought, is what Jesus would want for his birthday. So we started researching charities and programs. I thought picking one would be easy, but there  is a lot of great work being done and it took a little research to find the one we liked the best. Eventually, we settled on the Lutheran World Relief Water Program (it’s tough to go wrong with clean water). Once we had that decided, the only question left was: how much?

That’s where things got interesting.

I still remember looking at each other when we both realized that if we were going to really make Christmas more about giving to Jesus than to others, then we had to give as much to him as we did to everyone else. Not to anyone else- to everyone else. Combined. We had to give as much to Jesus as we did to everyone else combined.  We just had to. We already knew how much we typically spend on Christmas, so we took that amount and gave that much to the LWR Water Project.

The result was that we had our most spiritual Christmas ever. It felt great. For years I had known somewhere in my soul that the way I was celebrating Christmas wasn’t right. Unfortunately, I had no idea what to do about it.  There was only one way. Now I’ve found a different way, but it didn’t feel awkward or strange. It didn’t feel like I was trying something new. Instead, it felt like when I grew my first garden. I felt connected to God in a soulful, “you were made for this” way.  I was returning to who I was made to be, even though I had never been that person before. It was so great, so wonderful, that we are doing it again this year, only this time we plan on giving more to Jesus than to other people. If giving as much felt so good, I can’t wait to find out how much better more will feel!

I invite you to join us this year. Give as much to Jesus as you do to your friends, family and coworkers. Better yet, give more to Jesus than you give to them! Find a charity or program that you like and go for it. I’m certain it will be  your most spiritual Christmas ever.

The Lutheran World Relief Water Project is a good choice, but there are plenty of other options

Dec 012011

I finally read Rob Bell’s controversial book “Love Wins.” My good friend and fellow writer Bill Coffin sent me a copy awhile back but my own writing got in the way of reading it. That and the internet. But I managed to put off the internet for awhile and I can’t write every free moment I have. My brain starts to hurt and- even worse- my writing turns to crap. It’s not amazing to start with, so I have to take time every now and then and just relax, and I realized I would rather read an interesting book than eternally browse internet forums. I’m glad I did.


I really am glad I read “Love Wins.” It was insightful and uplifting. Bell shared many facts about what the bible says about salvation, heaven and hell that I had not heard before. It was also uplifting but not for the reasons many think. Most people probably think I’d find it uplifting because the idea of everyone getting to live forever in paradise is happy. It is, but that’s not really what this book is about. What it’s really about is what God is like. Bell successfully argues that the bible describes God as loving and faithful and beautiful. It is a compelling picture of God, and I loved reading that. It meant more to me than what God does, and I think that’s as it should be. Who God is matters most. This book was amazing at revealing that in ways I’d never realized before. It also revealed God in a lot of ways that I had realized before. I suppose that’s my issue, and I’m sure many others who haven’t studied the bible as much as me (which is almost everyone) would find more of it insightful.

My main complaint actually has nothing to do with the content. It’s Bell’s writing style. The guy writes like he talks, and it drove me nuts. Absolutely nuts. I speak and I write (to much smaller audiences), and I am cognizant of the fact that the two means of communicating are completely different. Bell is a great speaker, one of the best I have ever heard. He seems to think writing and speaking are the same. They aren’t, and it distracted me from the message. Maybe it won’t bother you, but it bugged me.

Overall, though, I highly recommend “Love Wins.” Especially if you have never studied in detail what the bible has to say about salvation, heaven and hell. It will open your eyes to who God is and what God is really like. Read it. Better yet, read it out loud. Even better, maybe someday we can all hear Rob Bell read it out loud to us. That would be the best of all.