How to Keep Joy in Your Holidays

angel band

What are Christmas products doing on store shelves before Halloween is even past? Why can’t we celebrate Thanksgiving without Christmas taking over? Early Christmas sales and decorating really tick some people off. Not me.

First of all, some people need to buy early to send parcels overseas or to allow time to handcraft presents. (Now the price of postage ticks me off, but we won’t talk about that.) The early Christmas displays make sense when you think about that.

In New Zealand they hardly celebrate Halloween and they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving so there’s no holidays to overwhelm with Christmas decorations. And when we are back in the States, it’s so much fun to see all those Christmas decorations (especially at Hobby Lobby that has beautiful, Christ-honoring decorations.)

The reason Thanks giving doesn’t get as much attention in the stores as Christmas is because it’s a simple day which doesn’t emphasize giving presents. That makes it less commercial. Aren’t you glad?

But the main reason I don’t get ticked off by early Christmas advertising and sales is this: I can choose when I shop or how I celebrate Christmas. Life is short. Why not ignore things that I can’t control and that don’t control me?

Others find plenty to hate about Christmas in general. To begin with, it’s far too commercial. Christmas makes it easy to overspend or overwork.  Regulations prohibit religious displays in some places, in spite of the fact that Christmas is supposed to celebrate Christ’s birth. Some stores don’t let their employees say, “Merry Christmas.” Christmas gives dieters added pressure to cheat on their diets. Don’t forget starving people, terrorists, and the latest political disappointment.

Commercialization of Christmas means many people go into debt for Christmas, attend parties and drink too much, and tell lies about a fat man who talks about giving while encouraging greed.

Wouldn’t it be better if Christmas was simply a religious holiday without all the commercial stuff?

more Christmas angelsIn some ways, yes. But if Christmas was simply a religious observance, it would be celebrated by a much smaller group, mainly Christians and not all of them. The decorations, presents, and celebrations give the holiday a broader appeal. Christmas is seen as a fun time to be with family. This gives Christians an opportunity to build bridges with unbelievers. Christians can plan Christmas programs to give the message of Christ’s birth. Christmas festivities give opportunity to witness about Christ and his birth. So while we wish Christmas was far less commercial, we can use the opportunities of this broader appeal to good advantage.

 But Christmas has gotten out of hand. Christ gets lost in the celebration and trappings.

Remember your Christmas is what you make it. Yes, family has expectations and you will experience strong peer pressure to celebrate in a traditional way, but, to a large extent, you decide how you celebrate. You can reinvent your Christmas to fit your values and lifestyle. Maybe you need to be the brave first person in your extended family to address family gift-giving and other expectations.

Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birthday. The focus should be on Christ, not presents, food, decorations, and fun.Christmas dollhouse

I heartily agree that Jesus should be the focal point, but don’t throw out the fun stuff too fast. My daughters grew up on the mission field and they loved Christmas.  We didn’t buy expensive presents but we used the season to bake cut-out cookies, decorate the house, open the advent calendar, make snowflakes, listen to Christmas music, and drink hot chocolate in front of the Christmas tree.  Now that my daughters are grown, they treasure the memories of these simple family activities. I can’t believe the Lord objects to the fun our family had together at these times. We could focus on Christ and still enjoy quality family time.

I admit that it was easier to make Christmas what we wanted it to be away from the commercialism of the States. But if certain aspects are spoiling the holiday for you, consider reinventing your Christmas to reflect your own family values. Just remember one thing.

Don’t leave out the joy.

Christmas stacking dollsChristians need joy today. It can be depressing to go to church, read your Facebook homepage, or talk to Christian friends. The old carol says, “the wrong shall fail, the right prevail,” but today the wrong seems to be winning and we can’t find “peace on earth goodwill to men.” Evil is rampant in the world today, but remember, “greater is He that is in you, than He that is in the world.” We’re on the winning side, so where’s our joy?

Recently I expressed my joy of the season only to have someone rain on my parade. He felt that a day in December was just like any other day. This was a godly Christian man, but I guess he objects strongly to the commercialization of Christmas. He’s entitled to keep his Christmas simple, but hey, let’s not be joy squashers. Decorating for Christmas fills me with energy and gets my adrenaline going. Not everybody loves to decorate, but I do. I praise God for the simple joy it brings me.

I am concerned that so many Christians are losing their joy. Yes, we have to take a stand against some things and face negative issues, but let’s not let it rob us of our joy.  Don’t let the world see “Christian” as a synonym for “Scrooge” and “Grinch” this Christmas. The world needs to see the joy in our lives.

Joni Eareckson Tada writes about a similar but different issue: “Of all the suffering we might go through that helps us point people to God, there is one kind which seems to do it best. I am speaking of persecution. You have probably noticed how diamond arrangements in a jewelry store are usually set off with a dark, velvety cloth as a background. That is because the soft darkness of the cloth contrasts with, and enhances the sharp lines and brightness of the gems. In the same way, when someone hurls abuse at a Christian’s faith, that abuse acts as a velvety cloth. It makes the surprising love the Christian shows in return shine all the more brightly.”

Now Joni is talking about how abuse accents a Christian’s love, but in a similar way, joy shines more brightly in a dark world of worry. We need to use our joy to build bridges to unbelievers. We also need joy for our own sake, to keep us going. If we use them well, simple Christmas festivities can enhance the joy in our lives. I see that as a good thing. If you choose to celebrate Christmas in a different way, that’s up to you, but permit me to use decorating, cooking, and puppets to bring joy to a season that needs it.

Next month I’ll talk about being away from home for Christmas. Missionaries do this all the time and I’ll give some great insight from my daughter who has spent many Christmases away from home.

For now, here are a couple of resources:

Quote taken from: A Step Further by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes.

 

Here’s a recipe for Gingerbread Cookies for those who need a gluten-free diet:

Gingerbread Men

Summer Reading: What happened after the 5 Martyrs died?

In 1956 five men; Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCulley; refused to fire shotguns as a barbaric tribe of Ecuadorian indians speared them to death. This is the best known story of martyrs in the twentieth century. This story is, in itself, an inspiring one. But if you think the story stops there, you’ve missed the most exciting part. These men did not die in vain. Read these books to see how the Gospel totally revolutionized this savage tribe.

Summer Reading That Could Change Your Life

Do you ever find yourself getting weary in ministry? You’re tired of giving out so much more than you take in. You’re weary of people and problems and you wonder if your labor could really be in vain after all.

The story of these five Christian women (Joni Tada, Amy Carmichael, Elisabeth Elliott, Mary Weaver, and Corrie ten Boom) who overcame hardship may be just what you need to read this summer. All five of these stories inspired me to keep on going when I read them. They also stuck with me. Years after I first read them, these stories still help me. They put my own life in perspective and remind me that God is there, even in the darkest days. He’s working for our good, when that truth is hard to believe. These stories changed my life, as a great biography often will.

This summer you may be looking for a book to help you pass time or rest from the daily routine. Or maybe you just love a great read. I recommend all of these highly. But watch out! They’ll probably change your life forever.

Summer Reading

As Christian workers, our busy lives sometimes don’t leave much time for reading for pleasure. When was the last time you read a Christian novel? Maybe Christian fiction seems like a waste of time when you could be doing something more profitable, but consider this:

  • Stories broaden your world and help you understand other points of view.
  • Reading builds vocabulary, writing skills, and creativity.
  • Reading slows memory loss in later life.
  • Reading helps you escape from your problems and rest.
  • Reading relieves stress (and who doesn’t need that?)
  • Reading good Christian novels fills your mind with good things.
  • You can read wherever you go, even while you are waiting.
  • Reading is fun!

This summer as you head toward the mountains, the beach, a national park, or your relatives, don’t forget to take a book or two. Load up your e-reader with quality Christian fiction and be ready for everything from  a peaceful quiet time to a long ride in a car.

Need help to get started? Check out my list of 5 fiction books and 2 nonfiction books about cross-cultural relationships and ministry.

 

New and Original Christian Children’s Song

Technology has finally caught up to what I can do with scissors and glue. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, my use of technology and my online tools have brought me to a better place. At any rate, I am now able to offer my Road Sign Song for free download. I wrote this song some years ago for our ministry in New Zealand, cutting and pasting cardboard signs to paper. Thanks to Canva (https://www.canva.com) I’m now at a point when I can offer both a print and PowerPoint option for the visualized version of this song. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

If you’ve sung the “Stop” and “Go” song in your children’s ministry, (and who hasn’t?) you’ve seen how this song brings excitement to each new generation as kids take turns holding the signs. My Road Sign Song uses eleven different road signs to present a strong Christian message. I originally used it when teaching the book of Acts, but it can be used at any time. I hope many can use it so effectively communicate Christian truth.

You can download the sheet music, a printed visual or PowerPoint version of the words here.