8 ways to give Christmas to your family

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These 8 gifts come already unwrapped. No shrieks of delight when they’re opened. They’re quiet and don’t draw attention to themselves. Yet, the mood, the feel, the quality of your family time together will be enhanced in un-measurable, meaningful ways.

These are not Christmas gifts, but gifts OF Christmas. Maybe one will be perfect for you and your family:


Let Plan B become Plan A. The manger was Plan B. Plan A was the Inn. You have plans and expectations for your family time, but stuff will happen. Don’t argue or get frustrated. You could end up in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Day singing Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra!


Accept generosity. Let others be generous towards you. Let them give, clean up, pay for a meal, give you more than you gave them. Receiving is a gift to the giver. All that back-and-forth insisting “no I’m not going to let you do that,” and grabbing the check stuff is demeaning to generosity. Baby Jesus couldn’t give back until later (and then boy did he give). You’ll have a chance another time to be overly generous to them.


Sing. I hum absentmindedly, inventing themes and choruses as I go. People stop me and say, “you must be happy.” Singing, happiness, contentment, and peace seem linked. When  Jesus’ birth was announced to the shepherds, an army of angels sang; a singing army! Even if you DON’T feel like it, singing will surround you with an aura of happiness, contentment, and peace that touches your family.


Fear not. Don’t put high expectations and pressure on yourself to meet a standard you made up that no one else is even aware of. The shepherds at Christmas were at the center of a majestic appointment between heaven and earth. Now, THAT’S big. Who could stand it? They were told to “fear not.” Take your invented idea of a perfect Christmas and family time and exchange it for the simple expectation of “good news of great joy.”


What you give is good enough. The wise men brought riches. The innkeeper had only a stable. The shepherds just showed up. Resist comparing the number or value of your gifts to the gifts given by others. Money and presents are one kind of gift. Hospitality is another. So is attention, patience, grace, gratefulness, and words of encouragement. Give what you have.


Resist the urge to dish out justice. Joseph believed Mary was pregnant by another man. Yet he would not publicly and shamefully send her away, even though it looked like she deserved it. Of course it turned out things were not at all how they looked. The argument, the slight, the insult, the unfairness may beg for retaliation, but for this week leave fairness to God and go to him for the satisfaction you would get from justice. Your family will notice.


Take inner joy that your family is important to God. Do this secretly while you’re with them. Walking the dog with my wife the other day, I had a great sense of appreciation and gratitude for Brenda as I walked behind her. I thanked God for her over and over for several minutes. I think my attitude, without saying anything, influenced the quality of our time together. The Christmas story in Matthew and Luke begins with establishing the identity of of the families of Joseph and Mary. When God blesses the world, he starts with family.


Serve with humility. Release expectations of credit or reciprocation. This might help: tell God you want to do good and serve your family, and you do not want anyone to say anything thanking you for it. NOW you’re ready to be unappreciated and you’ll thank God for it. God humbled himself and came to earth as a lowly human, born as a baby in poverty and humility. He deserved worship, but received rejection and punishment. You’ll be in good company.

Which Gift of Christmas is talking to you? Can you think of others?

Let nothing you dismay

to give light to those

The sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace – Luke 1.78-9

These were Zechariah’s first words in months. God muted his voice when he refused to believe God’s message that he would soon be a dad. He knew he and his wife were too old.

But it proved true, John the Baptist was born, Zechariah’s voice returned, and now he was the one with the message of something unbelievably good happening soon.

For Zechariah and the people at that time, his words were a prophecy of what was to come.

For us his words remind us that what was to come HAS COME, and is true now.

The sunrise has visited and is giving light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

The sunrise is guiding our feet in the way of peace.

Right now.

Wherever darkness and shadows grip your thinking, your family, your hopes and dreams, there is a sunrise giving light.

Your feet may feel stuck in disagreement, disharmony, fighting, and war, but there is a light guiding you in the way of peace.

In the darkness you can be like Zechariah and just see the dark. Or you can look for the hint of grey and blue. The peach, vermilion, and red are nearby.

Tidings of comfort and joy. The sunrise is here.

And Christmas is the celebration of its first rising.

There was never a night or a problem that could defeat a sunrise or hope – Bernard Williams

Where do you see a sunrise today?

Stare at this picture to gain confidence in the middle of your worst day

Your confidence begins with something that happened about 2,000 years ago this week.

Before Good Friday. Before Easter.

It starts with a sentence in John 18:

When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground

Well they should fall to the ground – he’s God in a body on earth. You ought to have some kind of awesome reaction.

But he’s been God in a body on earth for years, and most people do not draw back and fall to the ground in his presence. Plus, these guys obviously do not believe this is God – they’re here to arrest him!

Look for the unlikely signs around you

And as soon as the falling to the ground is over, they get right back up and go about their arresting business, as if nothing happened. So this isn’t worship – you don’t worship one second and arrest the thing you’re worshipping the next.

It’s as if the falling down is involuntary. Like it isn’t their own reaction. Like it’s imposed on them from the outside.

This comes at a huge moment. It’s where Jesus goes from coming and going on his own to being under the total control of his opponents. No more escaping and slipping through their hands like he’s been doing for years. Now he’ll be theirs and they’re going to pour hatred and anger all over him and get rid of him. And this is the moment that’s the beginning of that.

There’s another angle on this, though. At the same time this human drama is going on, another one, a bigger one, is happening using the same events.

Look for the big picture

God has his own business he’s up to. He’s going to bring to climax all of history up to this point and demonstrate his justice and mercy and love. He’s going to pay for every sin committed by every human being who has lived or will ever live – billions and billions of people and all their sins. How heavy is that? Far heavier than the hatred and anger of the people doing the arresting. It’s a holy, awesome, righteous, mighty, unspeakable work. And this arrest is the beginning of that.

And so the official crowd of soldiers and religious leaders comes face to face with the God-man on earth who is going to accomplish this majestic, heroic deed that they don’t have a clue about. And at the moment he’s pointed out as the one who’s to do it, identifying himself using a phrase signifying his eternal deity, they all draw back and fall to the ground.

For a moment, involuntarily, they all react to who he is and what he’s about to do with his death and resurrection. It’s a supernaturally imposed reaction. Like someone or something knocks them down.

Look for the unlikely moment that shows God is still in charge

It’s the moment when God shows us he’s in control of all of this. What is coming is not just outraged hate having its way. The arrest and falling down are not opposites. It’s all part of the same thing. God is as in control of the arrest and killing as he is in the falling down reaction. The falling down proves it. It’s like God is saying:

I’m here and I could change all this as easy as I knocked all those guys down, but since I don’t then you know that even though this looks bad, it’s all me and under my authority.

He’s in the same place he’s in when other horrible things seem to take over. Right there. In the middle of your worst day.


Noticed any unlikely moments recently?

What everybody ought to know about risk

You call it risk because you don’t know what will happen, and what does happen could be bad. You don’t like bad.

But it could be good! That’s why you take the risk, why you face the fear and make that leap into the unknown.

It can all feel so life and death. Some play it safe. Some say, “If I die I die.”

The Lord is watching. It looks different to him than it does to you.

And he’s chuckling because he knows that in the end you’re safe in his house.

 (if you’re viewing this in email, click HERE to go to the blog to see the short video)

Have you ever taken a risk and discovered God was ‘in the house’ the whole time?

The simple mental picture that will forever change what you expect of God (and yourself)

If you’re like me, it’s easy to feel swamped, confused, like you’re walking in mud.

You dwell on your undone, unfinished stuff. You do all you can in relationships but still experience frustration and misunderstanding. You seem to always put out effort and not get results. You think something is probably wrong with you. If only you could get your act together. If only you worked harder, smarter, longer.

Maybe it’s your expectations . . .

Your expectations of what you do and what God does.

Here’s a simple mental picture that can fix that:

                                                                                                                                      Photo by RiverEdge Dental 


The dentist chair

How does picturing the dentist chair clean and whiten your expectations of God and of yourself?

The dentist chair reminds you it’s a partnership, but with sharp dividing lines for the roles. Get your role mixed up with the dentist’s role and you’ll be swamped, confused, walking in mud, and mumbling to yourself about getting your act together. And your teeth will hurt.

You know the roles:

You have to show up

but someone else does the real work.

You put yourself in someone else’s hands

but you’re still deeply involved.

You’re not the one in control

but you can resist and fight and hinder the one who is.

In the dentist’s office you know you’re not the expert. You would never say, “Give me that sucky thing – I’ll do it.”

But you’re not passive, either. You don’t just flop and expect things to happen.

You keep the appointment. You cancel things to be there. You don’t run away. You do what they say. You open wide. You spit. Your whole body tenses up. You’re super-sensitive to what’s going on. You go home and learn unnatural habits like running wax string between your teeth.

Yes you’re definitely involved. There’s a cost. But it’s not enough.

What are you trying to make happen that only God can make happen?

So how does God talk to you?

You’re unsure. Discouraged. Doubting.

You’re waiting and wondering. How do you know what to do next? You think you know but you’re hesitating. How how does anyone really know anything? How do you think about it?

A few words come to mind: Don’t be afraid. You don’t hear the words, you just remember them for some reason.

Then you feel another word: Come. Very subtle, no big deal. The word just lightly occurs to you. So lightly that if it was balanced on your sleeve the shallowest breath would blow it away.

Then: Go. Yeah, right. C’mon, is that just you?

You take a walk. It’s morning and the sun is just coming up over the trees and it shines so bright in your face that you have to squint.

You keep walking, and the rhythm of your footsteps brings the words of a song to your mind:

I know who goes before me

I know who stands behind

The God of Angel Armies

Is always by my side


I HOPE your ice is slowly melting

I HOPE your dead place is coming alive like this dead and discouraged unemployment office in Madrid came alive when a small flash mob materialized.

I HOPE you know that just as everything can go horribly wrong in only five minutes, so in five minutes your face can be lifted up.

I HOPE you know that a tiny bit of joy you contribute can go deeper and farther than you’d ever imagine.

I HOPE you see that where and when you contribute your little piece of joy can magnify it and make it mean more.

I HOPE you realize that just as George Harrison never knew a little song he created while walking in a garden would surprisingly encourage unemployed Spaniards forty-three years later, so something you do today can live.

I HOPE you know you have the power to leave any situation better than you found it. How do I know you have that power? Because you are a human being created by God in his image and that’s what he does.

Maybe I appreciate this more because there was a season long ago when I spent a lot of time in an office like this with no one to sing to me.

Please sing.

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How to pray for a sofa

We’re shopping for a larger sofa. We’re praying about it.

Sometimes at furniture stores I see the pilot/co-pilot theater sofas with built-in cupholders and slide-away snack trays. And they massage you. A corner of me wants to give up and veg out in front of the flat-screen on one of those sofas for the next ten years.

We’re not praying for that.

Our current sofa seats three max. There is one comfortable chair in the room, and a few other look-better-than-feel chairs. So we have comfy seating for three or four. When all our family visits there are twelve.

And every Sunday night we host between seven and seventeen friends for food, conversation, a Bible study, and fun. We use kitchen chairs and even plastic patio chairs. It’s fine, but not conducive to relaxing.

We are praying for that.

It’s not so much what you pray for, but why. Why do you want it? What do you want to see happen?

We want to fulfill the purpose of our home for our family and for friends. We want people to be able to relax and  connect with each other and with God. Yes this can happen even with three-legged stools and wooden benches. But we don’t want words like stiff, straight, and hard to be any part of their experience in our home, even with such an un-spiritual thing as a sofa.

The more confidence you have that the thing you want is for God’s purposes and the benefit of people, the more confident you pray.

What’s one thing you’re praying for now, and why are you praying for it?


(Is there a dream hiding inside you? Get the FREE ebook Fuzzy Hope: Courage and a kick to track down the dream you feel but can’t see – just subscribe on the form in the upper right to get the book and free blog updates)

My favorite 20 words this year from the Christmas story

No not the Ralphie Christmas Story; the real one.

Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord

– Luke 1.45

Pregnant Elizabeth is telling pregnant Mary that it’s good that Mary is not like Elizabeth’s husband. He didn’t believe it when God told him he would be a dad. He knew he was too old.

Mary DID believe it when God told her she would have a baby. Without sex. The baby would come from God.

I have some things I think God has told me. Shame on me when I don’t believe it.

If something is your own idea, that’s fine. But if you’re convinced the idea is from God then shame on you too when you don’t believe it.

Why don’t we decide together to believe it before we see it? We’ll be in good company.

Which peace on earth do you want most?

Peace on earth. It’s part of the message of Christmas.

I get it wrong.

When things are calm and all the pieces are in place; when I see check-marks on the to-do list; when there are no interruptions and things are going the way I planned; early in the morning in my favorite chair with my coffee and Oswald Chambers; I call that peace.

That’s not peace. That’s peacefulness.

Peace is when the bottom falls out, you’re scared, nothing is working, you can’t believe they think that about you, this day will never end, you’re not going to make it, and hell is frozen. And you aren’t freaked or angry or resentful. You feel the potential for panic, but you don’t give in to it. The storm is on the outside, the calm is on the inside.

It’s not peaceful but there’s peace.

That’s the peace of Christmas. That’s the kind of peace Jesus came to bring.

Peacefulness depends on circumstances.

Peace depends on my trust in the absolute adequacy and sufficiency of Jesus for every circumstance, problem, fear, emotion, interruption, project, and relationship.

Of course, you can have both together. But sometimes it takes lack of peacefulness to prove peace.

I hope you experience more peace than peacefulness these days.