Sunday, December 27, 2009

Playing Santa Has It's Rewards

As little children we all most likely were sold into believing in the "man in the red suit". I think that was our first lesson in actually believing in something. Then, as we got older, the reality of the "man with the fat belly" wore off, probably when we caught our parents sneaking the gifts under the tree.

When my older sister's two kids were younger, ages 2 and 4, they were enrolled in a Kindercare Daycare school. At Christmas time they were preparing to do a pageant. Little did I know that "someone" had volunteered me to play the role of Santa Claus!

At first I was a little hesitant when eventually asked, but then I kind of got excited about the whole thing. Of all the Christmas plays I had done in school and church, and never getting the lead role, this was finally my big break. A breakthrough in letting my acting skills come to life.

I approached the day with bold confidence. I wanted my acting skills to be so impeccable that these kids would really, truly believe that I was the one and only Santa Claus. Unfortunately my acting was a little too good.

At the end of the pageant I entered and approached the stage much to the delight of everyone. And then it happened. About 30 kids began to cling to me all at once, tugging at any part of my suit that their tiny little fingers could take hold of. Once some of the teachers were able to restore some kind of order, I began my civic North Pole duty of giving out presents to each child.

Just as soon as I handed out the first present, I felt some small hands tugging at my suit again. To my backside stood a little boy about four years old. He asked where my reindeer were, and of course I didn't want to blow my cover, so I told him my sleigh and reindeer were on the roof.

"Can I see them?" he curiously asked.

Silly me I answered, "Sure, just as soon as I give out all these presents."

My thinking was that once he got his present and opened it he would forget all about seeing the reindeer. Boy was I wrong! Once he had opened his gift his attention did not draw nigh. His persistence in seeing the reindeer only grew stronger. He was on me until the last present was gone from under the tree.

As parents started making requests for pictures with their children and Santa, this little boy's mother finally would intervene and rescue me. She would pry her son's tiny fingers from my suit then apologize for his tenacious behavior. She forced his coat on him and literally began to drag him away as he kicked, screamed, and cried. All the way out the door you could hear him shout,

"I want to see Santa's reindeer! I want see his reindeer!"

What I'll remember most about that day is the innocent belief that was in the eyes of that little child. He really, truly believed that I was Santa Claus.

Little children are open, trusting, and transparent.

"Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, will by no means enter it." (Lk.18:17)

Here God is saying that's all it takes to come to Him is having the faith of a child.

One of the more often used illustrations on childlike faith is that of a child on a swing at the park:
"C'mon daddy, push me harder so I can go higher and higher!"
The child then musters up enough courage to take that giant leap from the swing and into the arms of their father, knowing full well he will catch them.

As the New Year approaches, test God in your situation. Believe in Him with a childlike faith.
It's so easy even a 4 year old can do it!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Nativity Story

Of all the stories depicting Christ's birth, The Nativity Story is my favorite Christmas movie. Why? Because it is one of the few that concentrates not just on the birth of Jesus, but the faith and courage that Mary and Joseph had to have to carry out the task that they were chosen for.

First we are presented with the thoughts and emotions dealt by Mary when visited by the angel Gabriel who tells Mary:

"Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!
Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus."

And when the angel explains to Mary that when the Holy Spirit comes upon her she will be barren with child, naturally Mary, who has yet to be with Joseph in marriage, asks,

"How will anyone believe me? How will they understand?"

Now Mary's feeling at that moment had to be one of fear: a fear of being stoned for being pregnant before marriage, a fear of what her family might think, and especially a fear of what Joseph might think.

The angel also informs Mary that her relative Elizabeth, who is very old in age, is barren with child.
So when Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, she sees that the Word from the Lord is indeed true, and Mary herself receives a renewed confidence in God.

Upon Mary's return home and visibly pregnant, her family wassn't so cordial. And neither was Joseph.
As for Joseph, the Bible says he was a just man: a man who was upright, blameless, and righteous. So Joseph's natural instinct when seeing Mary with child had to be one of anger and disappointment.

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. (in other words possibly hide her somewhere and not wishing to be betrothed to Mary anymore)

So we see Joseph lying in bed that night in a state of confusion and filled with anger and possibly thinking "How could she betray me."

But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying " Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.

And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

So far we've gathered the notion that God has chosen Mary and Joseph to be together for a reason: He knew He could trust them to carry out His will. Mary, a highly favored woman of God, and Joseph, a just man.

At that time King Herod makes an unruly demand: each man, with his family, must return to his place of birth for a census. Which meant Joseph and Mary had to travel close to 70 miles on a donkey over rugged, rocky terrain from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where the baby Jesus would be born in a stable.
As we follow their journey to Bethlehem, it's hard not to imagine the struggle they both had to endure. Shortage of food and water, Mary barren with child and probably in much pain physically throughout the trip, the blisters upon Joseph's feet as he most likely walked the whole duration.

And of course, the faith and determination Mary and Joseph carried out to fulfill the prophecy that was made many years ago.

After the birth of Jesus, some shepherds tending their flocks are confronted by an angel declaring that Christ the Son of God has been born and then a multitude of angels appear proclaiming,

"Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"

The shepherds travel to Bethlehem to see their new King then:

Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things and pondered (consider deepily) them in her heart.

Mary had the right idea, keeping close to her heart the name of Jesus.

So, who is this High Priest we are celebrating this week?

But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood.

Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession (to fall in with, to meet with in order to converse) for them.

God is unchangeable and loves to intercede on your behalf. May you keep Him close to your heart, not just at Christmastime, but all year around.

(texts are taken from Mathew chpt.1, Luke chpt.2, and Hebrews chpt.7)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas in Connecticut

"Everyone makes fun of Elizabeth Lane. Oh, she's so smart, knows all the answers, get's herself in a mess and doesn't have the moral courage to get herself out of it!" --Elizabeth Lane, mocking herself

The 1945 classic Christmas in Connecticut was the first to put comic relief into a Christmas movie. Barbara Stanwick plays Elizabeth Lane, a columnist for Smart Housekeeping magazine. She also plays what some folks in today's world would call "a poser".

Everyone that reads her column is under the impression that Ms. Lane is America's greatest cook, housewife, and mother living on a farm in Connecticut. In Ms. Lane's real world it's more like: can't cook, unmarried, and the view from the living room window of her apartment is clothes hanging from a clothes line tied to a chimney stack upon the rooftop.

Ms. Lane's Christmas charade begins when her publisher, who is unaware of her fraudulent cover, asks her to entertain a war hero at her Connecticut farm over the holidays. This soldier has spent 18 days at sea in a lifeboat, and the next 6 weeks in a hospital dreaming of eating the food he's read in Ms. Lane's columns. He also has memorized every little detail about her through the words she has written.

Ms. Lane begins to search for help in order to pull off the charade:

1.Her best friend John Sloan happens to have a Connecticut farm and Elizabeth gives in to his demand of them getting married first, even though she doesn't love him that way.
2. She requests her Uncle Felix, who has his own restaurant, to come along to do the cooking.

3.And as for the baby part, Sloan's housekeeper happens to babysit the neighbor's baby every day.

Game, set and match, right? Nope. Everything goes crazy soon as they get to the farm.

The soldier, Jefferson Jones, shows up 2 hours early, so the wedding that was planned to take place at the farm between Sloan and Ms. Lane never happens.

The publisher also has shown up and expects to eat a delicious meal made by, you guessed it, the great American cook herself.

One of the funniest moments is when Ms. Lane brags about the baby boy before giving him a bath, then when the soldier request's to watch, they both discover the boy is actually a girl instead.

Throughout the whole Christmas charade the truth from every fictional detail that Ms. Lane has written about herself becomes revealed. What's interesting is she continues on with the game even though every part of it is falling apart before her eyes. And of course, she falls in love with the soldier, who declares his love for her no matter what the truth may be.

The questions I now pose to you are:

"Do you consider yourself a Christmas Spirit poser? Are you only joyous at Christmas time because that's the way the world dictates we should be? Or are you in a Christmas Spirit all year around?"

I like to think the Christmas Spirit that we should be carrying with us all year around is the Fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Gal.5:22,23)

When you ask Jesus into your heart you are a new creation in Christ, and your old life has passed away. Therefore the Fruit of the Spirit, which are the characteristics of your new life in Christ, should be manifested in your life daily and in essence, this makes your walk in the Lord more simpler.

Keep your Christmas Spirit all year around. Don't be a poser!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Jingle all the Way

"Always keep your promises, if you want to keep your friends." ---Turbo Man

It is very rare to see an action packed Christmas film, and one that is actually pretty good, but Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers a yuletide knockout in Jingle all the Way.

Arnold plays Howard Langston, a dad who works alot and has trouble fulfilling his promises to his son Jamie. Howard tends to either be late or all together miss his son's karate class and other activities. When he misses Jamie's latest karate competition, Howard loses the trust of his wife and his son. His promises of being there have turned to dust. So Howard decides he has one last chance to make it up to his son and ask's Jamie what he wants for Christmas. His answer: only the hottest Christmas toy ever, the Turbo Man action figure.

Howard sets out on Christmas Eve morning to search for the hot new toy every kid wants. He also finds himself in stiff competition:

1.Competition from Ted, the single-dad neighbor, who thinks he could be a better husband and father to Howard's family.

2. And a duel with a mailman, played by Sinbad, who's searching for the same toy to fulfill his own son's wish.

Before Howard leaves to begin his great quest, Jamie ask's his father if he'll be home in time for them to go to the Holiday Parade. And of course, Howard's famous last words were, "I promise!"

Howard's adventure starts out with the discovery that Turbo Man is such a hot Christmas toy that it's sold out in almost every store. Howard and the maniacal mailman duke it out on several occassions when receiving tips on where to get one:

1. Mall of America has a minimum supply of the toy and has a lottery drawing. Howard and the postman vie for the same lottery ball which bounces away from them and is retrieved by a little girl. Howard chases her down only to get beat up by a large number of angry moms.

2. A store front Santa and his elf lead Howard to a warehouse full of toys, promising him a Turbo Man for only $300. Turns out the Turbo Man is a Spanish speaking model and all of the Santa's there are con-men, then the Swat team comes charging in.

3.Howard and the mailman make a mad dash down the street to a radio station where a contest is being held for a Turbo Man. They find out all the winner gets is a gift certificate for a free one, whenever they are back on store shelves.

Howard finally gives up and retreats back to his home. He remembers Ted commenting that he had a Turbo Man sitting under his Christmas tree for his son. Howard decides to steal it, he not only gets caught red handed, but gets chased through the house by a live reindeer.

With his wife and son disappointed, they leave ahead of Howard for the Holiday Parade. When Howard wonders off to the parade, he gets mistaken for the man who is to play Turbo Man in the parade. He is rushed into costume and into the parade. Howard becomes Turbo Man, and in turn becomes his son and wife's hero.

What I love about this movie is the determination by the father to fulfill his son's Christmas wish. And he was willing to go to great lengths to accomplish his promise to his son.

In a somewhat similar fashion, we also have a Heavenly Father who desires to fulfill His promises and give us good gifts. In fact, there are over 800 promises in His Word.

"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" (Matthew 7:11)

May our gracious Heavenly Father fulfill your desires this Christmas and in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas)

Aside from the various stories about the real meaning of Christmas, the birth of Christ, there is probably no other more powerful Christmas film than Joyeux Noel. If you don't mind a foreign film with sub titles, this is definitely a must see movie.

This film is about the World War 1 truce on Christmas Eve 1914, depicted through the eyes of French, Scottish, and German soldiers along the Western Front.

The one fact that you come to grip with throughout this film is that: we are all one people. It doesn't matter which side you are on, what religion you are, nor what race you are, we are all one people. And through each of these soldiers we see:

1. They share the same emotions of war, the battle of survival.

2. They carry with them the feeling of wanting to be home for Christmas.

3. They all have someone back home that they so desperately love and want to be with.

4. They all share that same dream, one of peace.

On one of the battle fields on the Western front on Christmas Eve we see: the French in their trenches preparing to celebrate Christmas with champaigne, the Scottish playing Christmas carols with their bagpipes, and the Germans in their trenches with Christmas trees and the voice of one Nikolaus Sprink, the famous German Tenor. Now mind you, each side is still leary of a surprise attack from one another.

Once the sound of the bagpipes in the cold, desolate air begins, emotions begin to swirl amongst all three sides. The German Tenor grabs a Christmas tree and galantly makes his way to the center of the battlefield singing Oh Come All Ye Faithful.

The leaders of the French, Scottish, and Germans boldly come out and agree on a cease-fire for the evening. All three platoons would then acquant themselves with one another and share: chocolate, champaigne, photos of wives, girlfriends and family, and stories of their past.

At the stroke of midnight a British priest delivers a brief mass in which all the troops respond in unison and are deepily moved.

"Tonight, these men were drawn to that altar like it was a fire in the middle of winter. Even those who aren't devout came to warm themselves. Maybe just to be together. Maybe to forget the war." Palmer, the British priest.

And so, one night of peace drew all men together.

On Christmas Day these men who were once enemies do the unthinkable; shelter each other during an artillery barrage. The leaders then decide to go their separate ways with their respective regiments.

The Germans are scolded by the Crown Prince of Prussia and are shipped by train to the Eastern front to fight the Russians. As the train departs, they start singing a Scottish carol they learned from the enemies they brefriended, I'm Dreaming of Home.

May we all continue to pray for: peace on earth, and goodwill toward men.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Charlie Brown Christmas

"I think there is something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel.

I just don't understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents, sending Christmas cards, and decorating trees and all that, but I'm still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed."

This timeless classic from 1965 carries us through Charlie Brown's plight in finding happiness at Christmastime. After spilling his guts out to Linus about being unhappy, Charlie makes a trip to Lucy's famous "Psychiatric Help 5 Cents" stand. Lucy begins her examination of this depressed boy:

"Are you afraid of responsibility? If so, then you have hypengyophobia."

"Are you afraid of cats? If so, then you have ailurophasia."

"Are you afraid of staircases? If so, then you have climacaphobia."

"Do you think you have Pantophobia?"

"What's that?" Charlie Brown asks.

"A fear of everything."

"That's it!" exclaims Charlie Brown.

Lucy then offers up the suggestion of Charlie Brown directing the school play for Christmas, hoping his involvement in something will make him happy. Charlie accepts.

Along the way though the commercialization of Christmas brings him back down:

1. Snoopy decorates his doghouse and enters it in a neighborhood lights and display contest.

2. Charlie Brown's sister ask's for help in writing a letter to Santa. Sally ask's Santa to just send money, preferably tens and twenties.

"All I want is what's coming to me. All I want is my fair share!" she exclaims.

3. The cast members of the school play all seem self absorbed, not wanting to cooperate.

Charlie Brown decides what the school play really needs is a Christmas tree. He and Linus set out to find a tree, one that really stands out. Charlie Brown chooses the smallest, the frailest, and the most unimaginable tree you could think of. His thinking is all the tree needs is some love and care. And of course, he becomes the laughingstock of the cast.

"Can't I do anything right?" Charlie beleaguers to himself.

"I guess I really don't know what Christmas is all about.
Doesn't anyone know what Christmas is all about?" he shouts out.

Linus approaches center stage and gives the story of the real meaning of Christmas:

...And the angel said unto them, "Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."

And suddenly there was with the angel a great multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

"That's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown." Linus exclaims.

Unfortunately there will be more Charlie Browns out there this holiday season than in seasons past. And for whatever the reason, now is the perfect time to spread the good news. The real meaning of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Home Alone

When someone mentions to you the Christmas classic Home Alone the first thing that probably comes to your mind is the homemade booby traps Kevin uses to outwit those bumbling burglars played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. Some of my personal favorites of those contraptions:

1.The flaming hot doorknob

2.Hosing down the outside steps so they freeze up

3. Black tar on basement stairs

4.Flame thrower to Joe Pesci's head

5.And of course, the old, flying paint cans across the staircase to nail you in the face

In case you've seen the movie less than 10 times, let me refresh your memory:

Macaulay Culkin plays an 8 year old named Kevin who is considered by his family as helpless and irresponsible. Kevin and his mom have harsh words with each other the evening before the family's scheduled flight to Europe for a Christmas vacation. Kevin gets sent to a bedroom up in the attic to sleep off his steam . And in a huff, Kevin wishes his family would disappear.

When he wakes up the next morning he finds out his wish has been fulfilled. Not really. The family oversleeps and leaves in a flurry for the airport so they won't miss their plane. Once up in the air they finally realize they've left Kevin behind!

Along with all the humor and budding jokes within the booby traps, this John Hughes classic carries with it a great message on forgiveness:

Kevin is fearful of old man Murphy (who likes to salt the sidewalks in the neighborhood every winter evening) because of his brother Buzz's ficticious tale of the old man murdering his family and hiding out in their neighborhood and being callously known as"The Shovel Slayer".

While sitting in the neighborhood church on Christmas Eve observing the Childrens Choir rehearsal, Kevin sees the old man sitting across from him. The old man recognizes Kevin and comes over to say hello. As they make small talk we learn:

Old man Murphy's granddaughter is singing in the choir and he is not welcome to come see her perform tonight because of some harsh words he and his son had in the past. The old man admits to Kevin that he's afraid of calling his son for he may not want to talk to him.

"No offense, but, aren't you a little too old to be afraid?" Kevin asks.

"You're never too old to be afraid", he replies.

Kevin encourages him to call his son,
"Then you can stop worrying about it and you won't be afraid anymore."

After spending the night fending off the Wet Bandits with his homemade booby traps, Kevin gets some sleep and wakes up Christmas morning and in walks his mom, who made countless detours and finaggling to get home to her son. And all is forgiven between not only Kevin and his mom, but the reconciliation of the old man and his son.

In our forgiveness of others we need to show God's love, for out of it comes the same grace that God has bestowed upon us.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away;
behold all things have become new. (2Cor.5:17)

When you ask Jesus into your heart you are totally forgiven of all your sins. You are made new, the slate is wiped cleaned, a chance to start all over again. A chance to live a victorious and abundant life in Christ Jesus. You are a brand new person!

And even though we are bound to make mistakes, God still forgives us for His love is unconditional. That same forgiveness God grants us on a daily basis when we have done wrong should be the same forgiveness we have on others.

Make this Christmas Season a joyous one. A season of love and forgiveness.