What is Christmas?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—Christmas!!  We all have our favorite things about the season: caroling, amazing food, candy everywhere, time with family, parties, and lots of other delightful traditions.  With so much going on, we can sometimes get so busy and overwhelmed that we can miss some important things, perhaps even the most important things!  So what is Christmas really about?  What is it that holds all these activities and traditions together?

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Time with Family

If you’ve seen any of the famous Christmas movies, you’ve probably caught on to a recurring theme.  Christmas isn’t about amassing stuff for yourself.  It’s no time to be a recluse or a Scrooge or just treat Christmas like just any other day.  So often in these stories, the mixed-up main character finds through a series of events that all the money and selfish living are empty and hollow, and he finds the value of friends and family, coming back to those who once loved him and adopting a loving and giving attitude.

This is part of what Christmas is all about, but as an ultimate meaning, even good things like friendliness and loving family fall short.  Indeed, we should love others and value and appreciate our families all year long, and especially so at Christmas.  This is a key part of what Christmas is all about.  But why should we live this way?

Selflessness

Christmas is a time of giving.  A time when we seek out others who are in need and bless them generously and graciously.  Maybe we volunteer or buy gifts for the local homeless shelter.  Or perhaps we team up with a program at church to deliver a turkey and loads of groceries to a needy family. These activities come even closer to the true meaning of Christmas, but as an ultimate meaning, even these will not do.  Again, why are we to graciously love and give to the undeserving?

The Root

The root of all the good things we do at Christmas can be found in the very name of the holiday:  Christ!  The word means Messiah, the one sent by God to save His people.  And that is exactly who Jesus is.  The first one to be gracious, to love those who didn’t deserve it was God.  You see, we were enemies of God, estranged from Him because of our sin.  We are naturally in rebellion against our Maker due to the sin of our father and patriarch Adam, and our first desires are to please ourselves and live our own way.

He Loved the Unlovable

It was when we were in this sinful state, far from God and wanting nothing to do with Him or His Word that God sent the Christ.  Jesus, eternal God from before the beginning of time, humbled himself and became a man.  No time in history has such a momentous and glorious event occurred—the Creator of all things came to earth to be born as a baby.  He did this not because it would be pleasant or easy, in fact it would be painful and difficult.  Ultimately, he would be tortured and nailed to a cross to die a slow and agonizing death.  This was God’s gracious plan to bring mankind back to Himself.  You see, God is holy and perfect.  He is Just.  He cannot and will not ignore sin and sweep it under the rug.  In order for you or me to be brought back into relationship with Him, punishment must be rendered.  Jesus came to take that punishment—anyone who trusts in Him and accepts His substitutionary payment of our debt can be forgiven.  It’s as if you were found guilty in court, but Jesus comes in and pays your fine for you.  Your case is legally dismissed and you may walk out a free person!

We Love Because He Loved

We should be loving during Christmas and all times for the principal reason that God was loving to us.  He didn’t wait for us to clean up and earn good things; He sent His Son to save us even while we were dirty and rotten, full of sin.  We should love our families and be kind to each other because love and kindness are who God is.  When we accept Jesus as Savior, we also accept Him as Lord.  He is our shepherd, Father, and example.  We read His Word to learn what He is like and how He desires us to live, and we make choices each day to live His Way.

This Christmas, let’s let the true meaning of Christmas undergird everything we do.  Yes, let’s love others, value time with our family, and graciously give to those in need.  But let’s do it with the understanding that it was God’s gift of His only Son that causes these actions for His Glory.  Merry Christmas!!

Insisting on Balance

Guess what’s coming soon?  Christmas!!  Even though it’s the same date every year, it sure can sneak up on us!  Christmas is a wonderful time, full of joy and celebration.  We give gifts to each other in honor of God’s gift to mankind:  the baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem, that we might be reconciled to God.  It’s good to get carried away in the spirit of the season, but one area we must work hard not to get carried away in is our FINANCES.

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Say Yes to Great Gifts

Before you call me Scrooge, let me say that I do want you to have a wonderful Christmas, to make a special time for those you love, and to elevate the day through special activities and make great memories.  I just don’t want you to experience the January hangover that so many of our friends will have once the presents are all opened.

When You Are Blessed, Bless

If you are experiencing financial success this year, don’t be afraid to spend a little more money on people this year.  In particular, do you know anyone who may be struggling to make ends meet this Christmas?  Why not bless them with a big gift or a big check?  You could even give it to them anonymously for an extra bit of fun!

Borrowing Is Not For the Wise

If, on the other hand, you didn’t experience an overflow of income this year, you may be like many across our country—facing the temptation to go big on Christmas with money you’ve borrowed on a credit card.  Like many short-sighted solutions, this decision would be easy on the front end, and hard on you in the months to come.

Think of it this way:  if you can’t afford to pay cash for presents now, how will you afford the full amount, plus the interest?  Or, put another way, what choice will lead you to have the best gifts for your family for Christmas 2014?  Racking up debt now?  Debt that will deplete your resources from January through July?

Solutions Are Out There

Something funny happens when you insist your budget must balance.  Your brain goes to work.  Once you’ve made the decision that you won’t go negative in December, your eyes suddenly see opportunities all around you.  You notice that stack of DVDs that you haven’t watched lately and you decide to put them up for sale.  You see the snow fall outside and take a few hours to shovel driveways in the neighborhood.  You eat peanut butter and jelly instead of fast food on your lunch break.  All these things may seem small, but when you add them together, you’ll be amazed:  you really can make things balance.

Supernatural Gifts

Another funny thing happens when you make a commitment to keep your budget in balance, particularly when you commit to prayer for the Lord’s help.  God loves to reward those who trust in Him, who rely on Him, and who live His way.  Call on the Lord, and keep your eyes open—you will find Him when you earnestly seek Him, and He is more loving and gracious than you can possibly imagine.

Actions and attitude

Have you ever pursued success in an area of your life and found the journey to be more challenging than you expected?  Maybe you’ve been on a new diet and fitness regimen for a week and a half, but instead of weighing less and looking better, you look the same and feel hungry.  Or maybe you’re on month two of living on a budget and even though you’re following the plan, you’re still stressed out, and getting your income and expenses to balance seems impossible.  What can you do in these times when you’re doing the right things, but the results you want aren’t coming?

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The Right Plan

The first thing to check when your activities aren’t bringing the results you want is to make sure you’re taking the right action.  See the article from two weeks ago for more info on following the right person and crafting the right plan.  If you are, give yourself some encouragement and keep reading!

If you have identified an effective plan for bringing about the results you want, there are only two major components that you need to turn your goals into reality.  These components are Action and Attitude.

Action and Staying Consistent

A major reason why many people do not achieve their desired results—even though their plan is good—is simply that they stop taking the right action.  As in our fitness example, you may find a great program for losing weight and getting fit, but in most cases, you won’t notice any results, even after a week or more of hard work.  What do most people do at this point?  The figure, “well, this is so much work, and I don’t see the point.  I’ll just skip my workout today.”  After skipping one day, it then becomes easy to skip another, and another, until we find ourselves right back in the old routine of not exercising.

What was the problem here?  Was the workout not effective?  No—the plan would have worked, but it was implemented only temporarily.  What is the answer?  Find a different, better plan?  No!  Start the activity again, only this time, KEEP GOING.  When you find it difficult, keep going anyway.  When you don’t see the good results you want, keep going anyway.  When others give you a hard time and say you’re wasting your time and effort, keep going anyway.  Not only is it worth it, but the joy that comes with overcoming something challenging is something you do not want to miss!

The Right Attitude

The second essential component for success in a new endeavor is attitude.  Sometimes, even though we have a good plan and are taking the right actions toward the results we want, success may yet elude us if we are taking the right actions with the wrong attitude.  Say for example that your goal is to receive a promotion at work.  You’ve talked to leaders in your department and industry, and identified the daily activities to become more valuable in your profession.  Yet, after six months of working hard and learning new things, you don’t find yourself valued higher by your boss or associates.  What’s going on?

It could be that you have the right activity and are adopting the right habits, but you are doing them with the wrong attitude.  Here’s one good test:  how often are you smiling?  Firstly, people enjoy being around positive people.  Given two team members with the same skills, wouldn’t you prefer to work with the one with a positive outlook and a smile?  Secondly, particularly when we are pursuing a new capability or a new level of competence, success can be challenging.  If you do not have the expectation of success, the attitude that what you want will be yours soon, you may find that you won’t achieve it.

One place where this truth is particularly evident is in the weight room.  When one attempts to lift a weight that is quite heavy, a proper state of mind is essential.  If you think a weight is too heavy for you to lift, you are right.  Only when you convince your mind that you can lift the weight is success even possible.  Your body does what your mind directs it to.

Right Plan, Right Action, Right Attitude

When we pursue high levels of success, many difficulties must be overcome.  Sometimes, just having the right plan may not be enough.  Only when a proper plan is mixed with a good attitude and persistent, consistent action will we attain the results we desire.  Instead of following the typical pattern of giving up when things get hard, let’s take the opportunity to encourage and build up each other, and enjoy the process of making our way to the top!