Is it just my wife and I who wonder about this?  Does anyone else feel a bit of guilt lying to their kids about Santa? Our almost-6 year old has been thinking about this and has asked us a few point blank questions such as “Are all the Santas we see real Santas?”

My wife and I have had discussions about how to approach the whole Santa deal. A friend of ours was pretty adamant that pretending Santa comes and gives presence to the kids is blatently lying to your kids – which I agree with. But then I guess the question is, is it OK to lie about Santa? I’m not so sure. Will our kids resent us when they find out we’d been lying to them all along about Santa or will they not have the maturity to think that way? It seems like most kids realize that it was just a fun ruse that Mom and Dad did to make Christmas more fun.

We haven’t landed on a firm Santa policy yet but are running out of time. One idea is to just be up front about Santa being pretend – and that it’s a fun thing to make believe that Santa is real and delivers gifts to us.

We just think its odd that at Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and then lie to our kids about a make believe Santa Clause who comes into our house and rewards “good” kids with presence.

How have you approached Santa Clause in your family?

Check out this article

How TV Affects Your Child: “its advantages, too much television can be detriment”

It’s way too easy to plop our kids in front of the TV. With our newborn and third child in the house, we’ve been doing this more often with our 5 and 3 year old. They’ve also gotten into and are constantly asking to be on the computer. Of course screen time has it’s positive advantages.  We can thank LeapFrog’s Letter Factory for helping our oldest learn her alphabet sounds and launch her into reading.  But too much screen time can reach a point of diminishing returns. No matter what, engagement with a window of light means a lack of human-to-human engagement, which is always by far the best life tool there is.  My wife and I even get sucked into the trap of vegging on the couch when we could be doing something a little more enlightening or relationship building.

Perhaps I need to get back on my Boycott TV kick.  Hmmm.  In my opinion, we’d all be better off if we trashed recycled our TVs.  I’m definitely preaching to myself as well since my wife and I love watching TV on and rent movies all the time.

I’ll close with the lyrics from the song “Throw it all Away” from one of my all time favorite groups, Toad the Wet Sprocket:

Throw It All Away
Lyrics by Glen Phillips.

take your cautionary tales
take your incremental gain
and all the sychophantic games
and throw ’em all away

burn your tv in your yard
and gather ’round it with your friends
and warm your hands upon the fire
and start again

take the story you’ve been sold
the lies that justify the pain
the guilt the weighs upon your soul
and throw ’em all away

tear up the calendar you bought
and throw the pieces to the sky
confetti falling down like rain
like a parade to usher in your life

take the dreams that should’ve died
the ones that kept your life awake
when you should’ve been all right
and throw ’em all away

with the time i waste on the life i never had
i could’ve turned myself into a better man

’cause there ain’t nothing you can buy
there is nothing you can save
to fill the hole inside your heart
so throw it all away
won’t fill the hole inside your heart

help me to empty out this house
all i’ve gathered all these days
and thought i couldn’t do without
and throw it all away

Ok, since I’ve started a theme here, I’ll throw in my last personal anecdote about homeless people.  I’ll then be all out and have to go out and create some more stories.

There’s a friend of mine, Tim, who works in Cincinnati.  Tim was regularly going through a certain part of town and started noticing these homeless people.  Out of compassion and Godly obedience, he felt he needed to do something for them so he started bringing them PB&J sandwiches.  He even got his Home Group involved.  Over time he developed relationships with these people and began to learn of other needs such as the need for gloves and sleeping bags.  We (our church) decided to do a video piece on his ministry.  Our media director was unavailable to shoot the footage so he asked me.

I travelled with Tim to Cincinnati and though I was behind the camera, I was able to meet some of Tim’s friends and interact with them.  One of the women was very grateful for the sleeping bags and said “We would have froze to death last night if you hadn’t brought us those sleeping bags”.  I remember sitting on the sidewalk with these folks as people in business attire walked by on the far side of the sidewalk.  I got a glimpse of homeless life. These people I met weren’t mentally ill (yes, some are).  They just fell on hard times and never recovered.

I have to tell you something.  When I think of that day, it makes so many things in my life seem like a useless wast of time.  Fortunately for my conscience, I keep busy enough to not think about people in dire need. You know, like changing the channel with sponsor-a-child commercials come on.  So I don’t feel so bad about wasting my money on coffee and wasting my time on YouTube.

But I have to ask myself as a church leader – even as a Worship Leader.  What is the point of all of this – church, sermons, worship experiences, home groups, etc., if we are not bringing peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches to homeless people?  Or if we are not inviting our shut-in neighbor over for dinner because he probably hasn’t had a conversation with a friend for 3 months.  Or if our hearts don’t break for every person we know of who is trapped in a dead-end life with no hope because they don’t know Jesus.

Like I said in my post about Jacob, in the moments of interaction with those homeless people, I felt God with me like no where else.  Wouldn’t that  make sense that God would be hanging out around these people in need just waiting for a Christian who is not so busy downloading the newest Chris Tomlin CD or writing a blog, to show up and offer their hands and feet for God to use?

How many homeless do you suppose die each day without notice of anyone but the local police?  My step-sister Gretchen may be able to give us the figure in L.A. where she’s studying social work.    I remember when Tim’s friend, Carl, died of cancer.  Tears were shed for him.  Hearts were broken for him.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around, does it make a sound?

This is just a follow up anecdote to my recent post on the homeless guy.

A few months ago I was on my way to the office from a weekly breakfast meeting at the downtown Panera Bread.  As I was approaching the on ramp, I slowed down to a red light. I spotted a young, dirty and disheveled man panhandling and I quickly realized I would be stopping right next to him at the light. I did my quick visual assessment and was disarmed merely by the fact that this guy seemed to be the same age as me. In this situation I’m thankful that I acted without thinking.

I knew I had a few dollars in my pocket from breakfast so I grabbed for it as I started rolling down the window. I handed the young man the few dollars and without thinking asked him his name.  (Now, if you know me, this in itself was an act of God because I don’t initiate conversations with my own Mom let alone homeless strangers.)  He said his name was Jacob. I told him I would pray for him that day. He said thank you. The light changed and I was on my way. The whole interaction was about 15 seconds. That night and for a few days after we prayed for Jacob.

I drove away from that intersection feeling closer to God than I do leaving most worship services. I felt that in that moment God said to me “Yes! You’re getting the idea!” Everything about that moment felt right.

The following week I looked for Jacob and I was all ready with a sack of food from Panera – but he was nowhere to be found. I instantly regretted not going immediately back to Panera to get him some food that day we met.  I’m sure I will never see him again.  I wouldn’t know where to even start looking.

I do, however, know where to go looking for God should I need to find Him.

The other day I was on my way to Toys R Us to try to get a certain toy that was on sale for one day only.  On my way off the exit, there was a man on the side of the road holding a sign “Please Help” or something like that.  The temperature was somewhere in the 40s and a cold drizzly rain was falling.  In moments like these I sometimes feel that God is watching me to see how I will respond.  I wonder if you are like me in these situations and have about a dozen thoughts race through your head…

Quick visual assessment: Does he look dangerous?  Am I going to have to stop my car right next to him?  Maybe I should lock my door.  Is he just scamming?  Do I have a dollar on me?  I only have a $20.  But that’s gas money.  I can’t give him a $20 – that’s a lot.  I don’t carry extra cash.  What if he just buys cigarettes with it.  Light’s green.  Too late to figure it out now.  Poor guy.  I shouild have helped him.  Or should I have?…

The irony set in as I walked into Toys R Us.  I had passed this man by so I could save 15 dollars on one of a dozen toys my kids will get.  Once I found out they were out of stock I left.  I then drove around the corner to a store to buy the homeless guy an umbrella.  At the checkout, the worker said “You didn’t plan on it raining today, did you?”  I wasn’t sure how to respond.  I left and headed back to the off-ramp.  I had already worked out in my head where I would park and what I would say.  When I arrived He was gone.

I was bummed and felt, in a way, that I had not passed the test.  I decided I could keep the umbrella in my car in case I run across someone else who could use it – and I’ll make sure I stop and help right away next time.

This seems to be a topic that arises on occasion in our Christian circles.  Jesus seems to be clear how we should respond.  But why do we rationalize our way out of helping?

I’ve been reading and thinking and talking with God. I just had to sit down and write out this vision. I don’t know if this is complete or right, but it is something I had to sort out and get down on [paper]. Perhaps if I were to shepherd a group of Christians, this is what God would lead us to. I wonder why is this vision coming to me. Does this resonate with anybody else out there?

The goal for each Christian family is to be completely submissive and obedient to the commands of Jesus. This will result in bringing Jesus and His Kingdom into their communities by engaging in relationships with those who live there. As Christian families are submissive to Jesus (the head) and His commands, they partner with God by being the hands and feet of Jesus in loving those who are in need.

These families are not autonomous but are connected to a greater community of believers who support, encourage and partner with each other to accomplish this task. Within this Christian community, Christian families who are in need are cared for in the same manner as the world families (community members bringing the power of Jesus into their lives for healing and restoration). This Christian community, through the power of Jesus (who is there because the community exists for His purposes a.k.a., gathered in His name) maintains the health of its members to see the power of Jesus at work and so that they can continue in obedience to Christ. (Which will, again, result in bringing Jesus to their communities)

These small Christian communities are also connected to a larger Christian community. This larger Christian community gathers together to corporately re-align with God or, in other words, submit to the Lordship of Jesus, glorify Him and corporately submit to His will for the life of the whole community. This larger Christian community also gathers to hear from God and to be equipped and encouraged to obediently serve Christ and others.

As families engage in relationships with those in their circle of influence, they seek to bring the Kingdom of God to them. This means they need Jesus to reveal the needs He wants these families to meet. Eventually, the Christian families invite these people into their Christian community (where Jesus’ presence is strongest) so they can experience The Kingdom, encounter Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to draw, convict and reveal to them their need for Him.

The final step for the world family is to accept Jesus’ gift of salvation and forgiveness, and give their lives to Him. They then are fully join together with the Christian community they already have a relationship with and, consequently, join the larger Christian community in corporate submission and a turning outward to meet other’s needs through the direction of Jesus.

This hit me while driving to the office today. In church-world, we talk a lot about our environments. We talk about our programs. We pour our energy into designing and executing them. If you ask me what return has been on our investment, I would tell you I have no clue.

What if we all decided that our main environment, or main program for ministry, was the basic human relationship? This idea came to mind (perhaps from God?) and it was an a-ha moment. I mean, isn’t this what we are trying to achieve anyway? What do we hope to achieve with these programs, environments and events?

The way I see it, they either are aimed at producing deeper relationships (with other people and/or God) or aimed to equip people to pursue relationships (with God or others) on their own initiative. Now that I think of it, I wonder how many of our church programs end up reinforcing the self-centered, self-help mentality of our culture. Think about our sermons, our worship time, Sunday school classes. There is a lot of talk about being helpful and relevant. Isn’t the need for the power of Jesus relevant enough? Where in our church programs and environments are we encouraged to bring the power of Jesus to work in Christian community? I don’t know, I’m just asking…Just thinking out loud…

For the second week, Nicole and I sat down and had a purposeful time of prayer together. We are barely into the journey but everything feels right. We again put the kids to bed and sat on the couch. We listened to Hear Us from Heaven to get us “tuned in” and prayed for whatever came to mind. Our kids, our marriage, our friends, our neighbors. We prayed for maybe 15 minutes. This time, I got a sense – not a clear voice from God – but a sense that we needed to reach out to a certain family. Now we’re getting somewhere

There is a family we met this through our daughter’s ballet class. I’m not sure of their situation but they have kids our kid’s ages and they live somewhat near us. They came to mind so I prayed for them. I feel like God has given us something to do now. So, we have made it to step 2. Now on to step 3. We will make contact with the family and try to get together. We can’t assume we know the needs they have. It could just be they need someone to be their friend. Whatever it is, we’ll hopefully find out soon. I’m confident the need God wants to minister to will become clear. This is also good because it involves the whole family. Our kids need to be able to participate in God’s work.

Are there others like us? My wife and I talk about how we could just spend all day together every day. We love to hang out and be together. We can even work well together. Even after almost 8 years of marriage and 3 kids.

Yet we hear other married couples say how they need that occasional breaks from each other. Or that they could NEVER work with their spouse. That they would drive each other crazy. For whatever reason, we aren’t like that, and we have trouble identifying with those who are.

So what’s the difference here? Are people just wired different? Do we have a different kind of relationship? I was very excited to see a new book arrived in my mailbox today – Refrigerator Rights: Creating Connections and Restoring Relationships, by Dr. Will Miller with Glenn Sparks, Ph.D. I’ve only read the forward so far but I know this is going to touch on something I’m very interested in: our culture’s current crisis of isolationism and decline of face to face relationships.

We are definitely relationally challenged in our modern world.  I wonder how this shift is affecting our marriages.  Check out this interesting article from one of the authors of Refrigerator Rights. You can find the original blog post by Dr. Glenn Sparks here.

In America, we’ve perpetuated the strong belief that if we could just find that one “perfect” person to be our life-long mate, all of our relational and emotional needs would be met and we’d live happily ever after. Since publishing Refrigerator Rights, Will Miller and I have cautioned against blind acceptance of this myth. We’ve warned that no single person is capable of meeting the totality of another’s relational and emotional needs. Human beings are wired for close connection to a whole range of relationship types: fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, brothers and sisters, aunts & uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc.  Regardless of the closeness of the marriage bond, both partners still need close friends and family-type relationships to sustain them throughout life. In fact, we believe that marriages that are characterized by a rich network of “refrigerator rights” friends are actually much healthier, more vibrant, and likely to last.

But there is also a caution on the flip-side of this equation. As we point out in the book, for decades, America’s lifestyle has drifted into one of increasing isolation due to our high mobility–and an increasing tendency to surround ourselves with screens. Now, it seems, our trend toward isolation is also beginning to permeate into the marriage relationship itself. As Sue Shellenbarger notes in her recent column in the Wall Street Journal, a team of researchers at Penn State University has studied over 4,000 married people over the last 20-years. Shellenbarger states that, “They found that the likelihood of couples spending lots of time together visiting friends, pursuing recreational activities, dining or shopping together, or teaming up on projects around the house, fell 28%.” We think there’s little doubt that if we spend less and less time together, our marriages will be less healthy. If you’re married, you might want to take a personal inventory, note the trends over the past few years–and then plan to do something together with your partner. Doing something together–but also something with other people–might be a particularly wise investment of time. It will put you together with your partner and simultaneously permit you to cultivate friends and close connections with others.

Food for thought.

What about you?  Do you need breaks from your spouse or are you inseparable?  Do you regularly spend time with friends or spend most of your time alone?