Remembering the Wonder of Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

We sing about it, we buy gifts, we have parties, and we spend time with family and friends. But why is Christmas so special?

It’s easy to get caught up in the Christmas rush; to pack our schedules so full of events, that we often don’t have time to stop and think about why we celebrate in the first place. We send, and receive cards talking about the birth of a baby thousands of years ago, and we put out our nativity scenes with this same baby lying in a manger. But what is so special about that baby?

Christmas is about the birth of hope.

This is the time of year when we celebrate the fact that God himself, took on the form of man, lived a life which served as the example of perfection, loved us to the point of death, and then rose again, ushering in a new creation which is bursting forth from the midst of this one.  A time when we remember how the divine came to earth and conquered death itself.  A time to rejoice in how our God is a God who chose to relate to us, to experience all the things we go through, to face sadness, exhaustion, pain, rejection, betrayal, suffering, death, and then conquer them all and provide us with the opportunity to do the same.

Christmas is a time of celebration, a time of joy and hope, and a time of remembrance.  It is a time to sing, a time to fellowship, and a time to meditate on the truth of how God loves us so much, that he was willing to walk among us, and die for us, so that we could have a relationship with him.

We do not serve a cold, detached god.  We serve a God who understands, a God who empathizes, and a God who offers us the assurance that this life is meaningful, we have purpose, and there is nothing that has not already been conquered. He knows what you are going through, he knows the pain that life can bring, and he longs to wrap his arms around you and whisper, “I love you, and I’ve taken care of it all.”

 

This holiday season, take the time to think about what we really celebrate this time of year.

Remember the tiny baby, God himself, born in a manger, who now waits to cradle you in his arms.

At the heart of Christmas is a story of God, taking on flesh and blood, walking in our shoes, and saying, “I’m right here with you, I know how you feel, and I’m on your side.”

His death and resurrection is not something for the worthy, but Christ experiencing the loneliness, sorrow, and fear of death, OVERCOMING IT, and saying, “This too is yours.”

Merry Christmas!

[alert style=”success”]Sound Off: What are you doing for Christmas this year? Where are you going? Let us know in the comments below. [/alert]

4 Reasons I Can’t Wait For Future Christmases

If I were a ghost, I’d be The Ghost of Christmas Future. I love my future Christmases… and they haven’t even happened yet. Here are four reasons why I can’t wait for those future holidays…

1. Cultivating a Culture of Giving

I can’t wait to cultivate a culture of giving in my home. So often, our families get enamored with the materialism of Christmas; it’s practically natural. In our home, I would pout if I didn’t receive what I expected to receive, no matter the occasion (holidays, birthdays, etc.). On one occasion, I received a video game–––the one I wanted–––but for a different game system. Nevermind the fact that I couldn’t play it, my bellyaching elicited this response from my grandfather:

“Be happy with what you’ve got.”

With age comes wisdom, right? It’s not what you get that matters… and Grandpa Walt was spot on. Our mindset will forever be take-take-take until we do a 180 for the sake of our families. My goal is to associate family Christmases with a give-give-give mantra. The Schmidts will get out in the community, making people feel loved and giving of our time and resources.

2. Spending Time with my Future Family

I can’t wait to spend the holidays with my family. In this season of life, I can’t see myself settling down–––ever–––and maybe that’s why I can’t wait to enjoy time with the future Mrs. Schmidt and Co.

I know I will get married despite my stubborn resolve to stay single (that’s another article in itself), making this season a time to look forward into Christmases future. Whether it’s a year (whoa), two years, ten years… I can’t wait to make cookies, babies (double-whoa), and spread all kinds of holiday cheer. The Lord will smile happily knowing that I am overjoyed at playing football in the snow with my boys–––or if necessary, a tea party inside with my girls (but let’s hope for the former).

Time is precious. Time is not finite and what we once had is gone before we know it, never to return. I don’t want to ever waste time with my family, so getting excited about them now–––when I am single and have all the time in the world–––is time well spent.

3. Cold-Climate Christmases

I can’t wait for cold-weather Christmases. You see what I just wrote about playing football in the snow with my boys… I fully expect that to happen. Being in South Florida, we really don’t get the full effect of the holidays and that’s why I can’t wait to be back in the snow.

Obviously I can’t predict what that means fully, but what I do know is this: a Christmas in Michigan… or New York… or Colorado… is way more Christmassy than a Christmas in Palm Beach. There is something transfixing about sipping hot chocolate while watching old movies or running outside in a foot of snow after getting your first lacrosse stick.

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that the Schmidts will be in a cold weather climate for Christmas (once December 26th hits, though, it’s back to the beach and not a second too soon).

4. Establishing New Traditions

I can’t wait to create new traditions. I am the man I am today because my parents did a phenomenal job raising their kids–––God bless ’em–––but one thing we never did was to open the Bible on Christmas Eve and read the Christmas story. I want to do that.

New traditions are a part of the magic of Christmastime. You have some things that you’ve done, your wife has things too. You’ll decide whether to put a star or an angel on top of the tree that you decide HAS TO BE REAL (or fake). She loves lasagna on Christmas Day… and that’s great, but she’s crazy, so you get to tell her why spinach dip in a sourdough bread bowl makes sense.

We all have tremendous memories of why the Christmas season is so special and the reminiscing is thick. We hold onto many of these traditions for memories’ sake, and that’s good, but many times the best part of Christmas is creating new things… like the time your toddler son pooped himself while opening his favorite toy, so that’s why everyone goes pantsless on Christmas morning.
[alert style=”success”]Sound Off: Why can’t you wait for Christmases future? Let us know in the comments below.[/alert]

Are Charities Lying To You At Christmas?

It’s Christmas time and charitable giving is at a yearly high, but are your really buying a heifer?

No, not really. I realize this might be a Santa’s-not-real moment, but don’t rush to label me a charitable Scrooge. I love Christmas and the wreath of generosity that surrounds the season.

You aren’t buying a heifer, but this isn’t hush-hush. Heifer Internationalthe heifer-distributing marvel, even tells you so. When you make your purchase, they note that “every gift to Heifer International represents a gift to our total mission.” In other words, when you “gift a heifer,” you grow the general fund. Nearly every donated dollar (94%) is an unrestricted, no-strings-attached general fund contribution.

Heifers are certainly bought by Heifer International. Over 40,000 of them in 2010! But your gift of one heifer isn’t directly buying one heifer. So, are they lying to us? I’ll make the question more personal: Am I lying to you? Because here’s the truth: My organization does it too.

While Heifer pioneered the approach, most charities followed closely behind them—World VisionThe Red Cross and even my employer, HOPE. While we all state something like “the gifts depicted in this catalog symbolically represent our work,” most people assume they’re really buying heifers, goats, sewing machines, honeybees, trees and art classes. The catalog phenomenon, at its core, is beautiful. I laud efforts to inspire generosity and cultivate significance in the giving process. But, are we swindling you, the generous Christmas giver?

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It’s an interesting ethical case study. I’ll offer the following considerations:

Integrity in the Means: We can’t raise millions by making this appeal: Make a general, undesignated gift to help us cover our overhead costs this Christmas season! Do charitable ends justify ethically cloudy means? I don’t think so. Swindling is never good, even for the noblest of causes. Small adjustments can ensure no one is tricked by the process.

HOPE, for example, directs all catalog purchases directly to the featured country. While “buying a sewing machine for a Congolese entrepreneur” doesn’t mean your funding will directly buy a sewing machine, your donation does benefit our work in Congo. World Vision does a great job of forthrightly describing their process (pictured below). Hold your charity to a high standard and call us out if you spot duping. Compassion, experts in donor-to-beneficiary connections through their child sponsorship model, has developed the best system I’ve seen to actually connect gift purchase to the end use.

Focus on the Ends: Compelling marketing and heartfelt appeals should never trump your belief in the organizations you support. Will “the heifer” be a meal or a business? Do Kenyan families need heifers? Will the heifers be given in dignifying ways? Does the heifer-giver share my faith and values? What percentage of my gift will go to buying the heifer and what percentage to overhead? These questions–––questions of implementation and effectiveness–––should drive Christmas giving. It is the heifer beneficiary, after all, whose opinion matters most. Knowing that opinion demands investigation of the ends.

Heifers are big business at Christmastime. And for many reasons, this is exciting. This season is about connections among people. Jesus connecting with humanity as an infant. Families connecting with one another. Friends connecting over spiced cider. And this is what endears me to gift catalogs: Givers connecting with receivers–––and ultimately beneficiaries–––in meaningful, tangible ways. Not a donation into the abyss, but a shared moment between people. As organizations, we need to respect the significance of these moments by elevating our integrity in how we create them.

[alert style=”note”] Sound Off: How do you handle your giving? Do you need to know precisely where it’s going? Let us know in the comments below. [/alert]

Originally posted at Smorgasblurb.

4 Tips for Angel Tree Giving

Tis’ the season to display angel trees. I love the spirit of generosity that characterizes Christmastime. But, if our compassion goes awry, we can do more harm than good (like in this instance, when I totally missed the mark). Here are four tips to make your Christmas gift giveaway both compassionate and dignifying to those you serve:

 

1. Affirm parents as providers

Ensure the giveaway affirms God’s designed role for parents as providers. Children need to view their parents as the gift purchasers and givers.  It undermines healthy family dynamics for volunteers to give the gifts directly to the children (unless the children do not have parents). Fight for the dignity of these families.

 

2. Host a store

A number of innovating churches and ministries, such as Mile High Ministries in Denver, transitioned from person-to-person sponsorship to hosting a “store” for families unable to afford full-cost Christmas gifts for their children. Charge something (even if its highly subsidized) rather than charging nothing as it protects dignity. Finding a “great bargain” resonates deeper than awaiting a handout. Parents experience the joy of shopping (and giving to their kids). Volunteers experience the joy of creating a welcoming, festive and enjoyable environment for the families. Make it fun! Feature live music, gift wrapping stations, hot beverages, and elf-costume-wearing childcare staff.

 

3. Avoid “knight on white horse” syndrome

We give horn-tooting a free pass during this season. Celebrate generosity, but do so with humility. As James reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift comes from above.”  Our ability to give is not a privilege we have earned; it too is a gift. As givers, we come as friends, not as rescuers, standing firmly on our common ground. This sets the table for our benevolence. Leaders who affirm this will position their gift giveaways for success.

 

4. Employ sensitivity with pictures and video

How would you want to be portrayed if you were a recipient? Let that be your guide.

 

[alert style=”info”] Sound Off: Did we miss anything? Do you have any successful examples or models of churches or groups that have done Christmas gift campaigns well? Let us know in the comments below. [/alert]

Originally posted at Smorgasblurb.

Are You A Regifter? Maybe You Should Be.

Regifting Christmas

Are you a re-gifter?

I was watching the Today Show a few mornings ago and I heard something that struck me. It was Kathie Lee and Hoda (two of the most bombastic women I’ve ever seen–––very entertaining) and they were walking about regifting.

For most of the segment, it was your typical regifting banter (“Oh noooo…. I regifted this bronze reindeer to the person who gave it to me! Rararararar”). And then Kathie Lee said the wisest thing I’ve ever heard her say (I know, that doesn’t take much, but stay with me here):

(Regarding a gift)

“If I come across somebody that would love it even more than I do–––it would mean the world to them–––I can’t tell you how many things I have loved… and (sic) weared them and stuff, and somebody goes, “Oh my gosh I love that.” And I don’t know what it is. I dont know if it’s my guilt… from a life of sin, but I take it off and I give it away. Because I always think, I can always get another one. But if this person loves it so much… is that a bad thing to do? I don’t think so.

Shocking insight. We always think about regifting as passing off the things that aren’t worthy of us… what if we flipped that onto its’ head?

I didn’t know this, but Kathie Lee is (apparently) a Christian. Regardless of who she appears to be, and who she actually is, she is spot on. As Christians, the world will know us by our love. We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19); we show compassion because God first showed grace and compassion.

Rightly so, we have the opportunity to re-gift because of the multitudes for which God has blessed us. In addition, the regifting strategy further distances us from our worldly habits of hoarding and materialism. If somebody asks you for the shirt off of your back, you should give it to them. If somebody asks you for that how new Amazon Kindle Fire you should begrudgingly cheerfully give it to them. The moment we tie ourselves to our possessions is the moment we cease to be impactful in our faith.

Moreover, this selfless giving is how we impact the world. You’ve probably heard many references this holiday season to the “free gift” that Jesus has provided for all Christians. It’s an effective message… for Christmas Eve. (I’m sure the next time you’re telling somebody about Jesus, you probably won’t have a string quartet standing behind you.)

Imagine though, how effective the message of God’s free gift would be, if we did give somebody the shirt off of our backs.

Wow, really? Well, what do you want for it? Nothing? … Please let me give you something!

When all you have to do is accept the gift, the message is vivid and clear. Giving away your iPad might be a personal stretch, but at least consider your possessions in relation to your faith. It’s very possible that your most treasured treasure might have a more profound use with somebody else.

What did you get for Christmas? Are you willing to give it away?

 

[Photo: Brain Pickings]

I’m Paying for Barack Obama’s $4 Million Christmas Vacation

President Obama in Hawaii

I’m paying for Barack Obama’s staggering $4 million Christmas vacation to Hawaii this year… but guess what, it gets better:

YOU ARE TOO! Congratulations!

This year’s Obama family trip to Oahu costs $2.5 million more than 2010’s trip. While the Obamas have rented and paid for a beachfront rental in Kailua, the President’s posse (White House staffers and press) will be staying at the posh Moana Surfrider on Waikiki Beach, among other costs. The breakdown is as follows (courtesy of the Honolulu Register):

Travel: $3,629,622 – At $181,757 per flight hour for Air Force One, this is the most costly portion of the trip. At eighteen hours flying, plus a helicopter, and Mrs. Obama’s early flight, you’re talking #madmoney.
Lodging: $151,200 – Although the Obamas pay for their own beachfront home, there’s still the seven surrounding homes for the Secret Service, US Navy Seals, and Coast Guard… at $1200/day.
Hotel: $72,216 – Home of the President’s staff and White House press corps, the Moana Surfrider can get expensive. Government rates are $177/night, only a fraction of the $250-450/night that commoners normally pay.
Taxpayer Costs: approx. $260,000 – Historically, this is the expense that local taxpayers are stuck paying. This includes police overtime and $10k for an ambulance to follow the Obama party around for the duration of the trip.

Of known, estimated costs, this totals well over $4.1 million. Certainly, there are other unknown costs, like security upgrades and on-island travel. Even so…

Why?

You see, if it costs in total to get away from all of America’s problems, it costs more for the American taxpayer. That’s not really a great way to endear yourself to a nation. Those from the Obama camp are already spinning webs of justification in relation to previous presidential trips, but I don’t buy it.

The fact of the matter is that we’re still in a poor economy. The average American has little to no savings and is fighting. The appearance of opulence from a POTUS who brands himself as the peoples’ choice appears to be extremely misguided. I won’t pretend to be Mr. Obama, but if I was, doesn’t Camp David sound like a great alternative? At the very least, it’s cost effective and gives the appearance of a President who is wholly concerned with making this country great.

All I have to ask is one thing: if being a part of the Secret Service means I get to stay in a beachfront home for eighteen days, where do I sign up?

What are your thoughts? Is this trip excessive, or in-line with the norm?

 

(Photo by Joaquin Siopack-Pool/Getty Images)

What Does Christmas Cost?

Merry Christmas from Quarterlife Man

The holiday times are a great time of family, food, and fellowship. Add in a little shopping… and you have Christmastime for most Americans. I was sitting at Starbucks the other day and heard two women talking about everything they had bought (and named various prices for their items)…

My immediate thought was that these ladies need to go on The Price is Right and win the showcase showdown for their families;they knew the cost of everything! This got me thinking––– if I had to put a price on things I loved, how would I do it? As a finance major, I thought back to my wonderfully fun boring interesting economics classes in college.

As I began to do this, I was reminded of the density of the subject and (frankly) how little of it made sense to me at the time.  I mean, the whole course seemed to be characterized by baffling theories where opposing forces reigned absolute.  Just consider a few of these; macro vs. micro, supply vs. demand, Keynesian vs. free-market, etc.  Needless to say, I was very grateful when my professor had given a very nice curve to every test.  I am sure my passing grade would have been very different if I had to explain in detail all those theories.

Life has taught me more than any course could have; everything has a cost.

My point of the article is this, most people (including me) know the cost of everything but few people know the value of anything.  

Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you that I have everything calculated out, from my new suit to the loaf of bread I need. Very rarely do I take time to consider what the value the expense might bring to my family or friends.

Why is it we are programmed to view life according to what it costs us?

What if we could alter our view on life and see the costs of life’s experiences and encounters through what it costs the people, places and things that make up our lives? What we view as a simple cost to us of doing business may bring unnecessary debt to our loved ones. I’m sure if we viewed our costs through our external circumstances, our economic professors would have a different view about the “debt ceiling.”

During this holiday season, take a few moments to think about the sacrifice and cost of things to you compared to how it affects your loved ones. Chances are they might be paying a much higher price then you are.

Merry Christmas.

The Advent Conspiracy: What If Christmas Was Different?

Advent Conspiracy

What if Christmas was different?

Consider these statistics:

  • $450 billion is spent in this country during the month of December.  Much of which is brought on by holiday shopping.
  • At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from a water related disease.
  • 2.2 million people die every year due to lack of access to clean drinking water.  That’s equivalent to 20 jumbo jets crashing every day!
  • According to number crunchers at the World Bank and United Nations Development Programme, it’s estimated that it would cost somewhere around $20 billion to solve the global water crisis.  That’s less than 5% of what’s spent in this country during one holiday shopping period in December.

The crux of the argument for Advent Conspiracy comes down to three major goals: 1) Reduce unnecessary stress, debt and the hyper commercialism of Christmas; 2) Invite “presence” of relationships and reflection about what we are truly celebrating; and, 3) Work towards wiping out the number one killer on this planet, lack of clean water.

The lack of clean water issue is estimated as a $10 billion problem. That’s just slightly over 2% of one year’s Christmas spending in America! Could you imagine, if each family said that they would commit to spending even 5% less than normally? We could change the world.

Check out the video: