Plan to Enjoy Christmas

In the busyness of the season, it takes an intentional effort to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, so we have some suggestions on how to keep Christ in Christmas and how to plan a Christmas Day the whole family will enjoy.

Even if your Advent has not been very spiritual to this point, start now by reading through the Advent story in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It is a beautiful story of trust in the Lord where we hear about two faithful women who were open to the miracles God gave them.

Two verses in this reading relate to the Hail Mary Prayer. In Luke 1:26-28 we hear the greeting from the Angel Gabriel to Mary, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” This is the first line we use when praying “Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with you.”

The next part of the story is when Mary visits Elizabeth and we hear the second part of the Hail Mary in Elizabeth’s greeting from Luke 1:41- 42, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Through these two faithful women, we can see that God works miracles in situations which humans would think impossible. Elizabeth was considered too old to bear a child, Mary became pregnant, even though she was a virgin. Instead of worrying about all the things you have to do this week, think about the miracles God has worked in your life.

Unfortunately, many people have a hard time seeing those miracles, and for them, Christmas is a very difficult time of the year. Some have lost their spouse. Some have experienced life changes that have thrown their world off balance. And how many single parents need encouraging friendships and financial help? It’s easy for them to feel all alone and consider Christmas as a time to simply survive.

It is easy for us to exclude these people from our celebrations—just as Mary and Joseph were excluded from the inn when they sought shelter in Bethlehem. I challenge you to make room for the lonely, the outcast, and the widow by praying that the Lord will bring one needy person into your life this holiday—someone who has a need for fellowship or financial assistance or someone who needs to feel the love of Christ in a real way.

Carry a care package in your car with handouts for the homeless, including water, granola bars, canned meals, disposable cutlery, and small toiletries. This is a great way to help the homeless without giving them money.

If there are people in your church who need transportation to Christmas Mass, go out of your way to help them. It’s easy to get caught up in the activities of your own family, but what better way to teach children about the real meaning of Christmas than to show them what it means to be a Christian.

Invite someone who is alone to join your family for a Christmas meal. Your table may be full, but there is always room for one more.

Maybe you know someone who is homebound, or in a hospital or nursing home. Take time on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to visit with them, take them food (allowable on their diet) and pray with them. Fill Christmas stockings with simple items they’ll use like hand-cream, postage stamps, pens, pencils, a small notebook, magazines, socks or simple Christmas decorations.

Extend your outreach to your own family by planning some low key activities for Christmas Day that the whole family will enjoy. One of the problems is the headlong rush into Christmas Day, then suddenly it’s over as soon as the presents are opened. Christmas will be more meaningful if you find ways for the family to slow down and savor the day.

A leisurely gift opening on Christmas Day can foster an attitude of gratitude instead of having everyone tear into presents in five minutes of total chaos.

In our family, when it’s time to open gifts, the children pass out the gifts to everyone. When everyone has their presents in a pile in front of them, we start with the youngest, who opens ONE present, when that one present is opened, and everyone has oohhed and aahhed over it, the next oldest opens ONE present. We go through the family in rotation from youngest to oldest with each person opening ONE present when it’s their turn, till all presents are opened.

This slow process eliminates the ‘what’s next’ attitude when there is a big build up to Christmas presents, and the presents take less than 5 minutes to unwrap. Usually, the kids get interested in one of their gifts before their next turn, which gives them time to enjoy their gifts and appreciate what they received.

The other thing that happens is that the oldest people (usually parents and grandparents) generally have the fewest gifts and drop out of the present opening rotation earliest. This situation results in the kids being worried about how few presents dad or grandma got, so there are opportunities for talking about what’s really important as far as giving and receiving gifts

Another idea we’ve used to slow down the gift opening is to make a game of it. Hide the gifts and play “hot and cold” as the person gets near where their gift is hidden. Try writing a poem or playing 20 questions in order for them to guess their gift.  And the kids always love scavenger hunts where you hide clues around the house and send them scurrying around to find each clue which finally leads them to their gift.

Creating other family traditions will bring everyone together for fun and build memories that last a lifetime. Make a fire and roast marshmallows or make s’mores. Pick a favorite family game and have a tournament—Spoons; I doubt it; Monopoly; Uno, etc. Pull out pictures from Christmas past—especially pictures of the parents as kids or the children as babies.

Watch traditional family movies on Christmas Day—It’s a Wonderful Life; The Nativity Story, The Ultimate Gift, The Polar Express: A Christmas Carol.

Put together a jigsaw puzzle. Have it set up on a card table, so people can work on it sporadically throughout the day.

Read (or make up) a Christmas story—have different people read different parts in voices appropriate to the character.  Even the little ones can get involved if you have them say some key phrases during the story.

After Christmas dinner, go outside for a walk to get some exercise and use the excess energy the kids have from all the excitement. Play flag football. Play in the snow; build a snowman; have a snowball fight, make snow angels. Or if you are in a warm climate like we are, go to the beach and build sandcastles, play volleyball or simply walk and bask in God’s beautiful creation.

By consciously making plans to slow down and enjoy the holidays. “Then you and your family… shall make merry over all these good things which the LORD, your God, has given you.” Deuteronomy 26:11.

When you really think about it; what do want to accomplish during the Christmas season? You want to build memories you can enjoy the rest of your life. Memories centered around celebrating the birth of Christ, helping the less fortunate, and enjoying family and friends.

This Christmas season, don’t let the world make you discontent with its focus on buying. Instead, learn to be content by developing traditions that are meaningful and fun but not expensive. Use the Christmas holidays to make memories that will last a lifetime.

And most importantly, keep Christ in your Christmas.

Join the Compass Catholic podcast on thoughts on how to make conscious plans for a Christmas day you will enjoy.

What do You Really Want in Your Financial Life?

Wouldn’t life be so much simpler if we each knew exactly what we want out of life and exactly what we had to do to achieve it? If that were the case, our lives would be so much simpler and our stress levels would be at zero. Families would probably get along better and our finances would fall into place as if by magic.

Since we went through our financial turmoil 30 years ago, we’ve watched many families struggle with their finances and as a result of their family relationships which led to problems with life in general.

Why do people seem to struggle so much financially?

It seems most people are on a never-ending quest to be happy. They want to earn enough money to be happy. In reality, money will never bring long-lasting happiness. Once you have earned your dream salary, it does not seem to be enough for you to be happy. Your dreams have changed. Now you need more money. By the time you reach your next goal, the goal has changed again

It’s never ending wild goose chase because each time you reach one financial goal, your perceptions of how much is enough have expanded to fit your increased income. Each financial gain just moves the bar indicating financial happiness one step further away. We know because we lived it. Every time we reached one goal, the finish line seemed to move too.

An article by Peter Dunn in USA Today said that what people really want in their financial lives is self-control so they can feel that they are in charge of their life. He speculates that buying something you can’t afford with a credit card is an artificial form of self-control.

After many years of struggle, I believe Peter is on the right track. But he stopped one step short of the answer. Self-control is definitely a major strategic piece to the puzzle, but I believe that what everyone is searching for without realizing it is contentment.

Advertisers are in the business of getting us to be discontent and the more we are exposed to advertising, the more discontent we become. Watching TV, surfing the web, looking at catalogs, and reading magazines, expose us to those advertisers whose job it is to make us discontent.

The word “contentment” is mentioned several times in Scripture, and many times it has to do with money and possessions. In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul wrote: “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and going hungry, of having plenty and being in need.”

Take note that Paul “learned” to be content. It wasn’t automatic. Contentment didn’t suddenly show up after Paul’s conversion experience. The fact is none of us are born intuitively content; rather, we learn to be content. 

Biblical contentment is not to be equated with laziness or apathy. Biblical contentment is an inner peace that accepts what God has chosen for our present vocation, station in life, and financial situation. Hebrews 13:5 (GNT) emphasizes this: “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.’” 

To learn how to be content, begin by analyzing what triggers your desire. Are you yearning for what everyone else has? Or do you spend time thinking about all the stuff you could buy if only you had more money?

First, Timothy 6:8 issues this challenging statement: “If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that.” Our culture has restated this verse to read, “If you can afford the finest food, wear the latest fashions, drive the newest luxury automobile, play with all the most up-to-date electronic gadgets, and live in a beautiful home, then you will be happy.” Our consumption-oriented society operates on the assumption that more is always better, and that happiness is based on a constant quest to acquire more and more.

While exercising self-control in your financial life is a worthy goal, being content with what God has given you at any point in time is a godly goal.

For I have Learned to be Content

woman-591576_640Contentment is mentioned in the Bible seven times and six of those times it has to do with money.

Contentment is in pretty short supply in our country, because the advertising industry tries to create discontent in our lives. We live in a consumer society that operates on the assumption that more is always better and happiness is based on how much we can accumulate. Any time a new tech toy comes out there are lines wrapping around buildings and people camping out overnight just to be the first to get the item of the week.

Yet what you see among those who are really wealthy is that money and possessions are no indicator of whether or not a person is really content. And what’s especially sad about this is that discontent often leads us to use debt to buy things we don’t need and things that will never fully satisfy us.

Have you ever bought something you really wanted and after you finally got it, it did not make you as happy as you thought it would? Suddenly you see the same thing in a different color and the one you purchased in no longer good enough. Or the next month a newer version comes out and the one you bought last month is no longer adequate.

Do you often think that living in a nicer house would make you happy? Have you ever felt that if only you had a new car then you’d finally be satisfied? Have you ever dreamed that making more money would make you fulfilled?

If you’re not content with what you have, you’ll never be content with what you want, even if you get the nicer home, the newer car or more money. There is always something else to attain.

It’s not that we shouldn’t try to improve ourselves. We should. As stewards of God’s possessions and the talents we’ve been given, we should always seek to improve in all areas. But the effort to improve our situation should never outpace a feeling of contentment and gratitude for our current situation.

Paul wrote Philippians 4:11-13 from a prison cell and he said, “Not that I say this because of need, for I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”

Paul learned to be content—while in jail. It’s not an instinct that comes naturally to most people. If you struggle with being content, put Philippians 4:11-13 on an index card and post it on your bathroom mirror so you can meditate on it every day. Ask the Lord to help you become content. Ask him to help you be satisfied and grateful for what you do have instead of spending your time yearning for all the things you don’t have.

None of us are not born content; rather, we learn it. The foundation of contentment is understanding that God is the owner of everything we have and we are simply stewards. This attitude helps separate ourselves from the materialistic focus of our society.

Here are a few ideas for ways to become content:

  • Establish a reasonable standard of living. Decide how much is enough and stop when you have reached your goal.
  • Become a generous giver. Being generous is probably the main antidote for discontent.
  • Develop an attitude or gratitude by consciously thanking God every day in prayer.
  • Change your language. Substitute the word “the” for “my” and “mine.” Instead of referring to MY car, use the term THE car.
  • Learn the difference between needs (food, clothing and shelter) and wants (the latest tech toys, newest fashions, late model car, etc.)
  • Stop comparing your self to others. Sometimes what you see on the outside is not what is on the inside. We’ve known many people who seemed to live an affluent lifestyle that was funded by massive debt.

Contentment is being satisfied that God has provided exactly what we need today—whether it’s a lot or a little. This does not mean that we shouldn’t try to improve our situation. It does mean we need to be grateful to the Lord for what he has provided today.

Contentment is an inner peace that accepts what God has chosen for our present situation.

Wealth isn’t bad, but it can be very dangerous spiritually. 1 Tim 6:8- says, “If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that.”

Verse 9 goes on to say “Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction.”

And verse 10 warns us WHY wanting to get rich is so harmful: “For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.”

Loving money and always yearning for more and more is a sure way to remain discontent.

Are You An Adventurer or a Watchman?

away-1500168_640“He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts.” Mark 6:8

Last weekend we had a two night stay with family members who live in a city about two hours away. The amount of stuff we dragged with us was startling–clothes for each day (multiple outfits for some days depending on the planned activities), including shoes and accessories; electronics (phones, tablets and computers plus all the peripheral stuff that goes with them); beach chairs; beach towels; pillows, etc. What we took is probably the average kind of stuff most people take when they travel by car. But it certainly was not according to the instructions found in the quote from Mark 6:8 above.

In the Gospels, Jesus tells his apostles to travel light so that they are not weighed down by material possessions. The reason for traveling light is so they would focus on their mission of spreading the gospel and the good news without being weighed down by their possessions.

So many times, our accumulation of stuff can get in the way of our relationship with God and his will for us. Today’s society focuses on our possessions, and not on God. We are inundated with the message that we can never be happy, fulfilled, satisfied or successful until we have this or that thing.

God created everything and nothing in creation is bad. However, our attitude toward material things can be a problem when things have a more important place in our lives than our mission to proclaim the good news.

Often times our energy and focus is diverted from our faith life into collecting and maintaining the things we have – the house, the car, the computer, the boat, etc.

The problem is that almost as soon as we have purchased the latest object, we find that it really doesn’t satisfy us, and we turn our thoughts and desires to the next thing we want to buy in hopes that it will provide the satisfaction and happiness we desire.

The truth is that only God can provide ultimate happiness and satisfaction.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul stated that he had to learn to be content. We too must learn to be content. There is no need to keep accumulating more and more stuff to satisfy our need for happiness when what we really long for is God, who will provide all the joy we could possible desire.

Jesus wanted his disciples focused on their mission, not their stuff. He also wants us focused on our mission, not our stuff. The mission hasn’t changed in the past 2000 years. We are still supposed to be traveling light, and sharing God’s word with everyone we meet.

We must never become too much at home in this world, or we will become ineffective in serving the kingdom we are here to represent. We are aliens, strangers, and pilgrims on earth. Peter wrote, “I urge you as strangers and sojourners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)

Pilgrims are unattached. They are aware that the excessive accumulation of things can be a distraction. Material things are valuable to pilgrims, but only if they facilitate the journey. Things can entrench us in the present world, acting as chains around our legs that keep us from moving in response to God.

When our eyes are too focused on the visible, they will be drawn away from the invisible. “For we fix our attention, not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen. What can be seen lasts only for a time, but what cannot be seen lasts forever.” (2 Corinthians 4:18, GNT)

Pilgrims of faith look to the next world. They see earthly possessions as useful, but unimportant.

Two principles concerning possessions help us gain a proper perspective.

First of all, we leave everything behind when we die. After John D. Rockefeller (one of the wealthiest men in the world at that time) died, his accountant was asked how much money he left. The accountant responded, “He left it all.” Job said it this way: “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again.” (Job 1:21)

Second, earthly goods won’t last forever; they are destined for destruction. “But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that Day the heavens will disappear with a shrill noise, the heavenly bodies will burn up and be destroyed, and the earth with everything in it will vanish. Since all these things will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people should you be? Your lives should be holy and dedicated to God.” (2 Peter 3:10-11, GNT)

No matter how much stuff we have, how much we enjoy it or how much we paid for it, it will all be destroyed in time.

Bishop Ken Untener in the The Little Burgundy Book: Six-minute reflections on Stewardship in light of the Gospel of Mark, sums it up best:

“I was created by God to grow, to move, to journey on the great adventure of life. The more things I pile up, the less I am able to move in this or that direction. I become less an adventurer…and more a watchman.”

Evelyn Bean

When You Love What You Have, You Have Everything You Need

johnThere’s a good reason why “keeping up with the Joneses” is a well-known phrase across the country. The consumer-driven mindset of constantly getting more, newer, better things is so deeply ingrained in our society that we coined a term just to describe the feeling. What’s more, as the holiday season comes into full swing, the advertising industry is gearing up and prompting us to buy, buy, buy—for our friends, our family, our neighbors, the postman, the delivery person, the checkout clerk at the store, and most of all – ourselves! We are pushed from all sides to forget our pledges of Biblical stewardship and satisfy our needs with material goods.

The interesting thing about this phenomenon is that the contentment we receive from the latest and greatest doesn’t last long. Did you just buy the latest smartphone? You’ll be the talk of the town until next week, when an even newer version is released. Have you purchased the car of your dreams? Chances are, you’ll second-guess your purchase when you see the same model in a different color. The problem with seeking contentment through material goods is that they do nothing to satisfy the deepest longing in our hearts and souls.  Seeking fulfillment in things leaves us with a void that constantly requires more and more things in an effort to fill the void.

In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul writes about contentment. “I have learned to be content in whatever my circumstances. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul penned this letter from his prison cell, where he learned the secret to being content–he was probably cold, hungry, lonely and frightened, but he had a faith that was deep enough to realize that the Lord had given him exactly what he needed for that moment.

It can be difficult to give up the constant quest for acquiring all the shiny new things we see around us, but that’s what true Biblical stewardship encourages us to do. It is not a restriction or a punishment; rather, it is a deep and fulfilling inner peace, which no material item can ever provide. It’s knowing that your loving heavenly father is going to provide you with exactly what he knows is best.

This holiday season, turn off the television, quit surfing the net, close the catalogues and take the time to remember what giving thanks is all about. Cherish the moments with your friends, family, and loved ones, and understand that those precious moments are worth more than all the material goods in the world. For more tips and tools to help you along your journey to Biblical stewardship, contact Compass Catholic at (844) 447-6263.