reflections of mine others might find useful

Why I don’t want your kids doing their best in school!

girl bookSchool begins today for most students so let me take this occasion to say that I don’t want your son or daughter doing their best this year.

I’m not joking.  I mean exactly that.  I want your student to be doing less than his or her best.

Too often parents push their kids to always do their very, very  best.  The reasons for this range from good (“I want my kids to be successful”) to bad (“My kid is a reflection of my good parenting”) to worse (“My child is going to meet my unfulfilled childhood dreams”).

The effect on these kids will likely be stress and resentment toward their parents as they feel constantly prodded onto the performance treadmill.

This expectation for them to always do their very, very best is unrealistic — and here’s the rub:  it’s a standard to which we can’t even hold ourselves!

Here’s why — it’s unrealistic.   No one can simultaneously do their best all the time in every area of their life.  We are complex, multi-dimensional creatures with varying roles and responsibilities.  I can’t be the best possible youth pastor at the same time as being the best possible husband, at the same time as being the best possible dad, at the same time as being the best possible neighbor, friend, church member, citizen, gardener, trumpet player, runner, volunteer, disciple of Jesus, etc.  Something’s gotta give!  Perfection in one area only occurs at the expense of all the others.

Think about it:  if we nag, push, and prod our kid to be the best possible student he could be, he’s going to end up being a negligent friend, an inattentive neighbor, a distracted employee, an absent youth group member, and a prayerless, Bibleless Christian.  Is that really what we want our kids to be?  I say, no.

I can anticipate the push back, “But Mark, we’re called to excellence!  We can’t allow our kids to get away with doing shoddy work.”  I’m not advocating laziness or sloppiness.  I’m all for excellence, but the reality is that it can’t be maintained in all fields simultaneously.  These areas compete for our time and will always be in tension with one another.  We must seek balance.

To insist they always do their best will lead to anxiety or burnout and will deprive them of having the margin in their life needed to enjoy their childhood.

So what’s the answer?   Stop demanding your kids to do their best.  Instead, just expect them to do the things that are reasonable (given all their roles, responsibilities and capabilities). Ultimately the question is, “Given your present circumstances, how is God nudging you to reasonably divvy up your limited amounts of time and energy?”

This standard of doing what’s reasonable instead of doing what’s best lifts us right off the performance treadmill.  Here are some examples:

  • Let’s say my daughter got a D- on the pop quiz because she was up late encouraging her suicidal friend instead of reading the assigned chapter.  Wasn’t it reasonable for her to get a D- considering the way she followed God’s prompting to serve.  Yes!  In fact I’ll applaud her for choosing a D- over an A.   After all, what matters more, the teacher’s report card or God’s?
  • Your son senses God prompting him to skip two weeks of school to go on a missions trip.  It means he’ll be kicked out of show choir and drop a letter grade in every class, forfeiting his valedictorian status.   Commend him for choosing what is a reasonable sacrifice for the Lord.
  • Your daughter’s teachers piled on 6 hours of homework the same night that she had committed to serve a meal at a homeless shelter.  She chooses to keep her commitment, leaving her only 2 of the 6 study hours.  She subsequently flunks a test the next day.   Did she do her best at school?  No.  Did she do what was reasonable?  Absolutely!

Bottom line:  never insist your kids do their best.  You — and they — will find much freedom by expecting them — and yourself — to do no more than what is reasonable.

The surprising lesson I learned from Lexi’s trip to Italy.

Lexi in ItalyOver Spring Break Lexi went to Northern Italy with the UNI Wind Symphony.   She had a wonderful time playing the saxophone which she loves, getting to know her bandmates, and enjoying a new part of the world she’d never seen.

Her social role within the band quickly became that of a cheerleader.  Whenever enthusiasm would wane or boredom would creep in Lexi would pipe up, “Guys, guess what!  WE’RE in ITALY!  Aren’t you EXCITED!!” and that would return everyone’s focus to the amazing reality of their situation.

Lexi was simply reminding her friends of a truth that they already knew but had lost sight of.  Any instances of boredom or lackluster attitudes were merely the result of forgetting what an awesome place they were in.  Her animated reminders brought them back to reality and quickly helped them regain their excitement.

I think we need a similar reminder when it comes to our relationship to God.  It’s easy for our devotional life to become mundane and boring.  Why?  Because just like Lexi’s bandmates we’ve forgotten the amazing reality of our situation and we need to be reminded of what’s true.


I’ve been contemplating this ever since Lexi shared about her trip and it has surprisingly transformed my approach to God.

What if I actually started living out what I know to be true?  What if I started to view spending time with God in the same way I would if I was being invited to have breakfast with a celebrity?  Would I hit the snooze button five more times if a head of state was waiting for me at my breakfast table?  Wouldn’t I go to bed early the night before if I had a breakfast appointment with a famous person, and if I were to wake up in the night wouldn’t I be counting the hours?  Wouldn’t I be excited when my alarm went off, no matter how early it was?  Wouldn’t sluggishness and boredom be unthinkable?  Wouldn’t I view my time with this celebrity as a humbling privilege rather than a chore?

By reflecting on such questions over the past months I can honestly say that I have enjoyed my early morning times with God more than ever before.  There have been many mornings when I have bounded out of bed to spend some quality time getting to know God deeper through His Word and prayer.

But it’s easy to forget what’s true.

And so just as Lexi’s enthusiasm reminded her bandmates of what they knew to be true, may this blog post remind you and me of what a privilege it is to be invited to meet each day with the Creator of the universe.

Lexi italy



Why I want your kids to fail.

woman-1006100_640I want your kids to fail.

I want them to lose their library book.

I want them to forget their lunch.

I want your kids to oversleep and miss their first two classes.

I want them to get their bike stolen because they didn’t lock it.

I want them to miss the bus and be in a dilemma.

I want them to spill their hot chocolate all over the carpet.

I want them to fall asleep in class because they wasted their evening and went to bed too late.

I want your kids’ pet fish to die because they didn’t feed it.

I want them to feel sick because they ate too much candy.

I want them to forget to do their chores and have to repay whoever did them.

I want your kids to get an embarrassing grade on the history project into which they put little effort.

I want them to waste their allowance money on junk so they can’t buy something really valuable.

I hope they lock all three sets of keys inside their car so they have to call AAA for help.

I want kids to wear smelly clothes because they didn’t put them in the laundry basket in time.

I want them to be ticked off — at themselves.

I want us to have no cups on the spring retreat because the seniors forgot to pack them.

I want the junior class to incur $100.18 in late fees because they were two days late in returning their Star Wars costumes.

I want them to fail because I love them.  And you should too.


Parents spend far too much effort and emotion trying to keep their kids from failing.  I’m the opposite.  I actually hope for my kids to fail!

Remember, our goal as parents is to for our kids to learn to manage their own lives and make wise decisions — without our intervention.  After all, the goal of parenting is to raise adults, not children.  They become more like adults the more we treat them like adults.


Give them high levels of responsibility.

  • As our kids age we need to give them increased responsibilities and control over their lives. They’ll need to be responsible for their time, sleep, leisure activities, finances, clothes, sports and music practice and performance, academic achievements, grades, entertainment, friends, and food choices.  I’m not saying we can’t set acceptable parameters in some of these areas — that is our parental prerogative while they’re living with us — but we need to remember that unless they’ve learned to manage these areas completely by themselves, they are ill prepared for life.  We shouldn’t even think about sending them off to college if we’re the ones still managing those areas of their lives.
  • I favor giving kids high levels of responsibility.  See my post on chores  for example.  It honors them to be deemed worthy of great responsibility.


Let them fail miserably.

  • When they are freely allowed to fail in their responsibilities they learn important things about their own weakness, vulnerabilities, and needs.  From the natural consequences of their failures they learn what they ought to do differently in the future.  They learn how to avoid the same pitfalls the next time around.  They learn how to fix what they break. They learn they are capable of cleaning up their own messes.  They gain self-confidence as they discover that they are able to repair the damage they caused.  Failure is a key way for them to learn who they are and how best to manage their own lives.
  • If they are allowed to fail early, when the stakes are small, they will have learned to manage themselves well and avoid failure in the future when the stakes will be very high.
  • (Obviously there are some failures we can’t in good conscience allow them to make due to safety or moral concerns, but these should few in number.)


What to do when they fail.

  • Don’t make their problem yours.  Let them fix it or deal with it themselves.  Be a consultant if needed, but let them make things right.
  • Relax and enjoy that they are learning hard, but valuable lessons as they fix their problems.  But just don’t let your enjoyment show!
  • Don’t moralize or say “I told you so.”  Let the consequences of their own failure be their teacher.  Let them be mad at themselves only, not you.
  • Show empathy, and offer your confidence in their ability to fix it.
  • Neither rescue them, nor berate them for failing.  Either would rob them of dignity and cause resentment between you.


A story.

I’ll close with a story from our home.  At one point when one of our daughters was in high school getting up in the morning was a problem for her. It may have had something to do with her tendency to waste time in the evening, procrastinate her homework, get to bed ridiculously late, and then have trouble hearing her alarm clock in the morning.  Cindy and I decided that it was in everyone’s best interest to make getting up her responsibility instead of ours.  From now on she would need to get herself up in the morning and get herself off to school on her own.

When her alarm went off that next morning, Cindy and I laid in our bed and did nothing.  It was hard to do, but we resisted the temptation to rescue her.  Lexi was late to school that day.  And that wasn’t the only day she would oversleep!

But we decided that this was Lexi’s problem.  If it caused her embarrassment to walk in late — that would be her social problem.  If being late would jeopardize her grades it would be her academic problem — she’d have to work that out with the school.  Well it didn’t take her too many weeks to figure out how to adjust her lifestyle and alarm clock placement so as to get herself to school on time, which she did for the rest of her high school career. The way she learned to overcome her failure gave us all great confidence that for the rest of her life she’ll be able to get herself where she needs to be on time!  And she has!

That’s why I want your kids to fail.

Remembering Michelle Pinkston: 10 years later.

Michelle Pinkston

It’s hard to believe that ten years ago today we lost one of the godliest, artistically talented, and servant-hearted young women to ever emerge from our youth group.  She was unexpectedly killed in a car accident on Highway 30 the day before she would have graduated from Iowa State University.  I’ll never forget hearing that devastating news on that fateful day.

Her life continues to impact those she left behind through her art and her legacy of faithful service.   Here’s a photo album of the art that was displayed at her memorial service

The art gleaned from her sketchbooks now graces the preschool hallways of our church, reminding us continually of this life well lived.

The lessons she taught me 10 years ago still affect me today.  We miss you, Michelle!


Below is an edited transcript of what I shared at Michelle’s memorial service.

I had the privilege of being Michelle’s youth pastor for her 7 years of Middle School and High School.

Michelle’s death affected me deeply. I was devastated when I heard the news and overwhelmed with personal sadness. The moment I heard the news on Friday I realized how much of my life was touched by hers.

During the seven years of youth group and subsequent years being away at college, I grew to love, respect and appreciate Michelle. Her faith was strong and she kept it strong by being actively involved with other believers in this church.

We made a lot of memories together. Weekly youth group times, retreats and summer trips to New Orleans, Toronto, Mexico. She was such a blessing to our group.

And her faith and impact on others continued on in college.

She talked to me last fall about hoping to help out with the youth group after graduation and I was very excited about that. She planned to help lead a girls’ Bible study and use her artistic talents to spice up the group. But as we know, God had plans for Michelle we didn’t know about.

Since I work with students all the time, I’d like to say a few words to Michelle’s classmates both from Kennedy and ISU. I watched you Sunday night and yesterday and today and I was touched by your expressions of love and sorrow at her loss. I noticed that some of you share Michelle’s faith and so today is full of hope for you. Some of you though, haven’t yet found the hope and assurance she had. Yesterday one of her old Kennedy classmates shared with me how Michelle’s sudden, unexpected death filled her with terror. As I told her, it doesn’t have to be that way. Michelle loved this life, but she longed for heaven even more. Death to her was not about personal loss, but rather personal gain—the place where real life begins…

Whatever your experience, don’t, don’t miss the fact that what Michelle and her family have shown us is genuine Christianity and it works! Their personal faith in Jesus provides the only real answers for the ultimate questions we will all face regarding life, death, and meaning…

I was her youth pastor and I suppose I taught her a lot of things over those seven years, yet I’m sure she taught me more than I ever taught her.

Her life taught me.

  • How to live a full, joyous, abundant life.
  • She used her talents fully. Creativity reflects God’s creativity.
  • She positively impacted others—grade school thru college shared at the vigil.
  • She consistently lived what she believed.
  • She dreamed of and longed for heaven, her real home.


Her death taught me a lot too.

  • It reminded me of the preciousness of others. We forget how much we mean to others. Since Friday I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I’ve begun telling people how precious they are to me. I’ve observed relationships being made, rekindled, and restored as this has reminded us of what’s really important.
  • Always be ready for eternity. This will determine our priorities.
  • Finish well with no regrets. That’s why someone was able to say: “This is the happiest funeral I’ve ever been to.”

Michelle loved children’s books. I want to close by reading a passage from the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.”

J. Warner Wallace urges, “Send your teens to Summit!”

J Warner WallaceThis morning our New Covenant church family was captivated by J. Warner Wallace, who gave compelling evidence for God’s existence.  If you missed it, I hope you’ll watch the video.

At the end of his message, he gave a passionate charge to parents, adjuring them to send their teens this summer to the two-week Summit Conference!  He urged us to fill our bus!

What is Summit?  Rather than explain it,  click here to watch a video that shows you what it’s all about.

From personal experience, Cindy and I are so grateful that both of our girls attended Summit while they were in high school. Their experiences there adequately prepared them for the spiritual, intellectual, moral, and cultural challenges they would face at the state universities they attended.  Their faith was significantly bolstered by what they learned from their Summit experiences.

Professionally speaking — from my 23 years as a youth pastor at New Covenant — I’ve seen firsthand that college is a pivotal time where faith is either strengthened or abandoned altogether. That’s why we encourage all of our students to attend Summit before and/or during college to fully prepare them for life.

Obviously there is a cost to this two-week training, which pays for housing, food, materials, and face-time with some of best Christian thinkers, authors, and apologists from all over the world.  But I don’t think of it as a cost — Summit is an investment!  New Covenant offers some scholarships (and transportation to one of the sessions) because we think it’s so important. We hope parents and others will also consider investing in this important training.

Three important notes for those interested in going this summer:

  1. The early-bird price for Summit ended on March 31st, but Summit has made a special arrangement with our Intelligent Faith Conference to extend the early bird deadline until April 23.  If anyone registers for Summit using the coupon code “IntelligentFaith2016” they  will get that $200 discount!
  2. New Covenant is providing free bus transportation to anyone from the Cedar Rapids area to who wishes to attend Summit’s “Tennessee Session #1” (July 3-16.)  There are 9 other sessions to choose from as well, but note that we only provide transportation to this session.  Be sure to register for Tennessee #1 if you want to go with our group.  This transportation offer is also open to people from other local churches, but people must contact me to reserve a spot on our bus.
  3. If you regularly attend New Covenant and want information about New Covenant’s Summit scholarship (applicable to any session of Summit, not just Tennessee #1) contact me.


If you have any questions, I’d love to discuss this with any of you!

Summit interviewed me in this professionally-made video, asking why New Covenant makes it such a priority to send our students to Summit.  Enjoy!

Why I believe in “Intelligent Faith.”

IFC newlogo w boxOne of the saddest things is to see people blindly embracing belief systems without any supporting evidence.  God gave us minds to use and to not do so would be about as ridiculous as a person with good eyes living with blindfolds on.  To not use what God gives would be a waste of His good gifts.

But some would argue — as I did in my satirical April Fools joke yesterday –that faith and reason are incompatible.  As if certain things are matters of faith, whereas other things belong to the realm of reason.  I want to challenge that argument.  I would assert that faith and reason need to work together.

But first I need to define what I’m talking about when I use the term faith.  Many skeptics think blind faith is the only kind of faith.  Blind Faith is believing something without any rational evidence, such as believing that the moon is made of cheese.

I agree with the skeptics that this kind of faith is an unfortunate waste of grey matter.

But I’m going to suggest there is another kind of faith — Intelligent Faith.

Intelligent Faith has three components.

  1. a subject to consider (a chair, for example)
  2. a rational assessment resulting in a belief about that subject (the chair appears to be able to hold my body weight)
  3. committing to that belief  (actually sitting in the chair, i.e. exercising faith.)

You’ll notice that reason itself has limitations.  Even in our simple example there’s a slight element of uncertainty in step 2 — the chair “appears” to be sturdy.  There is no absolute certainty that my chair will indeed hold my body weight — the wood may be rotten inside, the glue may be old, an earthquake may occur as I’m starting to sit down, etc.  So we don’t make decisions based on absolute certainty, but rather reasonable evidence.  Reasonable evidence is all a jury is asked to utilize in convicting someone — absolute certainty is never expected.  We all step out in faith based on reasonable evidence.  Faith fills the gap that reason alone leaves us.

So to put it succinctly:  Reason assesses; Faith trusts. There is no conflict.  Both are essential components needed to live life each day.

We all need to practice intelligent faith every day.  It’s how we decide whether or not to cover our roses after the weatherman’s frost alert.  It’s how we decide what we will allow ourselves to eat or not eat.  It’s how we decide what’s worth living for, fighting for, and dying for.  And what we believe happens after that.

I’m excited to be on the planning committee to present the Intelligent Faith Conference next weekend.  This event will draw attention to the vast amount of reasonable, rational  evidence that supports the Christian worldview, so no one will blindly believe anything.

The conference will be held April 8-9  at New Covenant Bible Church in Cedar Rapids.  The cost is $25 by this Sunday, April 3rd, $35 after that.  There is also a youth rally on Wednesday and a University of Iowa Q&A on the Resurrection on Thursday.  For more information on these events, or to register for the conference, click here!   I hope to see many of you there!

My April Fools Joke – 2016

Blind Faith Gazette article

Something I love about my church, Part 1.

heart-1166557_640There are lots of great churches in Cedar Rapids and we are by no means the best.  But there are some unique things about New Covenant that I really, really love.

One of those things is our commitment to being intergenerational.  Rather than targeting one demographic–being homogeneous–New Covenant functions like a wonderfully diverse family, where each member is recognized and valued.

Here’s how I’ve seen this intergenerational approach lived out in our church family.

(In no particular order.)

  1. I love how Pastor Bob reiterates how our children and youth are not the church of tomorrow, but rather the church of today (as well as tomorrow).
  2. I love how our worship teams include all ages:  currently from 15 to 75.  If you include our 4 choirs, people serve in Big Church worship between the ages of 3 and 94!
  3. While it’s true we are age-segregated for teaching and training, I love the way the volunteers in these ministries come from all generations.  Middle schoolers helping in the nursery alongside of grandparents.  High schoolers helping in Children’s church with Pastor Mick and his team.  Youth sponsors from all life stages sharing what they’ve learned about the Christian life with teens.
  4. I love how Kids Camp and Fall Fest are staffed by teens and adults of all ages, each pouring into these young lives.
  5. I love how the Pathfinders (older adult) ABF has adopted our high school group and prays faithfully for them each month.
  6. I love how we sing classic hymns as well as the latest Hillsongs praise songs.
  7. I love when my elderly widow friend hands me a $100 check and then she tells me to apply it to a teen who needs help going on a summer trip.
  8. I love how Pastor Gary utilizes the gifts of over 250 people in the leading of worship.  There’s a place for everyone:  flute players, violinists, timpani players, trumpeters like me, cellists, jazz saxophone and piano players, and even a harmonica player!
  9. I love how my own two daughters were raised in a church that recognized and called out their gifts and gave them opportunities to develop them.
  10. I love how the church budgets significant amounts of money to provide our children and youth ministry with functional facilities, reliable buses, and scholarships for trips such as Summit.
  11. I love how the MTAs and Blaze Teams bring together older, experienced mentors with young people who seek to be trained in ministry.
  12. I love the variety of musical genres we utilize that reflect our diverse church family:  rock, orchestra, big band, contemporary, coffee house, brassline, acoustic, electric, and occasionally even classical opera!
  13. I loved it when 90 year olds like Galyn Peterson, Jean Bauer, and Perry Jane came in and shared with our high school kids how they’d seen God work in their lives over their lifetime.
  14. There can’t be too many churches our size that allow children’s choirs to sing in Big Church.  I love how this shows kids their value and allows them to point us to Jesus.
  15. If a visitor walked into our church, it wouldn’t take them long to figure out that we’re a family of very ordinary people who take turns worshiping God in a variety of ways.  They wouldn’t experience a finely targeted service catering to their demographic demands.  I expect they would find the authenticity refreshing.  If they do, they’ll likely fit in here!
  16. I love how our Family eXperience nights bring families together to learn and interact with truth as a family unit.
  17. I love that every week we do songs that aren’t my particular style because that means my church is not about me. This shows that in healthy families we take turns.
  18. In our culture of “moralistic therapeutic, deism” (which views God as existing just to meet my needs) I love how our intergenerational approach teaches young people that the world doesn’t revolve around them, their style, and their way.  Instead of “me” it should be more about “we” and ultimately about “He”.
  19. I love how children, middle school, and high school are each given 2 weeks a year to lead worship in Big Church.  I don’t know of any other large church that does that.
  20. I love “people watching” on Main Street (our lobby) and seeing the melting-pot of ages talking, laughing, and playing together.
  21. And most of all, I loved how when my daughter Brenda was trying to decide who to invite to her wedding, she had to invite the whole church, because so many people of all ages had invested in her life and she wanted them to be there to rejoice with her on that special day.

Frustrated Families

Too often I’ve observed this progression within families.

  • Unattended frustration in the home leads to resentment.
  • Resentment in the home creates walls between family members.
  • Walls between family members makes for a miserable existence.
  • When the misery gets too unbearable such families finally ask for help.



Today I want to draw attention to what I believe is a common component within fragmented, unhealthy families: the inability to identify and address the frustrations of its family members.  I’ve observed that when frustrations are neglected — even small ones — seeds are sown that can ultimately destroy families and marriages. Given enough time the accumulation of these unattended frustrations results in resentment, anger and hatred, and can result in the breakdown of the family unit.  By this point it’s often too late for help.

What’s the antidote?  Create a family environment where frustrations can be easily brought out into the open and addressed.  Think of it like a pressure release valve.

In our house this environment was attained through family meetings.  We made it clear that if anyone was frustrated about anything going on in our family that they should call a family meeting, where we would work it out together.  We had a lot of family meetings!

Here’s an example from a meeting that I called when our kids were young to address two of my frustrations at the time.  Being the family dishwasher, I was frustrated because I felt we were dirtying cups needlessly. (I was washing what seemed like two dozen cups per day for only four people!)  I had also noticed that my family members were in the habit of getting a new bath towel after each use rather than reuse them!  Wasteful!  (Admittedly these issues seem pretty small compared to the other problems of the world! But this was becoming a daily irritation for me and I could feel resentment beginning to creep in.)  Time for action!

So I called the family meeting to express my frustrations and to see if we could come up with a solution that would restore my tranquility.  After identifying my issues (and they were just my issues!) we brainstormed ideas and figured out that we could solve my problem by color-coding our household items just like our friends the Calcaras had done.   We negotiated over what colors we each would get (somehow I ended up with pink!) and then went to the store to buy plastic cups, plates, and bowls for everyone.  We also got towels of the same colors, which now could be easily identified, hung up, and reused.  We even extended our color matching to include toothbrushes (to this day my dentist’s office knows to give me a pink one!)

A few final thoughts:

  • Personal happiness is not the main goal in life.  Serving God and serving others is.
  • We can’t promise our families that every frustration of theirs can be entirely removed — we’ll always have to come to terms with things that are beyond our control and it’s also not reasonable for each one to get his or her way all the time.
  • It’s also important to communicate that a family is not a pure democracy — ultimately the parents are charged by God to make decisions for their family’s overall well-being.  Our guarantee is not that we will resolve things to everyone’s satisfaction, but that we will listen, respect, and love each family member as we seek to honor God in our homes.

In summary, I’m prescribing a family environment where respect is shown for each family member, where verbalizing frustrations is the norm, where people’s feelings are validated, and where reasonable solutions can be worked out as a team if possible.

Families who operate under this kind of environment will enjoy a greater closeness, which brings glory to God.

Why the Starbuck’s cups would have offended me.

fox_and_friends_first_-war_on_christmas_starbucksRecently the Starbucks “red cup controversy” made the headlines as it was purported by some to be a “war on Christmas”.  I personally think it was mostly a publicity stunt, as I know of exactly ZERO Christians (and I know a lot!) who were concerned about it.

But it does remind me of my own journey.  Until a few years ago I too might have been offended by such Starbuck’s cups — along with other Christmas trappings that exclude any mention of Jesus.  So for those who haven’t heard my story, let me share what brought me out of Grinchiness.

I wrote the following in Jan, 2008…


Anyone who has been around me this Christmas knows that I’ve had quite a change of perspective with regard to Christmas. For the past couple of years I’ve had this ever increasing negative attitude, bemoaning the secular “X-Mas” along with its assault on the spiritual “Christmas.” After all, Santa is spelled with the same letters as Satan!

I was disturbed at how the true meaning of Christmas (Jesus’ birth) is so often obscured by frivolous holiday trappings (decorations, ornaments, trees, the obsession with materialism, and of course, Santa). They’re taking Christ out of Christmas!

My attitude hit an all-time low in early December [2007] when I found myself at odds with my own family. They had the audacity of wanting me to join in the annual decorating of our home, setting up our tree, stringing the lights, etc. My preference was to throw the wicked tree in the recycle bin and go to my room to read the Nativity story instead!

Fortunately, my friend Steve Duffy sent me an email just in the nick of time (no christmaspun intended). It was a 17 page summary of a book on the history of Christmas. I was captivated — to the extent that I immediately bought the book and absorbed myself in it.

The book, Christmas: a Candid History, by Bruce David Forbes, a professor at Morningside College, put it all in perspective for me and transformed my attitude completely. I recommend it for any of you remaining Scrooges or Grinches out there. Here are the things I came to understand.

  1. There is no record that the early church ever even celebrated the birth of Christ at all for the first three centuries. (The Death and Resurrection were their big celebrations.)
  2. Only 4 chapters in the whole Bible mention any details of His birth.
  3. Even so, the season of His birth was never indicated, nor was any commandment ever given about recognizing it in any way.
  4. Midwinter celebrations (like Saturnalia, New Years, and the Winter Solstice) had been held since long before the time of Christ as a way to bring cheer to a dark, gloomy season of shortened days (in the northern hemisphere). These popular celebrations were characterized by greenery (holly, mistletoe, poinsettas), gift giving, lights and feasting along with a lot of raucous partying.
  5. After Constantine legalized Christianity, church leaders added a celebration of Jesus’ birth to these Mid-Winter festivals in an attempt to “Christianize” the festivities and tame the revelry.  (Had they tried to cancel them outright they would have faced stiff opposition.)  December 25th was designated as the day to recognize His birth, adding new traditions to the winter festivities.
  6. Therefore the spiritual aspect to the holidays has always been an “add-on” to a mostly secular cultural phenomenon.
  7. Interestingly, the Puritans almost succeeded in killing Christmas between the 1600s to 1800s, making the point that it wasn’t observed by the earliest church fathers.  Christmas thus fell out of public acceptance.  Their influence is shown by the fact that Congress and public schools were still meeting on Christmas day until 1850!
  8. Just as interestingly, Charles Dickens’ short story, “The Christmas Carol,” and Queen Victoria’s elaborate royal family traditions were instrumental in bringing Christmas back to popularity — this time with a new emphasis on families and children. Shortly after that, legends of St. Nickolas began to morph into today’s concept of Santa Claus largely through the poem “T’was the Night Before Christmas, ” which added to this new focus on children, toys, and gift-giving.
  9. Capitalism, higher standards of living, and advancements in technology have naturally and understandably increased the consumer emphasis of all of our holidays, including Christmas.


All these facts helped me realize that my thinking about Christmas was skewed. I learned that there’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying a winter “holiday” with all it’s cultural trappings. And I learned that “true meaning of Christmas” wasn’t predominantly about Jesus’ birth at all. Instead of looking at the glass as half empty, I’m now looking at it as half full, rejoicing at how much Jesus remains a part of an otherwise secular season.

I rejoice that (for now anyways)…

• The name “Christ” in Christmas is still largely a part of the our holiday culture.
• Christmas carols, some clearly proclaiming the gospel message, have endeared themselves to our culture and are commonly enjoyed in public stores, holiday concerts, and on secular radio.
• Nativity sets, reminding the world about the incarnation, are commonplace and culturally acceptable.
• Jesus is thought about and talked about more during this season than any other time of year.
• TV and news specials about Jesus, Bethlehem, etc are common and generally positively portrayed.
• Church attendance at Christmastime has become a cultural family tradition for many–even the irreligious.
• Charity and unselfish giving are great values during this season—affording opportunities to share about God’s generous nature.


Since I stopped being a Grinch about Christmas eight years ago, I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoy the holiday season, red cups and all!

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