reflections of mine others might find useful

Category: Personal Reflections (page 2 of 8)

These are the things God has been teaching me.

Love Fails

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For many years I’ve been reflecting on the topic of love within marriages, families and friendships — and my profound conclusion is this:  Love Fails!

“Forstrom’s a heretic!” the Bible scholar will contend. “He’s 180 degrees off-base!  1 Corinthians 13:8 clearly instructs us that “Love never fails.”

Others will call me a pessimist. “Shouldn’t he be upholding unfailing love as the foundation on which to build healthy relationships?   What’s gotten into this guy?”

Let me explain.

Unconditional, pure, selfless love is certainly the biblical ideal — and at times it is achievable — but it’s never sustainable.

Human love always falls short. It’s unreliable. Limited. Lacking. Temporary.  Incomplete. Eventually, love always fails.

This is important to understand because if we don’t concede that others’ love will inevitably fail us, our expectations of them will be unrealistic and we will be needlessly — and perpectually —  offended.

Let me illustrate from our own lives with reference to Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages.

  • I am very aware that Cindy’s primary love language is “Acts of Service”, and yet here I am blogging instead of scrubbing the shower.  In fact, I’m ashamed to admit that I spend an average of about 23.5 hours a day not doing acts of service for her!
  • As for me, my primary love language is “Touch” — and you can be sure that I have made my wife Cindy very aware of that fact!  But at this moment as I write this she is not touching me.  She’s working on her “pile.”  She could be rubbing my shoulders at this very moment but she’s not — to my chagrin.  In fact Cindy spends about 15+ hours every day not touching me. (Note: I’m giving her full credit for all the time we spend sleeping–we share a “super single” sized waterbed so not touching me is not an option for those 7 or 8 hours!)

The point is this:  Cindy and I will never love and serve one another as much as we could.  There will always be one more honey-do project I could have done today.  Every backrub she thinks to gives me could have lasted 1 minute longer.  Or an hour longer.  Our love for each other always falls short of what it could have been.

Of course loving others involves much more than Touch or Acts of Service — there are multiple expressions of love.  But the reality is that the time and effort we spend intentionally and actively loving each other is quite often interrupted by other things.  Plus, we’re forgetful, we get distracted, we get overloaded, we’re unaware of needs, we lose momentum, we lose focus, we misprioritize, we run out of energy, and sometimes we get lazy.

Many people live their whole lives perpetually offended by this.

Instead of wallowing in feelings of neglect and resentment let’s put the failing love of others in perspective.  Here are seven ways:

  1. Cut them some slack.  Concede that others are simply human and prone to fall short.  Except by the grace of God, there go I.
  2. Recognize that life pulls people in many directions.  As I blogged about earlier we shouldn’t require others to do their best all the time.  Let’s not expect them to do as much for us as they could, instead let’s keep our expectations realistic.
  3.  Admit that we’re not the only recipient of someone’s love.  We have to share our loved ones with others. To not share them is to be controlling, manipulative, and selfish.  It it important to remember that we don’t need them.
  4. Recognize that our felt needs do not necessarily define what is best for us.  If Cindy gave me backrubs 16 hours a day the bills wouldn’t be paid, the house would be in disarray, etc.  If I did acts of service for Cindy around the house 16 hours a day I wouldn’t bring home a paycheck and we would no longer have a house!  My felt needs are not all that matters.
  5.  Humble yourself and admit how much you yourself also fail at loving others.  When I start to feel neglected by others an instant cure comes when I recognize how much more I’ve neglected them.  Take the log out of your own eye first, adopting the attitude of Brother Lawrence, “When I fail in my duty, I readily acknowledge it, saying, “I am used to do so; I shall never do otherwise if I am left to myself.” (The Practice of the Presence of God).
  6. Remind one another that your love is guaranteed to fail them.  Make it very clear that they can expect this from you.  Not that you’ll willfully harm them or spitefully neglect them, but that your love will ultimately fall short of all it could be.   “I promise to neglect you,” is a phrase they ought to hear you say, knowing that this will never be intentional, but that it will be inevitable.
  7. Trust in God’s unfailing love rather than man’s.  Allow the failings of human love to be useful in giving us a thirst for that love which never fails.

Guaranteed to fail you,


An Apology…


An apology, if genuine, is one of the most powerful forces on earth.  It can mend fractured relationships, can instantly heal decades-old wounds, can re-unite families, can stop wars, can keep a teen from running away.  We need more of them.

An apology is rarely made these days.  People dig in their heels and won’t admit they were wrong.  Look at our political climate recently.  So much abusive mudslinging and devaluing of people, yet I can’t recall a single heartfelt apology.  They were owed, but never given.  So much pain inflicted.

An apology requires humility.

An apology is always a good idea.  When you sense tension in a relationship, apologize for whatever you may have done to contribute to it.  Even if you think the other person was mostly to blame and you had little culpability, take the first step and apologize for your part anyways.    When in doubt, apologize.  This principle will serve you well.

An apology must take full responsibility for one’s actions.  Avoid flimsy, fake, vague apologies such as, “I’m sorry you were offended by my words.”  Or, “I didn’t communicate as well as I might have.”  A good apology bares one’s soul and exposes the real offense with no sugar-coating.  “When I slammed the door in your face I was treating you with complete disrespect.  That was wrong of me.  You deserve better than that and I am ashamed of how this must have made you feel.  I am truly sorry, will you forgive me?”

An apology makes no excuses like “I wasn’t in a good frame of mind” or “I spoke out of frustration.”

An apology must be clear about what the person did wrong and demonstrates understanding of the damage that was caused to the other in a spirit of brokenness.

An apology removes bricks from the relational walls that separate us.  And builds bridges instead.

An apology coming from an authority (parent, government leader, etc) is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength.  The impact of such an apology will actually garner respect and your children or constituents will follow you with more loyalty than if you tried to cover-up your obvious misdeeds.  Children whose parents are in the habit of apologizing for their errors will grow up taking responsibility for their own blunders.

An apology is meaningless if done out of obligation.

An apology should be freely given, but never demanded.  To tell someone, “You owe me an apology” doesn’t fix anything.  It simply puts the other person under obligation.  The apology that may follow will be forced, with no certainty that it was genuine.  It’s fair to let the other person know how their actions hurt  you.  Then it’s up to them to apologize, or not apologize.  (But if you tell them how they hurt you be sure you’re doing it for their benefit, not as an attack.  Otherwise you are being manipulative.)

An apology that’s not given by another doesn’t give you permission to mistreat that person back.  It is possible to forgive someone who won’t apologize, in fact you must.  Forgiveness is you cancelling their debt, even if they don’t deserve it.  Just like what God did for you. You’ll live in freedom if you practice forgiveness towards those who don’t deserve it.  You’ll live in bondage if you live in unforgiveness, waiting for an apology that might never be given. As the adage says, “Unforgiveness is the poison we drink hoping the other person will die.”

An apology should not be forced upon children, as in “You owe your brother an apology.”  Parents’ response to injustice should be justice not empty words.

An apology should be made in public if the offense was made in public.  This kind of apology is especially powerful.  I saw a vivid example of this on a youth event once.  Both parties apologized publicly for disrespect they had each publicly shown the other.  It was a profound moment and the tension in the room melted immediately into harmony.  I will never forget that moment.

An apology must be followed up with changes in how you treat the person.  If your subsequent actions negate your words then your words will mean nothing.  When someone can’t believe the words that proceed from your mouth then you have little left.

An apology should be done as soon as you realize you’ve wounded someone.  “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”  God’s advice is prudent — you’ll both sleep better.

A delayed apology is the same as no apology, just as delayed obedience is disobedience.

An apology ought to be made as frequently as you mess up — daily or even more than once a day.  I suspect living a life of quick apologies will ultimately result in having less need to apologize.

An apology, if genuine, is one of the most powerful forces on earth.  It can mend fractured relationships, can instantly heal decades-old wounds, can re-unite families, can stop wars, can keep a teen from running away.  We need more of them.

How to make your wife and kids feel unneeded.

child-1160862_640It’s quite simple, really–hardly worth even blogging about.  You pull them aside and you just say these four words, “I don’t need you.”

But feel free to be more creative if you like.

Personally, I prefer using the phrase, “I have no need of you.” Somehow it sounds a little more theatric, yet it accomplishes the same thing.  I’ve used that phrase often with my family over the past 23 years.

If you don’t believe me go ahead and ask them yourself.

Now before you call DHS, indicting me for shattering my girls’ fragile self-esteems, let me explain why we should be telling our family members that we don’t need them.

Here are five reasons why we shouldn’t tell them we need them.

  1. It’s secondary.  It’s much more important to tell them we want them.  I am always clear to communicate “I want you,” “I cherish you,” “I delight in you,” “I enjoy you.” “I like being with you,” etc. — even while using my epic line “I have no need of you.”  These are powerful phrases that communicate that they are desirable, lovable, interesting, and treasured.  They don’t need to be needed, but they do need to be valued.
  2. It’s bad for them.  Making them feel needed, can create an unhealthy sense of co-dependency, where their identity is wrapped up in meeting the expectations of others.  I know many older adults whose entire adult lives were consumed with having to please others to their own detriment.
  3. It’s bad for us.  Viewing a loved one as a “need” of ours might put us in the position of consumer with them being our provider.  It can create high expectations, where our happiness depends on their performance.  This could lead to us using or manipulating others.  Such a “you owe me” attitude is a setup for serious marriage and family conflicts.
  4. It’s a deviation from what is true.  I believe that God is truly our only real need. Everything else is a want.  This truth is the subject of the first of my 40 “Life Resolutions” — everything else that is important rests upon it.  I disagree with Maslow,   If God is truly the giver and sustainer of life and love for this life–as well as for eternity–then we don’t technically need anything else. Period.
  5. It’s a setup for our devastation. When we view our loved ones as “needs”, it sets us up for deep despair and bitterness should we lose them to death, disability, deficiency, or desertion.   Let me expound on each.
  • Death.  We have no guarantees.  Life is fragile.  We live in a fallen, precarious world.  Our family members are mortal.  It’s conceivable that the God who gave us our loved ones could choose to take them away. How would we handle that?  I’ve seen two responses.  Those who see their family members as a “need” that they’ve been robbed of invariably shake their fists at God and descend into a dark tunnel of bitterness.  One dad who lost a son became so bitter that his other sons lost their dad emotionally for the next 10 years.  On the other hand, I’ve seen families lose a child yet praise God for the precious time they had together.  Although they grieved their terrible loss, they were eventually able to press forward knowing that their child’s earthly presence wasn’t something they “needed” in order to be joyful.  In my daily prayers for my family I tell God, “Help me to treasure my family more and more, yet hold them looser and looser.”
  • Disability.  We can probably all think of marriages that dissolved after one spouse became disabled.  A Christ-centered marriage shouldn’t depend on our spouse’s physical prowess or functionality.  “He (or She) didn’t meet my needs” should never be an excuse for splitting up.  That’s not what Christlike, unconditional love is.  “In sickness and in health, till death do us part” is the commitment that was made.  Thankfully, our spiritual disabilities don’t keep Jesus from loving us.
  • Deficiency.  Parents often “need” their children to be star athletes, musicians, performers, scholars, etc.  This then becomes a point of contention when kids don’t live up to their potential.  Parents sometimes derive their own esteem from their kids’ performance or try to live out their own unreached dreams through their kids.  This pressure adds stress to kids’ lives and often builds walls between parents and kids.  If parents stopped “needing” their kids to be something they want, perhaps they could help their kids explore who God made them to be.
  • Desertion.  Kids who abandon the beliefs, values, or lifestyles of their parents can cause devastation for parents who “needed” their kids to stay true to the faith.  These parents often try to scold, nag, or pressure their kids to come back to the fold, which ironically has the opposite effect.  On the other hand, parents whose joy doesn’t depend on their kids’ choices are free to live their own lives.  Though they will certainly remain concerned about their child’s choices and well-being, they don’t lose their own ability to worship, serve God, and take care of themselves.  Ironically their ability to worship God and love others amidst disappointment may be the very thing that influences their kids to come back to the fold.

[Please note that in this article I’m using the word, “need,” in a technical or literal sense.  I recognize that “need” is also commonly used in a more figurative or pragmatic sense, such as, “We need to work together as a team,” or “I need help making supper.”   I take no issue with such “needs”!  Yet I have found it helpful to limit my use of the word “need,” substituting “want” or “would like” whenever possible as a way to ensure I don’t fall into any of the pitfalls listed above.]

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



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.”

My April Fools Joke – 2016

Blind Faith Gazette article

What I love about my church.

Fall, 2017.  I wrote this list back in 2016.  Some of these things have changed over the past year, but I’ll always be thankful for them.


heart-1166557_640March, 2016.  There 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.

  1. 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.
  2. I love the variety of musical genres we utilize that reflect our diverse church family:  orchestra, big band, contemporary, rock, coffee house, brassline, acoustic, electric, and occasionally even classical opera!
  3. In our culture of “moralistic therapeutic, deism” (which views God as existing just to meet my needs) I love how our inter-generational 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”.
  4. 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!
  5. 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!
  6. I love how we all sing classic hymns as well as the latest Hillsongs praise songs.
  7. 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!
  8. 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.
  9. I love how we’ve said that our children and youth are not the church of tomorrow, but rather the church of today (as well as tomorrow).
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. I love how Kids Camp and Fall Fest are staffed by teens and adults of all ages, each pouring into these young lives.
  14. I love how the Pathfinders (older adult) ABF has adopted our high school group and prays faithfully for them each month.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. I love how the MTAs and Blaze Teams bring together older, experienced mentors with young people who seek to be trained in ministry.
  18. 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.
  19. I love how our Family eXperience nights bring families together to learn and interact with truth as a family unit.
  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!

Relationship conflicts? I recommend murder.

Over the years I’ve witnessed many families and friendships devastated by conflict.

I’ve observed how such people tend to position themselves as enemies, sparring with each other, inciting resentment, anger, indifference, or revenge.  All are wounded, some deeply.  Some for a lifetime.

So I don’t recommend sparring with your enemies.  Murder them instead.  

But before you go off and commit a capital offense, I’d like to redefine “the enemy.”  Because I think we get this wrong.

Usually, those of us in conflict view the other person as the enemy, hurting them, correcting them, resisting them, or simply avoiding them.  The outcome of this is that both parties end up even more wounded and the original conflicts actually end up compounded.

A better solution seems to be to declare the enemy to be the relational wall between you.  Make the wall the real problem, not the person on the other side of it.

So how do you murder this true enemy, the wall between you?  Here’s my 10-step battle plan.

  1. Stop focusing so much on how the other person needs to apologize, accept responsibility, change, or conform to your expectations.  These things may be better addressed and received once the wall is down.
  2. Choose to be Unoffendable.
  3. Start talking about how awful it is to have a wall between you.  How you hate being disconnected relationally.  How you long for both of you to get to a place where you can be a blessing to one another.  How you desire a lifetime of mutual enjoyment of one another rather than one of perpetual wounding.
  4. Express your commitment to begin removing the relational bricks that you contribute to the wall.
  5. Humbly ask the other person to identify the bricks they’d like you to remove.
  6. Listen.  Seek to understand.
  7. Change what you can.  Explain what you can’t.
  8. Always treat the other person with kindness, as a person you care about rather than a problem that you want fixed.
  9. When they’re ready, gently let the other person know what changes they might make that would be helpful to you, i.e. what bricks they may have unknowingly added to the wall and how they might remove them.
  10. Stay attentive to the condition of the wall and — as a team — keep working away at removing bricks one at a time.

Once you’ve set those bricks on the ground you’ll find instead that there’s now something else between you — a bridge!   The wall will have been completely obliterated.

And those are murders I love to witness!

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