I’m Feeling The Christmas Pressure

It must be time to put up the Christmas lights; I’m feeling the pressure.

Today I’m watching Lily decorate our upstairs Christmas tree. That’s right, we have an upstairs and a downstairs Christmas tree.

The upstairs one is hers. She decides what goes on it, and she does all the work. The downstairs tree is sort of the family’s tree; it has home-made decorations that we have given each other over the years.

Lily pretty much … well, actually completely puts that one up, too.

My line is that she takes care of the inside and I do the outside.

Just watching her do her thing puts the pressure on me to get moving with the outside lights.

But that’s not the only place from which I’m being pressured to get my task done.

There are several neighbours who already have their lights up. And when I drive down the next street, the homes there seem very much into the Christmas spirit.

About seven years ago I started thinking that people were putting more effort into Halloween decorations than they were Christmas. Now I think people are putting the same effort into decorating for Christmas as they do for Halloween.

For generations Christmas lights have basically been the same. You figured out a pattern of lights that worked on your house and you put them up every year. The only thing that you changed was the bulbs when they burned out.

Now there’s way more stuff!

They have big blow-up Christmas characters – I’m not talking about the baby Jesus and wise men; I’m talking about Frosty and Santa. Some of these blow-ups are as tall as a house!

There are also elaborate laser light shows that change rapidly and cover the whole front of a house.

It’s a big deal! And it seems that every year it’s getting to be an even bigger deal.

Not for me though. I’m old school; I have my pattern of how the lights go up and I just repeat that every year. I’m not trying to add anything new. I just hope that I can find the same eavestrough hooks I used last year.

What’s got me feeling the pressure to get my lights up today is that so many of my neighbours have their lights up, but I’m the Christian guy.

I’m the one who is really supposed to be into Christmas and I feel like not having my lights up yet is saying to them all that I don’t care as much as I should.

There is one other pressure and that’s the weather. It’s a nice day out there today – a balmy 8° Celsius (46 Fahrenheit). The chances that it will stay this warm for much longer are slim.

So between my wife, the neighbourhood, my perceived neighbours’ expectations of me and the weather, today’s the day when the lights go up.

I’m feeling the pressure.

Here’s the thing:  We feel pressure to do outward things, but do we feel pressure to do inward things? It’s hard not to give in to what we see in the world around us or what others are doing. But are you compelled in the same way to respond to what God wants you to do? The pressure to do outward things like put up the lights comes from within; we pressure ourselves. We should put that kind of pressure on ourselves to respond in obedience to what God wants us to do. Faith without obedience is not much good at all.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What should you put pressure on yourself to be doing? Leave your comments below.

Thank Goodness The Christmas Season Has Begun

In the United States, Thanksgiving is the indicator that the Christmas season has begun. In my house it’s when the Christmas tree gets put up.

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For some people, they start to get into the Christmas spirit when Advent starts – the four weeks when we anticipate the coming of Christ into the world. In churches a candle is lit, scripture is read and someone says something about the signs that Christ was coming.

Some people get into the Christmas spirit when they see snow on the ground. In some places that happens pretty early in the fall.

Others have that Christmas spirit for most of at least half the year. They start their Christmas shopping then too.

But honestly, I don’t think that any of that is really the Christmas spirit. They’re all just things we attach to a time of year. We like tradition.

Memories are powerful so when we see, hear, smell or touch something that brings back a memory, we relive that event. We can see it again in our mind and it brings some great emotions with it.

So the Christmas spirit has more to do with our memories and our emotions than it has to do with the coming of Christ.

All the generosity and kindness and brotherly love, it probably has its root in our feelings and not in the fact that Christ has come to save mankind.

Maybe the Christmas spirit has nothing to do with Christmas. Maybe we don’t need Christmas at all to experience all the good cheer we have at this time of year.

… Well, before we go too far down that road, we should investigate the real reason we have the kinds of memories we have at this time of year.

It’s this time of year that we identify as the time that God sent his Son to earth. That’s a pretty big deal in itself but not an incredibly emotional, memory-producing event.

What does create the emotional memory is why God sent Christ to us. God sent Christ to us as a gift to save us.

Down through the years people have received this gift of Christ and have been saved from their sins.

So when the time of year comes around when we remember Christ’s coming to us, the memories of the gift of Christ have brought all kinds of warm emotions that have resulted in expressions to others of generosity, kindness and brotherly love.

In our time, we have focussed more on the memory of the caring acts and so we respond in kind.

We attach the memories more to presents, festive happy gatherings, and acts of kindness to one another … but that is pretty superficial and temporal.

The real Christmas spirit should come when we realize that Christ is God’s gift to me, and that by receiving this gift I am forgiven of my sin.

That’s the real Christmas spirit. And that can influence your life and actions all year long. So actually, the Christmas spirit is not part of a season but part of who you are.

Here’s the thing: God sent His gift. If you’ve received this gift, then act like every day is Christmas. If you haven’t received the gift of Christ, do it now . . . Christmas is coming!

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What gets you thinking about Christmas? Leave your comments below.

How To Keep Your Lights Working

I don’t know what we’d do without lights. I guess we would all go to bed earlier … and wake up later.

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Lights keep us working late; they keep us going when we run out of daylight.

Recently I’ve realized that I have lights IN me. They’re called electrolytes.

Actually, I’ve know about them for many years, but recently I clued into something about them that is making a difference in my exercising.

For some time I’ve been having muscle problems when I play hockey or do anything strenuous. What happens is my muscles in the lower half of my body feel like they have been exercised to the max and I just can’t get any more out of them.

That would be understandable at the end of a workout or near the end of a game of hockey, but unfortunately it happens to me very soon after I start exercising or on my first shift playing hockey.

I thought it was a reaction to the medication I take. I even wrote about that and you can read that post (here).

But it’s more than the medication. What my research is revealing to me is I need more lights or “lytes”, that is, electrolytes.

My son just laughs at me like, “How can you be so old and not know this?”

You see when I play hockey I don’t drink any water. I’m sweating tons of it but not replenishing any.

In other words, I use lots of electrolytes but I’m not putting any back into my body.

And I really need them so that my muscles don’t seize up!

Over the last couple of months I’ve been experimenting. I’ve been loading up on water before I play hockey and, amazingly enough, during the game as well.

I actually take a water bottle out to the bench, just like most of the other guys. I guess I’m not special after all, just normal like everyone else.

This hydrating myself has worked pretty well. I’ve noticed a marked difference but it’s not perfect. I still have shifts where my muscles feel all worn out.

So today I tried something different. I thought maybe I needed more electrolytes than what I get in just plain water. I decided to guzzle a bottle of Gatorade before the game.

Well, I would have drank Gatorade because my son works for Pepsi. But the vending machine only sold Powerade so I downed a bottle before I hit the ice.

As I said before, I don’t know what we’d do without “lytes”. This electrolyte-packed drink kept my muscles from barking at me the whole game. Not once did I get a message to stop skating and take a rest.

I think I’m on to something here and I’ll keep the experiment going until I come to a definite conclusion.

Oh ya, and I’ll keep taking a bottle of water out to the bench.

Here’s the thing: Like with your body, spiritually you can only give so much before you need to replenish. The warning signs that you are not getting enough spiritual nutrition will be a lack of love for God and a heaping pile of unconfessed sin. To replenish, you need to read God’s Word, but not just read the words, soak them in, ask questions and personalize what you read. Your spirit will be renewed and you will be able to keep going, staying strong spiritually.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What problem have you been trying to find an answer to? Leave your comment below.

Today Is The Day The Lights Go Up

So today has been declared, “put up the Christmas lights” day.  No one has put any pressure on me to do it today; it’s just time to get them up.

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I’ve seen the Christmas lights on many houses for the last week or so, but I’m not one to start burning through the electricity all that early in the season.

My neighbour is pretty smart. He waits for the warmest day in November and gets them up even if he doesn’t turn them on for another couple of weeks. His lights have been on for the last week and every time I drive into our court, they stare at me, goading me into playing Russian roulette with the weather.

And that’s what I usually do. I see my neighbour out there getting his lights up, wearing a light sweater or jacket … but I like to take my chances.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out well for me – I’ve put my lights up when the snow’s been flying and it’s frosty on the hands. There were times I’ve even had to wear a winter jacket and hat.

If you know me, I don’t wear hats all that much. The only time you’ll see me wearing a toque is on a ski hill, or tobogganing, or losing at weather Russian roulette putting up my Christmas lights.

It doesn’t take me too long because I’ve figured out a system and I have the right clips to make it all work. … However, it used to be a problem.

For many years the light manufacturers weren’t meeting their profit margins, so every year it seemed they would change up the clips to attach the lights to your eavestrough or roof shingles.

When I would go to put up my lights, I would invariably be short a couple of clips. So off I’d go to Canadian Tire, only to find they didn’t make those clips anymore. I had to replace them all with a new clip system.

The light people must be doing alright now because I haven’t had to overhaul my light clips in several years.

One thing I miss though is the help. Years ago, before my daughter, Karlie, left home, she would help me. It made the job a little nicer; it was something we looked forward to each year.

I tried to get my son, Mike, to help when Karlie moved away, but he never had much interest. I think he figured one day he’d be doing it for the rest of his life, so he was in no hurry to get started.

The great thing about putting up the lights today is that I won the weather game this year. It’s a mild day out there; no need for gloves.

Here’s the thing: In Ecclesiastes it says there is a time for everything, like a time to reap and a time to sow. The thing is you have to do whatever it is at the right time. If you don’t do it at the right time it will be harder or impossible for you. It works the same way with God. There is a right time to give yourself to God, and if you miss the right time, it’s not just harder, it’s impossible to give yourself to Him. The good thing is the time is now and we don’t know when it will end. The smart play is to give yourself to Him now – today. Get it done. Don’t play Russian roulette with God.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What have you put off that you should just get done? Leave your comment below.

Bring On Christmas!

Well, our house is finally decorated for Christmas. It has been about a two week process. We’ve lived in a Christmas construction zone in that time, with boxes and decorations lying in wait to be placed where they need to be.

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It’s not just the living room that needs to be decorated, our family room gets almost as much glitter and lights as the upstairs.

For me, I’m glad that it’s all finished now because the in-between stage looks so unfinished and I really don’t like the clutter.

For two weeks I haven’t been able to walk around our pool table and if I need to get in a few more steps for the day, I need that space to pace around in.

But now everything is in place where it should be and the Christmas work site has now turned into a beautiful scene of lights, ornaments and ribbon. Lily’s happy with it and that makes me happy.

Not that I really contributed to the putting up of all the decorations – she has an idea of what she wants to do and I’d probably mess things up if I got involved … at least that’s what I’ve convinced myself of.

Sunday afternoon I sat down on the couch and ended up taking a well-deserved nap. When I awoke, Lily had just finished that last touches on the decorations. I figured I woke up just in time.

She asked what I thought and I said it all looked great. I think she was looking for something more, maybe something more flowery or possibly a “I’ll help take it all down”, but the best I could offer at the time was “great job, dear”.

Hey, I was still waking up.

It’s not like I don’t do anything to contribute to the Christmassy look around our house. I put up the lights outside … and Lil doesn’t help me with them.

I have to risk life and limb going up on a ladder to string the lights along the garage eavestrough and then use an extension ladder to secure the lights along the peak of our roofline.

I don’t see her needing a ladder to put her newly spray-painted star on top of the tree … well maybe a step stool.

I was able to get all my decorating done in one afternoon and not the two weeks that we have had to wade through the junk.

But it’s all good now. We are ready for this season we call Christmas.

The decorations are just a mood-setter for what the season is all about. I think the trimmings trigger memories and alter our mood to usher in a most special time of year where we celebrate the birth of Jesus, God’s Son, who came to restore us to God.

Here’s the thing:  Like decorating for Christmas moves us into experiencing the season with a greater depth of feeling, taking time in the next couple of weeks to focus your attention on Jesus and His birth will move you to cherish Him more. The thing is, like putting up the decorations takes effort, take effort to spend some time in God’s Word around the miracle of the Messiah’s birth.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: How much effort goes into preparing for your Christmas? Leave your comment below.

Don’t Let Many Options Cause You To Settle

The other day I was attempting to purchase a light for our remodelled bedroom closet from the many options out there.

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I wanted a light that would come on when the doors open, and turn off automatically. My wife Lily had seen such a light at Ikea.

So rather than travel to Toronto or Ottawa, we thought we would try the three big box stores in town.

We found virtually the same options at all three stores, but not one of them had the kind of motion switch we were looking for … so much for competition!

The prices were pretty much the same, and all the stores had all the items in stock. It was like all three stores were owned by the same company, with the same purchaser, and the same salespeople telling us the same thing:

“No, there isn’t anything like that.”

My problem with that is, that in a town far away, there is a store with a product that’s like that.

The three box stores in my town are situated within a 6 km radius. They obviously want to be all together, so we can be disappointed three times within a few minutes!

Maybe they don’t feel they have to compete with a store that’s two hours away. All I know is there is a store that sells the product we’re looking for. We just have to wait for an opportune time to get to it.

I think the stores in our area know this and assume we will settle for something they offer. In fact, I almost did. I almost thought, “Turning on a light switch in the morning when I’m hunting for clothes is not that bad. I may be tired, but I can find a switch in the dark and flick it on.”

At one time, I remember we had to get up off the couch and walk over to the TV to turn it on. And then if we wanted to watch a different channel we had to get up again. I know, that was back in the dark ages, and we would never think of leaving the couch to go back to manual channel surfing now.

But it’s just one on and off switch I’m talking about. I know that even if my wife doesn’t think so, I could be trained to turn that closet light off when I’m done.

That’s the reasoning our box stores are hoping we will come to; that’s what they want us to settle for.  But they don’t know my wife.

No, we will wait, me picking out my clothes by braille each morning until we can locate a light that will illuminate my chore without having to flick my index finger.

I just hope I can find the closet doors to slide them open between now and then.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have too many options that fill my mind first thing in the morning. There can be an overpowering desire to get right at the most urgent thing on your list … or get distracted by something that catches your interest … or not engage your mind because you’re tired. These are all options that will keep you from doing the one thing you should do and that is spend time with God. Set your priority and don’t give in to the other options.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What other options are you presented with when you spend time with God?  Leave your comment below.

Is Christmas Early This Year, Or Is It Me?

I’m having a late start to the Christmas season this year.  I’m not sure why, but in some people’s minds that makes me the grinch.  My associate sure thinks so.  When he told me he’s been listening to Christmas music for the last few weeks, I kind of shuddered at the thought.  That’s when he said, “You’re the Grinch!” and screwed up his face to look like him … all he was missing was green coloured skin and the picture would have been complete!

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I don’t think anyone’s ever compared me to the Grinch before – and I don’t think it’s a fitting description of me!  I check my heart rate every day and it beats the same.  There’s no way my heart has grown smaller, and I’ve never dreamt about those “Who’s down in Whoville”.

My mood started on November 26th, Thanksgiving Day in the US.  For us in Canada, it was just another work day; we had our Thanksgiving early in October.

I was in my car with my radio tuned to my regular rock station.  There was a Christmas song playing.  I didn’t think too much of it until the next song was also a Christmas song.  That’s when the announcer said they were only going to play Christmas music until Christmas Day.

I immediately turned to another station and haven’t tuned back in since.  It just seemed way too early to be listening to old rock stars like Bruce Springsteen sing “Merry Christmas Baby” or the Beach Boys harmonizing their “Little Saint Nick” tune.

It’s not that I cringe when I hear Christmas music or see things like Christmas lights on other houses.  … Mind you, my wife had been reminding me that Christmas was only a few weeks away and I still hadn’t put up the lights on our house.  Okay, so I was a little late with that.  (I finally did put them up on the weekend.)  I figure it’s saved us a few dollars on our electricity bill and that’s not a bad thing.

There are reasons why I’m late with the lights.  That job used to be something I did with my daughter.  Every year we would try to pick the coldest day possible and then we would go out together and put up the lights.  Well, she’s been out west for the last six Christmases – abandoned me – so, I don’t have her help.  My son, well, he has yet to be inspired to pick up the yearly task with his dear old dad.  You can see why I’m a little tardy with the lights.

And though I’ve been working on Christmas themed messages for two weeks at work, I still haven’t got into the Christmas mood.  Even all the decorations at church haven’t seemed to penetrate my emotions.

You know, now that I think of it, maybe I AM the Grinch, or am having grinch-like symptoms.  I wonder if I caught it from someone or whether I’m just run down and the virus found me?  Maybe it’s none of that; maybe it’s that we don’t have snow, the grass is still green and it’s +10C (50F) out today and raining!

Here’s the thing:  We have made Christmas into a season, a feeling.  We have built it up into this amazing time of good cheer.  There’s nothing at all wrong with that, but if all that replaces our appreciation of Jesus’ birth and worship of Him, that’s when we miss the point.  … I’m still looking forward to Christmas dinner!

Until Next Time!

Pastor Paul

Question:  What distracts you from the real celebration of Christmas?  Leave your comment before.