Christmas Daddies: Building Traditions

Christmas is a couple weeks away. That probably fills some of you with glee. And others with dread.

Me, I’m somewhere in between.

I’m learning to enjoy Christmas as a daddy. It’s a lot of fun to see my daughter get excited about everything that’s going on (most of which she doesn’t understand yet). And it’s a privilege to try to help my lovely wife overcome her Christmas anxiety (long story).

But something that’s been a bit difficult for me: Starting family Christmas traditions.

As far as I recall, we didn’t really have any traditions in our family growing up, although by the time I got into my teens, it became common for us to have lasagne instead of turkey for our Christmas meal.

One of the things I really want to do as my children get older is start reading Dickens’ A Christmas Carol together, as well as other appropriate Christmas stories. But I suspect that’s still a few years off.

So this year, we’re going to try to start two new traditions: Building a gingerbread house and reading the birth of Christ from Luke 2.

I suspect the gingerbread house will be fun because:

  1. My daughter loves gingerbread
  2. I love gingerbread
  3. My wife loves chocolate candy
  4. There is an icing pack for Abigail to squeeze

Reading Luke 2 as a family will be beneficial because it’s a reminder of who and what we’re celebrating at this time of year.

So, my fellow dads (and moms, too), what traditions are you building into your family?

Let’s share some ideas.

What's Your Most Memorable Book?

What’s one of the most memorable books you’ve read?

Is it one that taught you something new or got you thinking about a subject from a different perspective?

Maybe it’s one that just made you laugh?

I tend to read multiple books concurrently on a variety of subjects. Right now, I’ve got What is Reformed Theology by R.C. Sproul, Leading with Love by Alexander Strauch, The Book on Leadership by John MacArthur, Made to Stick by Chip & Dan Heath and few others on the go. I’ve also got Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin waiting for me (the first fiction book I’ve read since January).

In case you haven’t guess, I don’t really do “light” reading.

Right through college, I never really cared much for non-fiction. I’d read the odd biography, like A Beautiful Mind and If Chins Could Kill, but I was a big fiction reader.

And what is still one of the most memorable I’ve read is High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.

It’s just one of those books that I really identified with… probably because I was (and sadly still am) something of a music snob, looking down on everyone else’s terrible taste in music because it doesn’t match mine. That said, my taste in music has never been all that interesting, so really, I was just a bit of a tool.

There’s just a certain charm to the story of Rob, a record shop owner trying to figure out why his life sucks is a disaster.

It’s not a pretty book filled with perfect people; it’s just real life, regular problems… It’s relatable.

There are other books that really stand out for me as well. Shooting at Midnight (and all of the Atticus Kodiak books) and Queen & Country by Greg Rucka (crime and spy/espionage stuff), Pornified by Pamela Paul, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson (this and Packer’s Knowing God are probably two of my favorites when it comes to theology)…

But what about you: What’s your most memorable book?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Glorifying God in the Body

glorifying-god-body

First Corinthians 6:19-20 reads:

[D]o you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.


Contextually, these verses are related to sexual purity within the church; because God has purchased us with His blood, we are not our own. Therefore, we should honor Him with our bodies by abstaining from sexual immorality.

This isn’t, however, a post about sexual immorality.

It’s about how I’m learning to apply the principle of stewardship that exists within this passage.

Because our bodies, like everything else, are not our own, we have a responsibility to steward them well.

Growing up, this is a principle that I never understood. Partly because of genetics, but mostly because of poor eating decisions, I was a very, very heavy kid. You know how with babies and toddlers, they get really chubby then grow into it?

I was kind of like that, except 18. When I was 12, I was about 5-ish feet tall and 185 pounds. When I was 18, I was 6 feet tall and… 185 pounds. Except then I stopped growing. So I stayed 6 feet tall, then just grew out.

I touched on this topic back in March in relation to reading the Pursuit of Holiness, so I’m going to try to not rehash too much. Sufficed to say, I’ve always struggled with living a healthy lifestyle in terms of physical fitness.

This week, I was reminded of the necessity of even my physical health as a stewardship issue after our pastor preached through John 3:16-21.

God has chosen to love me, despite my hatred of Him. And because He has shown me pure, unmerited favor, I want to worship Him!

And that includes how I treat my body.

I’m now a week into my new gym membership, and I’ve got to say, I’m very pleased. My physical memory is good. My strength and endurance are already improving. My eating habits are getting better. My weight has even dropped a teeny bit.

But most importantly, it’s an opportunity to glorify God in my body.

God is its owner; I want to steward it well.

Who Would You Be?

who-would-you-be

A couple nights ago, Emily and I were watching the Vintage Jesus DVDs and we came to this question:

Who would you be if Jesus hadn’t saved you?

It was really interesting for us to sit back and consider this: Who would I be if Jesus hadn’t saved me?

What kind of husband would I be? What kind of father?

Would I be any of these things?

The truth is, I know exactly what kind of guy I’d be.

Jesus saved me from being a lying, adulterous little boy trying to fit into grown-up man pants that I could never wear. From being a sad, pathetic excuse for a man who could never live up to the responsibilities of being a husband and father.

Because, this is where I was heading until Jesus grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and said, “You’re mine! You belong to me.”

I don’t talk about how I became a Christian a lot, because… well, because I am sometimes afraid that people will think I’m nuts. But you know what?

That’s just stupid.

It’s putting people in the place of God, and fearing them instead of fearing Him.

So tomorrow, I’m going to start to tell the story, at least the parts you need to know.

God gives us a story for His glory.

Who would you be?

If I Skip It Today…

skip-today

Some days, it’s hard to get motivated to write. Today has been one of those days. (Incidentally, this can be especially frustrating when it’s what you do for a living.)

I really dislike it when I don’t feel inspired or motivated; days when I’m not really sure if I’ve got anything relevant to say (although I’m sure some would question whether I ever have anything relevant to say).

Days like these, it’s really tempting to just skip it and veg out (or catch up on my reading).

But it’s also these dry moments that help me develop discipline as a writer.

It’s easy to check out and do something else. But it’s harder to stick with it, sharpen your skills and increase your understanding of your craft.

In some ways, it’s like developing a regular habit of reading the Bible. Follow me down this rabbit trail, for a moment… [Read more…]

Where the Wild Things Are

poster_where_the_wild_things_areFriday night, Emily and I went to see Where the Wild Things Are, the Spike Jonze film loosely based on Maurice Sendak’s classic book about a disobedient boy named Max, who is sent to bed without supper and imagines sailing away to the land of Wild Things,where he is made king.

Going into the movie, I didn’t really have any expectations, beyond having a good time. After all, the book is roughly ten sentences. If you’re going to make a 100-minute film from it, you’re going to have to expand; more accurately, you’ll need to create your own story around the basic framework of the original.

There are parts of the movie that were excellent.The character designers did a great job bringing the Wild Things to life and should be commended. Likewise, all the actors did a brilliant job in the portrayal of their characters. But, as we watched the movie, I felt… unsettled.

Emily described the movie as having an “undercurrent of creepy” running through it.

Identifying The Undercurrent of Creepy

Something felt off. Perhaps it was characterization. Max, the emotionally out-of-control son of a divorced mom, flips out when Mom’s got a date in the house and takes off. This reminded me a bit of my childhood as the emotionally out-of-control son of a divorced mom. While his actions certainly aren’t glorified, I’m amazed at the seeming lack of consequence for behaving like an insufferable brat.

After some further reflection, I think my discomfort centers around Carol, the emotionally out-of-control Wild Thing who is a personification of Max’s own issues. He smashes the group’s homes because everything isn’t perfect and how it “should” be. He looks to people to solve all the problems in life; that Max, as king, will make everyone happy.

In the characterization of Carol, Spike Jonze exposes our potential for idolatry.

A Problem, but No Solution

Carol “needs” to turn people into his functional savior, whether it’s K.W. or a king. And when they fail under the enormous amount of pressure he places on them, he blames them, attacks them and tries to destroy them.

We do this all the time, whether it’s in marriage and dating relationships, parenting, friendships, work, and celebrity culture. We build up our expectations of a man or woman, a boss, our kids, an actor, whatever, and when they inevitably buckle under the enormous pressure… You get the idea.

We all have the propensity to be “Carol” in this way.

While the movie brings this reality to light, it feels rather hopeless. Perhaps that’s intentional; I’ll be honest, I’m not really certain of the motivations of the screenwriters and director. And perhaps, this weakness might be its strength.

While I didn’t find the movie a satisfying experience, it did provide an opportunity to remind myself that there is a solution to our potential for idolatry. That there is hope because of the gospel.

And that is truly satisfying.

Discovering a Solution to My Organizational Nightmare!

The other day, I was lamenting trying to properly catalogue and keep track of my books. I’d checked out LibraryThing.com; and while it’s very cool, it doesn’t have the functionality I need.

Perhaps four hours after the post went live, I got a Facebook message from a friend suggesting I try Books for Mac OSX. It’s an open-source program that some of his friends had tried and thought was terrific.

I spent a good chunk of Monday afternoon messing about with it, and it’s pretty phenomenal!

Check this out: [Read more…]

147 Million

147-million

On Monday night, Russell Moore posted the following on Twitter:

147 million orphans are out there tonight. 147 million.
Where are you?

It’s a provocative challenge, isn’t it? 147 million children without a mom and dad.

I think about my two year old girl sleeping in the other room, and I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like for her to not have her parents, and it breaks my heart to even try.

Something Emily and I decided to do a few years ago was adopt; after we saw how the foster system affected our extended family, we knew it was something we wanted to do. And after we became Christians, that desire as we read and began to understand passages like James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” For us, it was really encouraging to see throughout Scripture how God shows how much He cares for those who desperately need it. And so we want to do the same.

Now, here’s what I’m not doing: I’m not pointing my finger at anyone and saying “You’re not doing enough!”

I’m also not saying that everyone who is a Christian should adopt. But, maybe some of us should.

Maybe we need to open our homes to children living in the foster system and be a family—even for a few weeks—to a boy or girl who needs one.

Maybe we need to sponsor a child with Compassion, and provide an opportunity to have his or her life transformed by the gospel, as the church proclaims it in word and deed.

Maybe we need to volunteer with an after-school program in our community and be a positive voice in a child’s life.

There are so many things we can do. And there are a lot of who are doing these things, to the glory of God. In an act of obedience, an act of worship, they’re reaching out to care for those who are in need. Regardless of our feelings on social justice, it is a fruit of the gospel. It is a part of living out our faith. A part we’d all be wise not to ignore.

“[B]e doers of the word, and not hearers only,” James tells us.

How will we respond today?

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years-The Contest!

This contest is now closed.


Yesterday, I (and a few thousand other bloggers) reviewed Donald Miller’s new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years—and my friends at Thomas Nelson have generously provided one copy to give away to you.

Want to win a copy? Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Add your name and email to the Google Doc form or use the form below:[ Form Removed ]
  2. Tell me a story—Leave a comment telling me why you’d like to read this book. The more entertaining the better.

It’s that simple.

The winner will be selected at random and notified via email to arrange mailing. The winner will also be welcome to review A Million Miles in a Thousand Years for publication here should he or she wish.

The contest closes on Saturday at midnight (EDT), so enter before it’s too late!

Sunday Shorts (09/27)

Ray Ortland: My church or the Kingdom?

Pastor Ray Ortland responds to those who believe their passion is for the Kingdom and not for the church. His point is that while it sounds very noble, it’s ultimately destructive:

Suppose I said, “My passion isn’t to build up my marriage. My passion is for Marriage. I want the institution of Marriage to be revered again. I’ll work for that. I’ll pray for that. I’ll sacrifice for that. But don’t expect me to hunker down in the humble daily realities of building a great marriage with my wife Jani. I’m aiming at something grander.”

If I said that, would you think, “Wow, Ray is so committed”? Or would you wonder if I had lost my mind?

If you care about the Kingdom, be the kind of person who can be counted on in your own church. Join your church, pray for your church, tithe to your church, participate in your church every Sunday with wholehearted passion.

We build great churches the same way we build great marriages — real commitment that makes a positive difference every day.

HT JT

Derek Thomas: Falling in Love with the Church–again

Over at Reformation 21, Derek Thomas writes on why he believes it’s wrong to not love the church and right to love to be a part of her:

Something is terribly wrong when professing Christians do not identify with the church and love being a part of her. Something is wrong when professing Christians fail to be passionate about every aspect of the church and long to invest themselves in her, taking all that the church represents and does to heart. Listen, for example, to the way Paul instructs the Ephesians: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).

HT Challies


In case you missed it: Defining the Church

define-church

I’ve spent the bulk of this week working on a definition of the church over the course of three posts:

Where two or three are gathered, addressing church discipline within a community of disciples

God likes Leaders and Preaching, on the authority structure put in place by God

Serving and Celebrating Jesus, looking at how we use our gifts to serve one another and glorify Jesus, and the practice of communion and baptism

Serving and Celebrating Jesus

define-church

Over the last couple days, I’ve been working on a definition of the church. After looking at church discipline and leadership within a community of believers, we’ve come to the following definition:

A Church is a community of disciples led by biblically qualified men who preach and teach God’s Word, who practice church discipline as guided by the teaching of Scripture, under the authority of Jesus Christ.

Now there are still a couple of significant gaps in this definition, that we’ll address today:

Serving (exercising gifts), The Sacraments (Baptism and Communion).

Reading 1 Peter, I came across this passage:

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Pet 4:7-11).

Peter says in this passage that each true believer has received a gift from God—a spiritual gift. This gift (or gifts) are given for the purpose of serving one another, and by extension our communities, so that God would be glorified. None of us is given whatever gift we have to boast in that gift and hoard it for ourselves.

We are to do what we do to the glory of God, by His power and authority. Whether it’s music, writing, speaking, hospitality, greeting, intercessory prayer, encouragement… Whatever you’re passionate about, whatever you’re great at, in whatever way God’s gifted you, that is to be used to benefit others. [Read more…]

Where two or three are gathered…

define-church

How would you define a church?

There are a lot of ways that people try to define the church, but one of the most common today has been in reference to Matthew 18:20:

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

This verse has kind of taken on an interesting meaning over the years. As I alluded to a moment ago, these days it’s most common application is as a definition for fellowship with other believers—which for some is the all encompassing definition of the church. Were this the case, it could be safely argued that two Christians going out for a beer & chicken wings and having a conversation about their personal reading is “church.”

However, this is not the case.

While it’s true that where two or three are gathered, Christ is with them… it’s not a definition of “church.”

It is, however, an aspect of church discipline.

A crucial element of being a church, however you define it, is the practice of church discipline; meaning that we do not excuse ongoing, unrepentant sin in the lives of fellow believers. [Read more…]

They Like Jesus… But Not His Church

jesus-church

Picking up on some themes from my last post, I’ve been thinking about the idea of “lone wolf” Christians; folks who live the “it’s just me and Jesus” mantra.

The folks who like Jesus—but they don’t like His Church.

In thinking about it, I see the appeal to some degree.

I’m not someone who particularly enjoys spending a great deal of time in groups of people. I get drained easily. I get frustrated with other people when they don’t get it, whatever “it” happens to be.

But I look at it and what really tempts me most about it is…

It appeals to my sense of pride.

Something I’ve been continuing to learn about me is that I’m an extremely prideful person. I generally prefer to think that I’m the smartest kid on the block, and am tempted to think that I don’t need to listen to the counsel of others.

And every time I start getting into those patterns, I get a swift kick in the behind.

That is why I believe Jesus calls all of His people to be a part of His Church. From my own experience, when I’m disconnected from others, I begin acting as though the world revolves around me and I become my own functional savior.

And it’s ridiculous when I do this, because I’m a laughable “god.”

Being part of the local expression of His church, flaws and all, reminds me that it’s not just about me and my “needs” (which usually are just preferences). That there are men who are much wiser and more mature in the faith than I, to whom I would do well to listen. Indeed, Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” That there are also people who can benefit from the few experiences I’ve had as a believer, as I humble myself to actually serve them and not see them as a source of frustration.

But if I were to go it alone, I’d miss out on a crucial part of the Christian life.

And that, to me, is tragic.


Questions to consider:

If you are one who prefers to go it alone—if you like Jesus, but not His Church—how has this impacted your spiritual life? In lone-wolfing it, in what ways have you grown more like Christ?

What prevents you from joyfully being a part of a local church?

A Preview of Heaven

hebrews

The last couple of weeks have been a bit hectic in the Armstrong house. A very enjoyable trip to Grand Bend with my in-laws over the Labor Day weekend, followed by a visit to my Dad the following Sunday for our annual family birthday (my Dad, sister, niece and I have birthdays within a couple weeks of each other—it can make celebrating a bit overwhelming).

Because of all the traveling, there was one thing we were unable to do: Go to our local church and worship together with the people there. As much fun and valuable as our time with our relatives was, we were missing a very important part of our lives.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

This time reminded us just how much we love going to church (the institution) to be part of the church (the body of Christ). I know that there’s a lot of folks out there who might lose their minds even reading that statement, but we have to remember: The church is both Christ’s body and Christ’s institution.

He will build the institution who is His body and His bride.

So we, the body of believers, come together to worship God the Father through God the Son by the power of God the Holy Spirit, through the reading of Scripture, the preaching of the Bible (by a biblically-qualified male elder), the singing of songs…

There’s something incredibly powerful in it, if you’re a Christian. Something beautiful, even.

And it’s something completely different from any other interaction and activity in our lives. It’s not something that happens when I’m at the office of my Christian workplace talking about Jesus with my coworkers. It’s not something that happens when I’m having lunch or coffee with one of the guys I mentor.

It’s something that only happens when the larger congregation comes together, to worship God together.

It’s a preview of heaven.

And why would anyone who is a Christian want to neglect that?

Why would any of us willingly desire to disconnect ourselves from the very thing that is meant to stir us to love and good works? To encourage each other as we wait patiently for Christ’s return—when the preview ends and the new heaven and the new earth begin and we join the wedding supper of the Lamb?

I look forward to that day.

In the meantime, I will enjoy the preview.