Love came down at Christmas time: why we celebrate


Perhaps the greatest mystery of the faith is this: God gives us no less gift than Himself, through the person of Jesus Christ, facilitated by the work of the Holy Spirit.

It may be partially understood this way: the greatest gift a good parent can give is themselves. Ultimately, your children don’t want your money, gifts, or any other material thing: they want you. They want your love, time, play, and affirmation. Don’t we see how children simply want to be near mom and dad? To children who are secure in the love of their parents (a desperately rare thing), their parents themselves are the cure for what ails them.

In much the same way, God’s ultimate answer for a broken world, a world crying out for peace and justice, was not the flame and the sword; it was not to appear in terror and execute the evildoers in one fell stroke; it was not welfare programs or money or food; it was not education, law, or medicine; it was not setting a code for people to live up to, to better themselves by their own willpower. It was Himself.

It was Himself — the unimaginable, unanticipated thing — God Himself in human form; and not just any human, but a baby boy, born in a stable to a pair of poor peasants in some no-name backcountry, far from the seat of nobility and worldly power, turned away by all and heralded to no one except a few outcasts and foreigners.

With the poor, oppressed, and lowly

Lived on earth our Savior holy

When a king or president returns to his people or visits a foreign country, he is attended by great pomp and circumstance: soldiers, parades, dignitaries, receptions, lavish gifts, etc. That is the world’s way. That was not God’s way.

The people of the time were looking forward to a military Messiah, come to ride in victory and cast off the shackles of Rome, come to make Israel great again. What they got instead was a baby: the God-man, the perfect man, destined to die a traitor’s death and rise again so that we could be near Him and become like Him.

That is the greatest Gift of all, and that is what we celebrate at Christmas.

That is why we say “merry Christmas” to total strangers; that is why we put up lights in remembrance of the Light of the World; that is why we bring evergreen trees into our homes to symbolize the eternal life; that is why we deck out in green for peace and life, red for love and the blood of Christ, and white for purity and holiness; that is why we ring the bells and go a-caroling for the music of heaven and choir of angels; that is why we give gifts in remembrance of the greatest Gift of all.

And our eyes at last shall see Him,

Through His own redeeming love;

For that Child so dear and gentle,

Is our Lord in heaven above:

And He leads His children on,

To the place where He is gone.

So, everyone: merry Christmas!

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How to break up and still get along: some tips

Broken heart

Disclaimer #1: I’ll say up front that I can’t claim credit for any of the practices or attitudes I’m going to recommend: all I did was take what others had taught me and applied it.

Disclaimer #2: I am not presenting this as a 10-point guide to a painless breakup. There are no guarantees; these are just things that worked for my former girlfriend and I, and I hope they’ll work for you too.

That said, here’s the short story: about ten months ago, while I was at Dodger Stadium with a lovely young lady I’d been seeing for a few weeks, I asked her to be my girlfriend. Four months ago, as we sat down for coffee, she looked me in the eye and said, “I don’t think we’re going to work out.” When she’d given her reasons, I couldn’t help but agree. We agreed to still be friends, walked out, and that was that.

Today, we’re as amiable as though nothing ever happened, if not more so. Aside from mutually giving some space for the first month or so after the breakup, we haven’t avoided each other; neither of us have quit the Bible study we both attend, glared daggers, or badmouthed each other. We still respect and admire each other.

Nathan, why are you saying this?

The only reason I think anything in this post is worth sharing is because a lot of people have been surprised by this story—surprised that the two of us even still speak to each other, still more remain friends. Some have expressed regret that their own relationships didn’t turn our like this; others have asked me how we did it.

Our friendship is what it is today because of certain attitudes we took into our relationship. We broke up well because we dated well. I hope these will help you too:

1. Our purpose was clear

When I asked her to be my girlfriend and she accepted, we agreed that the reason we were doing was to figure out, over time, with prayer, whether we should get married or not. We understood that this exploration, and no more, was what we were committing to at this stage. We agreed that “success” meant reaching a definite answer, whether that was yes or no. We certainly knew that “no” would be painful, but we also knew that “no” would be much better than saying “yes” when we shouldn’t have.

I really think this is the only good reason to enter this kind of relationship, but if you think differently, at least make sure you’re on the same page as your S.O. Being clear on your purpose will save you from being surprised later.

2. We both knew what we needed

To start with, it wasn’t each other. I’m convinced this is one of the biggest things that stifles relationships (and leads to awful breakups).

We also both knew that we were complete single people in Christ and we didn’t need to find “our better half” or “soul-mate.” We did know, however, that if we were to marry, we would need to agree on:

  • spiritual values
  • family style
  • expected lifestyle
  • careers
  • gender roles

We also both knew that each of our future spouses would need to have strong faith, godly character, and interests we could share. This doesn’t mean we fully articulated all of these to each other at the outset, but we each knew for ourselves and knew we’d discuss them at some point.

3. We both knew what we wanted

And we knew this was different from what we needed. I might have wanted a fellow literati who’d obsess over John Milton and Beowulf with me, but I knew this wasn’t crucial. She might have wanted a man who shared her love for Disney, but she knew it wasn’t a deal-breaker.

The other great things about our wants was that we were both open to them changing. Dating a real person can really make you change what you want (I mean that in a good way).

I’d especially caution: don’t let your “wants” grow into a six-page list that maybe three people on earth could fulfill. At least, if you do that, don’t wonder years later why you’re still single.

4. We weren’t the world to each other

Neither of us staked our hopes, dreams, or self-worth on the other. Six months in, we weren’t writing out our names together or planning our wedding (at least I can vouch I wasn’t). We both had an established identity apart from each other, rooted in Christ.

In this sense, it’s essential not to need each other. If her approval had made the difference between my life being whole or hell, I never could have let go of her. If her self-worth had hung on my affection, she never could have let go of me. If you feel you need someone to complete you, I suggest you read the Gospel of John and pray, because you need an identity, and it has to be much bigger than another person.

5. We knew it wasn’t personal

—in a certain sense. We both knew this relationship was one part experiment, one part adventure to see whether we were a good fit for marriage. There are a lot of factors to that, some of which are always beyond our control. We both knew that, if we weren’t a good fit, it was nothing personal.

This left no room for any bitterness or lasting hurt if one of us broke off the relationship while the other wanted to keep it. We both realized that, if one person doesn’t want it, it’s not a good fit. You can’t (or at least shouldn’t) marry someone who doesn’t want to marry you. (If you married someone who wanted to marry you, and they feel they no longer want to be married to you, or vice versa, that’s a completely different issue).

Side-note: if someone breaks up with you because of some character flaw that you have, don’t get mad at them or say that’s not fair. Instead, own it! This is someone you’ve let see into your life in a very intimate way, and now they’re telling you: this is what they’ve seen. Take that seriously and work on it.

6. We committed to honor

We committed to treat one another, by God’s strength and grace, with respect and honor, as members together of Christ’s family. This included being up-front and honest, not false or double-dealing. This included making sure (in time, appropriately) the other person knew things about us that might make them say “no.” This meant not taking advantage of each other. This meant relating with kindness, understanding, and patience.

7. We dated human beings

—as opposed to our idealized, daydream versions of each other. What I mean is that we listened to each other and ditched our preconceived notions of what the other would be. I stress this because, when you’re talking about family and life aspirations with someone you’re thinking of marrying, it’s deceptively easy to hear what you want to hear. Study your significant other and find out who they really are.

This also meant we realized the other person might hurt us. It was a risk we chose to take, and we were ready to meet that with God’s grace, not with bitterness, indignation, or acrimony.

Any breakup is bound to be painful if the relationship meant anything—but hopefully, if your hearts are in the right place, it doesn’t have to be bitter.

For more on dating gracefully and with purpose, I’d highly recommend Lisa Anderson’s The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose, as well as The Sacred Search by Gary Thomas.

Two servers: a short, simple story

CafeOne day in a little café, a man ate a sandwich, paid his tab, and left. As the server moved to clear the table, he was astonished to find $1,000 in cash left there by the man. He ran outside to find the customer, but he was gone. Trembling, he told the other servers, the cook, and the owner of the cafe. The owner advised him to keep it, since the man had obviously left it there on purpose. The server tried to distribute it among the other workers, but they were afraid and wouldn’t accept.

Having waited on him, the server felt sure there was no harm in the man. He’d been gracious and quiet, and strangest of all, after the server had taken his order, he had looked up in his face and asked, “And is there anything I can do for you?” The way he had looked and the tone of his voice had made the server feel as though the man meant what he said—but he had averted his eyes, embarrassed, and answered, “No, thank you.”

The server thought he had given decent service, but knew that even his best could never have earned this. From that day forward, he served every customer, no matter how rude, as though they were that man again.

The next day, the server was not there, so no one recognized the man when he came in again.

He did just as he’d done the day before. This time, he had a different server: one who took the question, “Is there anything I can do for you?” as a subtle sarcasm, a snare to see if he’d presume on the man’s kindness.

The man again left a $1,000 tip. His server was just as shocked as the first one had been, but decided it would be better not to make a fuss and slipped the money in his pocket without a word to anyone. All that day and the next, he could think of nothing but the tip.

He began to think this man must have recognized how great a server he was, and had rewarded him appropriately. How gracious, he thought, how discreet, how friendly, how professional and crisp! Why, anyone in the world would be lucky to be served by him.

He went to work from then on confident that he was the best server in the world, even, he thought, if his self-centered, ungracious customers lacked the discernment to see it. This made such a change in his conduct that he was fired in short order.

The hundred things I’d rather do than achieve my dreams

Alright, finally sitting down for another installment of chasing my calling with hard mental labor, in the form of studying for the GRE. And then the malaise hits. Suddenly playing Bejeweled, scrolling through Facebook/Twitter, calling a friend, getting a donut, cleaning my desk, or hacking through my ever-expanding reading list all sound way better than studying.

I know what will happen if I don’t: I won’t score high on the GRE or won’t take it in time, and if those don’t happen, I (most likely) won’t get into any of the grad schools I want and I’ll have to wait another year to apply again, which means putting off another year my dream of becoming a full-time English professor with benefits (yes, in this economy. I know the odds I’m up against.)

Every time I finally sit down to study (or do anything else productive), that stupid little mind-goblin is at the back of my thoughts, whispering that hey, it’s been a long week and I deserve a break, and I’ll have plenty of time next week.

Beating off that stupid little goblin is one reason I’m rushing through this blog post and not taking time to edit, so I can start afresh on the business of chasing down my dream, wrestling it to the ground, and riding it like a majestic ostrich across the sun-kissed plains of the savanna.

Totally yes.

Using Snagit to instantly let all your friends know about the “double-decker couch”

Say you’re watching a “trailer” for a “movie” (that hasn’t come out yet at the time of this publication) and the phrase/image “double-decker couch” appears (this could really be any movie). By the time you’re done peeling yourself off the carpet after falling out of your chair because you’re laughing so hard, you know you have to share this momentary comedic masterpiece with absolutely all your Facebook friends, from your most treasured comrades to those people from high school that you haven’t talked to in years and with whom you only remain connected through mutual negligence.

What do you do? Post a link to the video with directions to “omg watch this hilarious vid to 1:53 #waitforit #dyingoflaughter #rofl #rollingonthefloorlaughing #incaseyoudidntgettheacronym #goonwithoutme #mywillisintheorangecrateinthegarage”? That might be what you’d do if you didn’t have Snagit©® (and were a 15-year-old girl). With Snagit©®, you can use ©®Snagit to take that video, pause it at the exact moment of the pièce de résistance, and Snag©® It©®!

Now, you can post that photo to Facebook — or, if you’re a really smart monkey, you won’t have to, because you’ll already have set up ©®Snagit®© to automatically post it for you (which is totally a thing that it can do)! Now you can have all your friends laugh alongside you from the comfort of their electronic device of choice so you can all be buddies together!

If nothing else, it’ll be a great way to remind all those high-school people that you’re still Facebook friends so they can delete you and save you the trouble.

* * *

[This has been an exercise in comedy advertising, and the blame for its existence may be squarely laid upon this man. The next 10 seconds of history will long remember what hath been visited upon the Internet at his behest].

SnagIt screen-capture software: a review

Snagit is a powerful tool for easily capturing, editing, exporting, and sharing images and video. Here’s a quick rundown of what it can do:

  • Capture anything you see on your screen into an image or video file
  • Edit what you’ve captured using a suite of tools
  • Upload to Google Drive, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, and a bunch of other services
  • Combine images into a single, large image or document file
  • Send images straight to the printer

If you’ve ever needed to show something on your computer screen, exactly the way it appeared to you, to someone who wasn’t sitting right there next to you — say, walking them through how to do something, or reporting a bug — image-capture software is the solution. Whether that means buying this particular product will depend on your needs.

First, I’ll cover the basic image, video, and text-capturing abilities and what you can do with them. Then, we’ll look at some of the cool media-sharing capabilites.

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Passing the Military Justice Improvement Act

american flag

Flickr photo credit: Kara Huff (cavecreek4)

This is about bringing justice for victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the U.S. military. In all branches of the armed forces, all personnel are required to report any crimes or misconduct to the chain of command. The commanders have sole discretion in deciding whether a case is investigated or prosecuted.

However, in cases of sexual harassment and assault, the offender often is a member of the victim’s chain of command. Even when this isn’t the case, victims typically face backlash from those above and around them for reporting.

The Military Justice Improvement Act (S.1752/S.967), sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and currently under consideration in the Senate, would transfer the power of investigation and prosecution from the chain of command to an independent judiciary.

Read the full post »

Getting Things Done for Dummies (like me)

So that “Getting Things Done” system I’ve been harping on? I’ve finally done it. I just blazed through four chapters of the book and took two and a half days to put everything into place.

My final result:

A clear head and a sense of control. I’m continually free to have ideas instead of hold them: my brain is free to creatively develop projects instead of continually remind me that they exist.

Sounds nice, yeah? Well, at the risk of sounding like an infomercial salesguy (and I’m a terrible salesman), here’s how you too can revamp your to-do list and gain control over every single thing you have to do, from the right-nows to the someday-maybes to the total surprises:

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6 Questions Creationists Need to Stop Asking

In the wake of the recent, highly publicized debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, I ran across this article by Matt Stopera:  22 Messages from Creationists to People Who Believe in Evolution. Stopera asked 22 people who identified themselves as “creationists” to write a message or question to evolutionists.

monkeys

Most of the results are groan-worthy.

I’m not going to address them all (or even most of them), but I get the impression that these questions are meant to be magic bullets that’ll leave evolutionists dumbstruck and only able to say, like Job, ‘Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?’

The thing is, it doesn’t work like that. You are never going to defeat the entire theory of evolution by posing a simple (or impossibly complex) question, as though your listener had never considered the issue. There are a lot of thought-provoking questions that can be asked, but the following are not among them:

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An introduction to a solid way of getting things done

overwhelmed and frustrated - flickr image by andresthor

Ever felt like you’ve got more to do than you can possibly handle?

morpheus what if I told you

David Allen opens his book, Getting Things Done, with this statement: “It’s possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control” (p. 3). I don’t know about you, but my immediate reaction was, “Yes please!” Read the full post »

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