This is the view of the beginning of my 20 minute drive to work each day as I round the corner at Kreuzegg and head towards Wollerau on the East side of Lake Zurich. ….also a Cross on a nearby hill along the way!
Over the past six or seven years, I have been deeply challenged to try and live and give the real heart of CHRISTmas to those I encounter during the Holiday season. For me growing up with my parents and brothers, and for my own family and kids today, I’ll be honest, CHRISTmas has always been a wonderful and special time of the year full of some of the warmest memories that I have. However, I realize that is not the case for everyone, perhaps for most. CHRISTmas can be a terribly lonely time of the year and a time that many relive difficult issues of sharing kid/parent times or missing loved ones that have passed away. Furthermore, most of the world’s population struggles to simply keep themselves fed and have decent water to drink, much less worried about how long the shops are open with the sales of iPods, iPads and i-Can’t even begin to list all the things we try and wrap for ourselves under the tree. I’m not a Santa hater nor am I one who would desire to boycott Christmas, but I am definitely one who’s passionate about reminding the world around me in a loving way that CHRISTmas is about THE ORIGINAL GIFT, that God blessed creation with in a special way when He sent His Son Jesus on that original Christmas day!
unWrapping Christmas: I’ve tried to be creative in communicating what CHRISTmas is truly about; Jesus, “the true GIFT” of CHRISTmas, thus the theme of unWrapping CHRISTmas with less influence of TV commercials, shopping, toys and gifts under a tree, and much more emphasis in communicating that Jesus’ being born into humanity is the ultimate gift to unWrap and get to know in life. A great thing about that is that you won’t get a credit card bill in January to pay for the gift of Jesus either, He paid the price in full and graced us with Himself!
Giving Away CHRISTmas: The past two years in particular, my family and I have tried to be very proactive in “Giving Away CHRISTmas”, meaning finding ways to bless and give to others instead of being focused on gifts under the tree with our name on them. In Switzerland, it’s not that we have so many homeless and needy out there in “our clean and proper cities” that are easily seen, but truly we have more than we realize that are really in need around us….if we look hard enough and find creative ways to seek those in need out. Aside of the “near needs” there is always the “far needs”, and numerous ministries and organizations that we can partnership with to help other families, not only have a better CHRISTmas season, but perhaps an overall improvement in their daily livelihood the rest of their year(s) as well.
Here’s THE ORIGINAL GIFT’s birth announcement as recorded in Luke 2:10-14
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
There are still a few days left, what might you do to still “Give Away CHRISTmas yourself this year? Taking gifts to others? Serving at a food distribution place? Adding “Jesus is the reason to the season” to your (work) e-mails instead of X-Mas? Inviting someone to a Christmas Eve service (which LIFT is having one)? Connecting with a long ago family member or friend that you need reconciliation with? Bringing a guest to your Christmas meal, even if they aren’t family?
Click reply and send me your creative ideas as well!
In His grip and grace…..because He first gave me the real gift of Christmas!
PS- HOW CAN WE unWrap and Give Away CHRISTmas?
Below are several ideas from many of you readers from last year and also some recently when I asked for ideas from my Facebook page. I thank the many that sent their great insight and ideas in how they or their family also try to seek ways to bless others this time of year versus being focused on a gift under the tree with your name on it. Below in blue font is a selection of many of these responses with some minor editing (denoted with an *) to keep the focus on the ideas and not the people.
Some 2010 Suggestions:
Donate a Pig to a Family in Poverty When you help provide a pig for a family in poverty you are providing a source of income which then enables moms and dads to provide food for their children.
www.Kiva.org – great way to help someone raise themselves out of poverty!
Some 2009 Ideas and Suggestions:
Hey man this was awesome. We have three children* and we are going to have each one pick out a gift, wrap it, and try to deliver it to a family in need, or give it to a charity toy drop off.
What a wonderful message! It did me good reading it. Two weeks ago we had a discussion about the chidren’s* “old” toys and instead of selling them on the internet* and getting money for it, we would like to give them to the Gemeinde Sozialabteilung (local village’s social welfare office*). We’re also discussing the food matter as we are sure that here in (our village*) there are families who have no chance to celebrate Christmas with some good food and to enjoy Christmas because they are struggeling with everything.
We absolutely love and look forward to Christmas because it’s all about giving although the world has turned it the other way around. Our child recently celebrated with a birthday party with friends from his/her* current & former school. For the party, instead of having presents and all, our child* had all the guests make a donation to the school’s Ghana charity fund, which funds the running of a school in Ghana. I hope this will not end here, as I will create albums & info sites and send it with a thank you to those who came, so they can continue to be updated by the progress of the Ghana school and perhaps support it again in the future.
Being a child once myself, I can understand how important presents are to kids and as parent’s* were very pleased to see our child* give instead of take, and use the birthday party as a way to raise awareness & funds for those who need it. God is indeed great and church has played a great role in shaping our child* as well. My grandma raised me with a thought – “To be able to give – that’s the greatest blessing.” So I hope that this is passed on to my child*.
The other idea which we all had was to have a birthday party at an orphanage, where all the guests bring gifts for the kids at the orphanage instead of the birthday child. That doesn’t just stop there as the kids would be encouraged to continue their friendship and to really be a friend to the kids at the orphanage, so like writing to each other and all that. This too can be used for a Christmas party, where we can share the real Gift – Jesus.
I used to work for a Greek shipping company and every Christmas, we send out Christmas greetings to all our partners, clients, suppliers and friends, and tell them we have donated to charities the money which we would have used to buy the cards & pay for the postage. That was quite a bit which would have been spent on cards and postage, so it was good to see that the money went to children’s homes and cancer charities instead… and the cost for sending out the thousands of greetings out – zilch. … oh yeah… less trees cut down too, so also protecting God’s creation.
I love your words “giving away”. I often hear our child* say these words. As a matter of fact, she wrote a paper about a famous person* and in her opening paragraph she wrote something like this “this person* loved peace and gave it away….”
In our home country*, we, as a family always tried to do some kind of little family fundraiser and pass the money onto the orphanages in Russia. This always was a big deal for us, but last year here, I had a tough time trying to figure out what to do and let our little family tradition go past us. The last year we were in our homeland*, we had an art show. one of our children* is a very good artist, but other made a bunch of pictures, too. I put borders on all of them and hung them in our dining room. We invited lots of neighbors and friends and collected donations for each “piece” of art. We donated all the money to an organization that builds playgrounds in orphanages in Russia. Now, our second year, here, and I’m still thinking about this and maybe will try to do something in the New year.
Cool message! For several years in a row my siblings* and I were buying Christmas gifts for each other, and for each our spouses. There are 6 of us in total. We all attend the same church in our homeland*, and they often have various organizations in need around Christmas time. About 5 years ago we decided we truly didn’t need anything material for Christmas, and that we would much prefer to take all of the money we would spend on each other (+ some extra), and we sponsor a family that is in need. While I was there last we all* took a day and went and did all the shopping together. We really enjoyed spending the time together, and we were so happy to do something that would make someone else’s Christmas morning special. Obviously, I am now just a monetary contributor, but the “tradition” remains. Our kids visibly see that we don’t have gifts from each other, and it a good opportunity to explain to them what we are doing and why. We certainly aren’t “special” for doing this – as lots of people all over the world do it – but I have to say I don’t miss the gifts under the tree at all, and it is such a peaceful feeling to know someone else is having a special day.
That said we have struggled to find a way to really instill it in our kids – so I love the ideas you have! Can’t wait to see the others.
This year compassion international has a “what I want for christmas” program. They send you a child that needs a sponser (at the end of NOv) for you to pray for during the holidays and try to find a sponser for. We are doing that and the kids are really praying for (*our child we sponsor). Also we do one of the toy programs for kids that wouldn’t get anything, each child fills a shoebox. Also we have some Christmas books we read
Working with and helping the mentally and physically challenged is a real blessing because they really appreciate the love. I use to volunteer with the Special Olympics * and continue to help out a workshop/day center.
Another things is to give to the Messianic Congregations in Eretz Israel. They have Arab, Jewish and others that have paid dearly to become believers in the Messiah. As you know both the Arabs and Jews families write their family members off when they put their faith in Jesus.
Recently some congregations have been firebombed, vandalized and have had the anti-missionary groups riot in front of their places of worship. They really need our prayer and physical support (even visits). Consider standing with them as they need to know that other believers care about them in their time of need. Especially now..
Keeping the light(s) in this world,
A cool idea that we have used in the past is to give specific gifts from the Samaritan’s Purse Gift Catalog, in someone else’s name, as an honorary gift to them (SP sends an honor or memory card explaining the gift). This works well for grandkids to give to their grandparents, for example. See https://www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/Giving/gift_catalog/
$4 for milk for a child for a week
$9 to feed a hungry baby for a week
$10 for a mosquito net to prevent malaria
$14 for a dozen baby chicks
It’s also available in British pounds here: http://www.giftcatalogue.org.uk/
We’ve done Operation Christmas Child via ISZL for the past two years (isn’t that cool that the international schools sponsor such a Christian thing!? I wonder whether they realize!), and we also were able to do it through our homeland* as well. Have been blessed to sponsor Compassion children for 20 years this year.
My Dad just came back from some ministry* outreaches where he was telling Hindu Indians about what Christmas is all about. Sharing our “Dad time” over the Christmas break is one way that we give Christmas away. Another way is that we’ve always had a stocking for Jesus. So there are 7 stockings at our fireplace: one for every family member, plus one for Jesus. We kids grew up putting poems for Jesus, letters for Jesus, and money for Jesus in the stocking. We then take the money to church as offering, or give the money to missions/the poor. We also bake traditional Swiss Christmas cookies for all of our neighbors. Some of them wait all year for our cookie bags! Most of these neighbors don’t yet know the Lord, but they all know that we are Christians, and they respect us for it… I think they’re glad we take Christmas so seriously because it means they get yummy cookies (hehe), but it’s also a nice way of reaching out to them and going to their homes to deliver the cookies… We have interesting conversations with them each time.
Last Monday near Zurich, as I reached to open the taxi door, the driver beat me too it and opened it with a welcoming smile as I took my seat next to him. A nameplate on the dash stated, “Milan *” with his last name being clearly Eastern European. So the conversation began, in funny German, as he spoke a funny High German, and me with my funny Swiss German (or whatever the German that comes out of my mouth)! Obviously not Swiss, I asked where he was from and the proud Czech native didn’t hesitate to share he was from the Czech Republic, although having been in Switzerland for a long time. He returned the same question, then complimented me that most Americans, Canadians and British don’t speak German…or anything other than English for that matter. I agreed. Since I travel a lot, I complimented his beautiful Prague, and also the nearby sister country of Slovakia, where I often go to Bratislava. His smile was contagious as was his friendliness. He was a bit older than I, later finding out he was 63, with a wife of 17 years, the same age as his 17 year old son, although he and his wife were together more than a decade prior to making it “official”, thus about 30 years together now in total.
There was something about him, that seemed different, a familiar friendliness that wasn’t just from two “Auslaenders” (foreigners who are comfortable with Switzerland, although I do have a Swiss passport, my language skills give another impression) connecting with simple small talk. Looking around, I noticed on the dashboard a small cross, and another hanging from the mirror, although that doesn’t always mean much in Switzerland where crosses are readily found all over the country. However on the dashboard was a small little “box” looking golden booklet that had the words, “Echtes Gold” (pure gold). I took the bait and reached forward opening it while at the same time stating the words, “Echtes Gold”, then seeing various Bible verses within, and Milan, the driver, quickly pointing out that those were God’s Words, verses from the Bible. I then stated, “Actually, I too know this “Echtes Gold”, Jesus, and yes, He is truly pure gold in my life”. The already friendly smiling Milan, now came alive with enthusiasm as he shared “HIS STORY”….without hesitation! Within 30 minutes, the rest of this ride and then the ride back to the office, God simply made my day (week, actually) in showing me insight in how He is still in the business of changing lives and making a difference in real ways in people with faith, hope and love.
Milan grew up on the other side of the Iron Curtain in a beautiful country and culture under the thumb of a foreign power (his statement, not mine). He was a self called atheist, as he was told to be, and didn’t think there was much real purpose or hope in life aside of what’s seen, which definitely wasn’t perfect. He and his woman, shared love and life and tried to make the best of it, even leaving their homeland to try and have a more successful life elsewhere…..and Switzerland was/is a beautiful and rich country to go to. The short version is that after years of getting ahead, and still not really feeling fulfilled, they attended an Alpha Course (a course churches often offer to introduce faith and a relationship to God, not just religion). Being invited to that course by of some of their friends, changed their lives forever…….not to mention that about the same time, after clearly NOT wanting to bring a child into this atheist world, Milan found out that he was to become a daddy. The two found and experienced Jesus, their own son and even true marriage all in same year………17 years ago.
Today, he is still smiling and sharing that life changing experience any chance he gets. This is what I call; LIVING HIS FAITH AND GIVING IT AWAY! Milan’s story is still being written, so is yours and so is mine. What a reminder and great example, even in his workplace, of being a light for Jesus to those he encounters!
In His grip and grace,
I live in Edlibach, part of Kanton Zug in Switzerland. Where do you live? What city do you live in? Who are your neighbors? Who are those around you in your community? ….in your workplace? …where you play sports, shop, or enjoy your hobbies? We are all surrounded by people! The question is, are we for them……or against them?
A few months ago, I was abroad and met with a pastor and friend, Adaumir, who also has a day job and who also planted a church about 6 years ago. We both realized, since the first time we met more that a year ago, that we have a lot in common. In particular, we both have an intercultural marriage, live in a German speaking country, are church planters, have passion for Jesus and passion for others to know Jesus and experience hope in life. In addition to our wonderful wives, we also have 3 kids each and again, in both cases, we have 2 older kids and a baby girl toddler. I was sharing that I believe that for my family of five, living in Switzerland has actually been healthy for our family unit, keeping us close in relationship and life conversations with our kids. Since we speak English at home and the rest of life outside our doors is Swiss culture and German language, I stated that sometimes I feel like it’s kind of like, “our family against the world around us”, but meant it in a good way, in that it keeps us close as a family unit. Adaumir agreed that they too have a close family unit, mixing their Brazilian/German/USA culture at home, BUT he wisely twisted my sentence by changing one word………and it made all the difference. He said that he prefers to say that he feels it is “his family FOR the world around him….not against it”! I’ve restated my version every since; yes, I believe it is my family, our little family of five, in Edlibach, Switzerland, FOR OUR WORLD AROUND US! I believe it is our church too, FOR our city of Zug around us! I believe that Living and Giving our faith, hope and love in Jesus does make a difference and is worth it! How about you, in your neighborhood and city? Each of us make a difference, one day and one heart at a time!
Speaking (writing actually) of my city of Zug, I was blessed to experience something very special this past Sunday night with my wife Tanya. Once again, we were able to catch a glimpse of God showing a bit of His glory, and as usual, He’s always way ahead of us. Our church LIFT has begun to share our facility on Sunday nights with ICF-Zug (International Christian Fellowship Zug) and on Sunday, ICF-Zug had its kick off celebration service at “the LIFT-Church” (as they call it). LIFT meets in the mornings and ICF on Sunday nights. During their announcements, they noted that their “after party” will continue at Pickwick’s, the local English speaking pub……even though ICF-Zug is a Swiss-German speaking church. Driving home that night, Tanya reminded me of some really amazing “Kingdom connecting dots” (thus my yellow highlighting above) that were part of my original church planting seminary project from back in 2002, long before LIFT or ICF Zug existed……although Pickwick’s has been around Zug for a long time! Way back in 2002, for that church planting project, that was only a project at the time, I included mention of Pickwick’s as a place where English speakers can connect and I also mentioned how ICF in Zurich was growing as a relevant church in Zurich (and also mentioned our friends across town as Stami as well!) and how these connections could be something God could develop and allow us to use here in the Zug area. So, on this past Sunday, not only did the manager of Pickwick’s, whose family now attends LIFT, come to LIFT’s morning service, but the 5 year old church plant of ICF-Zug also met in the same place as LIFT………..and to think that God “caused” these real life connections to happen in this city in an even more complete way than I wrote about way back in 2002 … that is something that is way beyond me!!!!!
Have a wonderful week and I encourage you to pray and connect with your city and those around your realm of influence……in living and giving your faith away! Tanya and I are off to Dusseldorf today for a Mosaic event called “Tribus”, with numerous other churches and church planters across Europe. I’m even having an opportunity the share a word about “GO” during the breakout sessions www.tribusmosaic.org/the-team.
In His grip and grace,
PS: Below are words to a wonderful song about God and “your” city….mine too!
GOD OF THIS CITY
You’re the God of this City
You’re the King of these people
You’re the Lord of this nation
You’re the Light in this darkness
You’re the Hope to the hopeless
You’re the Peace to the restless
There is no one like our God
There is no one like our God
-Chorus-For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City
Greater thing have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City
So here it is….the launch day of Live it and Give It Ministries International and the liveitandgiveit.org website. …..
“10-10-10- Connecting Dots” …………. and the launch of www.liveitandgiveit.org
October 10th, 2010 – 10-10-10: It’s been an interesting year of Living and Giving my worship and faith in life, ministry and the workplace. After 5 years of church planting in Switzerland, this has been a year of “Sabbatical” in part, and a year of vision of how to CONNECT THE DOTS, those DIVINE DOTS, that the Lord has put into my path……….and as part of this vision, today is the launch of a journey now and into the future and it is a continuation of serving and connecting the Kingdom….near and far!
www.liveitandgiveit.org is a website and ministry forming to connect the Kingdom… not just here in the Zug area but across Europe in particular, and beyond. Today’s just the launch…..the rest is ahead!
Looking back, for those that have followed the journey of LIFT The International Church of Zug and the updates that I’ve written since 2004, the entire archive of updates of LIFT’s first five years is available on this website as well. Live It and Give It Ministries International and the new website are also the result of finding myself in various cities sitting across from various pastors and church planters, and it is clear to me to take action with such divine connections and see how the Lord blesses them. Currently, at our home church at LIFT, I’ve also been re-engaging in student ministry with our teens which many of you know is another passion of mine. This passion has another “spin” to it as I am now a parent of a teen myself!
So……………..living my faith and giving it away! Near and far, I pray you are too! The journey is so worth it and the adventure continues… stay tuned at www.liveitandgiveit.org
In His grip and grace,
PS: A big “Thank you” to a great friend and fellow servant of Jesus, without whom this project would not have been possible, the webmaster of liveitandgiveit.org.