Christmas Service Projects Have More Perks Than You Think

Christmas Service Projects Have More Perks Than You Think


It’s that time of year again! December is here and so are all the many festivities of the season. But, what is all the fuss about?

Why do we do whatever it is that we do every year? What is the real meaning of Christmas? Of course, as Christians, we are aware that Christmas is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as depicted in Luke 2:4-19.

However, Christians and non-Christians alike celebrate Christmas in many ways, and the reason behind the celebrations vary from person to person. Some see it as a religious holiday, while others may view Christmas as a cultural holiday.

The way we celebrate Christmas varies throughout families and friends everywhere. Some families may have a grab bag event while another may simply have a potluck dinner and exchange gifts. However, there is one tradition that is starting to catch on and become more popular around the holidays, Christmas Service Projects (CSPs).

As a society, we seem to be more willing to exhibit acts of kindness toward one another during the holiday season, which would explain the growing popularity of CSPs. CSPs are generally designed to give people an opportunity to volunteer to help those who are less fortunate during the holiday season. It is an opportunity for us to “pay it forward” while realizing that the person who is volunteering could very well be in the same situation as the person who is in need.

The concept of CSPs certainly has its perks for people of all ages and is considered a gift that keeps on giving. When children participate in acts of service as an expression of celebrating Christmas, it has a positive effect on their grades, attitudes, and even self-esteem. In fact, research shows that volunteering as a youth leads to a higher quality of life as an adult.

“Volunteering leads to better health… Those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer,” according to a report by the Corporation for National & Community Service.

Deuteronomy 15:10 (NIV) says, “Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.”

As Christians, we have a responsibility to freely give to others, paying close attention to our attitudes, and the way we give to others. A little further in Deuteronomy 16:17 (NIV) it reads, “Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.”

Giving of yourself is a selfless act that is usually beneficial for the person receiving and rewarding for the person giving. Are you looking for CPS ideas for the holidays? Here are a few inexpensive ways to pay it forward in the coming weeks:

  • Make Christmas cards and send them to troops overseas.
  • Gather friends and family to volunteer at the local homeless shelter or food pantry for the holidays.
  • Pick up a few items at the dollar store such as stocking stuffers. Pass them out to the homeless, public service workers, or even a neighbor.
  • Design a card or special treat for the next Salvation Army bell ringer you encounter. Imagine how long they have been standing in the cold ringing a bell to try and raise money
  • Shovel snow for a neighbor, the elderly, a friend or a stranger, without receiving any monetary donation for it.
  • Help an elderly person hang Christmas decorations.
  • Decorate a tree in a populated area for people to enjoy. Don’t forget to take down the decorations when the celebrations are complete.
  • Have each person in your family commit to helping at least 4 people throughout the week. This will generate thought and conversation about serving others. Set aside some time to share your experiences and how you can carry these projects further throughout the entire year.
Christmas Service Projects Have More Perks Than You Think

Christmas Service Projects Have More Perks Than You Think


It’s that time of year again! December is here and so are all the many festivities of the season. But, what is all the fuss about?

Why do we do whatever it is that we do every year? What is the real meaning of Christmas? Of course, as Christians, we are aware that Christmas is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as depicted in Luke 2:4-19.

However, Christians and non-Christians alike celebrate Christmas in many ways, and the reason behind the celebrations vary from person to person. Some see it as a religious holiday, while others may view Christmas as a cultural holiday.

The way we celebrate Christmas varies throughout families and friends everywhere. Some families may have a grab bag event while another may simply have a potluck dinner and exchange gifts. However, there is one tradition that is starting to catch on and become more popular around the holidays, Christmas Service Projects (CSPs).

As a society, we seem to be more willing to exhibit acts of kindness toward one another during the holiday season, which would explain the growing popularity of CSPs. CSPs are generally designed to give people an opportunity to volunteer to help those who are less fortunate during the holiday season. It is an opportunity for us to “pay it forward” while realizing that the person who is volunteering could very well be in the same situation as the person who is in need.

The concept of CSPs certainly has its perks for people of all ages and is considered a gift that keeps on giving. When children participate in acts of service as an expression of celebrating Christmas, it has a positive effect on their grades, attitudes, and even self-esteem. In fact, research shows that volunteering as a youth leads to a higher quality of life as an adult.

“Volunteering leads to better health… Those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer,” according to a report by the Corporation for National & Community Service.

Deuteronomy 15:10 (NIV) says, “Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.”

As Christians, we have a responsibility to freely give to others, paying close attention to our attitudes, and the way we give to others. A little further in Deuteronomy 16:17 (NIV) it reads, “Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.”

Giving of yourself is a selfless act that is usually beneficial for the person receiving and rewarding for the person giving. Are you looking for CPS ideas for the holidays? Here are a few inexpensive ways to pay it forward in the coming weeks:

  • Make Christmas cards and send them to troops overseas.
  • Gather friends and family to volunteer at the local homeless shelter or food pantry for the holidays.
  • Pick up a few items at the dollar store such as stocking stuffers. Pass them out to the homeless, public service workers, or even a neighbor.
  • Design a card or special treat for the next Salvation Army bell ringer you encounter. Imagine how long they have been standing in the cold ringing a bell to try and raise money
  • Shovel snow for a neighbor, the elderly, a friend or a stranger, without receiving any monetary donation for it.
  • Help an elderly person hang Christmas decorations.
  • Decorate a tree in a populated area for people to enjoy. Don’t forget to take down the decorations when the celebrations are complete.
  • Have each person in your family commit to helping at least 4 people throughout the week. This will generate thought and conversation about serving others. Set aside some time to share your experiences and how you can carry these projects further throughout the entire year.
Loving Bravely

Loving Bravely

Loving bravely is risking great personal cost to do good for someone, even when you know that others may ridicule you for doing so. That’s the kind of love I want to give this Valentine’s Day.

This Valentine’s Day, I’m gonna try something different. Something brave.

Brave, as in, “this-year-I-will-forgo-typical-expressions-of-love-and-instead-donate-to-her-favorite-cause” bravery.

No, that’s not what I’m planning. I’m just offering that as an example. Eschewing a gift for a donation is the kind of thing that you only do when you really know somebody well, because if you’re wrong, you will pay for it. (All the married men should be nodding their heads right now.)

That’s what I mean by brave. Something unexpected that shows how much you care, something that might seem reckless, but is, in fact, very meaningful.

I have some work to do in the bravery department. Holly and I have been married for five years now, and unfortunately, I set the bar pretty high when we got engaged.

A friend of mine was the worship director at a megachurch in the area, and his band was planning on covering Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love,” for their worship service, since they were doing a series on relationships. So he asked me in advance to write another rap for it and bust it out during the service. So I upped the ante, and with their permission ahead of time, I wrote the rap verse as my will-you-marry-me speech, and during the middle of the song, I jumped off the stage and came down to where Holly was sitting, got down on one knee, and asked her to marry me.

It was so romantic.

Afterwards, I got mad cool points for going to such a length to surprise her. Afterwards, everyone kept echoing the same sentiment: Man, that was so brave.

Far be it from me to revise, as my grandmother used to say, even a jot or a tittle from the Bible. However, if I were to bring any editorial changes to an iconic biblical passage, I would choose 1 Corinthians 13, and right after “love is patient, love is kind,” I would add a third clause: “Love is brave.”

‘Cause seriously … ladies dig bravery. And for good reason.

Think of great leading men in popular films:

• Cary Elwes throwing himself down the hill in The Princess Bride.
• Bruce Willis fighting the terrorists in Die Hard.
• Will Smith trying to express his feelings in Hitch.

These are characters who found themselves in unfamiliar territory, and against all odds, they chose to do something good to help someone else, and found themselves being stretched (or in Smith’s case, swollen and contorted) beyond capacity in the process.

These are universal themes, for sure, but the common element here is bravery: the massive chutzpah required to stare down adversity and do the right thing anyway. It’s the stuff heroes are made from.

It’s important, though, that we not get confused about what bravery is, and more importantly, what it isn’t. Being brave, for example, is not the same thing as simply going against the flow.

Awhile back, I avoided seeing the last huge James Cameron blockbuster, mostly because I figured I already had a pretty good handle on how it ended (the boat sank), but also because I got tired of the hype. I just decided at some point that I’m going to be The Guy Who Never Saw Titanic, just to show up everyone else who thought it was so great.

The sad part is, I’m tempted to do the same with Avatar, even though I’ve read countless reviews and articles (including this one by UF’s Todd Burkes) that suggest that it’s a film experience worth having. It’s like I’d rather be the guy who didn’t see it, even if it means I miss out on seeing a great film.

Being contrarian is quite a marketable skill these days, because if you want to be a celebrity in today’s celebrity-saturated media marketplace, you have to do something to stand out from the rest of the pack. The quickest, easiest way to do that is to find a stance that is accepted as conventional wisdom, and then oppose it as vociferously as possible. This is why the Internet is full of people who oppose relatively normal things, like certain type faces, or even lowercase i’s next to capital letters.

(If you didn’t get that last reference, it’s ’cause you didn’t follow the link to the word “tittle” earlier. Go ahead, it’s not naughty or anything.)

This desire to stand out, in my opinion, is why former-NBA-journeyman-turned-culture-critic Paul Shirley recently penned a crude diatribe suggesting that Haitian citizens are culpable for their deplorable living conditions. Even though there are points he made that I agree with, I don’t think it was a particularly brave thing to say. He was looking to get a reaction, and he got one. People will accuse Shirley of many things, but loving too much is not one of them.

Loving bravely is not just taking an unpopular stance; it’s risking great personal cost to do good for someone, even when you know that others may, in fact, ridicule you for doing so. Obviously I’m not privy to all the details, but it seems to me that, by choosing to stand by her husband, Gayle Haggard chose to love bravely. It’s possible that Elin Nordegren Woods may be choosing similarly.

This is the truest essence of love, and as Christians we see it all over the Scriptures.

Consider this passage from 1 John 4:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This idea of sacrificial love, of doing for others what they cannot do for themselves, is one of the foundational principles that underscore all the worldwide efforts at Christian evangelism. And evangelism, as we all know, takes on many form — some subtle, and some not so subtle. The best strategies are ones that require truth and vulnerability, but still are basic and doable.

I’m reminded of “The Best Stuff In the World Today Café,” a cool little ditty by Take 6 with a nifty analogy of evangelism imagined as a downtown restaurant:

Time for lunch, my stomach said
I left the office to get fed
I had dined at every place on Main
My appetite was ripe for change.
And there stood this old restaurant
I had never seen before
And a stranger in an apron
Came bursting through the door and said

‘Welcome to The Best Stuff In the World Today Cafe
We are all believers in a better way
We were served as customers not so long ago
Now we are all waiters, we thought you oughta know’

It’s a clever song, and given the abundance of vocal talent in Take 6, I could probably listen to them sing pages of HTML source code and still love it.

Still, I wonder … what would happen if we really tried this? What would happen if I really grabbed someone off the street on an average Sunday morning and told them, “I don’t care what you planned to do, you gotta try this Jesus thing?”

I don’t know what would happen.

And that’s why it’s such a scary proposition in real life. Maybe that person would undergo a dramatic, Paul-on-his-way-to-Damascus conversion to Christianity. Or, maybe that person would give me the stink eye and say, “Dude, get your hands off me.” That’s why it’s such an act of bravery to put yourself out there like that.

And whether we recognize it or not, this holiday that we celebrate every February 14th, the one that was seemingly invented by purveyors of greeting cards, flowers, stuffed animals, and expensive chocolates … you know, Valentine’s Day?

Its origin is rooted not in empty sentiment, but in bravery.

Consider the following, courtesy of Wikipedia:

• The name “Valentine” is derived from the Latin valens which means “worthy,” and which bears etymological resemblance to our English words “valor” and “valiant.”

• The holiday itself has roots in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, where it was known for centuries as the feast day of Saint Valentine

• All the romantic sentiment related to love and courtship that has been traditionally associated with this feast originated with works of art like Jacobus de Voragine’s thirteenth century Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend) and Chaucer’s fourteenth century poem “Parliament of Foules”

• The name St. Valentine is actually an umbrella name for a number of martyred figures throughout church history, many of whom were known for various acts of kindness and bravery

• These acts include marrying and otherwise providing aid to Christians persecuted under the reign of emporer Claudius, and restoring the sight and hearing to the daughter of the jailer who subsequently imprisoned him

You put all that together, and it becomes evident that all of the sentimentality on display every year is just our society’s misguided yearning for a purer, less self-centered version of love than what we see in the movies, on television, and in gossip magazines.

It’s misguided because, sadly, we as a society keep returning to those same movies, TV shows, and gossip mags to inform our ideas of what true love looks like.

That’s why it’s incumbent on us as Christians to show, as Paul said, a more excellent way.

So this Valentine’s Day, I say be brave.

I can’t tell you what that act of bravery should be, because it’ll be different for all of us. Maybe it’ll mean being honest and really sharing feelings and issues that you would rather keep buried. Maybe it’s going out of your way to show your spouse that you love them, and doing so in the way that they really appreciate, rather than the way you happen to be good at.

Maybe it’s just stopping, out of the blue, just to say, “I love you.”

But whatever you decide, step on out there and do it.

And if it involves rapping a marriage proposal in the middle of a Sunday-morning worship service, don’t tell them I sent you.

The Ghost of Christmas Pride

The Ghost of Christmas Pride for urban faithWhen my caroling group gave the desperate man a helping hand, we were proud of ourselves. We expected gratitude. We thought someone begging on the street would be thankful for our holiday kindness. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant …

It was a chilly December night in downtown Chicago, and about a dozen of us from a suburban Christian college were Christmas caroling. My best friend, Uriel, stood next to me as we sang. A few people stopped to listen.

… O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem, Come and behold him …

A black man edged closer as we sang. He seemed to eye me, the only African American in our group. His head nodded in rhythm with the melody.

… O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

“Say, brother,” he said, approaching me as the song ended, “would you please help my family? We ain’t got no money and my baby needs formula.”

He was probably in his 20s, but his tired and ragged appearance made him look much older. “Please, man. I need to get us some food.”

I glanced at the others in my group. We knew the safest response was to politely refuse. Yet we were Christians. Weren’t we supposed to help needy people?

“Would you please help me?” the plea came again. “Just a few dollars.”

I looked at Uriel.

“We can’t give you money,” we finally said, “but we can buy you what you need.” If the guy was telling us the truth, it was something we had to do.

“My name is Jerome,” he told us as we hiked toward a nearby convenience store. He lived in a city housing project with his wife and three kids. As we entered the store, I noticed that his eyes seemed to brighten. Maybe we’d brought a little hope into his life.
Soon we’d bought him baby formula, eggs, and milk. This seemed a fitting conclusion to our evening of caroling.

As we handed Jerome the groceries and bus fare, I noticed his eyes had darkened into an frightening stare. “You think you better than me, don’t you?” he said. “You all think you somethin’ ’cause you come out from the suburbs, buyin’ food for the po’ folks, but you ain’t no better than me.”

“No …” I struggled to find more words, but nothing came. I realized there was nothing I could say that would change his mind.

After a moment of awkward silence, Jerome grabbed his bag of groceries and walked away. Then he suddenly turned and said sharply, “Merry Christmas.” It was not a warm wish, but a condemning statement filled with broken pride.

The December air blew colder. No one said a word.

There wasn’t anything to say. Our holiday spirit had suddenly evaporated, and there was no way to bring it back.

We might have resented Jerome and felt justified. But was he wrong? We gave him a gift. He accepted it. Should there have been anything more?

That’s sort of how it was at the first Christmas. Jesus wasn’t born a helpless baby for applause. Years later, he didn’t hang on the cross for the praise and adulation — many of those he died for made fun of him. Still, he gave selflessly and unconditionally. So, why had we expected gratitude and warm fuzzies for our gift to Jerome?

Strangely enough, Jerome gave us something far better than another opportunity to feel good about ourselves. He made us look hard at our motives and gave us a sobering lesson on the real reason for giving.

We were expecting a pat on the back. Jerome reminded us of what the true reward of Christmas is all about.