Tag Archives: Family

How Our Family Gives Gifts at Christmas


Christmas Gifts

“Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” – Isaiah 9:6

During the month of December our family gives special attention to God’s gift of His Son Jesus. We try to spend time each evening doing an advent calendar with the kids and some sort of family devotional together before bed. This year we are enjoying The Expected One by Scott James which recounts 25 of God’s promises to send a Savior to rescue His people.

Some years we are more consistent than others, but we certainly reflect more on Christ’s incarnation during the Christmas season.

Gift Giving

Our month long reflection on the incarnation of Jesus concludes on Christmas day when we share gifts with each other. We’ve talked with friends about how we approach gift giving and they have encouraged us to share it with others. So, here’s a little window into how we think about sharing gifts with each other and with those the Lord has placed in our everyday life.

My wife and I are always nuancing this, especially as our children (6, 4, 3, 1) continue to grow up. This is not a perfect system, but it’s food for thought.

Gifts for the Kiddos

In our family we don’t do Santa Clause, so our kids know all their gifts on Christmas morning are from us. That being said, we don’t teach our kids that “Satan Claus” has come to steal the real meaning of Christmas. Instead, we try to approach it thoughtfully while respecting that other families choose to do Santa.

This article and this article basically summarize our approach to Santa.

When it comes to giving gifts to our children, each of them get three gifts from us: one thing they want, one thing they need, and one thing to help them grow spiritually.

For the gift they want, we allow them to share with us something they think would be fun to have. It can be a game, a toy, or basically whatever. We explain to them that there is a budget and that they aren’t going to get a pony or a 4-Wheeler or something like that, but we want them to help us pick something out that would be fun for them to play with. We think it’s good to have a little fun in life and this gift communicates that.

For the gift they need, we get them something that helps them in everyday life. This can be a new pair of shoes, a new bed spread, or some some other practical gift. With this gift we try to communicate that giving something that helps them in every day life is always a good idea. We want them to learn that it’s better to be intentional with our gifts and give something that can be used rather than wasting money on junk that they’ll stuff in a closet and forget about.

For the gift that helps them grow spiritually, we get them something that points them to Christ and His Gospel. There are many wonderful age-appropriate resources out there. A few excellent ones for younger kids include The Jesus Story Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones), The Big Picture Story Bible (David Helm), The Gospel Story Bible Discovering Jesus in the Old and New Testaments (Marty Machowski), The Dangerous Journey (Pilgrim’s Progress kid’s remix – Oliver Hunkin) and Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers books (Joey Allen).

Some friends have also recommended Sandra McCraken’s album Rain for Roots, You Can Change the World (Operation World for little ones which goes well with spin the globe and pray time), and for you iPad users Tim Keller’s New City Catechism is getting good reviews.

I’m sure there are tons of good essentials I’m missing, but this is a good start.

We also allow the siblings to collectively give small gifts to each other. This encourages the children to work together to bless each other. This is a new thing for us, so we’ll see how it goes.

Gifts for My Wife and Me

My wife and I also exchange gifts, and we also follow the pattern of something we want, something we need and something to help us grow spiritually. We enjoy spoiling each other a little, and my wife is very thoughtful, but we do strive to keep within our budget. When we shop for each other, we include the kids so the gifts to each other end up being from the whole family. This helps keep things more simple and can be fun, or a complete disaster. Either way, its memorable.

Some of our favorites from the “help to grow spiritually” category include the ESV Study Bible, A Steadfast Heart (Elise Fitzpatrick), Moments with the Savior (Ken Gire), The Cross of Christ (Stott) and Soul Winner (Spurgeon).

Sharing With and Serving Others

For our neighbors and people we know, our family likes to make cookies or some kind of gift and give them a family picture. (Note: getting a family picture where all of us are smiling and not crying is a mild miracle. To Jesus be all glory for His mighty works).

Many of these people don’t know the Lord, so we may, depending on where we are in our relationship with them, consider giving a copy of What is the Gospel (Greg Gilbert), More than a Carpenter (Josh McDowell), The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus (John Cross), The Reason for God (Tim Keller), The Prodigal God (Tim Keller) or The Case for Christ (Lee Strobel) along with a little note explaining what Christmas means to us.

These aren’t the only good books out there and which book we might give simply depends on where our friends are in their thinking about God. We have been developing good relationships with our neighbors, so pray for open doors for the Gospel.

Our family also seeks out ways to serve people who are in need of help, gifts or encouragement. Examples of things we’ve considered including sending gifts to a Compassion child, visiting nursing homes to sing Christmas carols, serving in a soup kitchen, and giving gifts to people in need that our church community has befriended.

Of all the ways we can improve as a family, it is probably in looking outward more, though I have been encouraged by the way our family strives to make this a regular part of our lives throughout the year.

A Final Word About Other Family Members 

One of the exciting opportunities for Jesus to show up at Christmas is when it comes to dealing with in laws, immediate family members, and distant family members. When it comes to gift giving, we tell people we love them, but that they shouldn’t expect gifts from us, and we aren’t expecting any from them.

This kind of conversation could be like waling through a mine field for some, but it usually goes better if you have the conversation in September rather than December (sorry for the late notice).

The only exception to this is that our family will always get our parents / step parents each a collective gift, and if we are spending Christmas with other members of the family, we may do something very small like a book or ornament.


This is our family’s ever-evolving way of approaching Christmas. We don’t do it perfectly, but this is how we try to think about gift giving during the Christmas season.

Whatever your family decides to do, we pray it will turn your hearts and those who don’t know Christ toward Him who came to take away sin. May He come again soon!

How Dark Days Taught a Daddy to Pray

dark days

My wife and I met Cliff and Diana several summers ago at a family camp where they were vacationing with their two children. They’re a simple family who radiate contentment in Christ in a way that draws others in and puts them at ease. Cliff’s humility toward his wife and children has always been instructive and a bit convicting. Though we don’t see them often, we’ve grown to love this family as our own.

Over the past two years, Cliff and Diana have faced a heart wrenching situation with their daughter Anna who has endured tremendous suffering at the hand of a mysterious disease. At various times during this trial I’ve been able to speak with Cliff about the pain, fears and countless questions their family has faced.

As part of my preparation for a sermon on Psalm 13, I asked Cliff if he’d share with me his reflections on that passage since he and Diana have recently faced such desperate times. What follows is an excerpt from the email he sent me.


When Anna first started having severe stomach pain in December of 2011, I didn’t have any idea of what the next 16 months would bring.  At first, you think it’s just some virus or infection and that the doctors will be able to quickly diagnose and prescribe some medicine for it. 

When one doctor visit turned into the next, and various specialists were called in, all to no avail, it started getting more concerning.  While I prayed for Anna every day, I didn’t do much else. I was making it through on my own strength for the first 6 months. I still had work and church and other responsibilities—none of which I let “slack” during this time. 

That started to change in August of 2012 when Anna lost the ability to walk.  Let’s be honest, pain is something you can’t see.  You don’t know how much pain your child is in, especially when Anna did almost all her crying with Diana. When she could no longer walk, it became much more real for me.  I could now see that her pain was real. 

It was also during this time that Diana began to show signs of the break down that was just on the horizon. She couldn’t carry the load on her own and even things that were “simple” started becoming a challenge for her.  I began helping out more, praying more, and trying to use the wisdom God had given me in His word. 

During this time, Diana started drifting into despair.  A lot of this was caused by her thoughts about the future. She’d ask questions like “how will this affect Anna’s wedding” and “will she even be able to get married?” Now Anna was 10, so the consideration of things that were 15 years away would seem to many to be ridiculous—at least to people who hadn’t watched their daughter deteriorate so fast. 

It was during this time that scripture started playing a significant part in helping Diana and I through each day. Verses like “don’t worry about tomorrow” from Matthew 6 made more sense and prayers like “Lord, give us today our daily bread” became about all we could muster. 

Over the next month and a half, I started to help a lot more. I had to, as Diana was losing steam quickly. I spent more time with Anna, both to comfort her, and to relieve Diana of that responsibility. In hindsight, I can see that while I was looking to God, I was still trying to make it through in my own strength—I wasn’t desperate yet. 

In September, Anna couldn’t go to school because the pain was so bad.  Diana started wondering if it could possibly get any worse.  We found out it could.  In the first week of October, Anna lost the ability to see.  Her eyes became so sensitive to light (or even the thought of light), that she had to wear a blind fold during all the daylight hours. 

Having a child that can’t walk is hard. Having a child that can’t walk or see was unimaginable for us. Having no diagnosis to any of it was unbearable. Not only was Anna going down in a tail spin, now so was Diana. Nothing I could do or say could make our situation better.  It was during this time that I truly started to become desperate.  The first verses of Psalm 13 didn’t apply to me before this time.  Now I became that man who cried out “how long O Lord?”   

I watched my “average weight” wife lose dozens of pounds. I could count every rib and every vertebrae of her backbone. I watched her tremble constantly as she was unable to sleep and unable to talk coherently. This was coupled with my daughter falling into despair because she could no longer do anything normal children did. There was no running outside or swimming in the pool. Laughter was absent. All she could do was lie in bed in pain. Our world had turned black.

It was during these days and months that I would lie in Anna’s bed for hours with her, watching her crying hysterically in pain, sobbing and asking me to make the pain stop.  I cried and cried—and I prayed.  These were no longer token prayers.  These were now prayers of absolute desperation in which I was pleading and begging God to make this stop. 

These prayers weren’t fancy worded prayers, the type of stuff you hear in church.  They were the prayers of an absolutely powerless man who was helpless to do anything other than hold on to his daughter and pray.  It was also during these times that I started praying out loud with Anna. 

When the pain got so bad, and the crying so loud, and I had prayed silently for what seemed hours, I would say, “let’s pray.” Anna would quiet down some and I would pray out loud.  Since her crying subsided somewhat as she focused on what I was saying, I would pray – and pray and pray. 

It was during those prayers that Anna got to see her dad as he really is. I’m a dad that doesn’t have the strength to make it on his own.  I’m a dad that is utterly dependent upon God.  And hopefully also, a dad that has no doubts whatsoever about the reality and power of God. 

And while God never instantly healed my daughter, as I’d asked a hundred times, there were many times that Anna quieted down, the pain seemed to subside, and she was able to fall asleep. And in all honesty, in those moments of desperation, that is really what I needed, and what Anna needed most. 

Though we were in darkness together, I believe the light of God’s word gave us strength. Our family took comfort from the promises God gave us that one day all this pain will be gone, and that we will be with our Lord.  These promises shaped our prayers and stirred our faith to keep trusting for another day.

Through all this I learned to pray desperate prayers that are guided by God’s word. Many of us might think we can make it fine through life without reading the Bible daily.  That’s just not true. If God’s words hadn’t been “hidden in my heart,” I’m not sure how I would’ve been comforted in those days.  I’m grateful for the years of scripture reading and intentional memorization of God’s word, I believe God used them to sustain our family.

While we should read scripture daily to grow in our relationship with the Lord and grow as His disciple, I want to emphasize the importance of daily scripture reading for help during times of desperation. Combat training doesn’t seem so important during times of peace, but when the fighting starts it saves your life—and maybe someone else’s too. In this case, it was my own daughter.


Cliff shared much more in his email to me, but I hope this snapshot has given you some ideas to consider when it comes to leaning upon God in desperate times. Whether you are in such a time right now or will face them soon, none of us escape these kinds of trials. As the Puritan preacher Jeremiah Burroughs rightly said “If you are in Christ you will never suffer, except in this world.” I have learned more about how to face these afflictions in faith because of the example of my friend.

So you can rejoice with them, I will share that, by God’s grace, the darkness has lifted for their family. Miraculously, Anna has in many ways recovered from her mysterious sickness. Diana has also recovered and she and Cliff’s marriage has never been stronger.

We don’t know why the cloud came, or why the cloud departed, but we do know Who presides over it all. Lord, willing, none of us will face things like they faced, but if those dark days do surround you, draw near to God in faith. Desperate prayers place us in before the God whose power is able to sustain us until we see His face.


2 Corinthians 4:6–15 “God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12So death is at work in us, but life in you… knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.”

A Christian Man’s Travel Plan

Traveling away from home seems to provide a unique time of temptation for me. Maybe it’s because I’m out of my routine or away from my family, but I find myself more susceptible to laziness, lust, and other kinds of deadly sins. To help fight it, I keep three basic things on my mind when I travel: family, purity, and ministry.


Whenever I’m gone, I want to make sure my family knows that I love them and that I’m thinking about them. I do this with phone calls, but I also do a couple other things.

  1. For my wife I write her a card for each day I’ll be gone. The card usually has a short prayer or a couple sentences telling her something I love about her, and then a verse of Scripture. It takes about 20 minutes to do these cards (depending on how long the trip is) and I’m pretty sure it blesses her more than I realize.
  2. For the kids, I try to rally them together before I leave and show them on a map where I’m going. I ask them to pray for me while I’m gone and tell them what I plan to do while I’m there. I don’t always leave them something to open when I’m away, but I always bring them something back to let them know they were on my mind while I was there.


I know that while I travel I will face temptations in ways that I don’t always when I’m at home. I may be a pastor, but I’m still just a dude, so I’ve got to be on guard. To do this, I make sure of the following:

  1. I’m prayed up. I do my best to intentionally ask God to protect me during my trip from wandering heart, wandering eyes, and wandering feet. While I travel, I strive with extra effort to have solid devotional times. It is easy to neglect this discipline when I’m on the road because of the change in my routine, but there’s always excuses to not draw near to Christ—so I fight it fervently. Keeping my eyes on Him is my only hope to honor God, so I do my best to draw daily upon His grace during my trips.
  2. I’m partnered up. I don’t like traveling alone, but when I have to, I enlist several brothers to help me. These men know my weaknesses and have committed to pray for me while I’m gone—and sometimes they’ll even check in on me during my trip. I’ve been 100% transparent with these brothers about my struggles and they know the tough questions to ask me when I’m gone. I’m too weak to fight this fight alone, so I’m thankful for these brothers who keep me accountable.
  3. I’m planning to kill the TV. As soon as I step into the hotel room I unplug the TV and promise God I won’t plug it back in. Me + hotel room + TV = trouble, so I don’t flip through the channels—and I don’t give myself the chance. I also don’t get the internet in my hotel room. I figure people lived without the .com for a really long time and I can go to the lobby if I really need it. God tells me to make no provision for my flesh and I have to obey Him (Rom. 13:14).


While most of my trips are ministry related, there are some basic things I try to do, just because I’m a Christian.

  1. I pray for God to set up divine appointments. Regardless of why I travel or where I travel, I am an ambassador for the King of Glory (2 Cor. 5:20). In light of this, I ask Him to set up encounters with people He wants me to talk to about Him. Whether it be on the plane, in a taxi, in a restaurant, at the hotel, or wherever I am, I ask Him to make me attentive to the people He has placed around me. I pray for Him to open doors for me to share the Gospel and to point people to Jesus. We must always be available to be used by Him. Ask Him to set up divine appointments.
  2. I bring a tract and an extra bible. One of the things I’ve found to be profitable is to have a copy of a non-goofy tract like 2 Ways To Live that helps people understand the Gospel message. I don’t always use it when I’m sharing the Gospel, but I do think it’s good to leave something with them to read after our conversation is over. I also bring a pocket sized bible that I can part with, so I don’t have to decide if I am willing to part with my personal Bible in the case that someone needs a copy of God’s Word.

These are a few basic things that I try to make sure I do each time I travel. Please let me know of other ideas you have about traveling as a Christian man. May God be honored in our lives, wherever we may go.