Q: I hate diverting my focus from the joy of Christmas, but I’m troubled over the massive amounts of trash we accumulate during the holiday. Is there any way to cut down on the waste?
A: We find ourselves with a similar question, especially because we have young children with generous grandparents. One problem, of course, is the gift wrapping. In order to cut the waste, we usually use gift bags that can be easily reused with a little tissue paper. A more troubling problem is modern toy packaging. It has taken us a half-hour to extract some toys from their boxes! We generally discourage our families from giving those big, flashy toys.
The Christmas tree is a bit more challenging. One family we know buys a seedling pine tree to plant every year that, depending on how large of a tree they want, can be harvested for a Christmas tree in just a few years.
The best option for disposal of the tree would be to convert it into wood chips or firewood, and many communities have a tree-recycling program. Some organizations endorse piling trees along coastal dunes to stop beach erosion, but that really doesn’t work and creates something of an eyesore.
Minimizing and dealing with waste carefully can be a partial antidote to the onslaught of commercial messages we receive, but we also need to emphasize the right theme in all of our holiday routines. Two of our family practices include singing Christ-centered carols with our children every night at bedtime throughout the holiday season and giving them a nativity set that they can play with. Our 3-year-old played with her nativity figures for months after Christmas, while many of her other new toys went to the shelf!
—Matthew StutzDr. Matthew Stutz is assistant professor of environmental studies and earth sciences at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.
Q: Why should I choose a denomination?
A: Because you cannot avoid it, and you cannot fully grow spiritually without it.Christians who think they can do without any denominational affiliation are like musicians who think they can play music without any musical style (such as classical, jazz, or rock). It’s impossible. All musical pieces, even nursery rhymes, derive from a musical tradition.
Denominations and local churches embody specific traditions or “styles” in Christianity. Even a nondenominational church has its traditions and ways of doing things. Each Christian tradition has its strengths. For instance, Mennonites emphasize peacemaking, while Reformed Christians emphasize kingdom building. All these strengths are important, but no one denomination embodies all of them equally well.
Why not then combine the best of all denominations into our own individual Christianity? Well, such “smorgasbord” Christianity can only exist in our minds and not in living communities. We cannot “taste” each denomination’s strengths simply by reading their theological textbooks. These strengths are also embodied in their worship practices, communal habits, ministries, histories, heroes, relationships, and, yes, conflicts. Only by participating in a denomination can its strengths nurture your faith.
You both choose and are chosen by a local church and its denomination. Like a marriage, there needs to be mutual love, commitment, and service. The right “marriage” is one in which the church’s denominational strengths complement and nurture God’s mission in your life.
—Shiao ChongShiao Chong is campus minister at York University, Toronto.
Q: I’m a bus driver with a master’s degree, but I really like my work. Am I disappointing God?
A: I don’t think so. Let me share a personal story with you. Many years ago when I was a high school student, I lived in a small community about five to seven miles from the school I attended. During the week about 150 students were transported back and forth to school on three buses. I remember to this day that everybody wanted to be on “Speedy’s” school bus. We called him Speedy because he seemed to drive faster than the other bus drivers (within the posted speed limit, I think). But all the students wanted to be on Speedy’s bus for other important reasons: Speedy always greeted us warmly with a smile, he always treated us with respect, he laughed with us, he cautioned us to be careful as we got on and off the bus, and he encouraged us to do our best in school. At Christmastime many of us collected money and bought Speedy a present as an expression of our gratitude for his kindness. Speedy loved both kids and driving the school bus.
So, my friend, if you love being a bus driver who, like Speedy, serves people in the Spirit of Christ, you will be fondly remembered by the people you serve, and God will take great delight in your service.
—Rick WilliamsRev. Rick Williams is pastor of Pullman Christian Reformed Church, Chicago.