December 4, 2006
The Master's Program
The Point of View - A Weekly Commentary by Bob Shank


Dear Marketplace Friend, 

      "So, whatcha gonna get 'em? Are you done with your shopping? Are you ready for Christmas? What in the world are you gonna do??"
      The modern madness is unrelenting. In an earlier era - pre-X-Box - it was kind of cute when you said, "I think I'll make them something." What, cookies? We have friends who live in houses that are out-of-warranty... whose ovens have never been burned-in. Cookies? Don't they sell those by the box somewhere? Why waste your time making something when you can buy it and be done with it?
      It used to be easier. Christmas (er, I mean, the year-end holidays) was a two-part deal: get the cards in the mailbox and get the presents under the tree. Nowadays, you have to have Kwanzaa cards, Hanukkah cards, Winter Solstice cards... and "the holiday that cannot be named" cards. If you say "Christmas," you'd better watch yourself. Keep it secular - snowballs and Santas, elves and bells - and don't mention, you know, "JC." The Grinch is still okay (he "stole" Christmas, remember?), but the Wise Men are over-the-top. You might want to submit your card samples to your attorney so you can review them before affixing the 39¢ stamp and taking a chance...
      Cards: out of the way. Innocuous, say-nothing, mean-nothing drivel... but safe. Now what? Gifts! Yeah, now it's down to the "presents." What's "appropriate?"
      Some tips are just common sense... but, who's got time to have common sense anymore? Things like: forget the Omaha steaks... when you've got secret vegans on your list. Your Mormon accountant won't be ecstatic over that one-pound bag o' beans from Starbucks. When you realize your clients have membership certificates from Alcoholics Anonymous on their office walls, it takes that bottle of Merlot you brought home from Napa out of play. And, when they're checking their medical coverage to see if it will pay for their gastric bypass, that five pound box from See’s Candies won't be their "must have" keeper.
      In the office, the rules have stiffened up. Have an assistant? The new protocol is designed to avoid the wrong message: it's "nothing that goes next to their skin." Perfume? Forget about it. Clothing? Not in this lifetime. Gift cards from NetFlix; subscriptions for home delivery of USA Today; a prepaid dozen downloads from iTunes: those are in-bounds. What to do??
      I feel your pain. I've got a few hundred close friends who are participants in The Master's Program, and I won't see all of them between now and New Year’s. No Mormons in the bunch... so I can send 'em all some caffeine (watch your mailbox) without concerns of compromise. I've got them - and more - who receive and read a letter from me every month. How do you get 'em to open that envelope - from a nonprofit organization, at Christmas time? - and scour what's inside? Simple: include a "lump" that makes them open it up... and find a top-grade music CD from a talented artist. Board members? Staff? All of that... and more. Boy, this "what are you gonna get them?" issue is unrelenting.
      It's tough in our day, among our relational pools... because most of us already have more than we need. Life would go on unhindered if we declared a moratorium on gifts in '06 and decided to pass NOTHING around in honor of "the holidays." I mean, after all, who "needs" anything, anyway?
      I'm sure glad that my Father figured it out. Two thousand years ago, he looked down here and asked Himself, "What do they need, anyway?" Distant, rebellious, bent on dishonoring their Creator, the human race was on its way to hell... when He asked - and answered - the question.
      He sent just what we needed: a Savior. He delivered the gift at the hands of the gift: Paul's tells the Christmas story well. "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons." (Galatians 4:4-5).
      Just what we needed, delivered to us at just the right time. Here's my bet: some of the folks on your gift list for '06 have the same need you had, when you received the gift of Jesus. Wouldn't this be the year to pass God's gift - given to you, already - on to them?

Bob Shank


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