Archive for November, 2010

Be Good For Goodness Sake

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“You can be good for the sake of goodness; you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong—only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him. In other words badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good (p. 42).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I don’t like it when my heroes in the faith don’t get along. I’m afraid I have run up against just such a case in this quote. Compare the quote above from C.S. Lewis with an excerpt from Augustine of Hippo’s testimony in his Confessions. Augustine is speaking of his stealing pears from a local farmer when he did not like pears.

“I became evil for no reason. I had no motive for my wickedness except wickedness itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved the self-destruction, I loved my fall, not the object for which I had fallen but my fall itself. My depraved soul leaped down from your firmament to ruin. I was seeking not to gain anything by shameful means, but shame for its own sake (II, 4).”

I believe, as best I can understand it, that Augustine is speaking personally while Lewis is speaking philosophically. Augustine is stating that his actions were actually wicked and an accurate depiction of the condition of his heart. Lewis is stating that evil requires good in order to exist; there must a “good” to distort in order for evil to have any meaning.

Practically, I believe both points very relevant and must be help in tandem to be effectively applied. When we sin we do evil and it reveals our heart. If our confession (little “c” because most of us do not do our confessions as a historic book manuscript) take less responsibility than Augustine’s confession, then we lose the sense in which all sin is actual rebellion against God (Psalm 51:4; James 4:4).

At the same time, if we are going to learn from our sin, then we must identify the “good” thing that distorted and deceitfully charmed our willing hearts. Rarely (Lewis says never) do we sin in the direct pursuit of evil and destruction. We sin in the name of a “good” cause and we become blinded to anything but our cause.

A quick case study might be in order. A parent is angry with the poor performance of their child on homework. This anger expresses itself in a “mildly” demeaning monologue masked as an inspirational speech.

Augustine would counsel this parent by echoing Jesus in Matthew 5:21-22. The parent’s anger reveals that grades have become more important than honoring their own child. This is damnable. For the parent to skirt around the issue as less than a violation of God’s sacred trust of caring for this child is denial, blame-shifting, or excuse making (all echoes of Genesis 3:9-13). Augustine calls for brokenness.

Lewis would counsel this parent by echoing Jesus in Luke 6:45. The parent’s anger reveals a heart that has become won by things of lesser importance and placing second things first destroys everything. This question must be asked, “What is it that has won your heart and how can we help you give it its actual importance?” Lewis calls for humble, honest insight.

Hopefully, we can see how both Lewis’ and Augustine’s quotes can get along. After all, I am a counselor and don’t like conflict. The question for the reader is this, “When you sin do you take responsibility like Augustine and examine yourself like Lewis?”

Life Dominating Pleasures

There are certain passages of Scripture that are notorious for stimulating a debate, confusion, and fear. One such passage is Ephesians 5:4-5 (and its “cousin” in I Cor 6:9-10):

“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

Passages like this can quickly (if we take them seriously at all) make any one of us doubt our salvation. Passages like Ephesians 5 and I Corinthians 6 can also be used to “hammer” particular sins, especially sexual ones like pornography, adultery, or homosexuality. Yet we often overlook the fact that crude joking and coveting are on the same list.

What are we supposed to do with a passage like this? What is this passage trying to get us to evaluate? Should we use the presence of certain sins to undermine the assurance of our salvation? Should we avoid passages like this in order to protect ourselves from undue fear?

I would like to propose one question (among others) I believe we can safely take from this passage and use to effectively make application of this passage – what is my life-dominating pleasure? I believe that is the big point.

If sex is my life-dominating pleasure (i.e., fantasy through porn, same-sex attraction, pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, or even the frequency of sex within marriage), then chances are I do not truly know the God of the Bible.

If I get my kicks through coarse humor or if I believe that some new gadget/car/home/etc… is going to make my life what I want it to be, then I have not been captured by the character of The Holy God.

If I have to escape from the pain or stress of daily living through alcohol, drugs, golf, computer games, a hobby, etc… because I do not believe there is anything else that can help me, then the God I claim to know is drastically inferior to the God of Scripture.

Paul’s question does not hinge on what sins a Christian can or cannot commit or how frequently or infrequently a Christian can commit certain sins and remain a Christian. Paul (as Scripture always does) is aiming right for our hearts. Paul’s logic would go like this:

  • If you live as if this world has more pleasure to offer than God, you do not know God.
  • If you live as if this world (or you) can protect you more than God, you do not know God.
  • If you live as if this world is more worth having than God, you do not know God.

The question is not whether we have “lapses in our sanity” (and I do not think that language is too strong). The question is whether we have come to the place that we believe that belonging to God is our life-dominating pleasure (Luke 9:23-24; Gal 2:20; Phil 3:7-11). That is what it means to be a Christian, or as Paul says in Ephesians 5:5 to inherit the kingdom of God.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Addiction” post which address other facets of this subject.

“I Wish I Could Go To Sleep Before Thanksgiving and Wake Up After New Years”

Many people share this testimony. If you do, know that you are not alone and that God longs to give you words and His companionship in the midst of this experience. What follows is a sample of God concerns for you might look and sound like and is rooted largely in Psalm 88.

This is a dark Psalm, but only one among many dark Psalms. Again, God knew we would need many expressions for the suffering we face in a fallen world. To help u see this, read Psalm 88 – the “black hole” of dark Psalms. Read it slowly and let it have its full impact. The only hope in this Psalm is that is it addressed to God. For a moment, let the cynicism of the questions grip you; let the fruitless search for answers swallow you.

Psalm 88

1O Lord, God of my salvation;
I cry out day and night before you.
2Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!
3For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
4I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am a man who has no strength,
5like one set loose among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
6You have put me in the depths of the pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
7Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves.  Selah
8You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O Lord;
I spread out my hands to you.
10Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you?  Selah
11Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
13But I, O Lord, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
15Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
16Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
17They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.
18You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness.

An alternate translation of that final phrase could be “darkness has become my only companion (see ESV footnote).” Where is the hope in this? What are we supposed to take from such a grim passage? Paul Tripp answers this way:

Psalm 88 gives us hope in our grief precisely because it has no hope in it! It means that God understands the darkness we face. He is right there in it with us, “an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). The Lord of light is your friend in darkness. The Lord of life stands beside you in death. The Lord of hope is your companion in your despair. The Prince of Peace supports you when no peace can be found. The God of all comfort waits faithfully near you. The Source of all joy is close by when death has robbed you of joy.[1]

God invites us to come to Him in all of our brokenness even before we attempt to “put Humpty Dumpty back together again.” Our Messiah is one who, “was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3). In these Psalms we get a picture of deep the incarnation went into our world of suffering and how uncomfortably close we must be willing to our friend’s suffering if we are going to counseling in a way that reflects the personal touch of the Gospel.


[1] Paul David Tripp, Grief: Finding Hope Again (Greensboro, N.C.: New Growth Press, 2004), 5.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Depression” post which address other facets of this subject.

Good Things Wrong Methods

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“But pleasure, money, power and safety are all, as far as they go, good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much. I do not mean, of course, that the people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way (p. 42).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

The phrase, “Is it so bad for me to want [blank]?” is a dangerous question. It is a chief culprit of many a discussion, turned argument, turned broken relationship. The speaker feels completely justified in his/her actions (notice the change from desire/want to behavior/attitude) because his/her motive was legitimate.

The conversation can go in dozens of satirical directions:

  • “I guess I don’t know anything if it is wrong to want that.”
  • “Well, tell me you wouldn’t be upset if you had to do without that.”
  • “I read a book and it said this was a ‘need’ of people.”
  • “If you don’t do/give what I want, then you’ll have to do without what you want.”

The problem is that the speaker does not hear what he/she is saying. The reason process goes like this:

  1. If I have a good desire
  2. Then my actions are righteous
  3. You are mean, crazy, insensitive, or stupid if you do not cooperate

The striking thing about what C.S. Lewis has to say is that “desperately wicked” people want good things. That should cause us to pause.

What does it mean to pursue a good thing in the wrong way?

  1. To love that thing in a way that results in replacing God as our source of joy, security, contentment, identity, hope, or peace. Notice how in the dialogue snippets above the absence of the “good desire” is perceived as a threat.
  2. To love that thing in a way that allows us to dishonor, ignore, cheat, violate, or abuse another person in the pursuit of what we want. Notice how in the dialogue snippets above the other person is demeaned and trivialized in the pursuit of the “good desire.”

As I consider this (again), I realize how much my greatest battle is within me. It is so easy to be blind to this. I can go through my day pursuing the things God wants me to have and quickly/quietly drift into idolizing those desires and demonizing my closest companions—the whole time providing proof texts and research to substantiate my blindness.

What is the answer to this dilemma? Humility expressed in community. Notice how little listening is going on in the conversation snippets above. Humility invites critique (both of desire and pursuit). However, unless we are regularly inviting people to speak into our lives this way we will not have the attitude or access to receive perspective in our moments of temptation.

Renewing Our Strength

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Let me start by acknowledging how much I dislike this post. I frequently say that I wish patience was a spiritual gift instead of a fruit of the Spirit so I could say, “I didn’t get that one.” Waiting and patience are not my thing (apart from God’s grace and the surrender of my will).

But let’s start by considering how exhausting it is when we fail to wait upon the Lord. Even if God did nothing to reward our waiting upon Him, we would feel renewed from the absence of worrying, fretting, what if-ing, fear-based planning, and other control-rooted behaviors in our life.

In this case, obedience could truly be its own reward and be a steal of a deal. We would rid ourselves of things that ate away at our life (with no short-term, pleasurable reward like other sins) and get peace in return. That is a trade we should be looking to make all day long.

Yet I think we can take this verse much further. When we wait upon the Lord we are expecting God to be present in the process not just the outcome. Too often we look at the end product of a decision or situation and grade God exclusively upon that. If we like the outcom

e, then God was good, for us, or listening. If we do not like the outcome, then God was unfair, against us, or silent.

When this is the case, then the whole time we are “waiting” (different connotation to the word) we are trying to figure out if God cares. We are feeding the belief system that Scripture might not be true. We know what the Bible says, but life could invalidate it at any moment. This is like living in the crunch-time moment of your favorite sporting event all the time – it’s exhausting.

When we truly wait upon the Lord, we expect God to be active the process of our decision or situation. We recognize that God is constantly shaping our character (and appreciate His kindness in doing so). Our expectation is that each moment of life should draw us to trust Him more and that is the outcome we desire most in every situation.

This gives us the vitalizing sense of God’s presence and care even before we know the outcome. We are now renewed, so that even if the outcome is not what we desire we have the strength and confidence by God’s grace to persevere. When we fail to wait on the Lord we are so depleted by the time we get to the outcome, that if the outcome is bad we despair.

I must confess I should like this post more. I see the truth in it. It makes sense to me. But it calls me to surrender control (which I don’t really have) in order to get peace (which I really want). I think if I can remember this it will make the moments in life that I like least, some of the most precious and valuable to me. That would be a powerful act of God’s redemptive grace in my sinful heart.

Simple Religion

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple… Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six and make that the object of their attack. When you try to explain the Christian doctrine as it is really held by an instructed adult, they then complain that you are making their heads turn round and that it is all too complicated and that if there really were a God they are sure He would have made ‘religion’ simple, because simplicity is so beautiful (p. 40-41).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

In the context of this quote Lewis uses the illustration of a child praying. It is a simple act – having a conversation with God like you would anyone else. But if you ask, “How does prayer influence life, events, emotions, or choices?” then you move into a domain that is anything but simple.

Lewis’ point is that real things are not simple. Any child with blocks can make a bridge, but if you want to design a real bridge you need an advanced degree in engineering. The precision and technicality of the conversation depends upon your audience and the purpose of the conversation.

Any parent or teacher is (rightfully) content to allow a child to stack two vertical blocks and one horizontal block and call it a bridge. They would even allow the child to drive their toy cars over it. Middle school science classes allow students to design various types of miniature bridges to test durability of various designs and spark creativity in students.

In these cases no one “ambushes” the students with questions of advanced engineering to cast doubt upon whether the thing built is a bridge or would be the kind of bridge that would do any good. The definition of bridge and the exercise in bridge building is understood to be equivalent to the intellectual maturity of the student and the purpose of the class.

This means we teach simple religion to those young in their faith or new to Christianity. Yet the expectation is that we will “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity (Heb 6:1).” If we have been a Christian for any period of time and have not begun this journey, then we are not following the Bible.

There is a time in our Christian life when “Admit you are sinner, Believe Jesus died for your sin, and Confess your need for Christ” is sufficient. But that time is brief. You are called to love God with all your mind (Matt 22:37). We are called to always be able to make a defense for the hope that is in us (I Pet 3:15).

With that being said when someone presents a difficult question regarding our faith, we have (at least) two questions to ask in return. First, we ask “Do you really desire an answer for your question?” Some people ask questions as traps and not to get answers (example Matt 22:15). In this case the best our answer will do is reveal the insincerity of the questioner.

Second, we ask “Are you prepared to consider an answer as large as your question?” Answering large questions with brief answers will always be unsatisfying. We will be in a position to only offer clichés or simplistic answers.

A third question (if the person is willing to engage) would be, “Is the question you ask ‘next’ for you based upon your current understanding of Christianity?” This would be the best and ideal place to start the conversation. For instance, before we could answer, “Does someone have to be a Christian to go to heaven?” there are several questions that must be answered first. Why isn’t everyone going to heaven already? What does it take to go to heaven? Can we earn our passage to heaven? Until we answer these questions the original question is not “next.”

At that point the answer will not be “simple” but it can be both true and intellectually satisfying.

The Battle Plan – Ephesians 6:10-24

Stand (6:11, 13, 14)

This is not the word that comes to mind when I think of warfare. I think of attacking, surging, hand-to-hand combat, offensive, and other aggressive words. But the most repeated action word in Paul’s classic passage on spiritual warfare is “stand.” I think this is because I think of having to win the battle, but the battle has already been won.

When I think of winning the battle I unduly wrestle with both pride and fear; pride that I could be the hero and fear that I might fail. When I understand my role in the battle – not to surrender conquered ground – then these temptations make much less sense. When I get caught up in whether I am strong, brave, or smart enough these concerns lure me from my primary duty – standing firm. It is only when I fail to stand on God’s grace and Christ’s victory that I can be defeated.

Reflection: How do you visualize spiritual warfare? Do you think as if it is a battle already won or a battle you have to win? How does understanding your primary orders as “standing firm” relieve much of the pressure associated with spiritual warfare? Think of your moments of temptation. What does it look like to stand firm in Christ’s victory in those moments?

Pray that Words May Be Given (6:18-19)


Spiritual warfare is the battle for the souls of unbelievers and the character of believers. As we just saw, the battle for the character of believers is to stand firm in the righteousness of Christ that we were given at our salvation. However, Scripture focuses the battle for the souls of unbelievers more on the faithfulness of believers to share the gospel than the convincing of unbelievers to respond.

In Ephesians 6:19 Paul asks for prayer, “For me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,” and echoes the prayer request of Jesus in Matthew 9:37-38, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” We, again, tend to get caught up in our effectiveness more than our faithfulness.

Application: Pray regularly for your faithfulness and the faithfulness of individual members of your church to share the gospel with lost friends. That is spiritual warfare. No where in Scripture does it tell us to pray that lots of people w

ill respond to our sharing the gospel. That is God’s work and God will be faithful to the sharing of His Word. Scripture knows that the weakest link in God’s battle plan is our faithfulness to speak. Pray for this frequently and fervently.

The Armor of God

Our role in the battle of spiritual warfare is clear – to stand firm in Christ’s victory on our behalf and speak clearly of Christ’s victory for those who have not received it.  In outfitting believers to complete this battle plan, Paul describes six pieces of armor that are required. Use the following reflective questions to assess your “fitness for battle.”

The Belt of Truth: Do you acknowledge your own sin and speak with love to the sin’s of those near you? Or do you live in denial by calling sin by other names or not holding the sinner accountable for his/her actions?

The Breastplate of Righteousness: Do you live with a defeated mindset assuming righteousness is too hard for you? Or do you live in recognition that the righteousness of Christ has already been given to you?

The Shoes of the Gospel: Do you look for ways to improve yourself in your own strength and by sheer determination? Or do you face each challenge recognizing that apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5)?

The Shield of Faith: As you face each challenge, do you try to assess whether you are up to the difficulty presenting itself? Or as you face each challenge, do you compare the difficulty to the size, power, and compassion of your God?

The Helmet of Salvation: Do you live as if the most important things in life have yet to be done and depend upon your daily effort to be accomplished? Or do you live in the peace of knowing that the only thing that will last forever has already been accomplished and is secure?

The Sword of the Spirit: Do you face each challenge wondering where you will get the “practical” wisdom and insight in order to know what to do? Or do you daily study God’s Word in faith trusting that all you need for life and godliness is contained in the Bible (2 Pet 1:3)?

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.

Resigning at Crossroads to Join The Summit Church (Raleigh, NC)

This is an open letter to the Body of Christ in the CSRA. It has been a joy to serve you through Crossroads Counseling for the last 7½ years. But I am announcing my resignation effective December 22, 2010 in order to accept a position as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in Raleigh, North Carolina ( and as Adjunct Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (

Part of my responsibilities at The Summit and Southeastern will involve training graduate level counseling students and equipping them to direct counseling ministries like Crossroads. Crossroads is a unique ministry and is needed in more communities. The Board of Directors of Crossroads has petitioned me to identify a graduate who would be willing to come to Augusta and continue the work of Crossroads. This will likely take one to two years. Crossroads will “hibernate” until then and relaunch to serve our community again.

In the meantime, for those who are in need of additional counseling services, I would recommend:

  • Berry Hudson @ Hindsight Counseling (706.910.5000) – for fee based counseling very similar to Crossroads
  • Dr. Maria Gangarosa-Emerson (706.447.8700) – for counseling related to children
  • Roger Bennett @ Overcomers Outreach (706.863.2645) – addiction related struggles
  • Dr. John Hill (706.305.3137) – for those seeking counseling paid for by their insurance

Many of you may be willing to continue to pray for my ministry; I would greatly appreciate your prayers. My new position will entail counseling, training small group leaders and other church members for “one another” ministry, working with other church staff to enhance existing ministries, overseeing seminary counseling students in practicum courses, using seminars to minister to the church and evangelistically reach out to the community, and work with the church’s international missionaries to care for them and equip them for pastoral care needs on the mission field.

Let me say again that serving Augusta has been a rich blessing from God. It is a privilege to be allowed to walk with individuals and families during their times of crisis and confusion. My prayer would be that God has used me in the chain of II Corinthians 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too,” and the ripples of this ministry will spread through the individuals, families, and churches I have been blessed to serve.

Meaning, Darkness, & Eyes

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning (p. 39).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

The logic of C.S. Lewis would follow the pattern – the existence of ears implies the existence of sound; the existence of noses implies the existence of odors; or the existence of stomachs implies the existence of food. It would make no sense for the creation (or even evolution) of these organs if their match did not exist.

C.S. Lewis takes this logic to the meaning of life. Human beings have brains that do more than store data (memory) and prepare for contingencies (plan/dream). Our brains innately want to know “why” things exist or happen the way that they do. We see this in very young children who fall in love with the question “why?”!!!

Random life does not make sense when creatures exist who long for meaning. If there were no meaning to life, then the word “why” would not have a representative in every human language.

Beyond this, there are so many little “why’s” to life. Why do ducks migrate? Why do bees like flowers? Why do car batteries often die after the first cold spell of Fall? We live in a world of a near infinite number of little why’s. This is “why” there can be so many scientists who still have interesting and useful things to learn.

Yet there is a tendency amongst non-believers to believe this “why” ceases to exist at a certain point. Strangely, however, they do not cap this certain point with their own life. Most people believe we can look at history (events bridging generations of people) and still discern useful “why’s”.

It would be odd for the “why” question to reach that far and then just stop. We are willing to ask, “Why did the dinosaurs go extinct?” but not willing to ask, “Why did the ‘why’ go extinct?” I think the reason is, “It did not go extinct. We just did not like the answer, so we ignored it.”

The ultimate why is that we live (and were created) for something larger than ourselves. History is going somewhere. We know this because we all mourn the “good ole days” as if history is going in the wrong direction.

If we acknowledge this, however, it would mean that we would have to admit our sinfulness and our powerlessness to overcome our moral deficiencies (after all, we have tried for generations to educate them away). The meaning we are avoiding would point us to God as Creator, man as sinful, and the hopelessness of our situation unless God did something.

Praise God! He did! If we have the courage to ask the big questions, then God is the answer in Christ to calm the fears generated (Prov 1:7; Psalm 53:1).

Article: Teaching Children the Gospel at Christmas

I think most everyone is a bit weary of the commercialization of Christmas.  Most of us love the season, the traditions, time with family, carols, food, and opportunity to rest.  We are not tired of Christmas; we just fear losing what made it “Christmas” to begin with.

That is particularly true when it comes to our children.  We do not want them to think this sacred holiday is merely about having their every electronic, plastic, and sugar-infused desire met.  We love the expression on their faces as they open presents.  We delight even more in putting those smiles there.  But we want them to see that those presents represent “the gift;” a gift that was given not to pacify a desire or annual fad, but to meet the deepest need of their soul.

What follows is a liturgy (order of service) of sorts.  Feel free to adapt it.  The liturgy is intended to be highly interactive and is built around four presents and is infused with Christmas carols, Scripture and conversation.  The four gifts can be given at one time prior to the family gift exchange or be given one per evening on the four nights leading up to the family gift exchange.

If you choose to use this with your family, it is advised you read through the flow of interaction several times, so that you can lead the conversation without reading it from the article.  It will be more effective as a natural conversation than something read from paper (with the exception of the Scripture readings).  It is also advised that you sing the hymns with your children in the weeks before Christmas.  If they are already familiar with the words, then the context in which they are sung will have greater meaning.