December 28, 2009
December 25, 2009
December 15, 2009
Over the years, we have chosen not to include Santa Claus in our Christmas stories and decorations. There are several reasons.
First, fairy tales are fun and we enjoy them, but we don't ask our children to believe them.
Second, we want our children to understand God as fully as they're able at whatever age they are. So we try to avoid anything that would delay or distort that understanding. It seems to us that celebrating with a mixture of Santa and manger will postpone a child's clear understanding of what the real truth of God is. It's very difficult for a young child to pick through a marble cake of part-truth and part-imagination to find the crumbs of reality.
Third, we think about how confusing it must be to a straight-thinking, uncritically-minded preschooler because Santa is so much like what we're trying all year to teach our children about God. Look, for example, at the "attributes" of Santa.
- He's omniscient—he sees everything you do.
- He rewards you if you're good.
- He's omnipresent—at least, he can be everywhere in one night.
- He gives you good gifts.
- He's the most famous "old man in the sky" figure.
But at the deeper level that young children haven't reached yet in their understanding, he is not like God at all.
For example, does Santa really care if we're bad or good? Think of the most awful kid you can remember. Did he or she ever not get gifts from Santa?
What about Santa's spying and then rewarding you if you're good enough? That's not the way God operates. He gave us his gift—his Son—even though we weren't good at all. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). He gave his gift to us to make us good, not because we had proved ourselves good enough.
Helping our children understand God as much as they're able at whatever age they are is our primary goal. But we've also seen some other encouraging effects of not including Santa in our celebration.
First, I think children are glad to realize that their parents, who live with them all year and know all the worst things about them, still show their love at Christmas. Isn't that more significant than a funny, old, make-believe man who drops in just once a year?
Second, I think most children know their family's usual giving patterns for birthday and special events. They tend to have an instinct about their family's typical spending levels and abilities. Knowing that their Christmas gifts come from the people they love, rather than from a bottomless sack, can help diminish the "I-want-this, give-me-that" syndrome.
And finally, when children know that God's generosity is reflected by God's people, it tends to encourage a sense of responsibility about helping make Christmas good for others.
Karsten, for example, worked hard on one gift in 1975. On that Christmas morning, his daddy stepped around a large, loose-flapped cardboard box to get to his chair at the breakfast table. "Where's Karsten?" he asked, expecting to see our excited three-year-old raring to leap into the day. Sitting down, I said, "He'll be here in a minute."
I nudged the box with my toe. From inside the carton, Karsten threw back the flaps and sprang to his full three-foot stature. "And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them . . ." He had memorized Luke 2:8-20 as a gift for his dad. Karsten knew the real story.
In fact, a few days later, he and I were walking down the hall at the church we attended then. One of the older ladies leaned down to squeeze his pink, round cheek and asked, "What did Santa bring you?" Karsten's head jerked quickly toward me, and he whispered loudly, "Doesn't she know?"
(Adapted from Treasuring God in Our Traditions)
December 14, 2009
I felt her pain. It’s the most busy time of the year … and sometimes the most frustrating. ‘Little nephew Billy already has every toy known to man … and now I have to roam around Toys R Us looking for something original, and knowing he’ll only play with it for 3 minutes before the next battery operated noise-making piece of plastic is unwrapped.’ That is the way it goes sometimes. We look forward to the holidays – time to relax; time to be with family; time to think about the incarnation of our Lord, and so on. But so often those plans never materialize.
Between Macy’s, the Christmas tree farm, the office party, and the endless autographing of Christmas cards … there’s scarcely any time to relax. The family gatherings are often awkward and strange. And by the time we get through with it all, we’d much rather just slump down on the couch and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas (which I do enjoy!) than do any deep meditating on the nativity. And so the most wonderful time of the year comes and goes all too quickly … and often without feeling very wonderful at all. Add to these things the fact that the holiday gatherings often emphasize the painful fact that there is now an empty chair at Christmas dinner … and it is no wonder that many people struggle with the holidays.
I wish I could fix all the frustrations and ease all the hubbub for each of you. Fact is I have enough trouble managing my own calendar. So this article isn’t so much filled with solutions to the Christmas dilemmas that we all face as much as it is a sympathetic word to say: ‘I feel your pain.’
However, my one word of pastoral counsel, to quote the famous skit by Bob Newhart, is simply: STOP IT! Yes, you have obligations to fulfill. Yes, there are places to go and people to see (and buy for). But at some point this Christmas season you’re going to just have to stop doing all the circus tricks that American culture seems to require at this time of year … and get down to what is most important. You’re going to have to say ‘no’ to some things, and leave the less important things undone … so that your kids don’t end up frustrated with Christmas, too; so that you have that time to really think about Jesus; so that the days away from work that the holidays afford are cashed in for family-building, spiritual, eternal, Christ-honoring purposes.
In one sense, Christmas is just like every other time of the year. The incarnation is just as valuable in the heatwave of August as it is when the icicles hang perfectly from the eaves. Contemplation of Christ, together as a family, is just as important in May as it is in December. But the Christmas season provides the peculiarity of extra time off, of extra time with loved ones, and of extra emphasis on the person and work of Jesus. Don’t miss those opportunities this Christmas!
December 1, 2009
I always thought that the missionary speakers at our church growing up were just throwing the part about prayer in because they were supposed to. After all, it would be awkward to show up at a church just to ask for money. So I always assumed that their thinking process was: ‘We’ll ask for the money, but we’ll really emphasize the importance of prayer to kind of offset any idea that we just want a handout.’ And I didn’t blame them, really. I, too, thought that prayer was a nice part of missions support, but really just as an augment to the main task of generous missions giving.
First, I have learned that many of the missionaries I know really believe that “the most important thing” a supporting church or individual can do is pray. They know God will provide all their needs. They know they don’t need to beg people. And they know that, instead of begging people, they actually need those people begging God to bless their work! All the monetary support in the world is useless if God doesn’t keep the missionaries faithful, give them endurance, and open the hearts of the peoples of the earth. The missionaries know – from reading the Scriptures, and from living in the hardest places – that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them. So they really do need our prayers more than our money (though the money doesn’t hurt!).
Second, I have learned that missions really is a God-sized task. I know we all sometimes say: ‘If there were just more workers’ or ‘if there were just more resources … that people group would hear and believe.’ And there is a germ of truth in that. But the big truth is that ‘if God moves mightily, that people group will hear and believe … whether through the instrumentality of one poor native preacher, or through a missionary team of a hundred!’ The salvation of the nations, ultimately, is in God’s hands. He can simply breathe on them, and the enemy’s hosts will fall. He can simply say the word and any missionary or lay-person on earth could be used to bring thousands to the feet of Jesus. So, yes … we need more workers in the harvest. Yes, it takes money to get them there. Yes, Southern Baptists had to keep some missionaries home this year because there was not enough money to support them. And yes, that means we have a big responsibility to give. But remember what Jesus said in Matthew 9.38: “Beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers.” That is the first solution to the need for more workers – not money, but prayer. And if the problem in sending workers is not willingness, but funds … prayer can solve that problem too!
So here’s the deal – I hope that each of you is able to give incredibly generously to the Lottie Moon Missions Offering (or to your church's missions offering, if applicable). Super-generously, even! But don’t get the idea that, if you give a good sum of money, you’ve done your part. No, no. The offering is quite secondary. “The most important thing you can do is pray.”
Do you believe that? Will you commit to pray more regularly for the missionaries your church specifically supports? Will you get a copy of a book like Operation World so that you can begin praying for peoples and nations you’ve never heard of … for Jesus’ sake? No one will come to Jesus unless the Father draws them. And the Father does not draw people unless workers are sent into the harvest (Romans 10.13). And, by and large, God sends laborers and draws people as we pray!