LASTing Peace: Something for Free

Everyone likes to get something for free. Human nature doesn’t lend itself to giving freely, although God commands it. Find out what really is free and how you can use it to share the Gospel.

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How Christmas Can Tear You Away From Christ

christmas-gifts-2-1121740-mThere is a widening fissure between the modern American Christmas and biblical theology.
And while I agree with the movement to “put Christ back in Christmas”, that’s not what I’m getting at. I am concerned with the fundamental distortion of grace played out in gift giving.

Most of us can define the word “gift” easy enough. Dictionary.com puts it like this: “something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned.” Biblically, this is described in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Our salvation, our righteousness is a free gift—unearned—to us from God the Father through Jesus.

The first problem arises with good old Saint Nick. At the beginning of December, or perhaps depending on the amount of leverage needed to coerce good behavior, we begin telling our children that the only way Santa will favor their stocking is if they are good.

But wait a minute, I thought Santa was bringing gifts! When did this become remuneration?

The misconception continues far beyond the Santa myth of childhood. We bribe our teenagers with better Christmas gifts if they get good grades, abide by curfew or don’t gripe about their chores.

Now, I’m not suggesting we do away with all the festive manipulation, but perhaps we need to change our vocabulary. If a gift is necessarily free and unearned, then we must term our holiday exchanges as just that—exchanges—good gifts for good behavior.

Moving on from all that, and assuming we’ve glibly acknowledged the truth but will most likely continue wrapping up “gifts” to place under the tree, let’s consider for a moment the equality and fairness of such a thing.

I remember as a kid overhearing my parents and grandparents discuss the ideas they had for my sisters and me. There were always careful calculations to ensure absolute fairness. If my presents cost $50, then by all means they must find enough things for my sister to make sure the same amount is spent on each child. I think once or twice this became such a challenge that they simply purchased gift cards of equal amounts and told us to pick our own presents.

Dictionary.com doesn’t have much to say about the fairness phenomenon, but Jesus did. In Matthew 20, he told a story about a land owner who sent workers into his vineyard. Throughout the day he hired more laborers, but at the end of the day, he paid them all equally, regardless of the number of hours each worked. I love how he concludes the story:

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’” (Matt. 20:13-15)

In this case, the owner was paying wages for services. To the workers he first hired, he paid the agreed upon wage—they earned every cent. But, to the last ones hired, he paid them what they earned and included a gift—money they had not earned. The master administered justice to the first group and grace to the second group. Neither received injustice.

When we tell our children that we buy them gifts for Christmas and at the same time tell them they must be good, subconsciously but not so subtly, we are teaching them that gifts must be earned. If then we say the “gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”—does that mean they must earn His favor too?

When we play tit-for-tat at Christmas, what does that do to generosity? What does that teach our children that a gift really is?

This mentality is not something we can simply nod our heads about and resolve to do things a bit differently next year. By blurring the lines between gifts and wages, generosity and fairness, justice and mercy, we make it infinitely harder for our children to understand the sovereign, merciful, holy justice of God. If we aren’t careful, our distorted Christmas theology can lead our kids right into the arms of a works-based salvation and a universalist perspective of redemption.

My Author’s Page at Bettie Youngs Books and a Free Sample

I’m so honored to be represented by Vanessa Grossett and published by Bettie Youngs Books. Please take a minute to visit my author’s page. I can hardly believe that I’m in the company of so many accomplished wordsmiths! Afterwards, pop over to Amazon and you can pick up a copy of my ebook, or you can read a sample chapter here…

The Predatory Lies of Anorexia: A Survivor’s Story.

Also, I still have a couple copies of Shades of Mercy – contact me quickly for your free copy!

Truth – in the other half of the story

The Prodigal Son has been bugging me lately – because I’m not him. I think most Christians read this story and try to fit themselves into his shoes. They bemoan their wayward habits; then praise the good Father who welcomes them home with forgiveness. Honestly, the more I read this familiar story, I am starting to think the Prodigal had it more “right” than his good-guy big brother.

Years ago, I remember being irritated with my younger sister who seemed to get everything she wanted. Jen got the go-cart she asked for, the kitty, the overnight at a friend’s house, her favorite story at night and on and on. I remember asking her once, “How on earth do you do that? Why do Mom and Dad always say, ‘Yes,’ to you?”

“They don’t,” she insisted, “but they’d tell you, ‘Yes,’ more often too if you just asked.”

At the time, I huffed that I was too mature, I didn’t need to impose upon my parents’ generosity. I wasn’t going to beg for things. I was simply grown-up, dignified, self-sufficient and respectful. It wasn’t polite to ask for things.

Well… Now I think I had my theology wrong. 

Most of the time, when we read the brothers’ parable in Luke 15, we focus on the younger boy, the rebel. He’s the one who barged into his dad’s office and demanded to have what was coming to him. At this point, we don’t know anything about big brother. He’s probably out in the field, working his weary little fingers to the bone, thinking about how disciplined he is, how he must be Daddy’s favorite, how he deserves everything he gets.

You know the rest of the youngest’s story, the philandering, the famine, the pig food, his devastation and finally his return and groveling before Daddy. But do you remember where big brother was when the youngest showed up on the porch? He was out in the field – again, probably working his weary little fingers, thinking about how disciplined he was, how proud Daddy must be of him – especially since that good-for-nothing little brother of his ran off.

And the party started without him.

I don’t think Jesus intended for us to tune out the rest of the story. A full eight more verses round out the parable. Big brother (me) finally came in from the field sweaty and tired. The sound of revelry grated on his nerves, exacerbating his fatigue. When he found out that his little brother had come home safe and sound, he staunchly (on principle I’m sure) refused to join the party.

After a few minutes, Daddy came out to encourage his oldest. He got an earful. “How dare you! I’ve been the good son! I’m the one who has never asked you for anything. I’ve done everything you’ve asked. I’ve followed all the rules – and you never did anything special for me!”

“All that I have is yours.”

What do you think of that? All along, all of Daddy’s store houses, fields and wealth were available to his oldest son. All of Daddy’s riches, servants and companionship was simply there for the ASKING.

I realize that’s how I behaved toward my parents in many respects and certainly how I (and I venture most life-long Christians) behave toward my Heavenly Father. I believe the reason we don’t see more miracles, the reason we don’t enjoy more abundant life and full joy, the reason that we do not have peace, wisdom and contentment – is because we do not ask.

Matthew 7:7, “Ask and you will receive…”.

Luke 11:9-13, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”

I wonder how much God has stored up for our inheritance, that we’ve never even seen, dreamed of or dared to ask for. Do you realize that since Jesus came and died and redeemed us, we are sons of God and heirs of promise (Galatians 3:29), heirs of all that Christ purchased for us – life and joy and peace.

In the story Jesus told just before the story of the Prodigal son, he spoke of a shepherd who was more excited about finding a lost lamb than he was about 99 sheep who stayed obediently within their stall. I don’t think that’s because of simple relief. I don’t think it’s because he loved that stray so much more than the others. I think it’s because suddenly, that little stray sheep realized how rich and privileged he was to belong to a shepherd. After his rebellion, he knew how good his shepherd was and how safe he was in the shepherd’s arms.

Anyone in any relationship knows how good it feels to be appreciated. God finds His greatest joy in us, His children, when we acknowledge, ask for and enjoy all that He is for us. Don’t miss out!

FREE STARBUCKS

Don’t forget that tomorrow is the first, free Starbucks gift card giveaway! Let’s get chatty! All you have to do for a chance to win is talk with me here this week. Tell me about a mentor or someone you have mentored.

Tell me about your prayer life – how do you intercede? do you pray the scriptures? with music? do you kneel? do you pray intentionally?

I’m anxious to hear from you and I wish we could share a cup of coffee personally!

You’re commissioned: start journaling!!

“I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren.” 1 Thessalonians 5:27

 

I bumped into this verse for the millionth time the other day.  But that’s when it struck

me – Paul, Peter, John and the other apostles did much of their preaching through letters to the churches.  These letters were then passed around, essentially making the apostles the first “circuit preachers.”

 

The Old Testament is replete with commandments to “write this down.”  Moses (Exodus 34:27,) Isaiah (Is. 8:1,) and Jeremiah (Jer. 30:2) each obeyed God’s explicit instruction to record what He said or what was happening.  Do you think God was making a point?

 

Patrick and I wrote to each other nearly every day during that first deployment.  Whether they are backed-up emails or carefully preserved notebook paper – or the one letter that he wrote on the scraps of an MRE box – those letters remind me of who my husband is and was.  Sometimes, it is critical to remember the past.  When I am disillusioned with my marriage, a quick reminder of how we felt before and will feel again can smother my anger.

 

 

 

The week’s conclusion:

 

Many people find the pasty, white page crossed with harsh black lines to be a cruel dictator.  Like a starving animal, it feeds on your creativity and leaves you empty and thoughtless.  Fight back!

 

Give your journal five minutes, no more.  Whatever is legible when the time is up, is all the starving journal can have for one day.  Pretty soon, you’ll find his appetite insatiable and you more than able to fill it.

 

Plagiarize!  Who’s going to know?  I promise God doesn’t mind.  Write your favorite Scripture verse over and over.  Not only will you fill a page, you will come to know God’s word better than ever before.

 

A friend of mine, Fred, introduced me to art journaling.  Grab a crayon, how intimidating can “Cornflower Blue” be?

 

Please, please, please – do not relegate journaling to the “I don’t have enough time” category.  I hovered in mid-recovery from anorexia for years.  Counselors got me part way and dietitians kept me from relapsing to square one.  I had quit journaling about three years into my eating disorder.  Maybe it was too revealing of what was inside me and pushed me toward a change in my habits that I wasn’t ready for.

 

In 2007, I was working the closing shift at Barnes and Noble.  The headline on Writer’s Digest caught my eye.  It was something about the value of writing, from a personal perspective.  It was as if the light came on.  The next morning, I was giddy, as if seeing an old friend again after being ostracized for 13 years.

 

Now it is documented.  When I began writing again, just for myself, in my own spiral Mead notebook, anorexia slowly began to shrink and lose it’s grip on me.

 

God wrote.  God told men to write.  If you don’t write, what are you missing?

Finally, now is the day for the giveaway. If you haven’t commented yet – start typing!! I will draw the name first thing tomorrow.  Good luck!!