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.

Advertisements

Just Take it Already!

It’s a well worn passage. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record it. The memory must have been emblazoned on their minds. I imagine it was one of the few times Jesus raised his voice to the disciples.

“But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.'” Luke 18:16

A couple weeks ago, the pastor at Cascade Hills Church, here in Columbus, GA, started on Mark’s version of this story. I almost rolled my eyes. Some things are just over done, right? I mean, not only does this verse parade through the halls of my Sunday school memories, but just recently I’ve studied this passage in my Good Morning Girls Bible study. I just read it in Matthew last week as part of my through-the-Bible-in-a-year program.

But, as I’m touring the halls of memory, I distinctly remember the insistence in my parents’ voices when they said, “If I told you once, I told you a thousand times!” That meant, You’re supposed to remember this. It’s important!

So, I shook myself a little, refocused on the pastor and dug past empty gum wrappers and loose bobby pins to find a pen. Then, my mind drifted again, filled with questions:

What did Jesus mean, “For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”? For some reason, I started thinking along the lines of gifts. Maybe that’s because another version phrases it, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” It’s also applicable because, after all, according to 2 Peter 1:3, the God of the Kingdom is a wonderful gift giver:

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Romans 3:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

What is a child’s role in the gifting process? Simply receive. So, if we are the recipients of God’s good gifts, how should we receive? All Christians long for the joy of Heaven, and we know that the only way there is through the gift of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12)

So, just think with me, as His children (Gal. 4:6), how should we receive His good gifts of grace, mercy, eternal life, all that we need for life and godliness, the Holy Spirit and so much more?

1. A child never turns down a gift. Can you imagine?

2. A child will never offer to pay you back. But, as adults we spend most of our lives trying to pay God back for His kindness to us. “After all He’s done for me, it’s the least I can do for Jesus.”

3. A child is fully willing to ask for a gift. Most of us, as adults, pepper our prayers with, “Only if you want to, God. I’ll understand if you don’t.”
Or, we feel guilty after a particularly needy prayer. But Jesus says, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” John 16:24

Just some food for thought. I’d love to hear your comments. How do you receive a gift – for that matter, a compliment?

If you’re really honest, do you see yourself as working to pay God back for His goodness toward you?

Supporting Scriptures: Matt. 20:28, John 14:16, Matt. 11:28, John 14:27

 

I’ll Tell You What I Want

Here is a naked truth that I did not even know about myself. As I sort old journals, cull memories and query friends and family, I am realizing how little I actually knew about my own battle with an eating disorder. It’s kind of like taking a shower, an effort to cleanse away the day’s dust, and discovering a birthmark you had never seen before. images

Obviously, it’s been a part of me forever. Since opening the womb, my “me-ness” has been as God sketched it. My soul has born the same imprint. Surely, culture and family and circumstances ebb and flow across each life and erode some things faster than others while sifting silt and revealing precious stones. But I had hardly seen it.

I was told that in writing my book, I must “bleed on the page and be saved in the process.”

Well, sometimes bleeding hurts. And when you’re naked, even the smallest prick can make you bleed.

I WANT.
You see, I grew up the oldest of four girls. One of the anthems that I remember echoing through the halls of our home was, “Abby, you’re the oldest, can you please just give in this time?”  – – or – –
“Be the mature one.” – – or – –
“I expect more out of you.”

And I did, and I was. But denying want does not erase it. In fact, denying want on the surface dug a deep, subversive pit in my heart where I stuffed want and greedily demanded all my desires while on the surface, others observed a starving little girl denying even her need to eat.

Now, I can clearly hear the melody of my heart all those years, the percussion to which I kept time:
I want you to want me. I want you to think I am the smartest, the thinnest, the most beautiful. I want you to want to be me. I want to be enviable. I want to be impervious. I want to need nothing. I want you to know that I am strong. I want to think I am better than everyone else. I want others to think I am self-disicplined. I want, I want, I want. I want all of my parents’ attention. I want to be your favorite. I want you to notice me. I want you to think I am spiritual. I want your sympathy. I want your touch. I want to be able to have everything I want. I want you to tell me I can eat anything I want. I want to be safe. I want to be independent. I want, I want, I want. 

It was so sneaky that even I did not recognize my greed. An anorexic appears to be in need. The life of an anorexic is an exercise is asceticism, self denial, ultimate self control. But for me, it was ultimately a ploy to get everyone else to condescend to all my demands.
That’s a pretty ugly naked. 

Now, lest you think I am unnecessarily berating myself, or attempting to beg pardon, let me tell you the TRUTH.
I was needy. I do want things.
There are a couple differences now, this is not selfishness. I have learned to ask for things – both my  needs and wants. Secondly, I am learning to be attentive to the needs and desires of those around me. And lastly, I have stopped looking for others to notice and fulfill my emptiness.

I have found the bottomless source of gifts. I have found the unquenchable fulfillment of all my desires. I have found the solitary source for the satisfaction of all my needs. And He loves for me to come to Him HUNGRY. 

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. Ps. 145:15-19

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

 

Peace Presents

I see the boxes ‘neath a verdant tree,

Of size and corners, of soft and flat.

Of tiny bows and licked envelopes.

Near are socks pinned to the mantle

Empty, gaping, hungry for the treats of Christmas Eve.

 

One question remains.

 

Good or bad? Worthy or not?

Will favor extend till Christmas morn?

Or with harsh words or one false step

This bounty quick be shorn?

 

Tiny, faceless, serene nearby

A wooden manger scene. A Prince of Peace.

One given and never recalled.

Given for liars and lonely, good and bad.

Given a bounty for hearts who will believe.

And behold, a gift again,

Peace on earth, goodwill to men.

 

This Peace eternal

Not as the world gives. Not for reciprocating or to the worthy.

Not wrapped or hidden

Never retracted.

Peace given.

Peace left.

In a name, in a babe.

Through a Prince who knew no peace.

Spread to me before assailant and foe.

Peace, a feast.

Amid green meadows, still waters.

 

This verdant tree will wither.

Gifts peeled, received or returned.

Praise the Prince! This giver of Peace!

Not as the world gives

But for the eternal enjoyment of my soul.

Christmas Colors: Black and Red

One of the most contentious issues around Christmas is money. It’s not uncommon to hear people talk about digging themselves out of holiday debt come January. Retailers revel over the black in their checkbooks, while consumers cry over their bleeding bottom line.

For many Christians, the concept of debt is a touchy one. There are the pious few who shun credit cards, and a majority who long for the day when they can pay off all their plastic.

Recently, I heard a financial adviser speak on debt-proofing Christmas. She had tons of wonderful ideas for keeping Christmas traditions while eliminating or minimizing the cost. Wonderful ideas, good ideas, useful ideas.

However, following that interview, I got into a discussion on marital finances with my sisters. That prompted me to re-examine my perspective on money, debt, borrowers and lenders. What exactly does the Bible say?

Once when I was young, my dad loaned me money to purchase a bike. The plan was for me to earn my allowance and other funds to slowly pay off my debt. Truthfully, I don’t recall how many nights passed, but I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake thinking about how sinful, terrible and scary it was to owe someone something. One night, I climbed out bed, ran to my dad and begged him to let me take the money out of my savings account so that I could be free of this terrible debt.

Therein, I think, lies one of the Biblical cautions against debt. It invokes fear. There’s a feeling of inferiority to the person who holds the debt. That emotion, in and of itself is not Biblical. As children of God, we are not beneath or subservient to anyone. Neither should our lifestyle reflect that we are.

The problem with debt is that from either side, it is completely contrary to our personhood in Christ. We are called to be like our Father. Our God is beneath no one, in need of nothing and under no fear or condemnation. Neither are we. To live in a lifestyle of borrowing and owing is not to look like our Father.

In the relationship between a borrower and lender, Proverbs tell us the borrower is servant to the lender. (Proverbs 22:7) Consider these two roles. Both encourage an attitude that is un-Christ-like. The lien holder has the tendency to feel superior and to lord his influence and power over the borrower. The borrower is beholden, and legally bound to his benefactor.

Throughout the Old Testament, God laid out parameters  for borrowing and lending. If to do either was sinful, God would not have explained how to do so honorably. God tells the Israelites to lend freely but never to be in debt to another nation. I believe God does this for the sake of His own name.

“The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.” (Duet. 28:12)

“And I prayed to the LORD, ‘O Lord GOD, do not destroy your people and your heritage, whom you have redeemed through your greatness, whom you have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand.Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin,lest the land from which you brought us say, “Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.” (Duet 9:26-28)

For the glory of His own name, God protected and provided for His people. He does the same today. Essentially, borrowing displays a lack of trust in God’s faithful provision.

A final criteria for Christians to consider regarding debt, is motive. More often that not, debt is acquired by greed. There is an insatiable longing for something that God has not previously provided, so in self-sufficiency we run to our own means for satisfaction.

Finally, in the New Testament, Paul instructs his listeners to own no man anything but a debt of love. Think of how you feel when you owe someone money. It is usually a pressure, a frustration, a burden. However, when love has been given, to return it ten fold is a joy, a pleasure!

God longs for His people to reflect His nature. God longs for His people to trust his sufficiency. And God longs for His people to experience the joy of effusively giving love.

Can we apply this to our checkbooks?

 

 

Salvation on Lay Away

I almost feel like I’m cheating, this week I’m borrowing from other writers – journalists, comedians, friends. I’m sorry but I love these tidbits of thought, laughter, news, etc and there’s no sense in re-creating something that was effective the first time around.

I overheard this on the news just before Christmas. You may have too, but the radio didn’t do the story justice. The longer version (the book is always better than the movie, you know) illuminates the heart of the matter.

Then a mysterious woman stepped up to the counter.

Pretty amazing, hmm?

One more thought: Jesus is not an anonymous donor. Jesus It’s a lie that sneaks into our subconscious and leads us to treat God with the same indifference that we (sadly) often impose on other people. Jesus won’t respond to your text message, and He doesn’t need you to leave a voicemail hoping He’ll have time to listen later. Jesus is not an absent God who set the world spinning and sat back to see if it crashes like an un-manned top.

Jesus came. Jesus lived among us, sharing our blood, sweat and tears. His intimacy with us continues. Give Him your heart, let Him love you. If you want to trust Jesus and know the deepest love of your life, feel free to contact me or follow this link. 

 

MY NEW BUSINESS – FREE SHIPPING!

 

Welcome to my new business! Even if you’re shopped out or dedicated to a particular makeup line, don’t miss all the unique things that AVON has to offer. There are SHOES AND BAGS (my favorite) and THE NEW BABY LINE: TINY TILLIA.  There are pedicure specials, fragrances and Curves merchandise. Please let me know if you have any questions. You can contact me here or on my website, by clicking the image below. Thanks!

A Gift of Links

As promised, today I’m going to share awesome links that you will find especially helpful for the holidays. Enjoy!

Chantel Hobbs – manage your holiday weight

Bodyrock.tv – keep moving!

Crown financial – Christmas Credit Cards- don’t panic

Dave Ramsey  – Financial Peace, need I say more?

Don’t look all over Amazon- here’s exactly what you need for Christmas

Christmas marriage meltdown? 

I hope you enjoy some of these links. I love all of them, personally.

Merry Christmas!