Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 21 December 2017

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.   Ephesians 4:7.

Finally, let’s talk about Santa and God’s grace.   In our increasingly secular America, where leftist hostility threatens to crowd out any faith except itself, where crime and real hatred work to undo the works of love, and where division with the right is on the rise, at this time of year, Santa is all about grace.

Santa and God’s grace?   I thought the hyper-Christians and Santa-Haters owned the topic of grace!   There actually is an unspoken “war on Christmas” and some of the primary combatants relentlessly defend the position that God Almighty is the author of peace on earth and good will toward men.  The secular ‘god’ of Santa Claus is one of the vehicles the other side uses to fight against the truth of Jesus.   Anything related to Christmas that isn’t all and only Jesus must be eradicated.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Grace is unmerited mercy.   You don’t do anything to earn it or deserve it.   It is love freely given to you by God because He’s God and He loves us.   He loves us so much that He wasn’t willing for us to be apart from him.  Our sins earned us permanent separation from God but He didn’t want that for us because His love is too good to withhold.   So, in the ultimate act of grace, God came here to Earth as a man and gave His life as an atonement for our sins.   All of that was beautifully exemplified on Christmas morning when God gave us that first Christmas gift.

Every year, both religious and secular America commemorate that gift, in part, by celebrating the magnanimity of Santa Claus.  Without Christ there is no Christmas, and without Christmas there is no Santa Claus, whose heart is focused on giving, on sharing with strangers simply because he can.   He does it on and only on Christmas:   the birthday of God.  How is that not grace?

But but but…what about that naughty and nice list?   If the fruit of God’s Spirit is visible through good works, and those good works are lauded by both God and Santa Claus, then is it unreasonable to expect both God and Santa would disapprove of our naughty works?   God turns us over to the consequences of our unrepentant hearts.   Is it any wonder that part of the Santa story would include the same thing?  And yet, even knowing we naughty people deserve punishment, God still gives us our lives, our health, and everything we are.   It’s pure grace.  As for Santa, be reasonable:   other than my parents and politicians, do you honestly know of anyone who has ever put a lump of coal in your stocking?    Grace again.

Christ apportioned true grace for us by giving His very life so we wouldn’t have to give ours.   He bridged the chasm between damnation and salvation and made it possible for us to avoid the former.   Christ gives the gift of salvation that Santa doesn’t, and He did it out of the kind of love that makes Santa’s look cheap.  Face it:   Santa doesn’t love the way Jesus loves; that’s simply the way it is.  Yet love it is from Saint Nick all the same, and when we consider how many people in our world need love, well, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn it.   Maybe the idea of Santa Claus is simply an extension of our faith in God, of appreciating His grace in giving us things we want but don’t deserve.

Thank you, my friend, for reading these words, and Merry Christmas to you.   I hope they’ve helped you and made you think of things you might not otherwise have considered.   More than that, I hope they’ve planted in you the seed of curiosity to investigate God’s Word even more.   In parting this year, I’ll challenge you to take a few minutes on Christmas Eve and read Luke 2.   Read it in the King James version because, in my opinion, the first twenty verses of Luke 2 when read in that 15th century English are the most beautiful words ever written.   Take a few minutes to thank God for them, and for sending His only Son to be born on Christmas as a man.   Then thank Him, too, for the coming Easter that fulfills the promise of eternity.  Last, thank our Lord for the gift of the story of Santa Claus and how jolly old St. Nick is actually a herald of our Savior in Bethlehem.

For further reading:  Luke 2 (in the King James version).

Thank You, Lord, for Your grace, Your gift, and Your love.   Thank You for Christmas…and Easter.

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Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 20 December 2017

For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.   Matthew 25:29.

You know the best thing about giving?   It’s giving again.   Just ask the men who play Santa Claus.

Recently there was a story in the local (Dallas) news about a woman who took her kids to see the same Santa Claus every year for decades.   She had several dozen picture of kids, year after year, sitting with the exact same actor.  He was like family to her, and when he moved to a new location, she loyally took her business to see him.   This year is different, however, because in 2017 the man passed away.   The story outlined the woman’s sadness at losing the man who had become a part of her life.   And it also focused on her thankfulness for having known him.   Something about him kept her coming back to him year after year.

And something about being Santa kept him coming back year after year.  I’ve never worn a Santa suit but I’m betting that the reason so many people do so year after year is a giving heart.   It’s about giving little kids a smile, and a little agape love, and seeing them happy.   It’s about sharing part of the magic that is the Christmas season.  Even unbelievers can’t deny that there is a buzz in the air during Christmas.  That buzz is love, and it’s love exemplified through giving.

Here in Matthew 25, Jesus said that a giving heart compounds love.   Don’t be sucked into a materialistic interpretation of the verse:   what Christ is really talking about is love.  When you love, you get love in return.   When you give out of love, you receive more than you give (even if you receive nothing physical in return).   When you love unconditionally, you begin to know God’s heart.  It’s the heart behind it that grows.   More importantly, God’s glory grows as His love is shared.   What’s more, when we give out of love, we store up real treasure in heaven, where we will be able to fully embrace all of God unencumbered by the hazy filter of our sins.

We all want more of that.  Even those who believe in neither Jesus nor Santa Claus want more love.  If you want to break the ice with someone who’s hostile, you start with kindness, giving them the gift of yourself unsheltered.   As the walls break down, you give more and more, and the hostile person’s demeanor usually changes.  After all, what was missing in Mr. Scrooge’s heart?   Love, and when there was no love his capacity to give, to share, dried up.  When the love returned, so did his giving.

That’s the aspect of Santa Claus which is so attractive.   It isn’t really the idea of getting something you want for free.   No, what keeps kids believing in Santa is that he loves freely and gives even more freely.   It doesn’t take much effort, then, to mature from Santa to learning about the life of Jesus and the real reason for Christmas.   Noodle it for awhile and you see that the love of a giving Santa is, perhaps, the best expression of Jesus’ giving love in our world today.  And the more you learn about Jesus, the more you see that the real holiday of love isn’t Christmas Day or even Valentine’s Day.   No, the real holiday that centers on giving and love is Easter.   At Easter, God’s love was completely fulfilled for us.   Without Christmas, there would be no Easter, and without Easter Christmas is just another birthday.   Besides, the Easter Bunny is no Santa.

For further reading:  Ephesians 4:7.

Lord Jesus, as we celebrate Your birthday, help me to better give as You give:   selflessly, with a loving heart, and unconditionally, so that I may know an abundance of You.

 

Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 19 December 2017

Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.   Deuteronomy 26:11.

It’s the week before Christmas and, if we’re having an honest conversation about Santa Claus, we need to face some facts about the world we live in.

We each know people who are having a tough time this year.  One friend of mine is struggling to give her kids and grandkids the kind of happy Christmas she never had when she was growing up, and she feels she’s failing.   Another friend of mine is struggling with the recent diagnosis of a terminal brain tumor.   Yet another confesses her broken-heartedness on her first Christmas as a single mom following her divorce.   One of my sons-in-law is deployed overseas, spending his first Christmas away from his wife and daughter; his wife and daughter are very much missing Dad.  Another friend of mine is struggling with schizophrenia.  One of my classmates is being buried today after her untimely death last week.  I’m losing my house.

And we’re supposed to rejoice over all this?  Actually, yes, and it really isn’t that difficult to do.

Think of “A Christmas Carol”, of Scrooge’s overnight transformed heart.   Or the Santa Clause movie where Tim Allen brightens up the teacher’s holiday party by using a little Santa magic.  Consider the lines of excited kids lining up to see Santa.   Or the bell-ringer wearing a Santa hat who wishes you a merry Christmas when you drop a few coins into the red kettle.  Rejoice.   Rejoice, already.   God gives us the basics but so much more.   If you don’t believe that, go do some Santa watching at the mall.   Reject the crass commercialism and just watch the little kids.   Watch how they anticipate, and how a kind old man spends some time with them to listen and love a little.   Then rejoice already.   Rejoice on days good and bad alike because the same Christ Child, born on Christmas Day, reflected by a character we call “Santa,” is Lord of all.

In it all, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.   You know it, the Christmas hymn.   According to Wikipedia, the words to the hymn come from the 1700s while the medieval dirge to which they’re sung comes from France of the 1500s.  Yet I love the song.  It is actually one of the more hopeful ones you’ll hear this Christmas because the refrain constantly reminds us to rejoice over how Jesus Emmanuel has ransomed us from ourselves.   How “Emmanuel” actually means “God with us.”   How He is with us now.

Rejoice, too, because one of Emmanuel’s representatives here in our world is that jolly fat man in the red suit.   That attitude of giving selflessly is cause enough to begin the rejoicing.   The heart that gives is the heart of hope, and in the face of real adversity we need more of that hope.   Only Jesus can truly give that hope, but you, me, and acting like Santa can share it.   That’s what keeps the world going around.  The people of 1500s France knew it.  The magi knew it.   Moses knew it when he penned Deuteronomy.   And the men who play Santa at the mall know it.

I’m not trying to be Pollyanna concerning the hard condition in which we find ourselves.   Living can hurt.   Yet the very real antidote to being crushed by this world is letting ourselves be lifted up by God instead.   Loss, death, and pain still happen, but they cannot defeat a heart focused on giving through rejoicing.   Indeed, the only way to persevere through those things is with that rejoicing heart of Jesus.   In hard times, that may be the only gift we can get or give.  Like the song, so much of our lives is sung in a minor key.   How much better it is, then, to consider the smile of Santa’s face, the touch of Jesus’ hand, and the fresh day today to rejoice one moment at a time.

For further reading: Matthew 25:29.

My Lord, I rejoice at Your wonder, at how You provide for us and love us.  Help me to persevere through adversity today.   And ease the pain of those who are struggling right now.  Love and nurture them, Lord.

Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 15 December 2017

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Romans 8:32.

This is a message that is easily lost when you think of Santa.   In fact, I suspect it’s part of the reason – maybe even THE reason – why so many followers of Jesus actively, vociferously disdain all things Santa.   Santa can’t save you from your sins but Jesus does.   Santa can’t give you all things your heart really desires but Jesus does.   Santa can’t this, Santa can’t this, but Jesus does.   All true, all like a boring confirmation class quiz.  I get it.

So don’t lose the message of Romans 8 when you’re busy defending Jesus, ok?   I get the idea of defending Christmas, of defending Jesus.   Are we really so arrogant to think God can’t defend Himself without our help?  It might be a noble thing, especially since the idea of Christmas as the birth of Christ is under attack in our age of Muslimism and atheism.  But we lose sight of God’s giving when we get busy defending our positions.   How about we step back a bit and look for some common ground?

What He gave still matters.   What Santa gives reflects that.

We’ve talked about how giving is Christ-like, how Christ-like giving is the foundation of the idea of Santa Claus.  But have you considered the gift itself?   The character we know as Santa exhibits the best of Jesus’ attitude, namely to give glory to God by expressing agape love, of showing love to someone who doesn’t deserve it by giving them something from yourself.   That attitude, that giving heart, is central to Jesus’ character as well.  But the gift matters too.   What you are given can matter as much as the heart of the person giving it.

Consider this:  kids go to see Santa, or write letters to Santa, telling him what they most want.   They reveal their most urgent material desires to him.   The story of Santa, then, is how Santa fulfills those most urgent requests for the good little girls and boys by bringing them things they want most.   Winner winner chicken dinner.

Consider this as well:  people pray to Jesus their innermost thoughts about their most urgent desires.   We express our groaning to Him about things that matter most to us.  We give our requests to Him, and sometimes those requests are even self-less.   But Jesus always answers them, even when we don’t understand the answer.   And in addition to that, God then gives us a redemption that only He can give.   He gives us eternal life with Himself.  That gift matters most.  He promises it to us, and His promise is always sure, always reliable, always true.   He proved it by promising to redeem us, then giving us the life blood of His most precious being, His Son, to secure it.   He did it for us, not because He had to.   God the Father and Spirit gave His Son to us because He wanted to, because He could.   He did it because He loved us unconditionally.   Love for love’s sake, giving because of love’s sake, the gift of Jesus Himself.   The ultimate Christmas gift.   His gift brings peace on earth and good will to men.

Every gift given since then, whether gifts of the Magi or gifts from Santa’s workshop, is a reflection of God’s gift to us.   THAT gift matters most because eternity always matters most.   No matter what else Santa brings you this year, when you realize God gave you this, you realize you’ve gotten more than you could honestly want.   Don’t ever lose sight of that.

For further reading: Romans 12:8.

My Lord, thank You for the gift of Your Son.   Of the idea of Santa who reflects Your wonderful gift.

Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 14 December 2017

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  John 14:27.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”  The song is sung to a poem by Longfellow, and the fourth verse of it sings, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor doth he sleep, The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men.”   That song was written in the late 1800s, but it has a message for us today.   God is not dead nor does he sleep.   He is active in our lives today, right now.  God coming to earth to do just that IS Christmas.   It is the story of Jesus in Bethlehem.

Flash forward from the 1800s until now.   Our Christmas today includes the character of Santa Claus.  A fictional creation amalgamated from our past, Santa is the Christmas that people who don’t believe in Jesus celebrate.   He’s about giving, being jolly, loving children.  According to a story in the New York Times just yesterday (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/13/us/christmas-less-religious.html) only 55% of Americans who celebrate Christmas do so as a religious holiday.   Noodle that for a second.   According to that survey, 45% – nearly half – of the people in the United States celebrate Christmas without considering it is a holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Yet peace is still at the center of the holiday.   The Christmas song above is but one mention of it.   Christmas cards mention “peace on earth”.   You see it on road signs, yard signs, billboards, and internet postings everywhere.   Even unbelievers embrace the idea of peace between men.   The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth good will to men.   A mythical fat man in a red suit shows up every Christmas Eve to give children, good and bad, Jesus-followers or not, a gift of good will:  all so they might find a little enjoyment, a little love and peace.  How much more, then, does the idea of a gift from Santa mean when we consider that “peace on earth, good will to men” is a quote from Luke 2:14.   They were the words spoken by angels to the shepherds who followed and went to find the newborn Christ child.

You can’t believe in Santa Claus and not embrace the idea from Luke.   Giving is love and giving is Christ-like.   Santa’s behavior is modeled on that, is a reflection of that.   The gifts Santa gives are to commemorate the birth of Jesus, foretold by prophets, announced by angels, and witnessed by common men.  The amazing life that started that night fleshed out the Savior who would one day teach that God doesn’t give the way men give.  God gives real peace, real love.   He frees us from the burden of sin, from the worries of punishment, from the guilt of dreading justice.   Jesus loves us enough to let us live our lives as we please while living them within us, beside us.   He sees when we screw up and always beckons us to a better way, to His way.   His way is that peace, which is more than just contentment.  All that started that first Christmas Day in Judea.

On his best day, which is Christmas, whoever is Santa in your life just gives you new toys.   That’s a good thing, but there’s so much more to it.  I’m not here to wage some “Jesus versus Santa” throw-down.   I’m here to simply tell the way it is.  And still, in our time, when the bells of Christmas ring, they echo peace on earth good will to men.  No matter what you believe, that’s a good thing.   The greater thing, then, is how that peace always comes back to Jesus.

For further reading:  Romans 8:32.

Lord, thank You for Your peace.

Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 13 December 2017

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Luke 6:38.

These are real words of Jesus.   It makes sense, you know, to have some things said by Jesus in a blog that talks about Jesus and why today’s symbol of Jesus’ birthday is still all about Jesus.   It REALLY makes sense to think of giving in the way Jesus describes it here in Luke 6.  Giving is the most selfless thing you can do in the way of bettering your self-interest.   Huh?  It’s the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ in the story of Santa Claus.

My favorite story of Santa is the Rankin Bass animated program “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”   You probably have seen it at one time or another.   Mickey Rooney, Fred Astaire, Keenan Wynn.   It’s the fable of Kris Kringle taking toys to Sombertown give them away to the children.   The evil Burgermeister Meisterburger tries to thwart Kris, who then learns how to sneak into town, leave toys in stockings, and use flying reindeer to get around.   One scene in the show even has Mr. and Mrs. Claus getting married on Christmas Eve, deemed “the holiest night of the year.”  Imagine that:   running off every year on your anniversary to spend it giving away free stuff to a bunch of total strangers who happen to be underage.

No, this isn’t a 2017 political campaign.  It’s the essence of giving.  Kris Kringle gave away toys because giving was a way he could love.  In the show, Santa gave because it made him feel good to share, to make a child smile.  In your life, you give because it makes you feel good to do so.   The reason is the same:  to feel good.   When you dig deeper, you discover it isn’t just some dopamine rush.   You feel better when you do the right thing.   You do the right thing when you do as God requests.   Logical transition:   you feel better when you do as God requests.   Jesus said “give and it will be given to you.”   He isn’t setting up some divine wishing well.   Instead, He was talking about transforming one’s heart.   Give because your heart tells you to love someone this way.   When you love, you’ll be loved back.

Giving is love.   When we love through giving, we’re bettering someone else’s life while indirectly bettering ourselves.

That’s what Jesus was saying here in Luke 6.   He said that, the more we love, the more we’re loved back.   The good measure, pressed down and given back, is an expression of love for you.   Even more than that, it’s a reflection of the love that is God Almighty.  We simply have to share it.  If you enjoy the idea of Santa giving selflessly what you’re really enjoying is a form of God’s love for all of us.  Giving is love and God always gives mercifully, gracefully, endlessly.   It’s part of His character, and it’s first, best expression is the baby born on Christmas Day.   You know, the one Santa celebrates.

Giving makes us better, and cheerful givers turn into better people, which pleases God.   Underneath all that is the solid foundation that giving is love, that love is Jesus.   When we give selflessly like Santa Claus would give, we share Jesus.   Knowing that, here’s a quote from Martin Luther:  “To love is not to wish one another well, but to carry one another’s burdens, that is, things that are grievous to us, and that we would not willingly bear.”  When you see Santa with a child on his lap, remember that is a symbol of the older man wanting to help the younger person bear life’s hurt.   When you think of the baby in the manger, remember that He came here to live as a man specifically to carry our sins for us.   And the next time you hear Mickey Rooney as Kris Kringle, remember that the bag of toys he carries on his shoulder is actually a way to give love while taking up someone else’s love burden.

For further reading:  John 14:27.

Oh Christmas Lord, thank You for showing us how You give to share Your love.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 December 2017

Grace be with you all.  Hebrews 13, verse 25.

Once again, we find ourselves at the end.   If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, you’ve seen the ending of Hebrews, Mark, The Ten Commandments, Ruth, 1/2/3 John, James, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs.   That’s a lot of real estate to cover.   Thank you so much, my friend, for reading, sharing, learning, and hopefully hearing the voice of God inside you through these thoughts.

Yet it’s time to finish up this section.   After this, there are other things I’d like to cover.   Next week, we’ll spend the rest of the Christmas season talking about Santa Claus and giving.   After that, I believe God is leading me to walk through the “five T’s” of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus; we’ll be walking with the Apostle Paul, so get ready to get real; Paul has that effect.

Until then, grace be with you all.   Grace:  that’s a concept I haven’t given nearly enough thought to even though my mom and grand-daughter are both named Grace.  I used to think of grace as a quiet thing, like sunny meadows and warm tea.  But that’s only part of what it is.  My friend, Bill Brimer, however, calls the book of Ephesians “a grace bomb.”  It’s an explosion of God’s grace in your face.   An overpowering force of enormous power that can undo physical reality.  Ephesians spends much of it’s time explaining God’s grace as a living, vital thing instead of just a pastoral quality.

Boom.

Have you ever really thought about what grace means to you?   My Random House dictionary defines grace as “a pleasing or attractive quality or endowment; favor shown in granting a delay or immunity; the freely given, unmerited favor or love of God, the influence or spirit of God operating in man; moral strength.”   All those meanings (and more) for such a small word.   And to think they could all blow up in your face with the peace of a rural pasture.  In the context of talking about Jesus, grace means all those things, and all of them at once.

We don’t deserve it, but Jesus richly blesses us to live in His grace.   We’ve done everything we can think of to tick him off, to merit His wrath, but, instead, He likes us, wants to be with us, runs to us where we are in the middle of our dysfunctions.   If I listed here even a fraction of the sins I’ve done against Jesus, I wouldn’t list much before you’d see I don’t deserve His grace.   I don’t even deserve air, food, water, and my beating heart.   News flash:  neither you you.   We’re damn dirty sinners.

But we have so much more than air, food, water and life.   We have love, friends, jobs, possessions, liberty, opportunity.   We have each other.   We have seven billion people here to live, thrive and survive with, and we GET TO tell them that this Jesus blesses us all in His grace.   That He wants them to know Him, too.   That’s grace.   When I deserve punishment, Jesus wants love for me.  When I deserve scorn, He lives in my heart.   When I merit revenge, He urges peace.   When I deserved to die, He ran to the cross for me and took my place.   Boom!

When the writer of Hebrews had only a few words left to say, he said that he desired for God’s magnificent grace bomb to explode in the lives of his readers.   “Grace be with you all” is more than just a benediction:   it’s a challenge.   It’s a powerful this-I-know-to-be-true amen.   It’s a quiet prayer but also an artillery-packed lock and load on the front line.  Grace is the quiet strength of Christ from the cross giving you peace.   And grace is the raw edge of God’s knife in your hand, cutting away the scar tissue of sin to cure the flesh below.   When there was nothing else to say to his friends, the writer affirmed God’s presence in their lives and called on them to realize all God does for undeserving people while sharing His saving love with those who don’t know about Him.

I’m not worthy to argue with wisdom like that.   I’ll simply accept it as a gift of love from our God.  Grace in your face, indeed.   Back in the race for us now.  Lace up your boots, pick up your gun, and let’s march.

Until next time, grace be with you all.

For further reading:  Hebrews 13:25

Lord thank You for Your grace, for how You love and provide for me.