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.

 

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 2 May 2017

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.  I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”  Hebrews 10, verses 15-16.

I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds. That thought blows my mind.   Does it apply to everyone?

Do you think Kim Jong Un has a conscience?   This is the man who tortures nearly 300,000 of his countrymen simply for the act of thinking for themselves.   He just ordered the assassination of his half-brother in Malaysia.   He seems bent on provoking war with the West, provoking a resumption of the vicious civil war his grandfather began nearly 70 years ago.   Do you think he has a conscience?   Do you think that his conscience is inured?   He was educated in Switzerland, so it’s reasonable to assume he was exposed to Christianity at some point in his life.   Do you think he rejected it?

Or there was Sayyid Qtub.   You might never have heard of him.   He, too, was educated in the West, and he, too, was exposed to Christianity during his time in America (several years, in fact).   Sayyid Qtub was the original Islamist fundamentalist, a man who grew to hate all that the West stands for and who began to challenge the Arab governments in Egypt in the 1960s.   He founded the anti-American Muslim Brotherhood and was executed by the Egyptians in 1966.   One of his acolytes was a man named Zawahiri, who later worked with a man named Bin Laden to form Al Qaeda.   Do you think they had consciences?

Do you think God wrote His laws on their hearts and wrote them on their minds?

Has He written them on yours?

You know the answer, and it’ll make you uncomfortable to admit that, yes, these people did (or do) know God.   God loved Sayyid Qtub, Ayman al Zawahiri, and Osama Bin Laden enough that He sent His only son to die for them.   He does it for everyone, even those who commit great sins.   Just yesterday, I was at a gymnastics facility here in Paris, talking with a woman there (while waiting for my grandson to complete his gym lesson).   We were talking about the man in Dallas who had just shot the paramedic (and who was later found dead, a suicide, in a nearby home).   The woman’s young daughter quipped into our conversation that “Mommy, Jesus died for that man, too.”   She’s right.   He did.   Jesus died for that lunatic who murdered an innocent first responder and then murdered himself.

Just like He died for You.   You whose sins may be relatively tame compared to Kim Jong Un, Osama Bin Laden, or a crazed killer.  Re-read verses 15 and 16 and tell me if they say “only white people” or “The Holy Spirit testifies to Southern Baptists about this.”   It doesn’t say “This pertains only to the Catholics” or “AME Methodists know this better than anyone else.”   No, those verses say that Jesus’ Holy Spirit testifies to US, all of us, each of us, you and me.   They say that God wrote His holy laws into our hearts and minds.   They are natural law, beyond human education and not caused or inspired by human thought.   They are God bequeathed into us, innately part of us.   They are branded onto our very existence.

So do I think those horrible people, whoever they are, whoever WE are, know about God without being taught about Him?   Yes, yes I do.   I believe that God writes Himself into our DNA, whoever we are, and that our deepest yearnings in whatever culture from which we emanate are to know God more.   To learn about Him, to seek Him, to build on what He put into us and to find meaning in this life through Him.   Some reject this; let’s be honest:   most people reject this.   Yet it doesn’t make the truth less true that God loved us first and wants us first to love Him before we know or love anything else.   His Spirit speaks to us through the conscience, and we each have a conscience even if we dull it.  He loved us enough to die for us no matter what terrible things we do to each other in our lives.  He wants everyone to know this so that everyone might turn from our evil ways to embrace His Way.  Even Sayyid Qtub, the Dallas killer, and Kim Jong Un.

For further reading:  Hebrews 3:7, Jeremiah 31:33-34, Hebrews 8:10.

Lord Jesus, thank You for being bigger than me, more patient than me, more loving than me.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 13 October 2014.

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.- Mark 1, verses 29-31.

Why is it so hard for us to believe in the amazing?

Yesterday, my daughter, son-in-law, and grandson had Sunday dinner with us.  It wasn’t a special occasion, and the menu wasn’t especially auspicious; pasta and sauce.   And wine, of course; we enjoy wine.   Anyway, my grandson and I were making faces across the table.   Something about me wiggling my eyebrows made him giggle, so naturally I kept doing it.   I’ve said it a lot since he was born:   it’s so much fun to be a grandparent.   It’s a huge blessing. In fact, it’s amazing.   Watching a life grow and develop is amazing.

Over the weekend, another Ebola patient was diagnosed here in Dallas.   As I’m writing this, doctors have no idea how she contracted the disease. For my friends in Africa reading this, perhaps this seems like no big deal because thousands of people have contracted Ebola just this year alone and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.   Here in the US, because the health worker was apparently following all the rules that the Federal government prescribed, people are starting to get nervous.

It’s amazing if you think about it.   The seemingly all-powerful thermonuclear United States government is powerless against a string of DNA. What amazes me more is how believable that is, how many millions of Americans believe the amazing fact that there is a dangerous force working against us that seems to have our best medical measures on the ropes. Because there is.

We believe that and it’s amazing.   In time, children grow.   In time, we will make progress in fighting this disease.   In time all things happen, even those difficult to understand, because of God’s more powerful, profoundly amazing grace. Knowing that, why shouldn’t we believe that Jesus could heal someone dying of fever?   Perhaps Simon’s mother-in-law didn’t have Ebola but she was still in a deadly condition.   Her illness was beyond the influence of first-century medicine.   Yet it wasn’t beyond Jesus.   He simply touched her and amazingly she was healed.

Why doesn’t that happen now?

Perhaps the real question we should ask ourselves is “why aren’t we amazed when it regularly happens?”   We’d be naïve to think it doesn’t. For every terrible story of an Ebola patient who dies an agonizing death there are many other stories of people who came in contact with the disease and survived.   Or heroic people who gave of themselves for others.   For every awful account of someone dying a horrible, painful death of cancer, or AIDS, or any other disease, there are countless other stories of people overcoming those same conditions.   If you let yourself think about it, that’s quite amazing.

Like watching your grandson grow up.

That’s because God Immanuel is still powerfully working through the ordinary to do the extraordinary here and now, in our post-modern unbelieving world. His touch is still more than enough to rejuvenate us when our own medicine seems helpless.   Or when we consider blessings like our grandchildren. Or when we realize how deep is the love of Him who amazed us with it.

Lord, Your amazing love is sufficient for everything and more powerful than all my best efforts.   Thank You.

Read Matthew 4, verses 23-25.