Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Jesus and Jolly St. Nick

In department stores all over town there are signs hanging everywhere reminding you it’s Christmas time, advertisements suck you in to buying this or that, all in the name of Christmas. You get drawn in by all the sparkles, pretty colors and the holiday specials. Of course we all know that Christmas is really about Jesus and His gift to us, but that gift tends to fade in all the glittering lights of the over-decorated stores. Adults get caught up in shopping and children get caught up in what Santa is going to bring them. This leads to the question:

What if Jesus was like Santa?

What if all we had to do was make Him a list of everything we wanted, then wait eagerly for it to arrive Christmas morning? Maybe leave Him a few cookies and milk as a thank you, but that would be it. No more Jesus until we wanted something else. Like Santa’s bottomless bag of toys, Jesus would grant our every want and desire according to the list we sent Him. And Jesus would always give us what we asked for; we would never have any doubts about that.

Unfortunately, for some people this distorted version of Jesus is not that far off from the Jesus they serve, or rather the Jesus that serves them. Their fabricated ‘Jesus’ is more like a fairy godmother, someone who appears only when they need something, and is not unlike children who think only of Santa at Christmas when they’re waiting for him to deliver their presents.

Like kids who think they earned their gifts from Santa because they weren’t naughty is also similar to the belief of some so-called Christians who think they deserve heaven because they’ve been good or because their ‘nice’ outweighs the ‘naughty.’ Yet the Bible clearly says it’s nothing we do that grants us favor with God; it’s not works that save anyone; no one is good enough to be called righteous, no, not one. However, those false converts are not to be deterred, their ‘Santa-ized’ version of God’s Son dilutes God’s judgment, replacing it with the sparkly, glittery, warm-fuzzy, “unconditional love” God has for everyone.
I guess they missed all the verses about how much wrath God has for sinners.

You see, Santa is seen as the epitome of everything good and pure.

Jesus is everything good and pure. Even His holy wrath is pure, perfect, and totally deserved by every sinner.

Let’s do some more comparisons:

Santa works based off a list we send him. Jesus already knows our most coveted desires before we even know ourselves.

Santa gives us what we want. Jesus gives us what we need.

Santa instills no fear in the heart of anyone. Jesus is to be feared.

Santa is a magical fantasy, one that is shattered with the realization that he is just that- a fantasy. Knowing Jesus, on the other hand, is often magical, but He is not an illusion. However, you do have to be on guard for the lies that say Jesus is also only a product of someone’s amazing imagination. But once you’ve experienced Jesus’ power you’ll have no doubts of His realness.

Beginning right after Thanksgiving, parents take their kids to the mall to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they want, yet hardly any parents teach their children that God wants them to crawl up on His lap and talk to Him. But even that produces the thought of another good thing, on the endless list of good things, about Jesus; we don’t have to wait all year to send Him a letter in the mail or go visit Him at the mall, because we have a direct line of communication with the Father and the Son that is open 24/7 and is faster than email could ever hope to be. Prayer.

No, Jesus is not like the boisterous, Jolly St. Nick we so often see around town this time of year, but Jesus should be seen as approachable as Santa. He did, after all, give His life for us. The least we can do is boldly approach Him with our gratitude.

So the next time you’re out rushing around the glitzy department stores for gifts, remember there is one gift no man can manufacture; the gift of Jesus. And Jesus is oh, so much better than the fantasy of Santa Clause. Jesus is real, alive, and longs to be the focus of our lives.

Representing on the Highest Level

As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to represent the United States in the Olympics. I’ve dreamed of marching in the Opening Ceremonies, shooting my perfect match as a member of the USA Shooting Team, and being awarded the gold medal as my mom and dad cheer from the stands. What an honor it would be to compete on the World’s stage, representing my country.

But God has something even greater than the Olympic Games in mind for His children. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20 “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ.” The dictionary defines ambassador as: an authorized messenger or representative. As a Christian I now represent something of more value and worth than any country in any Olympic event; I represent Jesus.

Matt Wallis, chiropractor and man of faith, said “The greatest accomplishment in life is not winning eight gold medals in a single Olympics, but rather to have the glory of God written all over you.” When athletes compete in any sport on the Olympic level they have their country’s name written on their clothes, equipment, sometimes even tattooed on their skin. But to have the glory of God written all over me, and to have everyone know I represent Him without reading it on my clothes and without me saying any words, wow! Now that would be a true honor.

Greater still is that God would allow us to represent Him. We don’t deserve Him or His mercy in saving us, and even though we sin He still allows His name to be associated with us. If you win the gold medal in the Olympics and then test positive for drugs you lose the gold medal and your name gets erased from the record books. However, if we are truly saved and fall into sin God doesn’t take our salvation away and He doesn’t erase our name from the book of life. No, Jesus says in John 10:27-30, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are one.”

If we do win the gold, we have to remember that it will one day fade away as all earthly treasures will. In Psalm 19:10, David is talking about the commandments of the Lord and says, “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, fine gold.” We are to strive for the commandments of the Lord more than gold, more than Olympic gold. Proverbs 3:13-14 says, “Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding; for her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold.” Again, the Bible is telling us that silver and even gold (Olympic medals or otherwise) are not what is to be treasured. It is God, His commandments, and His wisdom that we truly need to live for.

God has changed my desire of representing the USA in the Olympics, to a desire of wanting to represent my Father wherever He takes me. If He takes me to the Olympics that is amazing, but if He doesn’t have the Olympics in my path He is still amazing. He wants my dream, my goal, and my life to be all about representing Him.
I may never stand on the tallest podium and hear the star spangled banner play, but one day I will stand before the Father and I want to Him to say, “Well done good and faithful servant. You represented Me well.”

Twilight vs. Obedience

“Life is hard. If life was easy there would be no people of integrity or character; for it is in the difficult choices that one displays character.”

I had a very difficult choice to make today. Well, really it’s been building up for weeks now but I tried ignoring it. That didn’t work out so well.

This choice involved me, a book (a series of books, really), part of my church family, and my God.

Twilight has become a national phenomenon. It has broken records in book sales and now in movie sales. Groups of young and old, men and women alike have flocked to book stores and now to the theaters to be a part of this vampire love story.

I’ve read the first three books and almost the entire final book. I got so caught up in the amazing story of Edward and Bella; just a girl like me, clumsy and determined, who falls in love with the perfect man (okay, that part’s totally not like me).

I could barely put down this book long enough to sleep. I’d stay up late reading it, and Edward and Bella were on my mind as soon as I woke up—just dying to know what would happen next. And as I read the book more and more the grip the book had on me became stronger and stronger.

I found myself constantly thinking about this amazingly well written book that has captivated audiences of all ages, dreaming about things that had happened and picturing myself making decisions in Bella’s shoes.

Okay, let’s back up just a little.

I wasn’t going to read this book.

People of all ages told me I ‘had’ to read this. They told me how incredible Twilight was. All I could say was, “Are you crazy?! I’m not going to read a book about vampires!”

But I compromised. And compromise is seductive. It lures you in and then it keeps you there. And even after I tell everyone never, ever to compromise—not physically/sexually, emotionally, or spiritually—what do I do? Compromise.

So back to the choice that’s before me:

Well, I tell you I don’t like this fork in my path. And, like with almost everything else in my life- I’m overcomplicating it.

I have the choice to obey God or blatantly disobey Him.

Sounds like a pretty simple decision.

But it’s not. It’s hard. Way harder than it should be.

God sent someone really amazing to confront me about this. Actually, God used several people to confront me about this. But one in particular; this person told me how they too had been ‘addicted’ to vampire books and how God finally told them enough was enough. They told me it was still a struggle for them but encouraged me that there was amazing Christian fiction books out there that would both bring glory to God while stimulating my desire for fiction reading. She also told me that her husband told her to think about how much time she was spent reading those books and how that time could be spent in the Bible.

Well, I really, really took that to heart and God showed me how Twilight and all its following books absolutely consumed me. I would try to justify everything, going as far to say I gleaned some spiritual application throughout the books (which I did, but that really kind of drowned in the big picture).

My relationship with God was in pretty deep waters as well, I wasn’t focused on Him because I was always focused on the books. And while the books were “good” books, they did not glorify God.

And if it’s not glorifying God, what is it doing?

So my choice has come. And I have chosen to give the final book back to the person I borrowed it from, even with the last 100 or so pages unread.

Even now I’m fighting this battle to read the final pages just to know what happened. I’m trying to reason that this is the final book of the series- the author already said she wasn’t writing anymore; I could just read the last pages and be done with it forever.

But where is the self-sacrifice in that? No where. That would be feeding my desire instead of starving it.

I’m trusting God to help me turn the book in tomorrow. To give me the words to speak to these people if they ask what I thought about it, and then to ask why I didn’t finish it.
I’m also asking you all for your prayers. I need your prayers. I need your encouragement. I need your love.
Most of all, I need God’s mercy and grace to help me through.

Proverbs 24:1- “Do not be envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them.”

Proverbs 24:21- “My son, fear the Lord and the king, do not associate with those given to change (rebellion).”

Proverbs 23:19- “Hear my son, and be wise; and guide your heart in the way.”

You know, that last verse goes against what is popular in society. Because you hear everywhere “follow your heart. Follow your heart.” But the Bible says we are to GUIDE our hearts. Guide it in wisdom. We must be prudent, obedient, and guide our own hearts in The Way. John 14:6- “Jesus said, ‘I am The Way, The Truth, and The Life…” We have to guide our hearts in Jesus, because our flesh won’t lead us correctly.

Knowledge= an organized body of information.

Wisdom= Knowing what to do with the knowledge you have.

Prudent= Wisdom applied to practice.

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