Monday, December 31, 2012

Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly in 2013

Today, the Lord has put it upon my heart to explore what it means, and what it costs, to be "set apart". An incident occurred at church yesterday that prompted my thoughts in this direction.

In Peter's children's church class the teacher begin the lesson by saying, "As I point to you, tell me what your favorite Christmas present was." 

I don't have to tell you that no one said Immanuel --"God with us"

90% of them said that an i-Pod was their favorite gift. These are tween children in grades 4th-6th. I know there's enormous pressure to conform to modern technology, but parents are forgetting something. There are plenty of computer-savvy children in school who know how to disengage the parental controls on these things, and they would gladly do it for anyone who asks, just to make a name for themselves. 

Giving children and teens hand-held access to the Internet is asking for trouble. 70% of middle school children admit to viewing pornography, and hand-held access--portable access that can be taken to school or out in the neighborhood--is going to make this tragedy far worse. Even children who have a computer--or a cable TV for that matter--in their bedroom are similarly at risk of heart poisoning. 

But aside from that, my son felt embarrassed as the teacher asked this. He got a card game and some candy and a whoopie cushion in his stocking. What was he supposed to answer? When it was finally his turn he remembered that my cousin came on Christmas Eve and gave all my children a webkinz stuffed animal and a $15 Target card. 

He and Paul enjoyed caring for their stuffed animal using the Webkinz site, so he told the class that a webkinz was his favorite present.

The hurt from the church doesn't stop there. On his last AWANA day of the year, the AWANA commander  reminded the kids at a Christmas party that the presents "they would all open on Christmas morning" were not the true meaning of Christmas. At this same Christmas party Santa made an appearance and gave each child a mug with a cocoa pack and some trinkets. Oh, boy. How we hate it as parents when Santa shows up at church. I got the feeling that the new pastor of this AWANA church wasn't too happy with Santa's appearance either, but I guess he must have approved it. Or maybe he wasn't asked? I don't know. 

Wanting kids to believe that a mere man is powerful enough to make it all around the world in one night, giving presents to every child--even kids whose father lost a job?--seems like asking them to equate Santa with God. Only God could do such a thing, and he doesn't care to. He wants us to use the resources he's graciously given us to behave benevolently at Christmas and all through the year, not necessarily toward our own American children who have plenty, but to the people of the world who don't know the Good News, and who don't have basic necessities. 

What is the purpose of encouraging a Christian child to believe in Santa? A Christian child trying to learn how loving and powerful and sovereign our Heavenly Father is? 

Loving acts originate with our Father and He should get the glory for them, not Santa.

9-year-old Aidan, my neighbor, was with us that night at AWANA. It was his third visit. His father doesn't have a job and his mother works part-time. If any presents ended up in his hands at all on Christmas morning, they would come from a grandmother already strapped with helping this family with necessities. When the teacher uttered, "all the presents you kids will open on Christmas morning" she was being woefully short-sighted. 

I was saddened and did my best to diffuse the situation on the ride home. I asked my own boys on the ride home if it bothered them when she said that, since they wouldn't be opening any gifts. They said that, yes, it did make them feel sad. 

Aidan didn't say anything, but I hope he at least felt less alone.

After I heard the teacher say this, I glanced at Aidan and saw that his chest heaved and fell suddenly, as though he felt the weight of his situation keenly.

My children know the blogs of Ann Voskamp and Shaun Groves fairly well. I often discuss the contents with them and they've come to respect these families as true Christian soldiers. Neither of these families buy Christmas presents for their children, though Ann may do stockings. I've seen real stockings hanging on her mantel. Not the huge stockings available now, but real socks (that would hold little).

Knowing that these families don't do gifts either helped my children accept our resolve to give our resources and our time to others, rather than concentrating on ourselves at Christmas. Ann's family goes through the Compassion and World Vision gift catalogues to give farm animals and other necessities to the poor. Shaun's family gives 50% of their resources away as a rule, all year long.

I'm dismayed that along with the Bible, I only have blogs to help my children grasp and embrace the truth and live boldly for Christ. The church? It fails. The church has one foot in the world and the danger of both feet setting there is imminent. Those who study Truth need to share Truth. Boldly.  

When my children play with neighborhood children, I often have to disciple them through the experience, teaching them how Jesus feels differently than their friends, about this or that topic. 

Lately I find myself doing this after a church experience too, and that profoundly saddens me and makes me more bold in my teaching on this blog. While I don't like to offend anyone, I do want Jesus to win hearts, not Satan. I want Him to reign supreme in our hearts. I want all Christians to fight for the principles Jesus taught.

As I train my children in the wisdom and truth of the Bible, I'm finding that Micah 6:8 is a good take-away verse for all that was important to our Lord, along with the all-encompassing "love your neighbor as yourself". 

Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

To live justly means we shouldn't act like Nelly Olsen from the Little House books, nor should we act like the neighborhood bully--taking what isn't ours and oppressing others. Does the world act justly? I've given extreme examples, true, but I submit to you that the world does indeed act like Nelly Olsen and the neighborhood bully. 

When we take more than we need, indulging many or most of our wants, even to the point of debt, we're a spoiled Nelly Olsen. When we stock the bottom of our Christmas tree with multiple gifts that are mostly unneeded, while others live with their needs perpetually unmet, we are like the bully, oppressing others. We take the resources God has graciously given, and we waste them and live in the flesh. 

We store up treasures and turn away from the poor on the next block and in the next land. The fact that Christmas has become more cultural than spiritual is a good example of this. We can say until we're blue in the face that Christmas is not about the presents, but to a child who opens several or more presents on this day, our bit of truth rings empty, hollow. Their mind works thus: if it's not about the presents, then why do I open so many on this day, and how can I not look forward to that with unbridled excitement?

We're setting our kids up for failure, spiritually speaking. They will grow up to do the same things at Christmas and other parts of the year, and the pressure to conform to the culture might even tempt them toward debt. Those in debt can give very little to anyone. They're slaves and their master (Satan) is merciless.

Matthew 6:24 "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

I sincerely ask every parent out there to pray about and contemplate Micah 6:8. Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

Teach your own heart, your church, and your children, what it means to act justly throughout the year. Teach what it means to love mercy and not hold grudges or allow our hearts to harden against others. To mercy someone means to love them even when they don't deserve it, and even when it's inconvenient. It means to extend God's mercy to the hurting and the suffering and the hungry. 

Teach that we must walk humbly, knowing that Christ died for us ugly sinners, thereby buying us and setting us apart for His purposes. We do not own our days or our destiny, and any good in us is from His spirit alone. To walk humbly also means to cast off all sense of entitlement.

I have gathered verses that discuss being set apart for God. They're at the bottom of this post. It's in our best interest to pray these into our hearts in this, a new year. 

The world can hurt us and pressure us as we live set apart. My son can attest to that. To aid our own hearts, and our children's hearts, in this set-apart living, we must read God's word, allowing the Holy Spirit to strengthen our resolve. Hold your children close; stay in touch with their hearts; disciple them. Give them the sense of belonging they desperately need in this broken, hostile world. 

If they don't get it from their own home they'll go to the world for that sense of belonging. And the result? Deep sorrow will visit our parental hearts.

Again, before I close, I don't mean to offend anyone. I'm sure there are some of you who carefully gave away in kindness as much as you put under your own tree. I know you are out there. God bless your resolve to act justly.

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

1 Peter 2:9 But ye [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:

1 Peter 5:8  Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:

1 Peter 1:16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

John 15:19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.


CynthiaJSwenson said...

I would ask the Lord if He wants you to remain at that church or look for another. He will clearly direct you. I agree with your concerns. Love & prayers, in Jesus, Cynthia

Christine said...

Hi Cynthia, thank you for visiting today. The church that Santa showed up at isn't our home church. We've taken our children to their AWANA program for years and they do a good job at that church caring for needy neighbors and churchgoers. I do like their staff and they have the right idea generally. The Santa thing seems to be something the lady who heads up AWANA likes to do. Her own children are strong Christians so some how she didn't let her love of Santa affect their commitment to the Lord. I just don't think he belongs in church at all. It's a personal family thing that each family has to pray about and decide. To have him come to church takes power away from the parents who don't want him to be anything but a storybook character to their children.

The children's church teacher (from our home church) who asked what the children got for Christmas just made a mistake. For all I know it may have been a prompt in the curriculum to introduce the lesson. I was appalled and even angry when I first heard it, but she didn't mean any harm. So many Christians don't even think about the poor and just stay in their nice little middle-class bubble. It is safe in that bubble and that is what I want to fight against. Standing up for Christ is important work, not matter the inconveniences and people need to be taught to do it. Their eyes need to be opened to the world's poverty problem and God's message as it relates to the poor and the rich and giving.

We do not think our current church does enough to love the poor. We are trying to change that with our neighborhood ministry, which will include some of this neighborhood's poor. And in April I will speak to the church on behalf of Compassion International. We hope to be catalysts of change because pastors and deacons can't do everything. The members of a church are just as important when it comes to listening to Jesus' heart and being his hands and feet.

I am praying for that teacher, that she would develop a sensitivity. It bothered me most that when the first kid mentioned an i-Pod, she only said, "Cool". I would have liked her to say that the Internet can be dangerous and the kids should be sure and use it around their parents only, not around other kids because there are serious dangers lurking on the Internet. That would have been leadership I would have been proud of. But everyone is a student in Christ and God will direct her, I believe, to do better since he allowed her to have a position of leadership.

We will definitely pray about leaving if hearts do not soften there toward the poor and a Christian's responsibility toward them. And I must continue to let my kids know that the teachers are students themselves and they do make mistakes. I need to stay aware of what they're hearing. Always.

Christine said...

And thank you for your love and prayers, Cynthia. I appreciate them!

Tesha said...

Christine, I think you did an excellent job in writing this powerful, convincing post. I will tell you about our Christmas because we obviously do have presents. I got saved at 18 newly married with a baby. My husband did not get saved for three years. At first I wanted to not do presents and no longer have anything to do with Halloween. My husband not a Christian then said we would have nothing to Church that wanted to Change our family traditions. Rewind 25 years, His aunt had gotten involved with a true cult and stopped celebrating any holidays. My husband Father began to hate the Church because of the wedge it put in the family. I decided to just keep doing everything the same and teach my son (little Jimmy) the truth. When my husband got saved a few year later we talked about Halloween and Christmas. He said if his parents were ever going to get saved they were going to have to see us change without trying to change family tradition. That the reality of Jesus would make our holidays more special not delete the way they had always been done. I am convinced that my Mother-in-law and Father-in-law got saved because we were sensitive in these areas. We do lots of giving to other during the holidays and all year in fact. We often give hurting family in our congregation help during the Holidays. Single moms receive anonymous gift cards and money in their Church mail boxes. I do think presents are tricky and it requires a lot of teaching to our children to root out selfishness. I feel Christmas is a time to say thank you to my children for all the giving they do. They do not expect anything for all their hard work. Work like weekly cleaning the toilets at church because we are a small congregation and they want to help. As a pastor my husbands nevers mentions Santa and leaves that for each indivdule family to decided. I do respect your position think you are an excellent mommy and Christian leader. I hope our difference in this will not hurt our relationship. We so appreciate you act of kindness in honor of Jonathan! May Jesus bless you this year my friend!!!!

Ps I think it is wonderful that instead of leaving your church you are working on opening eyes and hearts. All people and congregations have blind spots and we need each others help to change. If we walk away from each other how can their be reform?

Christine said...

I don't disagree with you at all, Tesha. I love you dearly, first of all! :)

If God blesses a family with enough money to help others and bless their own family, I think there is nothing wrong with blessing their own family, especially when the children are genuinely unspoiled to begin with and they don't have a sense of entitlement. When it isn't a LOT of presents, the children are less likely to anticipate just the gifts. The wonder of God being with us (Immanuel) still shines through. I just think there is so much pressure to do everything BIG, even to the point of unwise spending, and in those cases the family becomes too strapped to help those who have dire needs unmet.

Pastors and deacons and church workers work very hard, there is no doubt about it. Ten percent of the people do 90% of the work. They need willing hearts to help make the church the hands and feet and heart of God.

Bless you and your husband for your commitment to your flock!

Lisa said...

Dear Christine,
I so agree with this post...very well-written and compassionate. I, too, have been contemplating being set apart for many months.

My hubby and I have been diligent the past 30 years in letting our children know that Santa isn't real. And it's saddening to see so many Christians allowing their children to believe in Santa, even embellishing tales about him. Then, when the parents tell their children he's not real after all, will their children believe that the Lord Jesus is just a fairy tale, too? It is as you said, each family's decision, and it's also true that the church has one foot in the one and the 2nd foot is soon to follow.

If the world is preaching Santa, shouldn't we, as believers, be set apart, and teach our children the truth?

Many times, I tell my children, "If you're not sure what to do, look at what the world is doing, and then do the opposite."

While the world goes overboard in every conceivable way by focusing in on the fat man in the red suit, Christmas for us is.....sparse decorations and the bare minimum of gifts. It's very low-key and the focus is on Immanuel.

Keep on keeping on, my friend. And keep looking up.

Much love to you.