Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wait, What Are We Doing?

I’m writing this now as Christmas, and all the shopping that comes along with it, is before us and fills our thoughts and much of our free time.  It is a fun and crazy time of year, and honestly, I rather love the craziness.  I am just as guilty as anyone in getting caught up in the over-the-top gift giving, crafting, decorating, cooking, baking, and hosting and attending holiday parties.  For me, all that is fun.  However, (you knew that was coming didn’t you?) as a Christian it can be a hard time.  It can be a hard time for one’s faith to grow during this time because often we’re running around focused on ourselves and our families and friends.  Suddenly it’s Christmas and your pastor at church tells you that you’re supposed to be thankful for Jesus making the sacrifice to come to earth as a man.  An incredibly humble man who took no glory for Himself though He is King of All, and a man who further sacrificed himself for us through His death on the cross so that He could be the perfect payment for our sins.  Just as He was resurrected from the dead, so are we resurrected from our bondage to sin and we are reconciled to God because of Jesus.  But the problem is, when your pastor says that you think “Oh yeah, that is right, this is all about Jesus and I should be thankful for him.”  And then you either feel guilty because in the month leading up to Christmas you’ve had one of your driest spiritual times yet because you’ve made no time for Him, or you push guilty thoughts away because you are more focused on the ham that is currently roasting in your oven at home, or what side dishes you need to make when you get home so it can be ready to take to your in-laws the next day, or what the presents beneath the tree contain.  But all of this is shallow.  I am not going to recommend to you what you should do in order to be on an all time “God-high” come Christmas time, but one thing that Scott and I feel has been place on our hearts by the Holy Spirit this year is giving. 

Jesus never took glory for himself, ever.  He always gave glory to the father and served everyone else.  Here is his mission statement taken from Isaiah 61:1  “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,” you’ll notice that it says nothing about bringing glory to himself, instead it is about serving and freeing.  And we are called to be like him, 1 John 4:16b-17 says, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.”   So to go backwards and unpack that, let’s figure out more of John’s definition of love is first.  Earlier in that same chapter John says “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” So from that we can conclude that love is sacrificial, will give anything, and love initiates, love goes first and does not wait for reciprocation to act.  So, God is this love and if we live in this sacrificial love then we must live in God since they’re one and the same.  But how is love made complete, or perfect, in us, imperfect people?  Love is made complete when we, in this world, are like Jesus.  Jesus initiated love, relationships, reconciliation, and forgiveness, even when it seemed unfair to extend such grace, he was ironically humble and selflessly sacrificial.   When we are like Jesus our love is perfected, our imperfect love cannot be complete without God, he perfects our motives, our love, and thus us.  When we are like Jesus, and our love is made complete in him, then we can have confidence on the Day of Judgment.  (Isn’t that a whopper?  On the Day of Judgment I think I’ll feel more like peeing my pants in front of The Holy One than having confidence.)

So, be like Jesus.  That begs the now clich├ęd question, “What would Jesus do?”  “What would Jesus want us to do on his birthday honoring him?”  Normally when you honor someone you recall or do something that they did.  I think Jesus would want us to honor him by giving of our wealth and our talents and our love to those who need it. He would want us to love, to give, to “proclaim good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”  Scott and I do not need to be lavished with gifts, God has already done that, and we believe he’s given us these gifts so that we might bless others with them (Matthew 25:14-30).  We are only stewards of all of our blessings, not owners.  We want to bless those who need it most, we want to bless those who are always on God’s mind: children, orphans, widows, the poor, the oppressed, etc.  We want to let our light shine, and with that, bring hope.  Hope for those who currently have none.  Why not act like a Christian on the day that the world sees as a Christian holiday?  Why not give?

So, what does that mean for Scott and I?  Scott and I will not be giving extravagant gifts for Christmas.  They will be simple, under $20.00, and often homemade (just because I like to craft/bake), however, in conjunction with these gifts, we will be donating towards organizations that are doing great things for God’s kingdom in the names of our family members.   

What if you still want to buy elaborate (anything over $20.00) gifts for loved ones because it is “tradition”?  Well, I say challenge yourself and give dollar for dollar what you spend on loved ones to a charity/mission organization(s) of your choosing.  So if you spend $500.00 on gifts total, give $500.00 to a mission organization.  I know this is a big challenge for some of you, but that’s the point.  So go for it!  My bet is that you’ll find it freeing, satisfying, rewarding, fulfilling, mood-lifting, and thankfulness-inducing. 

If you are already as excited and pumped about this idea as we are then “Hallelujah!”  If you are, then I believe you are doing what Romans 12:2 instructs, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  When your will aligns with God’s will, BIG things can happen!  Then John 15:7 applies, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

Below I’ve listed some organizations that I really like that may give you some ideas.
  • World Vision   World Vision is probably one of the most well known and largest Christian humanitarian organizations there is and they do great work.  While you may know them for their sponsor a child program or their relief work, they do SO much more than that.  Poke around their website and see if something doesn’t stir your heart.
  • Stop Child Trafficking Now This organization fights child sex trafficking within the US by going after and convicting the predators.  To understand more about the magnitude and frequency of child trafficking in the US click on one of the news links under “”Latest News” on the right hand side of the page.
  • Freedom Firm  This organization rescues female child sex slaves in India.  Read one of the girls’ stories and you’ll probably start to cry.
  • Hope of the Nations  My dear friend Casey Finch is a missionary for Hope of the Nations in Tanzania and you would not believe the things she has done and experienced, you would be amazed at the spiritual warfare she has encountered, and you would be awestruck at the lives changed because of God working through her.  Please pray for her.
  • Charity Water  Charity water is an awesome and necessary organization that drills water wells in villages in developing countries so the people can have access to clean water that won’t make them sick or kill them.
  • African Children’s Choir   Yes, this is the amazing, famous, made-me-cry-for-a-half-an-hour-before-I-could-get-a-grip-on-myself African’s Children’s Choir.  The money raised by this choir, comprised of some of the neediest children in their respective countries, goes to fund or help fund quality schools and orphanages in seven different countries in Africa, giving superb, free, educations all the way through the University level.  The kids at these schools represent the hope and future of Africa.
  • Ascent Ministries   My friends Jeff and Natalie (married) are a part of this ministry.  They voluntarily live in a house they bought inner city Kansas City surrounded by gangs.  There, they primarily minister to the young men around them.  Jeff is a volunteer football coach at the local high school where he reaches out to many of the young men on the team, after school a lot of the neighborhood guys come to hang out at their house just to be in a safe, peaceful place where they will be loved.  It is dangerous, but God is protecting them and the stories they share in their quarterly updates have God’s fingerprints all over them.  I write all of this b/c their website does not share this, perhaps to protect the people they are ministering to.

So that was just a quick brainstorm but there are many more!  Like Durham Rescue Mission in Durham (helps homeless and addicted meet Jesus and become contributing members to the community), the SECU House in Chapel Hill (a free place to stay for families who have someone critically ill at UNC Hospital), Compassion International, missionaries that you may know, mission groups focused on the elderly with no family, Ronald McDonald houses, etc. etc.

Ok!  That’s it!  If you’d like to share, we’re excited to hear what you’ve donated to!  Sending you many blessing and love,
Whitney and Scott