The Case for Claus

Christmas is over. We’ve bought, wrapped, eaten, sung, eaten, unwrapped, eaten. We’ve taken part in our respective holiday traditions, which, for a lot of us, includes a visit from Santa Claus.

me-as-santa
That’s me. Doing my best bowl-full-of-jelly Santa impression.

I know there are people who choose not to partake in the Santa Claus tradition. And that’s fine. But the people who grind my gears are those who ruin it for the Santa believers. Many who choose to not include in Santa in their Christmas traditions claim he isn’t biblical. Yes, Santa in our modern-day society has come to represent commercialism, but his origin is about generosity and Jesus. And while Santa isn’t actually mentioned explicitly in the Bible, all the things he stood for are there.

St. Nicholas, the fourth century bishop of Myra (modern-day Turkey) on whom the Santa Claus we know today is based, showed his devotion to God through kindness and generosity to those in need. Yep, you read that right: fourth century. That’s like, a long-ass time ago.

St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, modeled true giving and faithfulness and is known as a lover of the poor and patron saint of children. He was devoted to Jesus and he did a lot of Jesus-y things. When Myra experienced a famine in AD 311, 312 and 333, Bishop Nicholas convinced sailors carrying wheat cargo to give a measure of grain from each ship so the people could eat. The sailors gave the wheat, and then continued to Alexandria where the full amount of wheat was accounted for.

In AD 325 he confronted and slapped a man teaching that the Son Jesus was not equal to Father God. Nicholas was stripped of his office and placed in prison, where he encountered Jesus bringing him the book of the Gospels and Mary bringing him his stole. This miracle had him reinstated. When three soldiers on leave in a port that served Myra were arrested and sentenced to death during a mob situation, Bishop Nicholas grabbed the sword from the executioner’s hands and had the innocent soldiers cleared of their charges. He successfully implored Constantine to have the high taxes of Myra greatly reduced. After Constantine declared tolerance for Christianity, Nicholas destroyed idol shrines, drove away demons and built churches in Myra.

That back-in-the-day “Santa” was a pretty cool dude. And while our Santa tradition has evolved to be more kid-friendly, he still represents generosity and good will.

In the end, each parent has to decide whether they want to have the Santa tradition. But maybe your Santa tradition can be more about teaching devotion to Jesus, generosity and love instead of greed and commercialism.

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The Loving God Part

In the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, Jesus instructs us of the greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. It’s not by accident this shows up so many times in The Bible.

Here’s why Jesus paired these commandments: you can’t fully do the second one if you aren’t doing the first one. Having a close, personal relationship with God is what keeps us growing mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

I know a lot of people who will disagree with my statement above. It’s true, you don’t need to have a close, personal relationship with God to give good advice, help out those in need, donate to a worthy cause. But lacking the relationship makes those just good deeds and not LOVE. As Mother Teresa said “It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.” You can’t pay your way into Heaven with good works.

  • James 2:24- “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
  • James 2:26- “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
  • Hebrews 10:24-25- “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more you see the Day drawing near.” [emphasis mine]

If you’re not working on your own spiritual, mental and emotional health (which is a constant pursuit, btdubs), you become emotionally unavailable and stunted. And you can’t invest in people in the way God wants, not to mention develop close, personal relationships with those you love, if you’re emotionally unavailable and stunted.

It is a two-way street. To be adequately equipped to invest in the growth of others, you need to have people investing in your growth. Which is hard, because it requires vulnerability, the acknowledgement of imperfection and the recognition of need. It’s messy and dirty and sometimes (a lot of times) super un-fun. But it’s worth it because this is how fruit is harvested; this is how we grow.

Let’s look at a practical example. Jesus did a ton of good works throughout his three-year ministry. But the works aren’t what define Him. The works are what He did as a result of his spiritual growth, and He used them as a way to teach people how to grow spiritually and how to treat each other. He surrounded himself with 12 dudes in whom he invested (through close personal relationship); and they, in turn, invested in him.

The Bible doesn’t talk too much about their downtime, but even if a majority of their time together was spent teaching and performing miracles, Jesus and his squad had some time to go deep and process the tough stuff. That’s how Jesus grew those disciples up to continue His mission after He left. Jesus gave us the model for how we should be getting down and dirty with each other to grow spiritually and learn how to really love one another (aka: discipleship).

Even Jesus, God incarnate, recognized his own vulnerability and need. I’m not saying we all need to spend 40 days fasting in the wilderness, but this is a good example of the time and effort Jesus put into developing a relationship with his Father. He faithfully answered the call of the Holy Spirit to spend 40 days communing with His Father.

But how do we do this? How do we ensure we’re not avoiding our own emotional/spiritual growth by busying ourselves with acts of service? How do we switch from simply serving others to loving others? How do we develop a close, personal relationship with God?

  1. Pray. Developing a consistent prayer life is probably the most difficult of the three basic steps. It’s hard to have the discipline to pray when life is happening (and there’s Netflix to binge). It’s hard to set aside time each day to dedicate to the Lord. To tell Him your desires, to ask for forgiveness, to intercede for our broken world, just to talk and listen. It will always be hard, but it gets easier the more you do it. And it doesn’t need to be this big flowery thing. I pray in my car to and from work. I pray in the shower. I pray during the times I find myself alone with a few minutes to connect to my Creator while I’m washing dishes or dusting.
  2. Read the Word. The Bible is God’s book. It’s our instruction manual and our direct line of communication from God. Through reading the Word, we are not only reading about how God wants us to live. We’re reading about His character and His personal love for us. Through the stories, we’re given living examples to follow.
  3. Be in Community. There’s friends and then there’s community, and if you’re lucky, they overlap as frimunity or framunity (ok, those don’t really work but you get the point). Get in a community of people who are also after God’s heart. Find a community modeled after what Jesus had created for himself with the disciples. Get messy with each other. Be real. Hold each other accountable, and encourage one another. Have fun together. These are the people who will invest in your spiritual and emotional growth. They’re the ones who will call you out on your shtuff, and then walk through the muck and mire with you. And you’ll learn how to do this for others.

Mission Work: Why it Isn’t Just for the Skilled

I’ve had a lot of questions about my upcoming mission trip to Hungary with Bringing Into the Hungarian Harvest. Which is good, I love the questions, because a mission trip isn’t just about the week or two weeks you spend in an area, it’s about the time leading up to and after when you can share Jesus with those giving you support.

Many are probably wondering about my choice to go to Hungary, instead of Africa or another third world country. I’m not a nurse, doctor, clean water scientist, well digger, home builder, or any other type healer or server. I don’t have those skills, but I do have the skill of communicating. Of listening, connecting, and approaching people with grace and humility. And I have a good understanding of God, and my own identity as His.

Jesus did it. Yes, he healed the sick and fed the poor. But he also just sat and talked with people. He listened. He invested His time, His knowledge, and His commitment to building relationships with those who wanted to know more.

One of my very favorite stories in the Bible is when Jesus first confesses to being the Messiah. With whom does He does this? The woman at the well. The Gentile woman who was branded a whore and had to get water in the middle of the hot afternoon because her reputation was so bad she was shunned by the townswomen who got water in the cool of the morning. She couldn’t get water with the other ladies, and yet Jesus, whose tie with the Jews made talking with her forbidden, sat at the well and had a simple conversation with her. He connected with her. She asked questions, she told Him what she knew about God, and He helped her better understand God’s heart and character.

The students I’ll be connecting with in Hungary aren’t terminally ill or starving. They have roofs over their heads. But they are sick and homeless. Their souls are in as much need as those in third world countries in need of medical care and food. They don’t know the true Love of the Father of the Universe. Their identities are lacking because they aren’t rooted in Christ. Mission work isn’t just about helping the poor, it’s about helping people’s Spirits. If I can help one young adult in Hungary know her identity in Christ and accept her position as a Daughter of God, it will all have been worth it.

If you’d like to contribute to this mission, please visit www.aimconnects.org and click the Donate button. After you give, you will receive an email asking to whom the money should be allocated, and you can give them my name: Carlene. Thank you!