Thursday, December 17, 2015

Forgetting God When Our Bellies are Full

The holiday season provides a lot of time for fullness. Thanksgiving flows into Christmas and we can hardly remember what it felt like to have an empty stomach (or buttoned pants). The predominant theme of Christmas in the West is plenty. We have plenty. Presents spill out from under our Christmas trees. Our parties have food left over to last us into January. And we aren't the only ones who know what plenty feels like.

The Israelites knew what it meant to have plenty. After years of wilderness wandering, depending on God for their daily bread, God brought them to a land of abundance. No longer did they have to trust in new food every twenty four hours. It was there for the taking.

Yet, despite all of God's warnings to them to not forget his goodness in the land of the living, they did. And so do we.

The temptation when we are full on holiday cheer, or pumpkin pie, or presents upon presents is to forget the giver of every good thing (James 1:17). God knows how forgetful our wandering hearts can be, so he provides us with seasons of wanting and seasons of plenty. The ebbs of flows of a life lived in Christ are tangible reminders that this is not our home. Sometimes we have Christmas in abundance, sometimes we have Christmas in longing--but we always have God with us.

That was his promise to the Israelites as they entered the land flowing with milk and honey. He would  not leave them, unless they forgot his goodness and his ways. Tragically they did. And he stripped them of this blessing. He brought them back to wanting as a punishment, but also as a reminder that he is the God who gives and takes away. He will not be worshiped for his gifts. He will be worshiped for his character. Unfortunately, we (like the Israelites) fail to see that character when we have good blessings flowing freely.

The challenge for all of us in Christmases of plenty is to forget the God who kept us in the Christmases of wanting. He hasn't changed. He is still there, giving good things to the very people who so often forget that no good thing comes to us apart from his loving hand (Is. 10:13).

Don't forget him this Christmas. In the longing and the feasting, he is God. Delight in the gifts he gives, absolutely. But don't forget the Giver they are pointing to. He is better.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas is For Sinners

We have a Little People nativity that sits under our tree. Despite our best efforts, it rarely is all in order. Sometimes the animals are sitting on the dining room table. Sometimes baby Jesus is riding in a dump truck. Almost always the pieces are scattered all over our house, only to be returned to the angelic scene after the kids are in bed. Our nativity scene is pretty disheveled, which in many ways is a microcosm of our current season of life.

We are just coming out of over a week of sickness in our house. What started as a bad chest cold for all three kids turned into three ear infections. I guess our motto is go big or go home when it comes to sickness, so Merry Christmas to us. We went big this time. Because of all the sickness I’ve been homebound, buried in dirty tissues, and pretty much exhausted, which is a recipe for disaster for me. I’ve been emotional. I’ve been cranky. I’ve been frustrated. And I’ve felt little Christmas cheer. I actually can’t remember what day it is, let alone remember that Christmas is coming soon.

I was lamenting to my husband the other day that, among other things, my heart doesn’t feel ready for Christmas. I haven’t had the time to stop to think about the incarnation or my own longing for Christ’s return. I haven’t even heard a full Advent sermon yet. I’m way behind on my Advent reading.  And then there is the Christmas shopping and wrapping that I still need to finish. On top of it all, I’ve hardly been a joyful person these last few days.

But Advent 2015 won’t give me a do-over, so this is what I have to work with this year. A cranky attitude, sick kids, and not enough sleep. In a lot of ways I feel too sinful to celebrate Christmas in all its fullness.

And that’s exactly why Christ came.

The hymn “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” says that Jesus came to release us from our sins, set us free, and provide us rest in him alone. I need a repeat dose of that this Christmas season.

I can get confused about the purpose of Christmas being all about happiness, sugar, and Hallmark movies on repeat (and I love all of those things). But that is not what my heart needs most at Christmas time. What I need is the baby that we celebrate. What I need is the rest that only Christ provides. What I need is the freedom from sin that only comes from his finished work on the cross.

Christmas is not for people who have it all together. It’s for sinners like you and me. It’s for a mom who snaps at her children because they interrupt her sleep again. It’s for people who are cranky with their spouses when they try to offer them advice. It’s for the man who yells at the driver who cuts him off. It’s for people who are greedy, people who are selfish, people who hate Christ. Christmas is for the broken and the weary. Christmas is for sinners, for all of us.

So I may not have it all together this Christmas. And neither does my nativity scene. But that’s exactly why that baby is in the manger in the first place—to set me free from my sin and give me hope beyond my circumstances.

Christmas is for sinners. And that’s good news for all of us.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Women's Issue We Can All Get Behind

I have been pregnant four times. Each of those times I received prenatal care for as long as I was pregnant. When I had complications I had not one, but two doctors who provided me with the necessary care for my pregnancies. When I have had a hard time with nursing, I have lactation consultants I can visit. My children see the doctor when they are sick and for well-child visits. I'm privileged. Unfortunately this is not the case for many women all over the world.

This is why I love and support the Child Survival Program through Compassion International. This program supports mothers and babies to give them the care, education, and tools needed to live past early childhood (when many children are vulnerable to illness and death). They provide prenatal care, vaccines, breastfeeding help, and literacy for the mothers (because studies have shown that when mothers are educated, they are better able to care for their children). What I love most about this program is that it is all done within the context of a local church. One key aspect of their ministry is that they partner with local churches to care for people in their communities.

As a Christian woman, I care deeply about the well-being of women throughout the world. When mothers have the education, tools, and care they need to provide for their families communities thrive. Why? Because mothers are vitally important to a society. And mothers who feel like they have the resources to confidently and safely care for their children do even better.

The Child Survival Program does this all in the name of Christ. The Gospel is ever present as they meet very tangible needs in communities all over the world. So if you are looking for a ministry to partner with as you end 2015, I hope you will consider the Child Survival Program. As pro-life, Christian women, we should be the first to link arms with women in need throughout the world, offering them life-saving measures for them and their babies. We can put our money where our mouth is, by showing that not only are we pro-life, but we give to causes that sustain life, too. We can have an impact on the spiritual well-being of a mother and her child by meeting her physical needs, but by also meeting her spiritual needs. This is a women's issue I am proud to stand behind. And I hope you will join me.