In this post I wanted to pass along a couple of recommendations.
First, I came across some videos done by Wayne Ferguson. Wayne was raised in an unbelieving home and came to Christ at the age of 20. After that transformation of his life, all he wanted to do was tell people about Christ in some way, and that eventually transformed into wanting to be a pastor. After attending a Christian college he followed that call to be an academic minister and disciple-maker. Wayne has a heart to build up Christians and save the lost by breaking down scripture to those who are trying to learn it. He is living out this call at a church in New York called Graffiti. It was originally established 30 years ago in the lower east side when drugs, gangs, and other issues were rampant on the lower east side. So their goal was to help the children living in those conditions to grow up in a way that might be helpful. They of course used this avenue to preach the Gospel to those who appreciated our help, which the church has been doing for the past 30 years.
Wayne has been with them the past couple of years and noticed that the church is not a reader culture and is trying to spread its reach to the millienials and younger Christians. Here Wayne has been able to use his passion for Biblical understanding (and literacy!) and teach at what they call Night Church, where they are reaching people with the doctrine of the Bible. As part of that, Wayne started taking his lessons to video and providing them on YouTube. He does a fabulous job of making Biblical concepts understandable for everyone. Here is a link to one of his longer ones that he did on Islam https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjkZrOtlEMk&t=52s as well as one he did on the preeminence of Christ as the firstborn of God https://youtu.be/Llb9-C5kFKs. I hope you subscribe to his YouTube channel (I have!) and give him some good feedback. He is doing wonderful work there in New York!
Second, I wanted to recommend a book called A Child of Grace written by Chris Brown. As full disclosure, Chris Brown and I attended high school together in Birmingham and remained close friends through college at UAH. He is a brilliant young man with a Ph.D. in Engineering Management, a Master’s degree in Management of Tetchnology, and Bachelor’s degrees in Aerospace Engineering and Astrophysics. However, Chris had a very difficult upbringing. But it’s not your typical story – see, his dad was on death row and his mom was wanted by the state. Being raised by his grandparents and having weekly visitations to his dad on death row, Chris had some difficult choices of his own to make. Chris tells his amazing story in this book and reveals the grace of God made available to all of us – no matter where we are in this world. I was able to see how God worked through his life to bring salvation to both him and his dad, and now you can see the amazing transformative power of God in their lives through this book. You can purchase the book in paperback and Kindle formats at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07N6H7FHT and paperback and Nook formats at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/child-of-grace-dr-chris-brown/1129951886. Also if you are in the North Alabama area, Chris will be having a launch party for his book on Tuesday March 5th at 6:30 pm at Sugar Belle on Jordan Lane in Huntsville.
Several weeks ago there was quite a commotion in the religious community over comments made by singer Lauren Daigle on the issue of homosexuality. At the time she was considered a Christian singer, although recently she takes issue with such a label. When asked whether or not homosexuality was a sin, she replied, “I can’t say one way or the other. I’m not God.” The responses to Daigle were exactly what you would expect. One set of Christian bloggers and commentators blasted her for not taking the opportunity to speak Biblical truth to the masses. The other set praised her for not excluding the homosexual community. I, on the other hand, think the problem runs much deeper than that. I don’t think she shied away from speaking the truth, nor did I think she was intentionally trying to include the homosexual community. I think she most likely had no clue how to actually answer the question. And you can see that in the way she chose to answer the question. No, she’s not God (and hopefully no one was confused on that point), but we are not devoid of information on what God considers sin.
Now I know that’s very presumptuous to say she didn’t know how to answer the question – and of course, I could be completely wrong about that – but given what I’ve seen in how this issue is addressed inside the church, the odds are in my favor that I am right. How many people who have blasted her on this response would have known how to respond in a Biblical way – and articulate why? I’m willing to bet that the extent of her knowledge on the issue is that everyone in church has said it’s wrong but she has no idea why. And now she’s met a lot of really nice people who are part of the homosexual community, and now she really doesn’t know why it’s wrong. In fact, the reason why she said she wasn’t sure about how to respond was she had “too many people that I love” that “are homosexuals.”
Sadly, I think that’s how the majority of the youth in our churches are going out into the world. Do any of our youth (or even adults) really understand why some churches think homosexuality is a sin? Why some churches think it’s not a sin? And how to make sense of it? The issue becomes even more confusing when they encounter “gay Christians” who seem nicer and “more Christian” than heterosexual Christians. How can they still insist homosexuality is sinful when they are now their friends and so loving? The reason why there is this general confusion on this issue is that, despite the outcries from outside the church, this issue is not addressed sufficiently in the church.
1. The niceness of the person is not the measure of sin
The first thing we must remind ourselves and our youth is the niceness of the person is not the measure of sinfulness. We know the truth of this when we stop to consider the alternative, but it sometimes gets lost when we start inserting our emotions about people when we are judging people’s actions. Someone could just be the nicest, friendliest person you know but they have cheated on their spouse. I think we would agree that their “niceness” does not then negate the sin of adultery. Someone could be the most charitable and generous person you’ve seen, but if they abuse their children, you wouldn’t allow their charity to mean child abuse is no longer sinful. Those outside the church are making these same judgments too, though it’s not on the issue of homosexuality. If a pastor of a church were to be exposed as having embezzled money, you better believe the nice factor of the pastor would not be used to excuse his actions. Nor should it. Nice people do sinful things all the time (that’s because we are all sinners) so clearly that cannot be how we determine sin. It is so important that our youth understand this. They will meet many wonderful, nice homosexuals, but that does not mean God approves of homosexuality.
2. The Bible is not silent on this issue
The second thing to remember is that the Bible is not silent on this issue. So the larger concern is that most youth (and adults) are not even aware of what Scripture has to say on this. This was part of Miss Daigle’s problem. She thought she had to be God to make a statement on this issue instead of realizing that God has already made a statement (LOTS of statements) on this issue. But here’s where the church has to be even more diligent on how it addresses homosexuality, and any hotly debated social issue for that matter: it not only must expose how Scripture addresses homosexuality as sin, but how those who say it’s not a sin use Scripture to affirm homosexuality. That way people can know how to engage in a discussion with others and hopefully explain Scripture in context.
3. The Biblical stance on homosexuality should be convicting - even to heterosexuals
The third thing to remember is that speaking on the issue of homosexuality can be terribly convicting – no matter your sexual orientation. While there are many passages across both testaments that speak to the sinfulness of homosexuality, the overarching concept of how God intended all sexuality to be is given in the words of Jesus Christ. When asked about the issue of divorce in Mark 10, Jesus quotes from Genesis 1 and 2, saying, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he [Moses] wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” Here Jesus establishes what God intended for us with respect to relationships and marriage. God made us as two distinct genders and established the institution of marriage as between one man and one woman. He even assumes a heterosexual relationship when He says a man shall leave his father and mother to be joined to his wife in marriage. God invented and gave us the pleasure of sexual union to be enjoyed within this perfect design of marriage. Satan has thus distorted that in numerous ways to pull us away from God’s perfect design; Satan cannot create new pleasures for us so he works to pervert those that God gave us.
This is how God designed us to work: one male, one female joined together in marriage to create the family. As the Creator of all things and the Author of life, He knows what is best for us – not because He wants to deny us things, but because He knows what is best. It’s exactly how every parent is with their children. From the child’s perspective, parents seem so unfair because they deny them from experiencing certain things. But from the parent’s perspective, those restrictions are there because they know what is best for the child; the parents want to direct the child’s path and decisions to be the least destructive and the most fulfilling for the child. Just like the parent denies those things that may appear fun to the child but actually bring harm, God does the same with us. Satan wants us to think all of these sexual unions and relationships are where the fun is, but God wants us to experience what is best for us. Just like the child thinks eating hot fudge sundaes every meal would be so much more fun than eating vegetables and grilled chicken -- but the parents know what is best in the end. Here’s why this is convicting for everyone. This construct of how God intended us to function in relationships excludes all sexual unions that are not within the marriage between one man and one woman. While obviously God’s design excludes homosexual activity, relationships, and unions, it also excludes a lot of heterosexual activity, relationships, and unions. Therefore God’s stance on this issue is very clear. Unlike what Daigle thinks, we don’t have to be “god” ourselves to understand what He desires for us.
4. We are all a sinful and rebellious people
The fourth and final thing to remember is that though this is God’s purpose and design for all humans, we are a rebellious people. We consistently shake our fists at God and say that we know better than He does. We insist on “following our hearts,” thinking the perversions Satan has set before us are better for us than God’s design. For those who have called on the name of Jesus for forgiveness of sins, our call is to live like it. We need to remember our true purpose is to walk in obedient submission to God’s will because God’s will is what is best. Even though that’s impossible to do while here on this sin-filled earth, we must continually strive toward that. This is what Jesus meant when He said to “pick up our cross” and follow Him. We have lost the context of this since a cross to us is just a symbol of Christianity. But when Jesus spoke those words, the cross was a symbol of public execution. We are to die to our own selfish desires and submit to God’s will. As we realize that God’s will is better for us anyway, that becomes easier to do. So for the Christian engaging in sexual activity – whether heterosexual or homosexual – outside of marriage between one man and one woman, they need God to draw them out of disobedience and back into obedience.
For those who have not asked forgiveness through Christ, they are walking in full disobedience and rebellion to God - whether homosexual or not. Therefore, unbelieving homosexuals don't need God to save them from their homosexuality, they need God to save them from their sins – all of them. The reform needed for them is not just to "stop being gay" but to understand that all of their sins - sins of bitterness, envy, lying, anger - are keeping them separated from the very One who created them. Our sins, even the tiniest of moral indiscretions, are so offensive to this perfectly Moral God that we cannot be in His presence. But out of His great love for us, He came down to this earth and laid down His life so that this relationship could be restored. It is because He loved us first that we love Him. And as Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commands." (John 14:15). We are to strive with the Holy Spirit to live holy lives because we follow a God who is holy and we are to honor Him with our lives. Only in His power we can overcome the sins that so easily entangle us.
Having just finished the Christmas season, have you noticed that there is a universal question asked of all children this time of year? “Have you been a good boy/girl this year?” And, without fail, the child nods their head in the affirmative. “Oh yes!” That kid could’ve burned down the neighbor’s house and he’ll still say he was good enough to stay on Santa’s nice list. Apparently, we need to do a better job of reminding kids that some children might get coal and switches from Santa at Christmastime!
Now, we can shake our heads and question our jobs as parents that every child regardless of their behavior thinks of themselves as little angels. Or, we can look in the mirror. Aren’t we just like them? Granted we aren’t so much concerned with Santa’s naughty or nice list, but we have an over-inflated view of ourselves too, don’t we? If asked if you’re a good person, most people would say yes. If asked if you are good enough to get to heaven, most people would ponder a moment and say, “Uh, yeah I’m a pretty good person.” Then we start comparing ourselves to others…always those who are worse. But we think, “Well, I don’t do really horrible things, so I’m pretty good.”
Pretty good?? Is that the standard for entrance to heaven? This is really how we should answer the question about whether or not one can get into heaven: what is the standard to get into heaven? I mean, if you asked a student if they were smart enough to get into med school, they can’t say, “Well, I’m smarter than this guy.” They have to know the criteria for entrance into med school and then determine if they were smarter than that. So just saying that you’re better than that guy over there who does terrible awful things doesn’t really tell you where you stand with respect to getting into heaven.
So what is the entrance criteria for heaven? We could use the Ten Commandments as a starting point, but atheists would view that as just religious propaganda, or really rules that don't apply to them. Other religions would say they have their own standard of behavior. So let’s look at the “major” things that all worldviews would agree on: stealing, lying, and killing. We figure we don’t steal (at least not big stuff, but maybe if you count charging time to our employer when we’re not really working); we don’t kill people (we just really hate some people); we don’t lie (maybe a little when the truth is inconvenient but not all the time). Yikes.
And that’s not even looking at the issues of the heart. Jesus defined our level of “good enough” not just by our actions but by our thoughts. That turns committing murder into just hating someone; adultery into just lust. We all stand guilty of those. Of course now I’ve inserted Jesus into this; other worldviews would push back on that. Why should they care what Jesus has to say about all of this? Well, all people look at the heart when evaluating human decency. We see as deplorable those people who act nice but are hateful in their hearts, even though they may do good deeds. We may even justify bad deeds by saying we had good intentions. Therefore Jesus saying that what goes on in our hearts has bearing on our "goodness" is something we already know, we just don’t like to acknowledge it about ourselves.
What about the rest of the Ten Commandments? We honor our parents (if we overlook all the rebellious teen years). We don’t covet (well not much, but we do have to have the latest technology before anyone else does). We don’t take the Lord’s name in vain (unless our favorite football team loses). What about the first commandment about ? We fail at that every day. We elevate ourselves in the place of God on a regular basis.
Given all that, maybe we’re not so good after all. I mean we can’t even meet the standard our mother set for our behavior. Who are we kidding, we don’t even meet our own standard of behavior! How often have we disappointed ourselves that we can’t be kinder and less selfish, that we lash out in anger or are hurtful in what we say to people? Although we may behave better as we grow older, time does not erase our sins of the past.
If we are all failing to adhere to our own standard of behavior, how do we measure up against the standard to get into heaven? And who gets to determine the standard for heaven? If it’s up to each individual, then we would all draw the line just past ourselves. That way the “really bad” people are excluded, and yet we’ve managed to include ourselves. Unfortunately, we don’t get to set the standard for entrance to heaven. God does. But we shouldn’t view it as God arbitrarily establishing some unattainable standard to keep everyone out. The standard is rooted in who God is as perfectly holy. Our failures to meet that standard is what separates us from His perfect holiness.
What can we do about that? Absolutely nothing. We have broken all those standards, violating the very purpose for which God created us. We can’t fix it ourselves; what’s been broken has been broken. We can’t time travel and undo what’s been done. Even if we could, we’ll still violate that standard tomorrow. So God out of His great love for us offered up Himself to cover over all of our brokenness – if we will just confess our brokenness and admit our need to be saved.
As we look back on 2018, we consider what was good and bad about it, and even what within us was good or bad or may need to change. May we remember that we all fall short of the glory of God and it forfeits our entrance into heaven, no matter how many seemingly good things you may have done last year. But God does not leave us helpless. He sacrificed Himself so that we may be forgiven. I pray that 2019 brings new spiritual life to those who have not found that forgiveness. For those who have, I pray that 2019 will bring a fresh commitment to follow intently the God who gave up His life for you.
Every Christmas, the Christian blogs and articles start flowing on the biggest topic of the season. No, ironically, it’s not about the birth of Christ, but about whether you should or should not play Santa. In the mix of those articles and blogs, the well-esteemed Dr.William Lane Craig wrote an article criticizing the idea of playing Santa with your children. In it, Dr. Craig described in multiple ways the problem created for a child’s faith in God later in life: that children may try to associate God with Santa and find disappointment in God when they realize He is not a giant gift-giver in the sky.
He also said it’s a bad moral example to set for our children to perpetuate what he perceives as a lie: telling our children that some guy from the North Pole exists and brings presents to undeserving children all over the world by sneaking down their chimney and disappearing on a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Scripture teaches that lying is wrong - period. It doesn’t tell us to teach that some lies are ok while others are not.
Craig also mentions how Santa increases selfishness and it creates an entitlement attitude in our children, teaching them to expect rewards for their behavior. Finally, he discusses the issue of the damaging effects to someone’s faith by saying God is just as much a fantasy character as Santa is. Many atheists say God is no different than Santa, in that neither one exists. They equate their loss of belief in God with their loss of belief in Santa (…and the Easter Bunny…and the Tooth Fairy).
While some of those points seem to make sense, and have most likely encouraged those parents who choose NOT to play Santa that they are making a wise and healthy decision for their children, many parents disagree. It leaves those of us who do play Santa with our children wondering if we are now creating a future crisis of faith for our children. Are we horrible parents for “lying” to our children about Santa? Are we perpetuating another generation of greedy little skeptics? I thought it would be good to offer a dissenting opinion that would address these points raised by Dr. Craig (as well as a few others). I do want to remind everyone though that this is a non-salvific issue (meaning this is not salvation dependent) . Sincere and devoted Christians can fall on either side of this issue making it unhealthy and unhelpful to condemn the other side over this point.
1. First, are we bad parents for lying to our children? While I agree that the Bible does not say that some lies are acceptable and some lies are not, we want to insert some caution and common sense at this point -- because we “lie” to our children all the time!! And one day they will find out about them!! One day they will learn that, no, that stick figure they drew was not the most beautiful horse we had ever seen. And no, that dance they made up at the age of 6 would probably not make it on Broadway. And no, that lion did not really save from the evil queen those children who found a fantasy land by walking through their wardrobe. And so, no, there wasn’t a man in a big red suit who brought gifts to every boy and girl around the world. Will this lead them to believe we are giant hypocrites who disregard all the truth of the Bible? I seriously doubt it. Is it really a faith shattering experience when they discover any other childhood fantasy and story to be make-believe? Why does Santa have to be such a horrific experience? We see “lying” to our children about Santa as not so different from all the other things we “lie” to our children about. And besides, when the parents are the ones playing Santa, is it really such a lie to say that “Santa” knows when they’ve been good or not?
Furthermore, “playing Santa” does not really constitute lying to our children in the same way that most people claim. Here’s a question to get you thinking: are we lying to someone when we deliberately mislead them in order to surprise them, say with a surprise party on their birthday? The latter falls into the category of a ruse and though technically it could be called a lie, the intention behind it is vastly different. Is the intention behind playing Santa with your child the same as deliberately lying in order to avoid the truth? No, it’s playing a ruse and joining in on fantasy in order to have fun and create a sense of wonder and excitement for one’s children. It also can get their imaginations going on full blast as they try to figure out how Santa does what he does. Whenever our children would ask, how Santa works, we, with a wink and a smile, turn the question back on them: “Mommy, how does Santa get down the chimney? How does he get around to all the houses in the world in one night?” “Well, darling child, what do you think?” I’ve given the same kind of response when they asked at Disney World if Lightning McQueen was happy they had come to visit him.
The other issue this presents is the implication that our children one day will not be able to separate fantasy from reality. I believe most children know very well when something was just “a-tended” (that’s pretend for those who don’t speak my child’s toddler-ese). My youngest son has a very vivid imagination, pretending to be all sorts of things like poison snakes and even an animal that he has invented (which has included this pretend animal’s dietary habits and hunting calls). However, he definitely knows when he’s pretending and when he’s not. And when he is older he will continue in that discernment between the dinosaur he imagined lived in the front door and Jesus as described by the Gospels, just as he will discern between Santa and the Almighty God Creator. Granted, that is part of my job as a mom to make sure he understands the facts of the Scriptures and the evidence that shows it is truth. It is my job to show him the logic and reasoning that tells him when things are imaginary will be the same logic and reasoning that tells him God is real and Jesus has resurrected.
2. Second, will our children really think God is just like Santa? Santa is someone whom they cannot see who gives them extraordinary gifts which they do not deserve. Is this not what God does for us? Is not existence itself a great gift given to us by One we haven’t (yet) seen - not to mention all the wonders of creation that go along with it? And this Cosmic Gift-Giver has given us the gift of abundant, eternal life something we do not deserve and did not earn, yet it came at great cost to Himself. So if Santa can give gifts, how much more can the Creator of the Universe! In this way, God is akin to Santa but on a grander scale because God is so much more.
The problem comes though when people think God, as the Ultimate Gift-Giver, should give them everything they desire. Now instead of being disappointed that Santa didn’t deliver that shiny new skateboard, there is resentment when God doesn’t answer our prayers. Honestly, this association of Santa with God might be true, but this issue runs deeper than just the idea of Santa Claus. It stems from a deficient understanding of God and theology. Unfortunately, many adults view God as merely a gift giver to whom they are not morally answerable. God is the Cosmic Gift-Giver, but in His infinite wisdom and love, He doesn’t give us everything we ask for. This Cosmic Gift-Giver knows best. Like a loving parent, we may deny something our children demand, causing them disappointment and sadness, but it’s because we know that particular gift was not what was best for them.
Sadly, the root of this line of thinking oftentimes comes from within the church, not from the man in the big red suit. Many times devotions or children’s lessons will present a scenario where something bad has happened, the person prays, and then instantly everything works out. Without even using the word Santa, it has reinforced the misconception that praying always makes everything work out just how we want. Out of this faulty view of God, we will pray for certain things and then get mad when He doesn’t deliver. But that is not a sound, biblical view of God, or the purpose of prayer for that matter. That concept of God is a consequence of our assumption that we know what’s best and that we “deserve” whatever we want. This is a selfish, human nature trait to which none of us are immune. This flawed understanding of God, more so than a childhood game of Santa Claus, gives our children the impression that God is only there to grant your every request.
3. Third, will our Santa-believingchildren be more selfish and entitled than those who don’t play Santa? Well, the job we as parents have to remedy those traits runs much deeper than playing Santa. Children are naturally selfish and entitled. It’s one of those things that parents don’t have to teach - they come out that way (a great little microcosm of human nature). Our job is to try to show them humility and gratitude and generosity. So if a parent never teaches those things the remaining 364 days of the year, doing or not doing Santa on Christmas Day won’t make a difference at all. It all depends on the other instruction and training done in the home. So the concept of Santa is not the ultimate deciding factor on how grateful a child will be. In fact, the concept of Santa can be used instead to TEACH generosity instead of allowing it to teach greed and selfishness. We could teach our children to focus on the generosity of Santa in giving gifts to undeserving children to encourage them to do likewise for those in their community or for those around the world.
4. This leads us to the fourth and most important point. Will playing Santa jeopardize our children’s faith when they get older? Many people claim that teaching our children about a mythical figure alongside teaching them about God will cause them to associate one with the other and, thus, invalidate the truth of who God is. Many atheists have linked their rejection to God to the rejection of Santa, often saying they grew up to discover that both Santa and God were a lie. I think we will now extend our reasoning used on our third point. It all depends on the other instruction done in the home. If God is never discussed outside of the one hour a week spent at church only every so often, then your children might very well reject the faith of Christianity – whether you “do” Santa or not. If your child is never taught the foundation of the truth of Christianity, then your child might very well reject the faith of Christianity – whether you do Santa or not. If you only teach the happy parts of Christianity, that God loves everything, that being a Christian means God will answer your every request, and that God is only interested in you being happy, then your child might very well reject the faith of Christianity – whether you do Santa or not. You see, Santa is not the problem. The problem is what and how things are taught in the home about God. In reality these issues and concerns about Santa highlight the importance of proper and consistent teaching in the home. It shows the importance of teaching our children that being a Christian does not mean we “get everything we want” from God. It shows the importance of teaching our children the many logical and intelligent reasons to believe that God is real and Christianity is truth. It exposes the problematic behaviorof just taking your children to church but never living out your faith or instructing them in the faith the other six days of the week. Those are the things that will cause a child to walk away from their “faith” when they are older - not whether or not you do Santa Claus.
And to be completely honest, you can do all of those things and STILL have a child leave the faith. Unfortunately, there is not some magic formula, that if you do “this” when they are young, they will never leave the faith. What Proverbs 22:6 says about training your children up is a proverb, not a promise. It means this is what you should do because it is the BEST way for you to parent your children, but this is not a guarantee that your child will then be saved. Our children must make that decision for themselves; we can’t save them because of our faith. We can only give them the best information, the best case for Christianity, the best evidence of a life changed by God, the best way of seeing that our eternal hope is found only in Christ, and then pray that they will choose to walk in the way of the Lord.
Some atheists as adults have chosen to make a correlation of Santa to God, comparing the rejection of one to the rejection of the other. Yet to those who have done their homework and have studied the rich theological discourse surrounding the concept of God, this is a poor excuse. The comparison between lack of belief in Santa and lack of belief in God only reveals how little the atheist knew about God to begin with. So, do not let these atheists make you feel guilty for playing Santa with your children! The problem goes much deeper than a little fun around the holidays.
In the end it’s a personal call that each parent should make. You know your child the best (apart from the Cosmic Gift-Giver, of course). If your child is of a particularly serious or literal bent, then play Santa with caution or not at all. And leave room for plenty of grace on this, too. If your child is devastated after learning that it was a ruse, apologize and have a frank talk with them about your intentions.
When all is said and done, I believe that playing Santa is not an ethical issue. I am with G.K. Chesterton on this one:
“What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.
As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good – far from it.
And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me…What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea.
Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.
Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.”
I was talking with a friend the other day about his job and how things were going. He told me that things were getting really difficult and what was supposed to be a great opportunity for him was now rife with drama and stress - all those things that lead to a lack of fulfillment and overall unhappiness. The conclusion was that this job was clearly not where God wanted him to be. Things had become so difficult, so maybe God was closing the door on this place in order to move him on to something bigger and better -- or at least something not so miserable.
The thought occurred to me that I had been in a similar situation last year with the same kind of conclusion drawn. God had directed my path to an entirely new career, one that I had never sought out and one that I honestly had never desired. I went to school to be an engineer, not a teacher. So when this opportunity to teach both Calculus and Apologetics at a private high school was brought to me (combining my engineering background and my current heart for apologetics), it was clear to me this was where God wanted me to be. But when that first year got under way, it was so much more difficult than what I anticipated: ridiculously long hours preparing lessons; hours spent re-learning all that calculus I hadn’t done in 20 years; challenging parent conferences; figuring out a fair way to grade; trying to figure out how to keep teenagers engaged and learning. Pile on top of that the grief in the recent loss of my mom only four weeks before school started; the sleepless nights; the struggle to maintain this ministry; my oldest son starting kindergarten; my youngest now having to go all-day at pre-school. None of this was what I had planned for my life, career, family, and ministry. It was emotionally, physically, and spiritually the most draining and exhausting thing I’ve ever done. All at once.
Now, I know that compared to many jobs and many situations, this was not “difficult,” but it was certainly not what I thought it was going to be. I began to ask those same questions as my friend. If this is really God’s will, why is this so hard? If He brought me to this place, then isn’t it supposed to just “all work out”? Wasn’t it supposed to just all fold nicely into what I wanted my schedule to look like? Why did that first semester just feel like a black darkness of misery? Surely this means I had misunderstood God’s will. Surely this isn’t what God had really planned for me. I must have made a mistake because being in God’s will means that “doors are opened” and things are successful.
By the grace and strength of God, and the prayers of some cherished people around me, I survived that first semester. And by the second semester I could start to see the many reasons why God put me in that place, as difficult as it was. I had formed new and precious relationships. I had seen those kids have their eyes opened to the battle of ideas they would soon be facing out in the “real world.” And I grew to love those teenagers (and I re-learned Calculus too!).
What I wish I could have understood better at the time, and what I do understand now, is that being in God’s will does not mean things will be easy. We have the tendency to think that if God has called you into something then it’s going to be a smooth course of action. I don’t mean we think there won’t be any problems, but that the problems are supposed to be manageable. We even think that the mission is supposed to be successful. How often have we started down a path that we think God has led us down, and we hit a bump in the road, and then turn around thinking God has “closed the door” here? We think every difficulty must mean God doesn’t want us there and every easy open path means God wants us there. Think about how dangerous that can be to us! Have we ever stopped to consider that maybe the difficulties are there because it’s what Satan is trying to stop and the clear path is where Satan is trying to trap us? Or maybe the difficulties are there because God is teaching us and growing us so that we are equipped and able to fulfill the mission He has for us?
Or even worse, have we ever stopped to consider that maybe the difficulties are there because it’s what God is trying to do? I think about the life of David. God sent Samuel to Jesse’s house when David was just a young boy. And he was anointed as the next king of Israel. But he spent the next 8 years fleeing for his life, hiding in caves, and seeking shelter from the enemy. Eight years. Eight years, folks. Could you be on the run for your life for eight years before God actually brings to pass what He promised you? Or would you conclude that you made a mistake in thinking God wanted you to be king and then decide to move off to another place and be a shepherd? I mean, the path for David to move off and be a shepherd would certainly have been easier. Can’t you hear the conversation now? “Well, clearly God closed the door for me to be king because Saul really wasn’t having any of that. There was just so much drama surrounding it. And in my wanderings I came across this little piece of land JUST when this guy put up a for sale sign. Clearly God just opened the door for me to go back to being a shepherd.” On the contrary, God was using that time to test David in his faithfulness and to teach to be David fully dependent on Him.
We can see the same thing with Joseph. When he was 17, he had a prophetic dream that his brothers and parents would bow down to him. And instantly that happened! Nope. Joseph was first captured by his brothers, sold into slavery, moved to Egypt, worked as a slave, falsely accused of rape, and thrown into prison. Thirteen years after his dream – and after going through more than you and I could imagine – Joseph was made overseer of Egypt. But it was another nine years before the dream of his brothers bowing before him became a reality. Yet everything that happened along the way was part of God’s plan for the salvation of His people. Genesis 50:20, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” The fulfillment of God’s plan included slavery, imprisonment, and twenty-two years of a less than comfortable life for Joseph.
David, Joseph, Paul, John the Baptist, and so many others were right where God wanted them to be, yet their journeys were difficult and long. But in each of those circumstances, God was still faithful; God was still present. It says God is not so much interested in our comfort as He is in our obedience. He desires our willingness to follow Him over our happiness. So maybe we should stop using our comfort level and happiness to ascertain God’s will. I look back at last year and I see how even with the strife and difficulty, I was still right where God wanted me to be. The hard times was not God “closing the door,” but instead it was God teaching me something new. Besides, as my dad always says, if it were easy, they’d get anybody to do it.