Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Dangers of Santa Claus

The Dangers of Santa
By Pastor David Holt and Mark McAndrew

We certainly do not mean to be a “scrooge” in this blog, but we do want to offer some thoughts about modern day Santa Claus.  Consider these four concerns:

1.    Santa is presented as a “god” figure.
Children are told, “He watches when you sleep; he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”  He supposedly flies all over the world, able to enter every home, and bring glad tidings of great joy.  This gives omniscience and omnipresent qualities to Santa. 

My (David) daughter was recently babysitting for some neighbor children, and they said to her, “Sarah, we have to be good or else Santa won’t come to see us this year.”  Kids really believe this stuff.

2.    Santa presents a works’ salvation.
You might think we are going to an extreme here, but think this through.  In telling children that if they are good, then Santa will come with gifts, we are subtly communicating a works’ righteousness.  The common belief today is that if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, then God will accept you into heaven.  And yet, God’s Word says we are “saved by grace through faith, that not of ourselves… not of works least anyone boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

If good works could get us to God, then Christ did not need to die. Our only hope of being made right with God is through the substitutionary blood atonement of Jesus Christ.  He died to pay for our sins.  This is the only payment God will accept.

In addition, it is interesting how Santa ends up coming to all children, regardless of whether or not they were really good that year.  In much the same way, most believe that all will go to heaven, regardless of their behavior, unless of course they are someone like Hitler or Adam Lanza.

3.    Santa promotes self-centered idolatry.
We have never met a kid who loved Santa. Not one. But we have met hundreds who love his stuff. Every second a child spends on Santa's lap is spent doing what? Asking him for stuff. No one is asking for Santa. Santa is a means to the child's end. The Santa Claus "gospel" is idolatrous and trains us to use God rather than love him. We begin to think that we should be good so that God will give us nice gifts.

However, Scripture shows us that the greatest gift of the gospel is not God's presents, but his presence. "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God" (I Pet. 3:18). The highest and best gift that Jesus purchased for us was entrance into the presence of God.

4.    Santa Claus is not real.
The bottom line with Santa is that he is not real.  Duh!!  But parents who go along with the whole Santa thing are promoting a lie.  Now I know most will object by saying, “It’s just fun and games, and they will eventually figure out that it isn’t true.”  Perhaps, but also think about a comment I heard recently from a college student.  She said she really struggled with believing in the reality of Jesus as a young child, because she thought to herself, “If the whole Santa Claus thing wasn’t real, but my parents presented it to me as if it were, then how can I believe them when they tell me about God became a man by being born of a virgin, performing miracles like walking on water, dying on a tree, and then being raised after three days?”  Which is more absurd sounding to a young child?

Now, as an alternative, I suggest parents tell their children the truth.  And the way to not totally throw Santa under the bus is to tell them the true story of how Santa came about.  Remember that guy St. Nicholas?  Look him up and tell the story to your children. 

Merry CHRISTmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Making Biblical Sense of a Senseless Act

What happened last week in Newtown, CN is unimaginable.  How could anyone go into a school and kill teachers and children?  This tragedy elicits all kinds of emotions in us:  hurt, sadness, brokenness, anger, revenge, confusion, etc.  Some will quickly turn to God, while others may blame Him.

It is times like this we must turn to God’s Word for help.  His Word does address these things.  His Word gives wisdom and guidance.  So, what biblical sense can be made of this senseless act of violence in Newtown?

1.    The depth of sin and the depravity of man. 

This killing reminds us of the depravity of man and the depth of human sin.  Jeremiah 17:9 says, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”  This was true of Adam Lanza, but it is also true of me.  “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Apart from Jesus, there is no sin I am incapable of committing. 

Adam Lanza had to be deeply troubled.  Adam Lanza had to be very far from God.  Adam Lanza displayed sin at a level close to that of Hitler.  Unfortunately, human history is filled with many examples of horrific things done by the heart and hands of sinful man. 

I believe one of the most painful things God ever did was give man a free will, knowing that he would use this free will to do horrible things.  The alternative is for God to have made us puppets, under His total control, always doing His ever bidding.  This is not love, but rather control.  Because God is love, He gives us the freedom to choose.  We have the choice to love and follow God, or go our own way and sin.  Unfortunately, most choose the latter.  Though we have the freedom to choose our actions, we do not have the freedom to choose the consequences of our actions.  “Whatsoever a man sows, that will he reap” (Galatians 6:7).

2.    Reaping what we sow.

As a country we have sown violence in movies, video games, and sports.  This has desensitized us to the value of life.  Furthermore, we have legalized the killing of unborn children.  And if all that is not enough, we are increasingly abandoning the Judeo-Christian moral foundations that started this country.  In light of all of this, is it really surprising that these types of killings are getting more, and not less, frequent?  It seems to me that the protective umbrella of God’s grace over our nation is being lifted, and we are seeing evil unleashed to a greater degree.

So, the sin of the human heart, coupled with the lack of moral fabric in our country, are key players in this tragedy.  But there is another factor.

3.    The reality of Satan and demonic spirits.

A biblical world-view involves more than earth and heaven.  There is a “forgotten middle,” which is the realm of angels and demons.  Jesus said, “Satan comes to steal, KILL, and destroy” (John 10:10).  Satan hates God and everything about God.  Since God created us and loves us, Satan wants to destroy people and love.  Unfortunately, Satan had a heyday last Friday.  Satan hates people and loves to kill.  The ultimate source of a murder is Satan and demonic spirits. 

I have seen demons cast out of people in Jesus’ name.  I know firsthand that demonic spirits are real.  Make no mistake about it, Adam Lanza was demonized!  Again, this does not remove any responsibility from him, and he will face the judgment of God for his acts, but let us not forget that there was another power at work last Friday.  Speaking of God’s judgment:

4.    The judgment of God.

It will not be a pleasant scene when Adam Lanza stands before Almighty God.  “It is appointed unto man to die once, and after this the Judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).  I am thankful that the Bible assures us that God is a just God.  He will see to it that justice is carried out in this case.

But it is important that we each look past Adam Lanza to our own day of judgment.  What will my outcome be?  Even though I have never murdered anyone physically, Jesus said that anger in my heart is worthy of divine judgment (Mt. 5:22).  When Jesus was asked about tragedies such as Pilate mingling blood with sacrifices and the Tower of Siloam falling on people and killing them, He never addressed why it happened.  Instead He said, “Unless you repent, you will likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5).  One of the most biblical things we can do when tragedy strikes, is look into our own heart and make sure we are right with God.

And the only way to be right with God is through Jesus.  He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6). The only solution for my sin (and others) is the precious blood of Jesus, shed on the cross so that I might be forgiven and healed of my sinful nature.

Some may respond, “But Pastor David, this idea of forgiveness through Jesus, seems too simplistic and just gets people off the hook too quickly.  Isn’t there more to it than just getting forgiven for our sins?”  Yes there is.

5.    The power of the Gospel.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful at two levels.  First, the Gospel is powerful to forgive and cleanse of all sin.  “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).   In addition, the Gospel is powerful to keep us from sinning.  When a person receives Christ, he/she receives the indwelling Spirit (Ephesians 1:13).  As we allow this indwelling Spirit to fill us, control us, and empower us, then we can have victory over temptations and sin.  In other words, we can say “no” to sin.  We are not helpless victims to sin and Satan. We can have victory!  The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is living inside of every follower of Christ (Romans 8:9-11).

Not only must we know and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, but we must also know the nature of God.

6.    The character of God.

When tragedy like this occurs, much garbage gets dumped on God’s doorsteps. It is common for people to want to throw God under the bus over this.  “Why did God allow this?  Why did He not stop this?  Does He not care?  If He knew this would happen, then He is responsible for it.” 

I heard an interesting response to this at church Sunday, “When a plane crashes, many will blame God, while at the same time not thanking Him for all the planes that take off and land safely each day.”  If we only knew how many tragedies God DOES prevent. 

Ultimately it is a mystery why God prevents some things, while allowing others.  It is in such confusing times that we need to clutch to what we DO know is true.  Proverbs 9:10 says “the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  In other words, to have understanding in a situation like this requires the knowledge of the Holy One. 

Therefore, what do we know (knowledge of) about God that can help us cope with this tragedy and others?  We know that He is good, and that all He does is good.  We know that He is holy, and all of His works are holy.  Furthermore, we know that God is loving, and expresses that love toward people more than anything in all of His creation.   He cares about the pain that every family in Newtown feels.  Jesus said, “Come to Me all who are weary and heaven laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). 

2 Corinthians 1 says, “the sufferings of Christ overflow into our lives so that His comfort might overflow.”  No one hurts more over this tragedy than God!  I think we forget that sometimes.  He created each one of those teachers and children.  They are His divine handiwork.  To see them destroyed pains His heart at a level we cannot imagine.  

As if this is not enough, God is also faithful and true to His Word.  What He promises, He will deliver.  He promises that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us (James 4:8).  He assures us that He is a very present help in time of need (Psalms 46:1).  He says, "Call to Me, and I will answer you" (Jeremiah 33:3).

Even though there are aspects of God’s character that are hard to grasp in such times as this (i.e. His sovereignty), there are many more that are not hard to grasp. These aspects of His nature (i.e. love, grace, mercy, compassion, etc.) are the very ones we need to cling to for help.  

Don’t doubt in the darkness what God has made clear in the light!

Finally, because God is loving, gracious, merciful, compassionate, and just, He assures us that a day is coming when all will be made right.  This is eternally great news!

7.    The eternal future!

God promises that when Christ returns, He will establish a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21-22).  The final judgment will involve casting Satan into the lake of fire forever (Revelation 20:10).  This assures that all evil and sin and everything opposed to God will be destroyed.  This also assures a place called heaven where only righteousness and purity and love will dwell forever.  Revelation 21-22 speaks in great detail about this eternal place.  There will be no more mourning, crying or pain.  I can’t wait.  All who are in Christ will be with God forever in this place.  Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2).

Do you know for sure that you are going to heaven?  Nothing in all the world is more important than making sure your eternal destiny is in this wonderful place.

While here on earth, tragedies will continue.  Sin will abound.  Unfortunately, there will likely be more wars, murders, and school shootings.  But if we receive Christ and live for Him, we have hope … power to live … a community of supportive people … God’s Word … promises to claim … and an eternal home to look forward to!  This is what CHRISTmas is all about.