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Posts Tagged ‘Charity’

A friend recently asked me what are my family’s traditions for Christmas.  Besides a formal meal, we also purchase and decorate a Christmas tree, the latter usually to the backdrop of nostalgic Christmas songs and candlelight.  But the most familiar tradition, even an oft-lamented one in our materialism-saturated society, is the exchanging of gifts.  But I am convinced there is nothing inherently wicked with either the getting or the giving of presents.

Gift and give are newer forms of a presumed old, old root, the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *ghabh- meaning “to give or receive”.  Before it reached English, it appeared in the Old Norse with a definition “gift, good luck”.  For a while it was pronounced yiven, before the guttural ‘g’ resurfaced.  An initial ‘h’ sound is also associated with the root, developing into the somewhat opposite word have.  Isn’t it interesting that giving and receiving are so closely linked that they’re all mixed up with the same family of words?

Present specifically carries the notion of something offered, freely, but before it is received.  It is set in the presence of one, placed “before their face”.

The word receive has a more Latin than Germanic heritage, entering English c. 1300, about 200 years after the Norman French conquest of England, from the Old North French, meaning at that time “seize, take hold of, accept”.  I like the emphasis on the fact that a gift cannot simply be thrust on someone; the action is interactive, with the receiver willingly taking the gift.  In earlier forms, found in Latin, the word meant “regain, take back, recover, take in, or admit”.  There’s a sense of vengeance contrasted with the sense of hospitality.

Hospitality is, in Greek, xenia, especially referring to the “rights of a guest or stranger”.  There is a city in Ohio named for this word.  I think that is a lovely motto of which to be reminded every time one’s city is mentioned.  It is not so much seen in our country as in many other nations, including the Israelite tribe whose generosity to the poor and stranger in the land was mandated by the Mosaic Law (see also this passage).

Hospitality is also a French/Latin borrowing, also since the 1300’s.  It comes from a word meaning “friendliness to guests”.  Compare this to the word host, whose entry at Etymonline.com goes further than the longer form hospitalityHost goes back to the PIE *ghostis- which is supposed to have referred to both the host and the guest, with an original sense of referring to strangers, on whichever side.

In the 1993 movie, “Shadowlands”, based on the life of C.S. Lewis, there is a scene about Christmas in which he is discussing the fate of the season in their mid-century culture:

One [Inkling] laments, “I’m afraid Christmas, as I remember it, is rather a lost cause.”

Jack, as his friends call him, and sounding rather like his voice is echoing out of far-away winter-bound Narnia whispers, “It’s because we’ve lost the magic… You tell people it’s about taking care of the poor and needy, and naturally they don’t even miss it.”

To which his friend, a Roman Catholic priest, responds, “The needy do come into it: ‘no room at the inn,’ remember?  The mother and child?”

I do like to remember that.  I like that older songs remember that.  I like that my friend this year asked for suggestions of how to make our holiday reflect the truth of this verse, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” She wanted to know how to celebrate being made rich and to imitate Christ’s poverty-bearing, rich-making love.

There is a tradition of being charitable particularly at Christmas.  (This is in the line of other, biblical feast-days, during which kindness to the poor was encouraged in response to God’s blessings of abundance that were being celebrated, especially in the harvest-feasts of Firstfruits and Tabernacles.  It is a way to recognize that it is God’s undeserved blessing that provides enough to survive or feast.  If we, by pleasing Him, do not relinquish His grace, we are to expect His continued blessings.  And He is pleased when we remember the poor and have charity towards them.  We can give like the saints in Philippi, depleting our own storehouses, knowing that the God who is using us to care for the poor will faithfully provide for us as well.)

This responsibility to the poor is communicated by the history of the word generous, which originally meant “of noble birth” (same root as genus, referring to biological descent and classification into kinds or races or families) and only by implications of the duty, of those blessed with more, to share with those who have less did it come to mean “magnanimous”.

Benevolence, “disposition to do good”, is a compound word, from the Latin bene “well” and volantem “to wish”.

Alms is another term for this benevolence.   In Old English it was ælmesse, occurring also in German, and Latin, where it is spelled eleemosyna.  This was, in turn, borrowed from the Greek eleemosyne, referring to “pity, mercy”.  In modern English, though rare, it means a gift, especially of money or food, given out to the needy.

Charity is from the Old French, “charity, mercy, compassion; alms” from Latin, “costliness, esteem, affection”.  Isn’t it instructive, the impulse of expressing love by costly, sacrificial giving?  It can be satisfying, and blessed, to give.

Love is, by own definition, the giving of a treasure.  Treasure comes from the same Greek root as thesaurus, and it means “hoard, storehouse, treasury” – presumably of something worth enough to be collected and kept safe.  Can stores be shared?  What does it say when one is willing to disperse a hoard?

Donation is attested in Latin, donum, “gift”, from the PIE *donum.  The same word is found in Sanskrit: danam “offering, present” and in Old Irish dan, “gift, endowment, talent”.

In my family’s tradition, the focus is more on expressing love to one another than to those less fortunate.  Our gifts are an exchange, late 1300’s, “act of reciprocal giving and receiving”, from the Latin ex- “out” and cambire “barter”.  Cambire is supposed to be of Celtic origin, the PIE *kemb- “to bend”, developing in the sense of altering the current state, then specifically changing something by putting something else in its place.

At Christmas especially, the packages under the tree are almost always wrapped, so as to be a surprise.  Unexpectedly, this word used to mean only “a taking unawares; unexpected attack or capture”.  The roots are sur- “over” and prendre “to take, grasp, seize”.  It might be ironic that though we think of thinly cloaked gifts as surprises, at Christmas they are not always unforeseen or unexpected; who hasn’t made a Christmas wish list?  In fact, it is perhaps a disadvantage of our custom: that gifts come to be expected, or even demanded, by the recipients.

When the word wrap appeared in English around AD 1300, it meant “to wind, cover, conceal, bind up, swaddle”.  I think we do this to increase the ornamental feeling of festivity, not as a symbol of the baby Jesus being similarly wrapped before being placed in a manger.

Swaddle seems to come from a word meaning a slice or strip.

Ribbon, which often adorns our gifts, might have a similar historic meaning, if it is related to band, “a flat strip” and “something that binds”, a rejoining of two divergent threads of Middle English, distinguished at one point by different spellings, band referring to joining together and bande to a strip or even a stripe (where it likely morphed into ribane, a stripe in a material).  The original root of band is, PIE *bendh- “to bind”.

Something else we use to hold things together when we’re wrapping them?  Tape.  My cousin says, “tape, lots of tape.”  This Old English tæppe is a “narrow strip of cloth used for tying or measuring”.  It could be formed from the Latin for “cloth, carpet”, tapete, or it might be related to the Middle Low German tapen, “to pull, pluck, tear”.

(These words are so fun, the way they communicate the action by which the thing got to be – or the state that inspired and enabled an action.  What was life like for the people who named a strip of fabric tape?  Well, maybe they were pulling on cloth {reminiscent of one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Little Women”, where the ladies of the house spend time tearing old sheets into strips to be used as bandages for those soldiers wounded in the American Civil War}.  Why would they do that?  To have something with which to bind things together.  It’s a different world from our manufacturing-driven lifestyles, where tape and ribbon and string are purchased in packages off of shelves.  They’re things made originally for their purposes, not improvised from something else.  It’s like a history lesson in a word!)

The other reason we think of gifts during the holiday season in which we remember God’s entry into our world in human flesh is because His birth was honored by gifts from wise visitors from the East.  These men recognized that Jesus was born to be the King, the long-prophesied King of the everlasting kingdom.  And though this God-King could have turned stones into bread, and summoned armies of angels, He chose to experience poverty.  Though He experienced the lowliness of being born to a poor mother and living as a refugee, a stranger, in Egypt, he was honored by costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh when a very young boy.

Such is the nature not only of love, to give sacrificially, but also of worship.  How remiss would any of us be, to overlook the presence of the Highest King?  Not only is His worth expressed by Kings giving Him treasures; it is demonstrated by the “sacrifice of praise” every person can offer:  The Christmas carols sing that the wise men have “come to pay Him homage,” Old French “allegiance or respect for one’s feudal lord”, from Latin homo, “man”.  Or in “What Child Is This?” we are bid to “haste, haste, to bring Him laud”, also Old French, “praise, extol” from Latin laus, “praise, fame, glory”.  A cognate, or brother-word in Old English was leoð, “song, poem, hymn”.  He is worthy of the richest treasures.  We owe Him everything we have, everything that is.  We also owe Him our allegiance, our praise, our songs.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Many thanks and credit to the resources of www.Etymonline.com and www.Dictionary.Reference.com in compiling these definitions and histories.  Also to www.BlueLetterBible.org for Scriptures.

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Earlier this week I was talking to an old friend.  As long as I’ve known him, he’s been talking about ways to make the most out of all the information in the world.  What it comes down to is community: I can’t read all the books and you can’t watch all the movies, but if we do a little of each, and then share the summaries or highlights, we’ve both benefited from double what we could have done ourselves.  Another thing he brought up was the difference between knowledge and wisdom.  Wisdom knows value.  Wisdom can make choices. 

 

You get on the internet and how do you decide whether to read the article about the presidential race or the news story about international affairs?  You go to the library: upstairs or down?  Fiction or nonfiction?  M’s or Biographies?  There’s so much you couldn’t hope ever to get to, yet gaining knowledge is good.  What makes you read Jane Austen over Dickens?  Why did you pick a mystery today, but a book about Iceland last week?  Or we could look at your household.  How do you decide between Monopoly with your kids, a movie with the family, or any of the hundred chores and projects you could do around the house? 

 

The choice is wrought by wisdom: your wisdom or someone else’s.  My same friend is an excellent story-teller.  He has the wisdom to know what details are essential to letting you feel right there a part of the story.  When I get on the internet most days, I’m not thinking of choices that are life-shattering.  “What’s this about?” I ask and click.  I found all of my favorite blogs by linking out of curiosity.  Why did that article catch my eye?  I believe this is providential grace.  Do I always see purpose in my trips to the library, the museum, or the web?  Are all of my conversations with friends evidently headed in a direction good for both of us?  I believe that, though I can’t always point to it. 

 

Fruit in our Christian life is a matter of wisdom.  It isn’t dutifully devouring the books in the library shelf by shelf until we are filled with useless facts and exhausted by blurry lines on the pages.  Christianity is walking in the Spirit’s wisdom.  And the Spirit produces fruit in our lives. 

 

Luke 10:27-42 contains two stories: the first is the Good Samaritan.  The second is one we’ve been studying in Sunday school for several weeks, Mary and Martha.  This week we’re got a glimpse of the context of Mary and Martha.  We can tend to see Jesus’ reproof of Martha as a call to abandon work almost entirely.  Churches today are so afraid of legalism that they can be afraid to tell people to work.  Who was most spiritual in the Good Samaritan story?  Who was most Christ-like?  Who obeyed the greatest commandment?  It’s significant that Martha’s story follows the account of the lawyer (asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?”) who wanted to “justify himself.”  He wanted to earn credit from God.  That’s not what ministry is about.  Let’s look at a proper perspective on service. 

 

Last week in Sunday school we talked about having “living room intimacy” with God.  A few weeks ago one of our teachers shared a little of what her living room is like with friends.  She’ll serve them, but wants them to help themselves to refills or anything they need.  I love most to visit my friends and spend the day with them, changing diapers, folding laundry, etc.  What I’m getting at is intimacy that goes beyond sitting at Jesus’ feet, beyond the time of prayer and meditation on His words.  Intimacy with Jesus is an active intimacy, too.  It doesn’t turn off when we get off our knees, or when the kids wake up, when we’re at work, driving, relaxing, or even when we’re on vacation. 

 

We work as a result of being with Jesus.  We can’t do everything, so we need wisdom to know which works to choose.  Follow Jesus’ example (taken from Joanna Weaver’s Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World).  He ministered in three ways:

 

         as He went on His way

         as He went out of His way

         in all kinds of ways

 

 

In Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby writes that we should look for God at work and join Him there.  In John 5:19, Jesus describes His walk in the same way: So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”

 

We don’t get the impression from the gospels that Jesus published an itinerary.  His disciples rarely even knew where they were going or when.  Jesus was like a living pillar of cloud and fire that the Israelites followed.  Jesus knew where He was going, and the gospels even report at times that He had to go somewhere (Jn 4:4).  

 

Even in the story of Martha and Mary, when Jesus got to Bethany, He was on His way to Jerusalem.  What does this joining God at work look like? 

 

I’ve worked at the same office for seven years.  Over that time I’ve met some favorite patients and some least favorite.  Last week we saw one of my least favorite, a man who when he came last year was a test of my Christian love.  I didn’t want to love him, to want him to be saved, to be nice to him or anywhere around him.  I wanted him punished.  But I struggled with that, and prayed that God would help my weak heart to love my neighbors no matter who they were. 

 

This year when I saw his name on the books I started to pray, but my prayers were all different.  I prayed for an opportunity to share the gospel, and for the approach to take with the gospel.  Our patient needs Jesus, no question about it.  And for all the times I’ve asked God to never let this man come back to our office, God has brought him back year after year.  God doesn’t make me miserable for no reason, so I believe God is at work in that man’s life.  I didn’t get to share the gospel.  He came in and left without even stopping. 

 

But he came back the next day, and my gifted-evangelist brother shared the gospel with him.  How incredibly cool is that? 

 

Remember the story of the Good Samaritan?  He wasn’t out on a charity field trip.  He didn’t build a shelter for beaten and unconscious penniless men to recover if they could make it.  Luke 10:33 – “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.”  The Samaritan was on his way, paying attention to the needs of others.  He ministered on his way. 

 

But the difference between the Samaritan and the other, “religious” men in the story, was that after he met the needy man on the road, the Samaritan didn’t just toss him a drink or some money; he went out of his way to help him, just like Jesus would. 

 

Joanna Weaver points us to Matthew 14:1-22  for Jesus’ example.  The first part of this chapter describes the death of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.  John was the first to proclaim Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God,’ and actually baptized Jesus.  In response to news of his friend’s execution, Jesus goes apart by Himself.  The crowds find Jesus, but He doesn’t immediately send them away.  Instead, according to verse 14, Jesus “saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”  Note the word “compassion.” 

 

“He laid aside his hurt so he could pick up their pain.  He laid aside his wishes so he could become their one Desire.  He laid aside his agenda so he could meet all of their needs.”  – Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World

 

There’s a lot of emphasis these days on our passion for ministry.  What do you just love doing?  God created you to be passionate about certain types of service, truths about Him, or people groups.  As youth leaders at church we’ve been talking about that.  And when you’re building a team with a mission, that’s good.  You want those passionate about interaction to be doing the fellowship, the teachers to be teaching, the servants to be running the snack bar or sound booth, the loud and energetic ones to be leading games.  God gave the body spiritual gifts, and He gave varieties to different people so that we could work together and be the best and strongest. 

 

But we’re not talking just about targeted long-term missions. 

 

Compassion is different from passion.  Compassion is why Jesus went out of His way to meet the needs of the multitudes.  Compassion is why Jesus went out of His way to make me His.  And compassion is willing to serve wherever needed. 

 

Jesus ministered in all kinds of ways. 

 

What if Jesus had said, “Blind people aren’t my ministry; I heal the lame”?  Or “You’re a Roman; I only help Jews”? 

 

Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, healed lepers, taught Pharisees, fielded questions from lawyers and peasants.  Jesus played with kids and cleansed the temple.  Nothing and no one was off limits to Him. 

 

Yeah, you say.  That’s Jesus.  Of course He could do everything. 

 

Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

 

God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the same Spirit from whom we get the terms “spiritual gifts,” and “fruit of the Spirit.”  So no excuses.  If God is leading you to a ministry, whether for five minutes, five days, or for a lifetime, He’s going to supply the gifting.  Remember the idea of spiritual gifts is that they are supernatural.  If we could do it without God, they wouldn’t be spiritual gifts.  Ministry is God’s power working through us.  And that Power, that God, is exactly what the world needs. 

 

Remember the story of Peter and John from Acts 3:6-9 where they heal the lame man?  Peter offers the man first Jesus and second healing.  We need to have that intimacy with God (from spending particular time with Him) that gives us insight into physical and spiritual needs of those around us.  They need Him more than money, free food or good counseling.  Even the people not like the Samaritan’s neighbor, not at death’s door, desperately need to believe that there is a God with Power that they can trust. 

 

So we’re serving out of our intimacy with God, continuing the journey and joining Him in His work.  We serve and bear fruit as we go, when we embrace God’s interruptions of our plans and go out of our way to help, and reach out in all kinds of ways.  You see a person in need.  What do you have to offer? 

         Compassion that comes because God loves them.  When we spend time with God, we get His heart.  We start to love people because God loves them, and because we love what God loves.  The word compassion is an overflow of feeling.  If it doesn’t produce action, it isn’t compassion. 

         Compassion that sees their need as more than outward.  Going through our daily lives with God is a good way to keep in mind that there’s more to life than what we see or feel.  People have needs that are physical, and God calls us to care for those in distress.  But God left us on earth to spread the good news. 

         Passion for God’s glory that can’t hold it in.  Getting to know our God produces more and more enthusiasm for who He is.  Then we can’t help sharing it.  Everyone should know about God; He should get credit from everyone for the goodness that He is and does. 

 

This whole lesson on fruit is based on the idea of abiding in Christ, summed up in John 15:5 – “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  When we have that intimacy with Jesus, we’re like a zucchini vine.  Joanna Weaver writes, “Fruit happens.  You get connected to the Vine and pretty soon you’ve got zucchini – tons and tons of zucchini.  So much zucchini you just have to share!”  If our fruit doesn’t point back to the vine, though, we’re just working.  We’re Marthas, cumbered about with that load of rocks (acts of service or ministry) God didn’t give to us, trying to earn credit from God for all the good things we do.  We’re trying to tackle the whole library.  Christian work is from “walking in the Spirit” (that living room intimacy picking up and moving through the whole house), the Spirit who glorifies Himself, and who gives people what they need and not a cheap substitute.  If all we have to offer the world is our love by ourselves, or our money, or our help – they’re not getting nearly what they need. 

 

Jesus promises that men will recognize His followers by their love (John 13:35), and sure enough, Peter and John were identified as Jesus’ disciples because they boldly healed the lame man in Jesus’ name, and would not be deterred by the religious incumbents, though the apostles were untrained and uneducated.  Jesus had made a noticeable impact on their lives (Acts 4:13). 

 

We had elections in this country last week.  Compare the US to China.  In China the Christians are often officially persecuted for their faith.  But most of them aren’t fighting to transform the government.  They know their real mission – and only hope – is to transform lives.  God changes lives when He is known in His people’s love.  “Chinese Christians devoted themselves to worship and evangelism.  They concentrated on changing lives, not changing laws.”  – Philip Yancey

 

Does the world know WHOSE you are? 

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Friday was one of those days in one of those weeks from one of those months.  My closest friends are out of the country or on their way out.  One will be gone for a whole semester, to the blissfully romantic Oxford, the Oxford in England, full of history and literature, thought and conversation.  In England there is rain, there is beauty, there is architecture, there are accents!  What’s more, she’s going to study worldviews in a small class of 9 Christian young men and young women, doing life with them.  Already she sends home emails reveling in happiness beyond her expectation. 

On Friday I was feeling rather alone and untraveled.  Autumn is here with an air of adventure, and none has knocked on my door.  But God is quite the gracious Giver of good gifts.  He blessed me with hours of conversation in the evening.  Friends gathered and the casual conversation was whether God changed His mind, and the way He ordains intercessors for us against His wrath.  Then we officially talked about jealousy, but we didn’t say much on that topic.  What actually happened led into a discussion on grace and glory, predestination and the rights of God versus the rights and capabilities of man. 

Even though we didn’t delve into jealousy, our text was 1 Corinthians 13:4: “Charity suffereth long and is kind.  Charity envieth not; Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”  Charity, or LOVE, does not envy.  It is not jealous.  Love is the call of all Christians towards their neighbors.  Jealousy prevents us from entering into their happiness in the way Paul describes in Romans 12.  The simple reminder that love is my call was enough to convict me of my attitude towards my friend.  So I decided to rejoice with her.  (I really am absolutely delighted for her experiences, and excited for their impact!) 

But the grace and the lesson didn’t end.  Deciding to rejoice with her, I was yet challenged by my friend’s confession of happiness.  Her email bubbled over with enthusiasm for life and people, and happiness at being where she was.  Once she even wrote she can’t remember the last time she was so happy.  When was the last time I was simply happy?  What did it look like? 

The privilege and delight of seeing a friendly face can light my face with a smile, and untroubled happiness.  Knowing God is in control and He’ll take care of the details is blessed happiness.  Knowing I am blessed is reason to be happy.  And I am so blessed.  So I set out to be happy. 

Saturday I went to Steeling the Mind Bible Conference, put on by Compass Ministries.  I imagined the happy me, which is much easier to live out when brought to mind!  Should I see a friend, I would be happy.  Should I spend the day with my dad alone, I would be blessed.  Should I get encouragement in my walk with God, I would have assurance that He was heeding my days.  And He was.  He let me know. 

For example, the second-to-last speaker was a woman raised as a Muslim.  One of her many points was that Muslims live in fear, not only of non-Muslims, not only of “monsterous” Jews, but even of each other.  Women obviously fear men, who have essentially absolute power over them.  They also fear the envy of others, by which the jealous party would, they superstitiously believe, put a curse on them: the evil eye.  Envy and fear of envy separated the community, leaving no room to trust anyone.  Jealousy is a serious issue. 

In the British Isles, there is rain.  Here the past week we have had rain more days than not.  Friday night it rained.  Saturday night, too.  I’m afraid to sleep for missing some evidence of God’s grace reminding me that “no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”  But even sleep is a peaceful, cozy gift. 

This morning at church we watched part of Beth Moore’s teaching on the Blessing of Asher.  Asher is a Hebrew word translated either Blessed, or Happy.  Leah named the second son of her handmaid Asher, after years envying Jacob’s love of Rachel and jealousy over his affection.  At last she simply named a son “happy,” content and blessed, going forward straight on the way, fruitful.  And Beth Moore taught us not to be responsible for the happiness of others (or of ourselves!);  happiness is a gift by the grace of God, so we ought to seize our happy moments, with gratitude. 

A friend blessed me with a compliment when I needed the encouragement, and her husband even offered to help diagnose my poor car whose Service Engine Soon light has been on and off for over a year (but I haven’t found a good mechanic to fix it).  My day was really too amazing. 

After church I sat in a meeting of youth leaders, pondering the high school girls small group of which I’m a part.  And I realized that I’ve been running around, forgetting to be God’s vessel, forgetting the blessing it is to share life with these ladies, forgetting that when I walk with God, I will want to and be able to connect with the girls in love.  There doesn’t have to be a formula or a schedule.  If I want to see them, this won’t be a burden.  In my life I’ve observed that happiness (and pain at times, and many other things besides) comes through people, through fellowship, through getting deeper into relationships and community.  Do you realize what release I remembered and reclaimed? 

Finally, on my way to visit my aunt in Greeley, CO (and my grandparents and a few cousins, an uncle and another aunt), I was riding in our big, truck-like van, watching light glint off the ring that reminds me of God’s presence and claim on my life.  So often I ask Him for things, but today I thought of the way characters pray sometimes in biblical dramatization novels by the Thoenes: “Blessed are You, O Adonai, who…”  So I started.  God is blessed for being, for doing, for giving.  Blessed is He for knowing the end from the beginning.  Blessed is He for ordaining good works.  Blessed is He for holding my friends in His strong hands.  Blessed is He for being my sure refuge and comfort.  Blessed is He for the blood He shed, and for reminding me of His faithful covenant through the Lord’s Supper this morning.  Blessed is He for the celebration that the Lord’s Supper is and represents, the community of saints waiting for the Beloved.  Blessed is He for hearing my prayers.  Blessed is He for being Almighty. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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“Frank Woolworth discovered the demand for Christmas –

he was known as the Christmas man.”

– Jim Morrison as quoted in the November/December edition of the new Victoria Magazine

A dime store Christmas museum display about which the article was written contains ornaments, candles, Santas, toys, tinsel, ribbons, and lights. All this began over a hundred years ago. I’m holding Frank Woolworth personally responsible for all the Christmas junk overflowing every garage sale. Jim Morrison, curator of the National Christmas Center, credits Woolworth with merely meeting a demand already existent in the culture. The consumer-driven Christmas is not new.

In fact, it has sufficiently come of age to be opposed, rejected, and replaced by many people who are dissatisfied for one reason or another with the insistent “Buy, buy, buy!” chanted over the sweet chime of silver bells each December. Some recognize that a country built on debt is in serious trouble, and that luxury on credit is multiplying the disaster. Others want Christmas to be innocent and sentimental, and are unhappy that Santa is in PG-13 movies, advertising addictive substances, and hawking whosever product the companies want him to. There are the Christians who notice, while standing in lines of epic length wrapping around the department store, that there is precious little about Jesus. Angels and stars are the most religious articles with which most stores are comfortable. If Jesus is recognized, He is considered just another icon to be marketed. Finally there are families who are sick of kids seeing the world as a vending machine. They want to emphasize other values.

A friend from church discovered Samaritan’s Purse Gift Catologs this year. They contain suggested gifts for needy children and families around the world. Give a goat to a community, a week of food to a baby, a month of care to an orphan. At Christmas especially I like to give to charities. If you’re interested in spreading the good news of Jesus’ birth around the world, consider letting the missionaries from Samaritan’s Purse deliver a gift in your name, and share about Jesus at the same time.


Or you can do what my friend did, and send the gift in the name of someone on your Christmas list. Check off grandma and aunt Susie, your boss, and your Sunday school teacher by sending gifts in their honor. Let them know what you donated and why. What do you get for the person who already has it all? Look at the catalog to find out.

A documentary filmmaker creatively spun his category by touring the country with a gospel choir warning against the shopocalypse, and asking What Would Jesus Buy?  His presentation can be a little extreme, but the discontent with our materialistic Christmas comes through loud and clear.  Their website also has a suggested list of alternative gifts. 

One of my good friends and I are in the same boat this Christmas: we can’t decide what to put on our own Christmas lists, let alone what to get for our friends and family.  For us there is no conscious rebellion against the gifting tradition; we’re just out of ideas.  Don’t worry.  We are brainstorming. 

Credit for this post goes to my friends, because yet another one commented on this blog to inform me of a group called Advent Conspiracy which is trying to replace consumption with compassion this Christmas.  Their website has information on: what not to do, how not to do it, why not to do it, what to do instead, how to spend instead (supposing you actually had extra cash for Christmas, and weren’t going to simply expand your debt to buy smiles).  I haven’t studied the theology of this group (or of the documentary team); they’re a good resource to challenge you to think about how you celebrate Christmas. 

If you have already thought about how to center your Christmas on Jesus instead of property, what are your ideas?  Do you know any other programs or resources we can use?  Leave a comment.  Let us know. 

Thank you, all of my friends who are willing to make me think about radical Christian living, embracing sacrifice, and true compassionate giving. 

To God be all glory. 

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