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My Love/Hate Relationship with Santa Claus

'Santa Claus with reindeer at the beach: Panama City Beach, Florida' photo (c) 1956, Florida Memory - license: http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/

So I have a bit of a love/hate thing going on with Santa right now. I’m wondering if anyone else has dealt with this tension in the past, so I’m just going to put it out there and see what others think.

We’ll start with the hate, naturally.

Erik and I are both products of Santa-less homes. He was never part of our Christmas traditions, and we didn’t know any different. So when we began our own traditions with our kids, we had no category for Santa. In fact, when our daughter was 2, she somehow morphed Santa and Noah into one jolly, animal-saving being. I remember pushing her in a shopping cart around Lowe’s and, upon seeing a life-sized Santa figure, hearing her shout, “Noah says ‘Ho, Ho, Ho!'” Naturally, I did nothing to correct this. (Incidentally, I may have also allowed my young son to believe the bear says “wuah ha ha” for far too long…parents just do this when their kids say cute stuff…I’m banking on no permanent damage being done).

So we’ve never really been Santa people, and it’s never been much of an issue. But this year my daughter is in kindergarten, where Santa reigns supreme. By the end of September she had already told a classmate Santa wasn’t real. So we had many talks about how it’s not her job to tell other kids that, and we need to respect the traditions of their families, etc. And I believe that, really. I hoped we could all just get through Christmas peaceably.

But then she came home one day telling me how Santa is real after all. She’s seen his workshop, and his good kid/bad kid list. She only hopes she can get her name on the good list. Of course, I then asked her how many bad things she’s allowed to do and still be on the good kid list.(For example, would not believing her mom be enough to put her on the bad list? She did not appreciate this question).

This post isn’t a rant about my daughter not believing me, nor is it about our society perpetuating a lie. I mean, I’m not exactly thrilled about the whole setup, but that’s not really the issue.

It’s not even really about Santa. We’ve taught our kids about the real Saint Nicholas and we’ll continue to reiterate the truth within the legend. This is a good, valuable message.

But the naughty/nice thing is just the worst. It’s the worst because it’s just like us to crave a list like this. And it’s super convenient for having a peaceful December. The fear of coal-filled stockings is a real thing, friends. I’ve seen small children reduced to tears at just the thought.

So this is where the love part of the love/hate thing comes in. Part of me really loves Santa because I’ve never had an easier way to share the gospel with my kids as well as other parents/friends/teachers.

A couple of days after we decorated our home for Christmas, I put the kids’ wrapped presents under the tree. I’m not always (read: never) on top of things like this, but this year I’m so thankful for the miraculous gift of preparedness because it has come in incredibly handy with our kids. When the discussion of Santa and his lists came up, I was able to point my daughter to the presents under the tree. I’m so thankful for the wisdom of God allowing me to tell her this:

“Do you see those presents under the tree? They are from your dad and me. They will be there every day until Christmas morning. It doesn’t matter how good you are, or how bad you are. You will not lose those presents. You cannot earn them–they are a gift from us because we love you. With Santa, you have to be good to earn gifts. But you and I both know we can never be good enough on our own. And that’s why Jesus is so much greater than Santa. God knew we could never be good enough on our own, so He sent Jesus. Jesus was good in our place, and when we trust in His goodness and His love, instead of our own, then we get His sinless record before God. We get to know God! So Santa really isn’t so great after all.”

So I know this isn’t the end, and we will probably have this discussion every Christmas for years to come. And while part of me hates the thought of forcing my kids to choose whom to believe, part of me loves that inherent in this discussion is a clear gospel presentation. I pray for opportunities to declare the freedom of gospel grace in place of the karma of Santa Claus.

Note: This is in no way meant to condemn anyone who does Santa with their kids. I know lots of people who do it for fun without the naughty/nice lists and have a great time with their kids, not taking away from the true message of Christmas. So please don’t read it as judgment.

But I am wondering how other parents tackle this topic with their kids. If you have thoughts or ideas, I would really love to hear them!

The Gospel and Sex

'Mazzali: SWEET bed' photo (c) 2007, Mazzali - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/We’ve talked on the blog before about pre-marital counseling, and I’ll be writing about it again soon. One of the facets of most counseling sessions is a conversation on sex. Maybe we talk about the purpose of it, what inhibits it, how we use it to negotiate or how we come to it selfishly. Frequently, though, sex is separate from our other gospel-centered marriage counseling. I know I’ve read plenty of articles or book chapters meant to motivate me to serve my husband through sex. These things might work for a time, but I’ve realized they only go so deep. We know we should do it, but the “why” is left at “because he needs it,” and the “how” is “by being open and vulnerable and willing.”

But these statements leave us still wanting something deeper. I can’t muster up the courage to be vulnerable and open with my husband. I can tell myself I need to, but that only makes it harder, stacking feelings of guilt on top of each other and making it even more impossible to be vulnerable.

My dear friend, Marci, wrote a fantastic article about this topic that is a must-read–whether you’re engaged to be married, newlyweds, or married for years. Even for teens it’s a great description of the purpose and beauty of sex.

Here’s one quote that captures the angst we often feel as we look at sex in marriage:

Christian couples want to be uninhibited with each other but it’s not safe. We have perverted what God intended to be pure and we’re not quite sure how to go back. Both husbands and wives long to return to the garden of Eden when the two could be naked together and unashamed, but our sin keeps getting in the way, marring our marriage beds with shame and mistrust.

I encourage you to take the time to read this post today–it is joyful and freeing good news!

Gospel-Centered Sex? by Marci Preheim

The Dr Pepper Friend

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From my freshman year of college up to today (a total of 12 years), I have constantly had a “Dr. Pepper Friend.” A few people have filled this job over the years, but someone is always in this position.

What exactly, you might ask, is a Dr. Pepper Friend?

Well, see, I have this problem. Some people have soap operas; others have teenage pop music. My guilty pleasure is a nice Sonic Dr. Pepper (or Chick fil A…or Chuy’s). I know it’s bad for me, full of sugar and high fructose corn syrup. I know it’s rife with empty calories. Yada yada yada. It just tastes so good.

So over the years I have always had a friend who makes me feel better about my habit. We bring them to each other. We both order one at dinner. We make excuses for why it’s really okay–“you’ve had a bad day” or “you’ll never get through without it” or “the baby’s not sleeping so you really deserve this.”

Many times I’ve cut back and tried to quit, but then there’s always a friend. I can’t let her down. I don’t want to leave her behind. We’re in this together.

So I blame the friend in my mind. If only they just didn’t enable me, I could quit.

I know it’s probably obvious to anyone reading this what the real problem is here. It is completely embarrassing that it has taken me 12 years to figure it out: I’m the Dr. Pepper Friend.

I have dragged down several addicts along with me over the years through my enabling. There is one common denominator–me.

I was thinking about this recently and realized it’s not just Dr. Pepper. I’m an enabler in many other ways. I don’t know the exact reason. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to face my own sin. Maybe I truly want my friends to feel better. Maybe I just run from confrontation (metaphorically, not literally, although I had a friend in college who, on multiple occasions, literally ran from confrontation).

Regardless of the reasons, over the years I have made excuses for my own sin and that of my friends.

My language has been:

“You deserve this”

“You need this”

“Well it’s not really that bad”

“Well yes, but you were hurting”

Really, the list could go on. The point is, I don’t like talking about sin with people I claim to love. I don’t want to shame them.

But minimizing sin does not alleviate shame.

And so I’m praying God will make me a better friend. There is no love in telling my friends their sin is not really sin. There is no love in making excuses for them. And there’s no love in wanting them to do the same for me.

The way to alleviate shame is not through minimizing our friends’ sin, but through magnifying their Savior. 

In his book, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself, Joe Thorn writes about the memory of sin:

Look, the memory of your sins is no cause to beat yourself up and wallow in guilt. Instead, it should lead you to rejoice in the redemption you have in Jesus. […] And in remembering these sins, you hold fast to Jesus. This remembrance does not encourage you to shrink back from God but to draw near, seeking him because of the hope of the gospel. When you remember your sins, you learn humility, love Jesus, and make much of the gospel.

The same goes for the conviction of sin. If I love my friends, I will want them to be free from the bondage of sin and free to experience sweet communion with Christ. Hopefully they want the same for me. And this is only achieved by recognizing sin for what it is–idolatry and pride, an affront to our holy Father–and the gospel for what it is–our only hope, the Good News of Christ’s perfect life, death, and resurrection on our behalf.

So if I’ve been a Dr. Pepper Friend to you, I’m so sorry. I mean, I’m not completely sorry about the Dr. Pepper because it is REALLY good.

But I’m sorry for making excuses for sin and wanting you to do the same for me. I’m sorry for robbing us both of the joy of sweet , thirst-quenching grace.

I pray we sisters and brothers can point each other to Christ, the only One who takes away shame and replaces it with Love.

I acknowledged my sin to you, 

and I did not cover my iniquity;

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD;”

and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

Psalm 32:5

Why I Rarely Blog About Weddings (on a blog called “Don’t Waste Your Wedding”)

Someone commented on a link to this blog from Facebook that I should start a new blog so they don’t have to go to a wedding blog to read my posts about non-wedding topics. It’s true–I’ve been writing a lot about things other than weddings. For a while I thought maybe I was just a little burned out on weddings. Once the book was finished I was excited to think about anything else. And as things come up and are on my heart, it’s natural to write about them.

But the more I thought about it, I realized the real reason I have a hard time blogging about weddings. Yes, I know. It’s a wedding blog. Clearly this is a problem. But I think it makes sense, and hopefully it will translate as I write about it here.

The nature of wedding blogs and books in general is to give couples ideas. This can be super helpful. You see something creative or unique, you “pin it,” implement it in your wedding planning and move on. I’m always impressed with wedding bloggers who build a substantial following. In my mind, it’s a marketing nightmare. You have readers who come to look at pretty pictures, get ideas, and then leave. Once the wedding is over, who cares about the wedding blog?

But in writing this book, my mom and I both felt strongly that we didn’t want it to be about “tips” for planning a Christian wedding. And the reasons for this are:

1. We could try to give a “Gospel-Centered Wedding Checklist.” Couples could follow it, checking off each task as they planned. But this would not guarantee what really matters. Because what really matters is the heart–a heart changed by the love of Christ and the grace of our great Father.

2. A true understanding of grace and the freedom of the gospel should lead to a gospel-centered wedding. But I had neither a true understanding nor a truly gospel-centered wedding. And so the book is far less about tips and ideas, and far more about the gospel. Because it has to be in that order. As God opens our eyes to the beauty of Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death and glorious resurrection, it should change everything. Including our weddings.

3. A photographer friend said she is tired of shooting the same wedding every weekend. Sometimes all these tips and ideas we’re sharing and pinning end up making the rounds at every wedding. So what was maybe unique once is now standard issue. There’s nothing really wrong with this, but I believe God’s work in the lives of a bride and groom is far more interesting and glorious than the details we so easily obsess over. So I’m hesitant to share a lot of practical tips out of concern that we might create some sort of “gospel-centered wedding” culture that limits the freedom couples should have to express God’s grace in their own way.

So for these reasons, there aren’t a lot of tips on the blog. And to be honest, I have a hard time coming up with things to blog about that aren’t just practical. I know the practical stuff is helpful; I’m just hesitant for it to become law.

That being said, I’m hoping to post more regularly and more often about weddings.

But I’m always trying to balance the freedom of the gospel with the practical ideas people might want to read. And if a week (or two) go by without wedding posts, I apologize. I guess I’m still figuring out what this blog is.

Thanks for reading it, whatever it is.

Loving Those Who Are Trying Desperately to Forget

Today’s scheduled post regarding wedding planning will be posted at the beginning of next week. In lieu of that, I’ll be sharing some things weighing heavy on my heart today.

In the coming days, we (prayerfully) will be hearing more about a man named Kermit Gosnell. If you haven’t heard about him yet, it’s because the mainstream media has refused to report on his trial. But many citizens are demanding news outlets stop what looks like a cover-up–we are demanding a voice for those who have been murdered inside and outside the womb for years in Gosnell’s Pennsylvania abortion clinic. For more information on the trial, see this helpful post by Joe Carter – 9 Things You Should Know About the Gosnell Infanticide and Murder Trial.

We need to pray for all those involved in this trial–for Gosnell, who is not beyond the reach of grace. For his staff, who are no doubt haunted by the things they saw and did in their time working for him. For those who have attempted to cover up or turn a blind eye to the horrific injustices performed, not just at Gosnell’s clinic, but every day all across our country.

But today I want to beg us all to pray for the women. The would-be mothers. The teenage girls. The terrified women who believed they had no choice.

Gosnell apparently catered to minorities, immigrants and women in poverty. Women who were told this was their only option. Women who were told, sometimes in a language they didn’t even speak, they would be better off if they had the tissue removed. Women who were literally forced against their will, put to sleep only to wake and discover the abortion had already been performed.

So now the truth comes out. The horrifying truth of babies born alive and then killed. The sounds of babies screaming outside the womb, their cries falling not on deaf ears, but on ears who try desperately to forget, years later.

I cannot imagine what it is like to be told your pregnancy is only tissue, only to find out one day that your baby might have been alive when it was taken out of the womb. To wonder if your child was crying in a metal tray.

As the truth comes out, it is not just the patients of Kermit Gosnell who may be dealing with regret, guilt and fear.

These women are our neighbors. They are in our churches. They may be us.

They may not have had anyone to help them. They may have been told this was their only choice, on threat of being kicked out of their homes by “loved” ones. They may have been too scared to ever tell anyone, carrying their shame and guilt for years.

And as the news continues to come out about this one clinic, women in our communities will, once again, be reminded of a painful past. Fears will rise once again–fears for the present and the future. Fears about eternity. Fears that they are damned because of something they did fifteen years ago.

My heart aches for these women. I ache for them to know God as Father. I ache for them to know Jesus as Brother and Savior and Friend. I ache for the Spirit to comfort them and tell them they are loved.

And so, as the news comes out, may we pray. Pray for women to know the freedom only the Good News can bring. The same gospel news that tells of hope for a self-righteous church girl like me gives hope to the woman who has had an abortion. Christ died because the Father wanted to share His love with us. There is enough love.

So please, pray with me. Pray for chains to be broken and prisoners of guilt and shame to be set free. Pray for Truth to prevail. Pray for the prevention of future pain. Pray for the end of abortion. Pray for revival.

And when you look outside at your neighbors, your co-workers, your fellow church-goers, know there is pain and regret in all of us.

And know the grace of God in the gospel is greater than all the pain and regret in the world.

So let us LOVE.

Fuel for the Body

'Letters (0108)' photo (c) 2012, Jason Dean - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Sunday after our church service my husband and I were talking to our friend Kyle about the importance and power of testimonies, and since then I’ve been thinking a lot on this topic.

When we have baptism services in our church body, each person being baptized first reads their testimony before the congregation. These services have become something I eagerly anticipate and I always go with tissues in hand. Standing in the waters of baptism, proclaiming the grace of God and His power to save has brought grown men to cry, so I of course have no chance at all. I cry at commercials. And even though I’ve seen Toy Story 3 twenty or thirty times, I still have to leave the room at the end so I don’t weep. But I digress.

Anyway, my pastor is always quick to point out that the same gospel power that frees the former drug-addicted stripper frees the former AWANA jewel-winning, legalistic teenager. And it’s breathtaking every time.

Sharing the story of how God “redeemed your life from the pit” is not just for the teller or for the unbeliever in the congregation–it’s also the fuel that encourages the church on its mission. When I hear how God used a college roommate or a neighbor or a parent to draw to Himself an unrepentant sinner, I am encouraged to go out and proclaim the good news. When we see the dots connected of how many people–maybe 1, maybe 30–shared the gospel with an unbeliever before they were drawn to repentance, I am reminded of God’s sovereignty and am therefore freed to proclaim without worrying about the results.

I love that one of the questions my husband asks when we have friends in our home is, “How did you become a Christian?” I imagine this was the first question the early church members asked one another. It’s so miraculous. How did God do it in your life?

So the purpose of this post is two-fold:

1. I think we should be asking friends and family members and strangers, “How did you become a Christian?” And then we can rejoice together, praising God for His grace. In turn, we can share our own stories, knowing the same Savior who died for my sins of pride and selfishness and self-righteousness, died for your sins as well.

2. Bringing it back to the wedding, I firmly believe this is a perfect opportunity to praise God by sharing your stories of how He saved you both. Whether it’s through a video, or through your pastor sharing it in his message during the ceremony, or through a message in your programs–think and pray about how you might proclaim His excellencies through sharing what He has done in your lives. This has multiple benefits: He will be praised, you will be grateful, unbelievers will hear the gospel and believers will be filled with encouragement to make disciples.

Telling Your Story/Telling God’s Story

One of my favorite aspects of this book-writing process has been meeting fellow believers around the world who have, by God’s grace, done some pretty great things with their weddings. I met Alyssa Poblete through Twitter and she and her husband, Chris, agreed to let me post this video here.

The video was shown at the reception after the speeches. It was made by Lauren Myering and the first time Chris and Alyssa saw it was at the wedding.

Here are Alyssa’s comments on the purpose of the video:

“Each one of us has a story that is part of God’s bigger story and Chris and I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight that for our guests. The wedding video was a tool that Chris and I used to communicate the story of God’s absolute sovereignty in our lives and the abundant grace he has shown us. Many of our guests were loved ones that we only get to see every few years. For many of them, we are not sure if they know Jesus.”

Thanks, Alyssa and Chris, for sharing this!