Musings from childhood: The Santa scandal at Sunday School

I was in fifth or sixth grade. It was Sunday school and we were all in the main meeting room for group lesson time. The teacher that morning spoke of different things about Christmas that can have Christian symbolism. As a child many of his examples were pretty clever. He talked about Christmas wreaths and the ever popular candy canes that adults tell you is candy, but in reality is one giant peppermint that you can never really choke down as a child (More on that in another post).

His final example was the ever popular Santa Claus. He spoke of the origins of Santa Claus by talking about good old Saint Nick. He talked about all of the good he did for the poor. He told everything about this man’s story after solidifying in the minds of all of these children that this man he spoke of was in fact the one and only Santa Claus. I knew the story of Saint Nick. I knew how this story ended. So did my friend Jesse who sat next to me during this story.

Jesse leaned over to me and asked, “Do you believe in Santa Claus?” “No” I replied. Jesse responded as a young boy with clear understanding of the situation. “Neither do I, but I sure feel sorry for these kids.” We knew this teacher would not be foolish enough to tell the grueling end of Santa, but we saw where the ship was heading, and it was destined for the same fate as the Titanic.

The teacher explained how men did not like the things Nick/Santa was doing and threw him in jail. Then he just suddenly went on to another point, and left good old Santa in jail. It was too late. The children were to aware of the situation and this man was not about to get off that easy. One little curly haired boy raised his hand. The teacher stopped, looked at him, and let the beads of sweat fall down his forehead. I could have sworn the man was going to sweat blood. “Don’t do it!” I cried in my mind, but the words were already coming out of his mouth. “Yes, you had a question?” The young boy with curly hair and an innocent voice asked, “What happened to him after he was in jail?”

His was it. The end of childhoods. It would be as though a millions voices would cry out in agony, and would suddenly vanish from existence. “Well eventually he died. He was martyred for his beliefs. The outcry was grand and extreme. The titanic had hit the iceberg. “No!” cried some of the children. “Santa was murdered!” exclaimed another. Martyred certainly does sound a lot like murdered to a child. As the crowd finally hushed there was one child in the back whose despair of words haunt me to this day. “Santa Claus is dead?” Whatever remained of the lesson was over, and the children were dismissed to their individual classrooms. It was a day solidified in the memory of all children that day. It was the day Santa died. Many expected the headlines to be in the newspaper the next day.

It’s a silly story, but it is a true story. It begs a simple question. Why did this man make such a strong connection between Nick and Santa? Why did he essentially say that Santa was in jail? Could he not have seen the logical outcome? Perhaps some of you are now asking, what does this have anything to do with me?

We do this. We may not bring about the death of Santa for children, but we bring about death in ourselves when we go down a road that we know cannot lead to anywhere good. Choosing to sin rarely starts at the moment the opportunity to sin presents itself. It usually starts with choices that we make that allow that opportunity to present itself. We purposefully put ourselves in a situation that will lead to a destructive outcome. We go out of our way to sin.

David made this mistake when he had an affair with Bathsheba. The story starts out with saying that David as king was sitting on his roof during a time when he was supposed to be at war with his army. He chose to be in a place he was not supposed to be. Strangely enough he is on a rooftop. Why in the world is he on a rooftop? He is sitting up their checking out a married woman who is bathing naked. He chooses to keep staring. He makes another choice to get info on her. It was followed by another choice to invite her to his palace. This is followed by being in a situation he knew would lead to no good where he ends up sleeping with her and getting her pregnant. This leads to the plot to murder her husband to cover up all his mistakes.

I realize that is a very rapid and quick summary of the situation, but it makes my point. We choose to place ourselves in situations. The Santa story does not start with the mistake of saying Santa died. The first mistake was telling the story, and the details that were told. It leads to a dangerous situation. We do the same thing.

Its choices like getting on the computer when we know we are struggling with lust in that moment. You say you are trying to distract yourself, but it just makes things worse. It is the choice to be alone with that boyfriend or girlfriend after you already have trouble with knowing when to stop. It is that choice to be in the bar when you know you have trouble with drinking. It is the choice to be around those people who do drugs when you know you are susceptible to that. In the end the consequence is much worse than the death of Santa.

Sometimes we feel like we are constantly being tempted. Maybe we would not be tempted so much if we learned how to keep ourselves from being in situations where we are more susceptible to fall? Turn off the computer. Stay in groups with that significant other, or depending on the situation even call it off. Don’t go to the bars. Choose better friends. The decision to say no to temptation starts before the temptation ever hits. It starts with making choices that will lead you away from temptation rather than towards it. If more of us did that then we may live in a world were Santa died a little less often.

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Musings from childhood: Star Wars and finishing well

I’m a Star Wars fan. I always have been, and I always will be. I grew up loving the original films. Naturally when the news arrive that the prequel trilogy was being made I was ecstatic. I would pour myself over any information that was available for The Phantom Menace. The anticipation was exhilarating. After what seemed like ages of waiting the time had finally arrive to see this film that in my mind was set up to be everything I had ever dreamed. It would blow me away just as much as the other films had. This was an anticipation expected from fans everywhere. Theaters around the world were filled with fan with high hopes. They were also emptied by fans who were thoroughly disappointed.

The film was a disaster compared to George’s previous success. Everyone seemed to wonder what happened. The next film was even worse than the last one. The third only barely brought itself up back to an acceptable range. Why was this amazing director doing so poorly?

Some people believed his previous success was a random fluke. He only got lucky with his first films. Others thought he went senile. Others believe that battle of nostalgia amongst fans did not stand a chance with these new films. I do not think it was any of these. I believe what really happened is something that happens to people in their Spiritual walk far too often.

George Lucas lost sight of his vision. He had moments where you saw it. I believe as a director who was a true visionary. He told a tail of epic proportions. Somewhere down the line he just started to care about the wrong things. He used to care about the fans, but now openly insults them in interviews. He used to care about the story, but now is more obsessed with merchandising and special effects. This man was not the same one who set out on his own journey years ago.

We lose sight far of where we are going. A Christian often starts out very strong in their faith. They have a passion for God’s word. They want to be a zealous servant for Him. This passion dwindles though. Other things in life start to take up time and focus. We turn our attention towards other things. We end up finishing this journey halfheartedly. We do not finish well.

Lucas had a point in his career where he would go down as one of the greatest directors and storytellers out there. Now he is going down as a man who seemed to give up in the end. Someone who spit on the masterpiece he created. Is that what I want people to say about me with my life? Do I want to be known as a guy who had a ton of potential, but never pursued it? Do I want to be the guy who started off with an amazing spirit and passion for God, but then dwindled and fell off the path?

I want to be known as someone who ended well. Sure I had some bumpy parts in my journey. Things were not always perfect. I still want to be known as someone who ended his life with more passion for God than when he started. I want to be someone who impassions others even after he has left this earth. I want my life to be an example for others. I want to have done so much for God that my legacy for Him will only scratch the surface while I am living on this earth. I want to end well so that others can start well. I want to end well so others can see how it can be done. I want to end well because I want my life to consist of something that truly matters. I don’t want to be a one trick pony.

How do I do this? I must always keep my eyes fixed on Christ. I cannot let other distractions in this world keep me from remaining dedicated to him. I need to keep my eyes on the prize. I want to remain so focused on Him and accomplishing what He wants me to that when I leave this world it is because I have run out of things that He has for me to do. I just want to finish well.

Musings from childhood: Blind at the zoo

There is a 16 year age gap between my brother and I. I always looked up to him as a little kid so my excitement was pretty high when he and his wife took me to the zoo one day as a special outing. We all had a great time. There was a problem though. When you think about a zoo you think of all the various animals you see. Some of them hide in different places and almost seem to blend into their surroundings. This issue can be magnified when a young boy is in need of glasses, but is not yet aware of it. There was a large portion of things that I never saw at the zoo that day. The funny thing is that I was not upset about it. I was thrilled by what I did see which essentially amounted to a squirrel that was not even part of the zoo. I didn’t think I was missing out on anything. I didn’t know that there was something better.

We often go through life like this. We do not realize that life can be better than it actually is. We do not see it because we never realize what it is we are missing out on. So many of us are missing out in life. We think we can get the most out of life by living off of our personal pleasures. There is so much more to life than this.

“Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:10-12)

My sin keeps me from living a better life. It keeps me from living a life to the fullest. I often do not even realize what I am missing out on. Sin blinds me from what a better life could be. It convinces us that this is as good as it gets. Sin keeps us from craving more of what is good. Peter tells us that a life worth living is one where we break away from our sin to seek personal pleasures.

This is easier said than done though. We want to indulge in the desires of our flesh. We have convinced ourselves that giving in will give us the pleasure we crave. We fail to see that there is better. Sin in the moment keeps us from knowing that there is better out there.

Culture even thinks this is so backwards. Christianity is a list of rules to the world. It is a giant list of things you cannot do. They look at Christians and believe that we are held in captivity to our delusions. There are rules in Christianity, but there is also freedom. We never talk about the freedom in Christ enough. I’m not talking about the fake kind of freedom where people say we can do whatever we want because God loves us. I am talking about freedom from sin.

It is sin that holds us in real captivity, but we never notice it. The guy who indulges in his sin thinking that is the best life has to offer is like me when I thought a squirrel was the best the zoo had to offer. I was missing out on so much, but I never realized it until I got to experience it later on. How do we break out of the blindness of sin?

Look up and open your eyes. Read God’s word and allow it to pierce into your heart. Don’t be afraid for your sin to come into the light. You need to be willing to admit that your sin is what it is. That is so hard. I do not like to admit when I have let pride take hold of my heart. I think it would feel better to hold bitterness towards someone rather than give it up to God.

Listen to what Peter says. Do you want to live a life that is worth it? Then realize sin isn’t the answer. Sin is true captivity. Life is full of so much more than squirrels.

Musings from childhood: The sky is always falling.

Please note that this post was written before today. Circumstances just happen to be a very neat God coincidence.

There are plenty of things my dad would say to me growing up that I still remember. Phrases like, “Fortunes can change” or “A real man plays the cards he is already dealt.” There was one statement though that I have always found extra pertinent to my life. I no longer remember the topic of the discussion. The truth is that the remembrance of the topic was not important. The statement my father made was, “Ever since I can remember, the sky has been falling.”

We like to overreact at things, and in the process lose the big picture. I think of when Obama got elected to president, and all of the wild things that went through peoples heads over that. At the time I was a RA in college, and had to do a fair amount of “counseling” to help the students through this very traumatic time of life. I dealt with some who believed the end of the world was near since Obama was clearly the antichrist. I had a couple of people tell me they now planned to move to Japan since Obama was president. Everyone know Japan is the Christian hub of the world. I had one individual come into my room to announce that Obama was going to be sworn into office on the Koran rather than the Bible. When asked where he heard this he said it was just a fact he had already realized in his head since Obama was a Muslim and not a Christian. I proceeded to throw my shoe at him and tell him to come back when he was ready to stop making up facts.

The funny thing? I do not even like Obama, but in each of these situations I found myself shaking my head at the sheer lunacy of people’s reactions. In each of these situations I strived to point them all back to the one they should have been looking at all along. To those who desired to move I asked why it would do any good to leave what you believe to be darkness when you have a light that could pierce through it in Christ. To the antichrist nuts I asked of them to give any biblical reasoning at all for their claim. For the Koran enthusiast I had to bluntly explain how gossip isn’t fact, and thus unbiblical.

Ironically I was already writing this post the other day before the Supreme Court’s decision for healthcare. I’m not going to talk about that issue because that is not what this post is about. This post is about any issue that receives a reaction that entails “the sky is falling”. So often we look up, and can’t look past this perceived falling sky to see a God that is still in control. I’m jumping in now and calling foul. This simply is not healthy.

When people look at difficult times and ask me if this means we are getting closer to the rapture my response is usually the same; we are closer to it today than we were yesterday. That fact would have been true whether or not there was an election, a natural disaster, or some other calamity that the world faces. We see signs of the end times and put our focus on this falling sky. We’ve missed the point.

There is an episode of Charlie Brown where he loses a spelling B, and is mortified. He proceeds to stay home the next day. He makes the decision to never get out of his bed until Linus comes by to check in on him. Linus explains that Charlie Brown has reason to be bumbed out about how yesterday went, but that there was something that he seems to have failed to notice. The world did not end. Might as well keep living life to the fullest until it does.

Do I think we should ignore bad things that happen? No. Do I think we should ignore signs of the end times? Certainly not. They were mentioned in Scripture for a reason. My desire is simply that we remember what that reason was. The reason was not so that we could throw our hands up in the air and cry out about how the sky is falling. I believe the real reason was twofold. One was so that we may be reminded to turn towards God in the midst of strife and hardships. Sometimes we must be reminded that we are weak, and that only God has the strength to protect us. The other is to remind us that we only have so much time to make a difference on this earth. Why then would we waist our time doing worthless tasks?

I think this is why I like working with younger generations. I find that they have a significant difference in their reaction to various events that go on in our world. Rather than sit around and talk about how bad things are they want to answer a much more important question. What can we do to change things? Then, once they have the answer, they set out to do it. They do not bother to look up at the sky to discuss whether or not it is falling.

When we become focused on a falling sky we lose focus on God, and we lose focus on people. Christ was a beautiful example of this. When He was preparing to be crucified He saw the disaster that was coming before him. He knew the pain He was about to experience. He was aware that His sky was falling, but He did not lose focus of everything else. He prayed to God for another way, but was willing to move forward when there was no other way. He was willing to move forward because He did not lose focus of two crucial things.

He did not lose focus of people. We see this when He was hanging on the cross and prayed to God to forgive them for they did not know what they were doing. He hung on that cross because his focus on people was sharper than his focus of a falling sky that would mean a painful death.

He did not lose focus of what laid beyond that falling sky. He remembered the main focus. It was the focus that in the end God wins. What did this knowledge allow Christ do? It allowed him to take action in face of a falling sky. When everyone else ran and hid because the sky was falling, Christ moved forward because He knew what lay beyond it.

What is beyond any falling skies we face? A God who is still in control. What exactly did that phrase from my dad teach me? It taught me that the sky is always going to be falling. It should never change the way we live. If something happens tomorrow that changes the way you live, you were already living today wrong.

Musings from Childhood: A clean bedroom

Cleaning my room as a kid was always an interesting event. I had a tendency to cut corners wherever I could. I was ok as long as I could give the impression that my room was clean. However, the inspection from my dad would always manage to test my abilities. Hiding things under the bed was never an option. I would quickly learn that even my closet had to be properly organized.

It was almost a routine. I would go through my first wave of cleaning, and think that I could get away with it. I would tell my father that I finished cleaning my room. He then would ask me two very revealing questions. “Do you think it’s clean?”, I would routinely nod my head in the affirmative. My father would then go in for the crushing blow, “Would I think it’s clean?” This question inevitably made me pause. I would think back to any area in my bedroom where I hid items in a way that would look chaotic if they were found. My answer to this question every time was a simple walk back to my bedroom to properly clean my room.

This story of my childhood teaches me a good deal. Picture your life as my bedroom. We work hard to make sure the initial appearance is appealing. We do everything we can to fake others out. We get so good at faking people out that we inevitably trick ourselves into thinking we are pretty clean. You believe you are a pretty good person. We got to church, tithe, help out the poor, be kind to others, etc. We do everything right. When others look at us from the outside, we appear perfectly fine.

You and I both know that if people were to look under the bed or in the closet they would find something pretty different. More than likely they would find the core of what we really are. We work so hard to make the living area floor look so clean. We hide the junk in our lives in a dark corner of the room where it cannot be seen. We proclaim ourselves to be clean. God asks us a very revealing question. Would He think we are clean?

Set aside for a moment the fact that God loves you, and wants to be with you. We focus on that quality so much that we become blinded to the truth. The truth that God cares whether or not we are clean, and that the answer to that question really matters. The answer to that question for all of us is a resounding no.

Unfortunately things get even worse from here. We cannot go back and try again like we could as a kid cleaning our real rooms. We are unable to clean ourselves in a way that God would think we are clean. I think too often we fool ourselves on an issue of understanding why Jesus died for us. We often think there is something very good in us that compelled Jesus to die for us. The simple truth is that He died for us because there was something very wrong with us. We were unable to get ourselves clean.

The really good part to all of this is that God helps us get clean. He helps us in dealing with our sin. We need to start by taking it out of the closet though. We need to get rid of this fake clean. We need to realize that we cannot try hard enough in order to appear clean to God.

So what do we do now? Empty out the closet, and pull everything out from under the bed. It is time for the real cleaning to take place. This is not the kind of cleaning that involves storage. Things are going to have to get hauled out of your life. Moving baggage can be painful and sore, but the result is something that has real value. This is what my childhood has taught me; I grew tired of faking a clean room. Have you?

-Fletcher