Guest Post: Loving Well During the Holiday Season

SONY DSCThis is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34-35)

A few years ago, my family moved into an older house in a well-established neighborhood. One of my favorite views is looking out over my kitchen sink, because my neighbor has a beautiful red oak standing majestically in her front yard. This time of year that tree is set ablaze with every shade of red and orange. The owner of the house is a precious lady, a widow. She and her late husband were the original builders of their home and have lived there ever since. You better believe she has some stories to tell! Over the weekend, I was trying to hastily load the kids into the van with the goal of whisking them off to another practice, event, or rehearsal. I looked across the street and saw my sweet neighbor, whose hair is the same color of her stately oak, by the way, slowly walking down her driveway to pick up some trash that had blown in her yard.

Something made me stop and watch her for a moment. God brought to my mind the contrast between the two of us; me in my haste and her in her slow, intentional, deliberate motions. I knew a very busy season was ahead of me and it made me stop and reflect on my actions. I was reminded that the Lord created me for good works and to love others. However, loving others would not come naturally and good works would not happen this season unless I was intentional and deliberate in my actions, just like my sweet neighbor. Here are some ideas that have come to mind on how I want to love well during the holidays.

  1. Open My Eyes– It might not be realistic to slow down during the Christmas season. Many of our jobs or family commitments simply lend themselves to a full calendar. However, I want to open my eyes to those around me. As I go, I want to love others. As I drive carpool, I can show kindness to my children. As I check out at the grocery store, I can encourage those working. As I am shopping, I can ask the clerk how her day has been. It is so easy to be task-oriented. However, I want to stay people oriented, so that as I accomplish my to-do list, I am also making an impact for Christ on those around me.
  2. Notice the Needs– We have an ongoing joke in our family that goes something like this- “It’s not lost until momma can’t find it.” Yes, some people in my family are more observant than others. However, that same principle can go for the needs around us as well. Christ, on numerous occasions, took notice of a need that everyone else had ignored. He stopped to help the blind man. He stopped to help the woman with an issue of blood. He stopped to minister to the family who had lost their daughter. As I go about my days, intentionally opening my eyes, I want pay attention to observe the needs around me. Is someone lonely? Is someone discouraged? Could someone use some extra groceries or a special gift just for them? We can minister to others so deeply when we reach out to meet their needs.
  3. Give Much Grace– We all want the Norman Rockwell Christmas with the perfect family gathering of laughter and well-behaved children. We want our homes to look like something out of a magazine. We want to create precious memories with our children that will last a lifetime. These are all good desires, but bad idols. In the blink of an eye, a honorable desire gets out of hand when we put it above the people in our lives and above the God who created it all. Life happens, and in our quest for perfection, the slightest inconvenience can lead to irritation. Therefore, to love well means to shower much grace on those around you, and while you are at it, give yourself much grace as well. Be quick to forgive, even the slightest irritation, for joy is like treasure this time of year. Do not exchange the Joy of the Season for the root of bitterness. God has filled our cup with grace overflowing simply by sending His son as a baby to this Earth. Delight in that grace and forgiveness and love others just as well.

Guest Post: What’s “Naughty or Nice” Got to Do with It?

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” (Eph 2:8)

I love this time of year! Love everything about it! If you read my last post, you will understand that my feelings toward the Christmas season are the exact opposite from my thoughts of that last day of October. I love the music, the smells, even the craziness of all the parties. Being a mommy at Christmas time is like being a tour guide at some magnificent destination. I get the privilege of guiding them to experience all the wonderful sights, sounds, smells, and activities of the season. Sometimes we focus on a favorite tradition my husband or I had growing up or sometimes we create our own new traditions. I enjoy the millions of questions that surface in the awestruck mind of a child. However, I have noticed a question arising more and more in the last few years, not necessarily with my own children, but with our culture as a whole. It has nothing to do with “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” It is the question of “Have you been good this year?”

Oh, I know. It’s just a saying. We’ve all said it without any real meaning behind it. However, through the marketing and merchandise around us, I believe this idea is creeping into our hearts and minds more and more.  Many of you know of a little elf that you can pretend watches your kids to make sure they are being good. Even in the Christian circles, merchandise has been created to encourage our kids to be good this time of year. If not, they will find switches and ashes in their stocking. Of course, many dismiss it as part of the make-believe game we play with our children at Christmas.

However, I would argue it is more dangerous than that. The danger comes from the fact that it preaches a different gospel. In the New Testament, Paul marveled that the church in Galatia was “turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). Even then, the people of Galatia were turning away from a gospel of grace to a different gospel of works. The Gospel of Christmas is that God loved us so much, He sent his only Son and all we have to do is believe in Him and He will grant us eternal life (John 3:16). Ephesians says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) The gift of Christ is a gift not based on our works. There is no naughty or nice list in Heaven where, if we have more checks on the nice side, we get the gift. The gift of Christ is given to us simply because God loves us and desires a relationship with us for His glory.

In light of this, I want to challenge myself to remove this false gospel from my vocabulary and most of all from my heart. How do I approach giving gifts this Christmas? Do I do it out of obligation? I truly desire my attitude of gift giving to be one that reflects the same attitude of God. I want to give out of an overflow of the incredible gift that God has already given to me. Most importantly, I want to love this Christmas in an unconditional way, expecting nothing in return, but pointing the object of my love back to my Savior who loved me so. What if my 4-year-old throws a fit that goes 10.0 on the Richter scale because he didn’t get the right color cup on Christmas morning? Am I going to be just as joyful about giving him gifts as I would be if he had been an angel? What about that family member who rubs you the wrong way? Will you buy her a present out of obligation or will you see it as a way to minister to her and show her the unconditional love that comes only from Christ? This Christmas, may we give our loved ones gifts not because they were nice to us, but because the greatest Gift-giver loved us so to give us Jesus.

As we talk with our children, let us make it absolutely clear that receiving gifts has nothing to do with their works, but has everything to do with celebrating the greatest Gift of all. None of us deserve the Gift of Christmas, “but God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,” (Ephesians 2:4) gave us the most wonderful gift of all.

Is the Virigin Birth Important?

Last week the Huffington Post included an article on their website by Rita Nakashima Brock on “The Importance of Mary’s Virginity.” The timing was certainly critical as we are fully absorbed in the Christmas season. The message of the article is biting as Dr. Brock attempts to discredit the traditional teaching of the virgin birth as found in Matthew 1. However, she does not hope to do so in order to purge the virgin birth from Christianity. In fact, she states to the contrary:

“Actually, it is quite possible as a Christian to believe Jesus had a biological father and believe the story of the virgin conception says something important. It all depends on what you think ‘virgin’ means.”

For Dr. Brock, Mary’s virginity has nothing to do with biology; instead, she writes:

“I think the most significant meaning of Mary’s virginity is Christian resistance to the oppression of the Roman Empire.”

So the question remains, is the virgin birth (in the traditional sense) really all that important? Let me suggest a few passing misinterpretations and obvious oversights from Dr. Brock’s article, then I’ll hit the heart of the matter.

First, Dr. Brock approaches the issue of the virgin birth with an all-encompassing feminist theology. She describes the ancient pater familias where the father ruled over the family (and by extension, in her words, the emperor served as the “ruling father of the empire”), and claims that Mary was not the typical virgin under that type of system. By being different from that system through the apparent lack of a father’s influence, Brock believes:

“We might describe the story of Mary as a powerful rejection of patriarchal family systems and imperial powers that oppress everyone subject to them.”

Her theology is akin to liberationist theology in the concept that Mary is liberating the woman from oppressive patriarchal rule. In doing so, she is essentially deifying Mary as the Messiah/Anointed One/Christ/Deliverer for oppressed individuals. Wrong? Certainly. Heresy? No doubt?

Second, she totally misses the boat on Joseph. Brock states:

“Mary’s husband Joseph obviously serves her, not the other way around.”

However, according to Matthew’s account, Joseph was about to divorce Mary. In essence, he would have exercised his “patriarchal” duty by kicking her to the curb of ancient society—an unwed mother. Yes, Joseph serves her, but not in the way that Dr. Brock perceives. Joseph is not a subject serving a master—he is a righteous man lovingly protecting his betrothed wife from shame and embarrassment.

Third, she totally makes up the argument about Mary’s father not being involved. Brock notes:

“Mary was definitely not a virgin of this type — her father plays no part in her story. She is independent of a father’s rule, and by implication, of the father-in-chief, the emperor.”

Scripture tells nothing of Mary’s father. Silence in Scripture is not a license to make up stories and turn Mary into a 21st century independent feminist Messiah.

Here are a few things Brock got right. Roman emperors did demand to be worshiped as gods. It is debatable when exactly that started. It is reported that Julius Caesar allowed himself to be worshiped and Augustus permitted it only outside Rome. Caligula demanded it. How did this play out in first century Judea? Who knows?!

She also gets right how the Catholic Church elevated Mary to the status of “Mother of God.” This is an unfortunate elevation in the history of the church because Mary herself is worshiped as a god in many Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. The iconography of the Middle Ages deifying Mary is certainly heretical.

So what is the point of the virgin birth? It is more than just a story that resonates with feminist-liberation theology. The virgin birth is an essential element of Christian theology. It goes back to the doctrine of original sin.[1] If you hold to a natural headship view of original sin, then the sin nature is passed down to each subsequent generation by procreation (and directly related to the father’s role in said procreation). The only way to bypass a sinful nature in man is to bypass the natural procreative process and have conception take place by means of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if Jesus was merely another child born to Mary, albeit is seemingly conceived with the help of a visitor to a temple prostitute, then Jesus was not free of a sin nature.[2] If Jesus was not free from sin—for all people born with a sin nature sin (Rom 5:12)—then we do not have a perfect Savior who can atone for our sins. He is just a good guy who had some interesting things to say and died way too young.

Dr. Brock got it wrong—dead wrong. The literal virgin birth is absolutely essential to Christianity. Without it, we are most to be pitied (1 Cor 15:19).

[1] For a discussion on the various views of original sin, see Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 648-56.

[2] Patterson describes it this way, “By the same token, the virgin conception of Jesus, the second Adam, is necessitated since if Jesus were born with a sinful nature, then He, too, would have been susceptible to sin. As the second Adam, with no sinful nature, He was able to confront temptation, triumph over the overtures of Satan, and remain a spotless, sinless sacrifice for Adam’s race.” Paige Patterson, “Total Depravity,” in Whosoever Will (edited by David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke; Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 37-38.