Thankful For Christmas
For years our family erected our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. I was determined to fully enjoy the celebration of thankfulness before I moved on to everything Christmas. I resented the over-commercialization of the holidays and longed to savor each moment every year. Last year, however, I had an epiphany. With the sudden realization that without Christ I’d have nothing to be thankful for, I decided Christmas should be observed in my home longer than the month dedicated to the holiday. So, in 2014, we put up our tree before Thanksgiving and left it up until mid-January.
Even then, the season seemed short. This year, we began our celebration on October 31st. As followers of Christ, we’ve never embraced the celebration of Halloween with its scary images and glorification of fear and darkness, so rather than ignore the day altogether, we celebrated Reformation Day and began our preparation for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
It’s an interesting irony that Thanksgiving falls in November, and Christmas follows the month after. We spend one month discussing our need to be grateful and encouraging our children to count their blessings, and the next month we’re making long wish lists, blowing our budgets on gifts, and falling prey to consumerism. Christians have chosen to celebrate Christ’s birthday in December, redeeming many of the pagan traditions such as Christmas trees, candy canes, and gift giving, but many of us still struggle to fully embrace the Christ in “Christmas.”
We remind our children that gift-giving symbolizes the ultimate gift that Christ gave through His birth, death, and resurrection, but it remains difficult to avoid focusing on the “getting.” Beautifully wrapped packages and surprise-filled stockings beckon our adoration. How can we move our gaze from self-centered gratification to Christ-centered service?
This Christmas season and beyond, my family and I plan to give back. Though we will have our family fun times enjoying lights, hayrides, Christmas carols, and gifts, we will also embrace the giving. In the past several months, I have been convicted by the passage in Matthew 25:31-46 which describes Judgment Day.
In this passage, Christ brings all nations before Him, separating the sheep from the goats, clearly distinguishing between them. He tells us the sheep are those who fed Him when He was hungry; gave Him drink when thirsty; clothed Him when naked; took care of Him when He was sick; visited Him when He was in prison. He clarifies His statement in verse 40: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Those who take care of the needy reap eternal reward—those who do not, reap eternal punishment. This is a sobering passage of Scripture—one that as Believers, we cannot ignore. While our salvation is a free gift, Christ expects us to give back. If you require further proof, consider Isaiah 58. God explains His disdain for religious fasts and admonishes His children to take action. He says in verse 10, “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Our own personal breakthroughs manifest as we serve others.
Many of us have the heart to serve but are overcome by daily demands. Some want to be involved in giving back to their communities but don’t know where to start. Those in Texas should check out Bridges to Life (Bridgestolife.org), a prison ministry that provides opportunities in several counties for volunteers to get involved. The ministry is unique in that their program focuses on bringing victims of crimes and criminals together, giving both the opportunity to empathize with the other. Small group interaction facilitates an atmosphere for repentance, restitution, reconciliation, and reformation. Graduates of the program are 50% less likely to return to prison than those not part of the program.
Program Director Connie Hilton was a victim of a horrific crime in 1990. She was at home with her husband when three men broke into their home, murdered her husband, raped and beat her, and left her for dead. “They made bad choices, but haven’t we all?” Connie said. “We are helping people make better choices. It’s rewarding to see the change in their thoughts and in their hearts. They become much less likely to hurt people again.”
Bobby, one of the volunteers from Northeast Texas, is passionate about the program. “If one inmate has a heart change, that’s one crime that won’t be committed, and that makes me sleep better at night. We need more volunteers to come to prison and stop crime before it gets out,” he said.
Along with homeless and prison ministry, consider helping orphanages and convalescent homes, honoring the Scripture which says: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
Those in the Dallas-Fort Worth area may be interested in volunteering with OurCalling, a ministry dedicated to discipling the unsheltered homeless who account for 80% of the homeless population in DFW. I spoke with the founder and operator of this ministry, Wayne Walker, regarding the mission of the organization. He believes in relationship and discipleship with the homeless because “assistance without accountability produces an avalanche.”
While many well-meaning individuals give money and goods directly to the homeless (especially during the Christmas season), this can end up ultimately being a negative effort in our attempt to help. These donations can be sold and the money used on a variety of vices—anything that will ease the pain in their souls. The answer is to donate time, money (or both) to a reputable organization that can ensure your resources are properly directed.
While end-of-year financial giving is beneficial to both the giver and receiver, donating your time is more valuable during the other eleven months of the year. December is the time when so many feel “obligated” to give back, and many organizations are overwhelmed by sudden interest. Your time will be better allocated if you give financially at Christmas and physically the rest of the year.
OurCalling answers the physical needs of the homeless, but focuses on their eternity, realizing that the intangible is far more important than the tangible. Some of their staff and volunteers were previously homeless—one gentleman was a meth manufacturer just four years ago. He was discipled through their program and now leads Bible studies, holds a full-time job, and lives in his own apartment.
The gospel of Christ is meant to be shared through relationships, and trust can only exist through time invested. For more information on how to get involved, visit their website at OurCalling.org, and download the OurCalling app. The app is a fabulous resource for helping the homeless in DFW and will soon also contain life-changing resources nationwide.
Reputable ministries can be located through research and referrals. Seek opportunities to give—not just financially, but physically. Financial contributions are imperative to keep charities and ministries going, but everyone needs to “get their hands dirty” from time to time. Giving our time and physical labor not only benefits these organizations but also changes us.
The Word tells us to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). This Christmas season, let us serve Christ by serving others—be a sheep, not a goat. There’s no better way to truly embrace the spirit of the season.
Other Ways to Help
(Reputable studies have shown that sponsoring a child through their adolescence makes a significant difference in the outcome of their lives.)
By Lisa Jenkins-Moore
Scripture quotations taken from the NIV.
To connect with Lisa or follow her blog, visit LisaJenkinsMoore.com