Christianity

Why Is Santa so Jolly?

Why Is Santa so Jolly?

My wife asked if I could write a children’s story for our kids this Christmas. I came up with the following, titled "Why Is Santa so Jolly?" To Sawyer, Vivi, Mimi, and Amelie:

Christmas is such a wonderful time of year,

Filled with decorations, singing, and cheer.

But have you ever stopped and looked at all those twinkling lights,

And wondered why does Santa come in the night?

Why does he stick presents under a tree?

A Selfless Shepherd Snapping A Selfie

A Selfless Shepherd Snapping A Selfie

Abbott finished ushering the last of the sheep into the pen and snapped the door shut. With a satisfied smile, he threw his arm around the neck of one of his sheep. Pulling his smart phone out of his pocket, he extended his arm and snapped a couple of selfies. “Oh yeah…I’m b-a-a-a-a-d!” A sudden blurb of movement out of the corner of his eyes caught his attention. Phone dropping to his side, he squinted at the figure walking towards him, silhouetted against the backdrop of the blazing sun. It was Jesse’s son.

“Hey David, what’s up man?” Abbott called out with a cheerful smile.

“Hey Abbott...I need to ask you a favor.” David’s serious tone matched the concern streaked across his face.

“Uh...sure man. What’s up?” Abbott replied. Where is this going?

Cabin Fever

Cabin Fever

This month I had the amazing opportunity to embark on my first ever trip to the Smoky Mountains with my family– all planned within the week prior. It was one of those “It’s time to get away, let’s go do this,” moments. Plus it checked off a box on my bucket list to visit all the national parks in the United States (barely started). So I looked up cabin rentals on Google – found a solid one with American Patriot Getaways (highly recommend them, can’t praise them enough), booked it, and off we went.

The game plan was to break up the trip by spending the night in Birmingham on the way to Gatlinburg. This was about a 5 hour journey and approximately half way for us. Instead, we made it to Meridian, Mississippi – a whopping hour and a half away.

An Amazing Sight, an Even Better Message

An Amazing Sight, an Even Better Message

“Elek!” Abdiel whispered, shaking the dozing shepherd’s shoulder violently. Elek responded by snoring louder, a stream of drool pooling in his scraggly beard. “Elek!” Abdiel hissed louder, smacking Elek across the back of the head. “..mhama….what?” Elek sputtered. He sprung forwards, away from the oak tree he had been using as a backrest. His hand shot to the spot where Abdiel slapped him.

“What is that?” Abdiel demanded.

“What’s what?” Elek retorted, rubbing his head.

“That!”

Abdiel pointed to the cloaked figure passing through the sheep in the field, silhouetted by the backdrop of a full moon. Elek scrambled to his feet, gripping his rod. “Who goes there?” He declared into the night, spooking a couple of the nearby sheep.

The Lego Movie and Our Desire to Be "Special"

The Lego Movie and Our Desire to Be "Special"

Emmet Brickowski is just a regular guy. In fact, he’s so regular, that coworkers and neighbors struggle to piece together any distinguishing features to describe him: “Yeah, he’s kind of your average, normal, kind of guy. But you know, he’s not…he’s not like normal like us. No, he…he’s not that special.” (Barry, The Lego Movie)

“You know, he’s just sort of a…little bit of a…blank slate, I guess” (Larry the Barrista, The Lego Movie)

“We all have something that makes us something, and Emmet is…nothing.” (Randy, The Lego Movie)

But all that changes when Emmet stumbles across the “piece of resistance to the Kragle” (the top to a tube of Krazy Glue in which the z,y, and u have rubbed off). He is subsequently arrested under the tyrannous regime of President Business and is about to be melted when he is rescued by a mysterious girl named “Wyldstyle”. Emmet – utterly clueless to everything that is happening – is questioned by Wyldstyle:

Thanksgiving, a Trampoline, and a Contagious Spirit of Gratitude

Thanksgiving, a Trampoline, and a Contagious Spirit of Gratitude

This Thanksgiving, I can’t help but reflect on one of my favorite home videos – in which my son is jumping on the trampoline with his baby sister. The dialogue goes as follows: Sawyer: “Mommy, tank you for getting me a baby.”

Caroline: “Where do you think we got her?”

Sawyer (without a moment’s hesitation): “At the gwocery staw.”

Besides being insanely cute, there’s a few nuggets about the nature of thanksgiving buried in the exchange:

3 Ways That God Moves Amidst Suffering

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Special thanks and credit to my friend and mentor, Paul, for the insights on Job, the umbrella, and Isaiah 30. If trouble were raindrops, we'd live in a stormy world. Flick the channel to the news station and it doesn’t take but a minute to see that the world is steeped in suffering. Of course, you don’t need a newspaper or a television to convince you – simply living your life out will suffice.

All this begs the question: if God is good, why does suffering exist? There is a plethora of material on this subject, with varying levels of eloquence and insight. Though different stances exist, I identify well with C.S. Lewis:

“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can't. If a thing is free to be good it's also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” (C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity)[1]

So then, God does not cause evil – but He does permit it from morally culpable beings.

Second question: why does suffering occur to me?

Is it a direct consequence of something I’ve done wrong?

Well, maybe. If I rob a convenience store at gunpoint and now I’m serving a sentence in jail, the correlation is self-evident. However, this is not always the case. Take the book of Job:

"Then the Lord asked Satan, 'Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.'

Satan replied to the Lord, 'Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property…But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!'

'All right, you may test him,' the Lord said to Satan." (Job 1:8-12 NLT)

Two key things here. One, God is actually the force holding back Satan’s attacks – an umbrella against the rain drops of evil, if you will. Two, even though Job is “blameless”, God removes the protection anyway – and Satan unleashes a plethora of torment and suffering.

It is true that sometimes we step out from under the umbrella and bring rain upon ourselves (i.e. rob the convenience store). It is the proliferation of wickedness and the rebellious rejection of God that prompts His allowance for Assyria (followed by Babylon), to exact punishment on the wayward Israelites and bring them into exile in the Old Testament (although he did send prophet after prophet to warn them).

Other times, though, we seem to do nothing wrong, yet God collapses the umbrella and we find ourselves drenched. As it says:

“For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” (Matthew 5:45 NLT)

…why?

I’d like to share my understanding of three ways that God moves amidst suffering, hopefully providing a level of encouragement along the way, and perhaps whetting your appetite in prayerfully pursuing further understanding.

1. Teaching Opportunities

"Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say. “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. Then you will destroy all your silver idols and your precious gold images. You will throw them out like filthy rags, saying to them, “Good riddance!” Then the Lord will bless you with rain at planting time. There will be wonderful harvests and plenty of pastureland for your livestock." (Isaiah 30:20-23 NLT)

As I mentioned earlier, the Israelites brought about suffering upon themselves in this case with their idolatrous wandering away from God. Nevertheless, we see a good example here of God using the “adversity of food” and the “drink of suffering” to expose their idols for what they truly were – fake substitutes for a loving relationship with the one true God. When we elevate things of the world (money, fame, success, etc) above God in our lives, they become idols. We may not even be aware of it until it all comes crashing down. I have had an idol or two smashed in my life in such a manner.

Job was taught a lesson himself – one that brought down barriers towards having a greater understanding and a more intimate relationship with God.  John Piper describes it this way:

“I picture Job as a beaker of water. Job had been so worked upon by the grace of God that his life was pure. You could see right through the water. People looked at him and they saw a pure man. But there was a sediment of self-reliance and pride at the bottom. It wasn't huge and it wasn't damning, but it was there.

When God shook Job, the sediment colored the water, and you find Job saying some terrible things about God in this book. God knew that it was there, and he knew that in shaking this godly, blameless man there would arise some imperfection into his life, and that it would need to be purged. So the last thing [he says], therefore, [is] ‘I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’”[2]

2. Kingdom Advancement

"And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." (Romans 8:28 NLT)

In the second chapter of the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples at Pentecost, empowering them to miraculously speak the gospel to “devout men, from every nation under heaven”[3] in many different languages. Out of this, the Church is birthed. Newly converted Christians decide to stay in Jerusalem, their numbers increasing every day. The growth seems like a great, wonderful thing…until the stoning of Stephen – of which, Paul is at the forefront.

“Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8:1 NLT)

It’s easy to miss at first glance, but as an outcome of the persecution, there are now multi-national gospel speaking believers scattered in all different directions. It’s absolutely amazing how God used Paul to spread the gospel – both as an enemy before his conversion, and then as an advocate afterwards. God continues to work amongst persecution today.

On January 23, 1999, Australian missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his two sons, Philip and Timothy, were burnt to death by a gang of Hindu fundamentalists while sleeping in his station wagon outside a small village in Odisha, India, where he had been working among lepers and the poor. In response to the murderous tragedy, Graham’s wife Gladys stated in her affidavit, “It is far from my mind to punish the persons who were responsible for the death of my husband Graham and my two children. But it is my desire and hope that they would repent and would be reformed."[4]

Her shocking reaction, broadcasted to the nation, combined with her relentless resolve to stay in India and continue to work amongst leprosy patients until 2004, led to countless responses to the gospel. For her impact, Gladys was awarded the fourth highest civilian honor in India – the Padma Shree – in addition to the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice.

There is simply no limit to the redeeming nature of God in creating beauty from ashes. Joseph understood this when he declared to the brothers that had sold him into slavery:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” Genesis 50:20

3. Strengthening Souls

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4 NLT)

The concept is intuitive. We liberally apply clichés like “no pain, no gain” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – usually when pumping iron at the gym. However, trusting that our faith will somehow emerge stronger in the wake of tragedy is far more difficult – possibly impossible – without the supernatural strength of God to walk us through it.

There is another caveat to this, however. That is, our walking through suffering strengths the faith of others.

I’m currently watching a friend walk through a terminal cancer diagnosis with a level of grace and steadfast faith that drops my jaw to the floor. Wow, I think. If God can walk him through that, how much more can I rely on Him to help me through my petty “struggles”? I could not be more grateful for the encouragement that his walking testimony emanates.

I do not believe that God delights in suffering, nor do I hold Him accountable for its existence. Neither can I say, however, that like the apostle Paul, I have “learned in whatever state I am, to be content”[5] I get angry, I get frustrated, I get upset at God for hands that I am dealt. I am a work in progress, riding the rollercoaster of life, with my hopes set upon a future of perfection. In fact, I think I wrote this post as a reminder for myself more than for anyone else that may be reading it. Nevertheless, I hope you are encouraged that no matter what you may be going through, God is working – even if we don’t see it this side of heaven.

-  Nicolas C. Day

[1]https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/437424-god-created-things-which-had-free-will-that-means-creatures

[2]https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/how-should-i-read-the-book-of-job

[3] Acts 2:6

[4]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Staines

[5] Philippians 4:11

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Note: we are an affiliate of Christian Book Distributors and may earn a small commission for any purchases made through the above link

Jesus Wants to Hang Out with You in Heaven - He Said So Himself

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One of the many passages of Scripture that floors me when I read it is John 17:20-24. The verses are chalked full of more theological principles then I could possibly hope to address with my limited knowledge, but I would love to share how and why it speaks to me – chiefly that I can point to it as a historical moment in time that Jesus prayed for me. I find that most places throughout the Gospels, we absorb the words of Jesus through a sort of transplantation, taking what Jesus is speaking to His disciples and supplanting its applicability to ourselves – and rightly so. What I find neat in John 17, however, is the specificity with which Jesus calls out his future believers (of which I am one):

 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message." (John 17:20 NLT)

Alright, Jesus, you’ve got my attention.

So what is he praying for? That’s where it gets really interesting:

I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you…” (John 17:21 NLT)

He wants us all to be one. Sounds like a nice Hallmark card, but is it feasible? How, for instance, could LSU fans and Alabama fans possibly bridge the impassable ravine of football rivalry? This is accomplished not through our own power, but through the glory of Christ working within us:

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me." (John 17:22 NLT)

So, Jesus...what do you want this to look like?

"May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” (John 17:23 NLT)

Wow. Let that sink in. Jesus is calling us to experience harmonious perfection to the point that God’s infinite love will be self-evident to those that see it. Talk about a gut check.

Why does Jesus want this? Why does Jesus want us to make known to the world that he was sent so "that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life?"[1]  That’s what even more amazing about his next declaration:

"Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!” (John 17:24 NLT)

He wants this…because he wants to spend eternity sharing his glory with us in heaven.

Boom. Jesus wants to hang out with you in Heaven. It’s right there in writing. He said so himself!

 

- Nicolas C. Day

 

[1] John 3:16

 

 

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

Note: we are an affiliate of Christian Book Distributors and may earn a small commission for any purchases made through the above link

Refrigerator Art

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“Dad, wook come see what I made!” My son’s face lit up with enthusiasm as his little hand pulled me towards the refrigerator. “Show me!” I replied, his excitement transferring instantaneously in a bold denial of the laws of physics.

“Wook!” He turned to me, grinning from ear-to-ear, tiny finger outstretched towards the scribbled mess suspended by a magnet.

“Wow! It’s amazing!” I said, turning towards him as he beamed with pride. I looked back at the piece of paper. It looked as though a game of connect the dots had gone horribly, horribly wrong. “…What is it?”

“It’s a (fill in the blank)!”

Now, I consider myself a pretty abstract thinker. Whenever my toddlers decide to show off their art to me, however, I’m usually hard-pressed to identify even a slight resemblance to whatever they confidently claim to have drawn. Nevertheless, their masterpiece commands an undeniable, rightful place on the fridge that I wouldn’t trade for a Picasso.

…why?

It’s not for the quality of their drawings – although I fail to see the distinction between their work and some of the stuff hung up in museums:

square

 By Kazimir Malevich - (Transferred from en.wikipedia - was: en:Image:Black Square.jpg), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=507949

It’s a square... a square. What am I missing???

Anyway, my point here is that the picture itself is irrelevant. It’s my children’s’ inner intentions in which my heart delights.

I wonder, how much is this adoration a replicated quality of the Father in whose image we are created?

Perhaps we need look no further than “the man after God’s own heart” – King David.

At face value, David does not fit the image of piety. His dirty laundry list is abhorrent. Adulterer, murderer, family in shambles, host of concubines…all things we would not or should not want to replicate. Yet, despite his shortcomings, David possessed a deep longing to be in God’s presence; to be apart from it was tantamount to torment.

“Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight…

…Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.” (Psalm 51:1-4;10-12 NLT)

David fell hard. He repented harder.

Now I’m not saying what we do with our lives is irrelevant. David paid deeply for his sins. David’s son born to Bathsheba died. His son, Absalom, rebelled against him and slept with his concubines.[1]Nevertheless, it was his heart – not his sins – that defined him.

In the words of Thomas Merton, "the fact that I think I am following your will, does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you, does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing."[2]

I am well pleased just to see that desire in my children, regardless of what they bring me. In the same way, I’m convinced that God would rather we draw a stick figure and bring the scribbled mess to Him, then paint the Sistine Chapel by ourselves.

And you know what? I'm actually impressed by the scattered streaks generated by my children's toddler minds. Who knows? Maybe one of my kids will be the next Picasso after all!

 

- Nicolas C. Day

 

[1] 2 Samuel 12

[2] http://reflections.yale.edu/article/seize-day-vocation-calling-work/merton-prayer

 

 

 

 

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One Hope

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The statistics are sobering. On any given day, there are over 400,000 children in the foster care system in the United States.[1] What is far more sobering, is the realization that those statistics aren’t just numbers. Each one represents a human being that was subjected to such severe neglect and/or abuse that the state deemed it necessary to intervene and remove them from their home – the very place where a child is supposed to be nurtured and protected. With the lives of so many children collapsing into shattered pieces, I’m incredibly grateful that God has positioned me in a place to make a difference through One Hope Alliance – a 501(c)(3) geared towards creating life changing moments for kids in the Louisiana foster care system.

One of the main focus areas of One Hope is Royal Family Kids Camp - a Christian based camp for children ages 7-12 in foster care. I have had the incredible honor of volunteering at the camp for three years – one as a staff member, and two as a counselor. I never expected one week to change my life so radically.

For five days, we committed to investing Christ’s love with intentionality. We held birthday parties and gave gifts to every single camper – some of which never had their birthday celebrated in their entire lives.

By the end we found ourselves exhausted – emotionally and physically – but man, did we also have FUN! We’re talking about hours every day swimming in a pond, taking bike rides, playing games, building things at workshop, singing songs, watching plays about bible stories…the list goes on and on. Each day was jam-packed with activities and meaningful moments.

There were moments that made us laugh.

One of my favorite memories revolved around the obstacle course – a unique feature of the particular campground we used. The course was no joke – it was specifically set up for local Navy SEALs to train when on leave from base.

We were walking by the intimidating course on the way to the cabin when one of my two campers turned to me with wide eyes and asked, “Is that for the kids??”

My other camper – whom I counseled the year before – turned to him and said, “Naw, man. That’s for the otters!”

Seals...otters…close!

There were moments that made us cry.

Few things can knock a man to his knees quicker than a child looking him in the eyes to ask why their mom/dad doesn’t love them.

Then there were those special moments that reminded us exactly of why we were there.

Each day we took a moment to write letters to the campers that would be handed out at bedtime.  I didn’t think that it was that big of a deal – until one of the campers in our bunk got left out. Seeing the dejection in his face, a couple of us “slipped out to the mailroom to "see if anything had gotten lost.”

We quickly wrote a couple of letters and triumphantly barged back in to show him what we had “found.”  I still tear up when I see that face lighting up in my mind. I vowed at that moment to personally write a letter to each of the campers in my cabin every single day so that would not happen again.

At the end of the day, it’s the impact to the kids that comprises the value of the camp – and we hear about it all year long as foster parents and DCFS workers relay the children’s excitement and anticipation for the next year. One of our graduated campers told us how he couldn’t wait until he was old enough to be a counselor himself. There couldn’t be sweeter words to encourage us to continue partaking in God’s transformational work through camp.  However, to continue engaging in the work, we need your support.

We are seeking 1,000 volunteers to pledge $17 a month for five years to establish a new campground and expand the reach and impact of One Hope’s ministry focus. Whether you choose to make that commitment yourself, or decide instead to make a one-time tax-deductible donation, your funds will have a direct impact on converting that dream into reality.

We also need camp counselors for the Royal Family Kids camp in the Hammond region of Louisiana.

Many of us dream of going on exotic mission trips but lack the required funding. The reality is that there is a mission field full of hurting children that exists in our backyard – and it will cost you nothing but your time to serve there as a missionary through camp. This could be your chance to look a wounded kid in the eyes and say, “I’m going to do everything I can this week to make a difference in your life, to show you that no matter how badly you’ve been mistreated and what lies you’ve been told, that you do matter, that you are loved, and that God has great plans for you.”

Please prayerfully consider joining us on our mission of replacing hurt with hope – helping children redefine their image and change the overall trajectory of their life. The more donations we receive, the greater our influence to create a difference. The more counselors we have, the more hurting children will get to come to camp and experience the love of Christ.

At the end of the day, the truth boils down to this: All of us are broken. All of us are sinners in need a savior. All of us have “One Hope” – the hope through Jesus Christ.

"Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you." (James 1:27 NLT)

- Nicolas C. Day

[1] http://www.childrensrights.org/newsroom/fact-sheets/foster-care/

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