The other day I was driving down the highway with the 24-hour Christmas station putting out a steady menu of nostalgic old favorites so familiar that I hum or sing-along without really paying attention. Every now and then a new Christmas tune would be thrown in. My unfamiliarity would make me listen. One such tune that's been out for about six years is Ashanti's "Hey Santa." I focused on the song's lyrics and couldn't help but wonder, "Wow! Is this what we've become?"
Ashanti voices the collective request of a culture wrapped up in a Christmas built around wonder, joy, and hope placed in salvation by stuff, rather than salvation from sin. . . . including the sin of belief in salvation by stuff. She sings, "Hey Santa, can you bring me something good?. . . Hey Santa, can you bring me something nice? . . . something new? . . . Like a diamond bracelet or a diamond ring? How about a shiny new, baby blue convertible? . . . Hey Santa, can you bring me everything?"
In Acts 20:35 the Apostle Paul quotes the Savior whose birth we celebrate in a couple of days: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." I heard that lesson from parents, pastors, Sunday School teachers, and others while I was growing up. But I wonder if I got it. Do you feel the tug of war this time of year?
A couple of years ago a large local family taught me a wonderful lesson about Christmas. For a good many years they had been supporting the work of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding financially. Around this time of year, we always step up our fundraising efforts so that we can begin the next year on a strong note. We received a letter from the family informing us that instead of giving gifts to each other, they would pool the cash they normally spent on those gifts and send it all to CPYU. Enclosed was a check that just about took my breath away. What they had done was humbling. Sadly, it was also unusual and out-of-the-box in today's world. They had challenged me deeply and blessed CPYU greatly.
I've been thinking about all this over the last few weeks as we're in the midst of our end-of-the-year fund-raising initiative here at CPYU. The economy has been difficult on us all - individuals, families, and non-profit ministries alike. Here at CPYU,we're praying that we end on a strong note so that we can plow ahead as the new year begins.
The generosity of this family has combined with the call of Jesus and our current economy to spark a challenge I'd like to pass on to you. While you most likely have most or your gift-shopping completed, it's not too late to prayerfully consider a sacrificial gift to the Lord's work in your local community above and beyond your giving to your church. Hey, we're always excited to receive your support here at CPYU and I know that many of you who follow my blog are already supporters. But can I encourage you to also consider a gift to someone on this list I came up with the other day? Here are some possibilities to think about. . .
Your local Rescue Mission - These organizations provide physical, emotional, and spiritual support to the forgotten members of your community who so easily fall through the cracks.
The Salvation Army - I can't say enough about this organization. They are the Lord's hands and feet to so many people in so many different ways. You've been passing the bell ringers for weeks now. Why not make one last trip to the store for the sole purpose of sticking a sizable gift into the slot?
Your local Youth Center - We've got them all over the place here in Central Pennsylvania. I am continually blown away by the committed adults who are giving their lives to see that kids who have experienced extreme brokenness and don't normally darken the door of the church have the opportunity hear the Gospel,receive love, and find a place to belong.
A Seminary - Sometimes we forget how needy students and their institutions really are. The fingerprint of the Bible-believing seminary I attended is all over everything we do here at CPYU. Those seminaries that equip students to know and teach the truth without compromise are worthy of our support. . . particularly in today's culture.
A Child Relief Organization - Countless children around the globe are surviving and thriving thanks to the sponsorship of individuals like you and me who sponsor kids through organizations like Compassion International, World Vision, Food for the Hungry, etc. Lisa and I have seen firsthand how child sponsorship through Compassion International transforms individuals, families, and communities. This is something every individual, family, and church youth group should be doing.
Missionaries - ask your church about the missionaries your congregation supports. Find out who among them has the greatest needs. Because of the current economy, many missionaries are very, very close to having to return home due to lack of support. It doesn't need to be that way.
A local Crisis Pregnancy Center - I can't say enough about these organizations. These are usually staffed by a group of very dedicated Christian women who minister deeply to other women and girls who find themselves in great need.
Your Church's Youth Ministry - I know very, very few youth pastors and youth ministry volunteers who couldn't use more in the way of financial resources for their ministry. Budgets are being cut left and right. Again, it doesn't have to be that way.
A local Christian Counseling Center - I have served on the board of one of these organizations locally. If you don't use their services, you most likely don't know how valuable they are. Out of sight, out of mind. But the waiting lists are very, very long. The services are increasingly needed in the midst of our broken and hurting world. Most are over-extended and need more help.
A local Women's Shelter - Again, these ministries are staffed by highly dedicated people who minister to very needy people. . . and they do so with very little in the way of resources. Domestic violence and sexual abuse are on the rise. Sadly, this is what some might call a "growth industry." They need our help.
The other day a friend at Compassion International sent me a copy of an unusual prayer book entitled God Is No Stranger. The book is filled with the prayers of Haitian believers. The prayers have been written and prayed by very, very poor people who are very, very rich in the Lord. Perhaps this little prayer I found in the book can offset the skewed Christmas message of "Hey Santa":
You are our garage.
You give us cool shade.
Make us last longer for service.
Only then do we have value.