"For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want...For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members."
Romans 7:19, 22-23
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
Before I do any confession, let me be clear that I know this passage in Romans has a much bigger application than I will make today. The war between the new man and the power of sin is very serious and must be taken seriously. Each day that we wake up, we have an enemy seeking whom he may devour, and he does this through the power of sin. As John Owen said, "Be killing sin, or it will be killing you."
Both of these passages indicate opposites that are in conflict with each other. There are obviously opposites in the world that don't constantly battle...such as cold and hot, up and down, etc. However, the new man that concurs with the law of God is constantly at war with the one on the opposite side of the table...the power of sin. Also, the lordship of God and of money in one's life are not compatible. There is a war on, and no matter how much we sing of "peace on earth" at Christmas time, we are still at war. In fact, in another place, Jesus said He did not come to bring peace but a sword...a dividing sword (Mt. 10:34-36).
In this great war for the soul of man, we now introduce a personal battle...the battle at Christmas. It's not the battle "for" Christmas...this is not an entry to convince the world of the merits of saying "Merry Christmas" over "Happy Holidays". However, with the same, and even greater, intensity that many Christians battle for proper December semantics, I believe we ought to be battling for something greater...something that will affect our family's spiritual life, something that can testify to God's work in our lives, and something that would reveal how grace transforms a soul.
My battle happens in Target, shopping malls, Walgreen's (at the last minute), and countless other stores from the moment Thanksgiving turkey is digested until the morning of the 25th of December. It is a battle that puts what makes children smile against what makes children spiritually healthy...knowing that ultimately their spiritual health will lead to a greater smile. Do you know what it is yet?
It is buying Christmas gifts...this is the great battle at Christmas. You know that I am crazy about my children. I love seeing them happy. I love awing them with my ability to surprise on Christmas morning. I love buying great gifts that they want and won't break before Christmas breakfast is over. This is one part of me...the part that loves to please my children.
On the other side of the battle is my desire to see my kids love Jesus. I love hearing them ask if we can read the Bible together. I love when we're reading the Bible and they perk up with questions. I love seeing a spirit of giving come over them as they want to help mom bake bread for the whole neighborhood...or give away some of their toys to Goodwill (a.k.a.- the poor children). It is this part of me that would kill all materialism in my children...because they cannot serve God and money.
Now, the stage is set...the players are on the battlefield...the flags are raised. One army is chanting...they are chanting in my ear. "Daddy, make me happy with stuff." In addition, some spies from this army have been sent out to convince me that there's plenty of time to teach about materialism: "They're just kids," these spies whisper in my ear. "They're only going to grow up once...you don't want them to think poorly of you later, do you? They'll see what Billy's dad bought his kids, and they'll see what a deadbeat you are. Just skip the spiritual lesson this month."
Oh, how I can forget that this army has secret plans drawn up...plans that would take my children down the destructive path of materialism. This army intends to kill the freedom of my children by making them associate stuff with happiness, so that they rack up all kinds of debt later in the pursuit of happiness...or, they become work-a-holic, neglectful dads and moms who pursue career in the pursuit of stuff. The chant for happiness seems innocent enough, but it only leads to a trail of tears.
The other army has a simpler, and often quieter chant...much like a still small voice. "Daddy, make me like Jesus." This army also has plans, but they are different. There's still heartache on this road, but there is a Savior that is prepared to carry my children along this path. There are hands bloodied from the defeat of sin that do not extend amazing electronics or much-awaited toys, but instead, they extend salvation to my children. This Savior understands mocking...much more severe mocking than children's voices saying, "Your dad's cheap."
This second army...the army of holiness...calls out for me (i.e.- the new man) to defeat the power of sin that would feed my children's materialism. The power of sin would keep me short-sighted, wondering about my children's emotional welfare four days from now. The Spirit within has a longer, deeper, better vision for my children...one that cares about their spiritual welfare for all time.
So, friends...the battle rages on. Maybe it rages inside you as well. I want to encourage you...don't believe the lie of the enemy. Don't allow the power of sin to convince you that children opening brightly-colored packages, smiling, and hugging you neck is best. Buy your children gifts, but do not feed materialism. They will still smile and hug your neck. In the big picture, though, there is something far greater than the smile of a child as they open Christmas presents...it is the joy of their soul as they learn to live their lives serving God...not wealth.