Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christianeze: To Santa or Not To Santa…To Elf or Not To Elf?

I’ve had several couples and individuals ask me about Santa Claus and the increasingly-popular Elf on the Shelf. 

“Is it ok to teach our kids or let our kids believe that there is a Santa Claus?”

“Is it ok to let our kids believe in the magical powers and reporting agenda of ‘rights and wrongs’ done by the Elf on the Shelf?”

“Am I a horrible parent for telling my five-year-old that Santa is not real?”

The parents who I’ve talked to are asking those questions because they are trying their very best to make the most of Jesus Christ in all areas of life, family, and home. They are not content with status quo Christianity. They are concerned about their children’s spiritual upbringing. I know that these parents are doing their best to disciple and point their children to Christ in very consistent and creative ways throughout each day. So this cultural fascination, which naturally competes with Jesus’ significance and worship was a natural question. 

I wanted to first explain what we’ve tried to do—how it has worked and even worked when opportunity for failure has occurred! 

Due to the advancement in graphics, technology, and digital capabilities, young people in upcoming generations are bombarded, more than ever before, with images, characters, and seemingly real digital make-ups that are actually far from reality.  Cartoons used to look like cartoons. Now, characters on screens and devices seem very real. Add to that, young children have a hard time separating fictional, fairy tale stories with miraculous powers and events from the true, non-fictional, miraculous and powerful events in the Bible. Therefore, we wanted to try to keep from adding to their confusion by leading them in small, minute, even fun-intended half-truths. This stance was easy when all were young below the age of five. 

So, we decided to explain to them that Santa was a great, fun, but pretend story, that we go along with around Christmas time. So you can see that we were still going to enjoy the excitement and lore of these “pretend” traditions surrounding Santa, the North Pole, elves, and his reindeer. But at the same time, try to keep them in a category of pretend/fun separate from the true story and joy of the true focus of Christmas—Jesus, God in the flesh, who humbled Himself coming to be born as a baby for the purpose of eventually dying on the cross for all of humanities sins. 
Sankie enthralled..Owen suspicious...Jack no-way!

Knowing that children have beautiful imaginations, we knew they would always lean to “wanting to believe” in all these things—so in this way their little minds get to stretch and enjoy the fascination of the seasons without it becoming the most important thing—while at the same time being in the same category of pretend with other things. 

Some of you may be reading this thinking how horrible we are as parents in crushing their ideas of Santa. I'm ok with that. We're probably horrible parents in many ways. But we are trying to live in grace and allow the truth from Scripture to guide our attempts in parenting. To you I would say there is a whole group of people out there who, in trying to be very Godly and unstained from the world, see participating in Santa, Christmas trees, Halloween, Tooth Fairy, Easter bunnies, or anything like that is actually evil and a way of joining in defaming Jesus. And it becomes very interesting seeing how different people justify one folklore while vehemently hating another similar account as the most Satanic event in life! 

I’ve know people who judged, condemned, and separated themselves from people who participate in Halloween—but who give $20 bucks from the “Tooth Fairy” for each tooth. The thought of some semi-benevolent, leotard-wearing fairy, sneaking into my house, standing above my bed while we’re sleeping, with an unlimited amount of cash, who lives in some place with an unfathomable pile of human children’s teeth seems a little more concerning to me than putting on fun Disney costumes and collecting candy in our neighborhood! (Unless of course you hate Disney as well!) I could easily mess with their emotions on how much that "Tooth Fairy" money could have helped in missions instead of giving six-year-olds lumps of cash to spend on useless toys. But I wouldn't do that, right? So sometimes we justify our stances and condemn others without even realizing it. 

So if you were naive to those discussions—count yourself blessed and go on with life! 
There are some in those “theological circles” who actually begin to look down on and make judgments about people who participate in these things. That is part of my purpose in writing this blog. 
Again, if you were ignorant to these types of circles—count it pure joy! You are a great parent without knowing any of these things! 

But there are some of you, like us, who have seen parents on all points of the pendulum. From those who know nothing of Jesus and His purpose in coming and make Santa and their children the true god of the season—all the way over to those who are afraid that God is disgustingly frustrated with them because they accidentally wrapped a present (no more than three of course-cause that’s what Jesus got) in Santa paper. 
Some friends invited us over and look who showed up!

Because of that pendulum and because of the fact that many parents inside the church really are trying to keep Christ as the focal point for their children and their home—as well as allow their children to partake in the fun of the season, I wanted to write this for those in the middle of this tension and struggle. 
I believe that much of the life of following Christ keeps us in these places of tension and struggle. If you have no conscience about the realities between indifferent, cold hearts against Christ and hearts ablaze for the glory of this invisible Savior—it can be a dangerous thing. 

I want to divide this issue into three areas: First, the missional implications; second, the cultural realities; and third, the theological opportunities. 

{ Is this how far we’ve come—writing and reading blogs about the cultural, theological, and missional implications of Santa Claus and Elf on the Shelf? }

Like I stated earlier, there is a whole mass of people who had no idea that these conversations or concerns even existed. 
They had no idea that some people judge their parenting when they go all out with lights, trees, Santa and Elf stories. They have no idea that they are considered, by some, to be bad parents because they make up elaborate stories about Santa or the Elf. 

If you’ve been exposed to the churchy circles mentioned above—you need to remember that there is a whole lost world out there that doesn’t get all of our concerns over the little tedious things that Christians and churchy people get all uptight over. In fact, it angers them and adds to their frustration that churchy people are so judgmental and unwelcoming. 

It happens without Christians even knowing it. We were at the YMCA standing amongst several parents and a parent came up and loudly voiced their disdain and disgust for both the Elf on the Shelf and those horrible parents who let their kids believe in that “evil little elf” in their words. 
All eyes turned to me in confusion and astonishment by several parents (ones who didn’t know that people were against the Elf!) and I was at that moment caught between cultures. One churchy culture expected me to identify surely with their family’s stance and several mixed views who didn’t even know this was an option. 
I simply said, “Well, we just got ours in the mail and the boys love it!” 
Conversation over. 
That parent assumed because I, as a Pastor, would surely abstain as well. 
Other parents wondered if I was all weird and religiously uptight with rules they knew nothing about. 

We need to remember that some of our most strong stances on cultural subjects come across as outright weird. Especially if it is a personal preference with no Scriptural support behind it at all. That being said, there are people who do have very strong stances on why they will not do the Elf or let their children believe in Santa. If that is your stance this blog is not disagreeing with you. I see, agree with, and understand some of your concerns. We, however, have opted to go ahead and let them have fun with it, while knowing it is pretend. But I understand your reasoning and this does not mean that anyone with that stance is self-righteous or weird. But there are some who do make it weird. 

We need to learn to navigate the waters of Biblical living while loving the culture around us—even the worst of culture. That doesn’t mean we allow our children to be hurt or in danger in trying to embrace culture. That can go too far as well. But we need to have wisdom in living lives that point to the worthiness of Jesus without making Him weird.

We must remember that we are the church—the church isn’t a building. We represent Jesus and His Kingdom around a whole community of people who could care less about Him. Therefore, what we say in line at Walmart…in the bleachers at a game…in the seats at a performance…in our driveway with our neighbors…and online with everyone watching…can either exalt Jesus or make Him (and us) look really weird. 
There are many cultural issues where we as believers will look weird compared to our surrounding culture. But we need not criticize and condemn people who do not understand God’s grace and especially have no idea of the Christian culture’s sometimes added “rules” for being more accepted by God. This does damage to the gospel message. 


Let’s remember—they are going to run into other kids in other settings where they will have to explain the theological implications that their family has adopted, to the best of their elementary school or preschool ability, as to why they do not “believe” or participate with this fun. 

And some people may respond to that statement that at this day and age we have lost so much spiritual ground to the culture around us—that it would be good for their children to take a stand on these matters with kids their age. But remember, for most kids under ten or twelve years old, they are simply “parroting” what they’ve heard their parents say or have told them to say. Sure, you as the parents, may see the possible far-reaching implications of this “evil Elf,” (just kidding) but your children will just parrot what you tell them. 

For instance, “Mrs. Jones, I’m not allowed to talk about or believe in the Elf on the Shelf. Can you stop moving him around in our room when we’re gone. I’m going to start telling everyone that he’s fake and it’s you who is actually moving him around while we’re at lunch. My mom and dad told me to let you know.” 
You may have just set your child up to get beat down at recess. 

The other kids may know its pretend also—but they’re caught up in all the hype. 

It’s just like the one child in a class of 25 who is not allowed to wear a Halloween costume (Fall Festival, Harvest Fest, I’ve even heard people trying to really spiritualize and redeem it by calling it Reformation Day since its the same day Martin Luther posted his 95 Thesis). That poor kid doesn’t get to dress up nor collect all the candy that the others do “all in the name of the Lord.” You may think you’re preparing your child to “suffer for the gospel,” and truly like I stated earlier, they may get beat down! But is this the type of issues we’re supposed to making our stand on? 

Granted, there are going to be lifestyle issues and types of thinking that we’re supposed to guide our children’s thoughts through on a consistent basis—but what I’m afraid happens is that we’re building little legalists. We’re adding lists of rules way beyond the Scriptures to classify subject matter that is either “ok and approved by God” or “stuff bad people do.” Now, as an adult, it may not seem like we’re teaching that type of dichotomy, but in their frame of thinking it’s becoming crystalized—“good Christians do not _______ (fill in blank), but bad people do _____.” 

So, it is definitely your job as parents to raise your children in the ways of the Lord. 
It is definitely your choice to not participate in Santa, the Elf, or whatever else—the problem is when we do this with judgmental attitudes. People cross the line into sin when they begin to think they are more accepted by God because they have abstained from these things. 

The Bible makes it clear that each individual parent will give an account as to whether they taught and led their children in the ways of the Lord or whether they allowed their children to try to “find their own way” in life. The latter philosophy is trendy—especially in our day and age. But the former is God’s desire and design for all families. Parents are to be the spiritual leaders of their children who teach them and disciple them in learning to treasure and love Christ. 

The idea of a jolly, quasi-benevolent, deliverer of free gifts, based on your good and bad deeds done throughout the year from an ever-present judge can very easily be guided into discussions about God and grace. 
This is where it has worked for us in being honest about the “pretend” aspect of Santa and the Elf on the Shelf. 
We very easily shift the many, many conversations towards the reality of God’s omnipresence and omniscience. I use those words to intimidate them and prove to them I’m bigger. They simply mean God is present at all times in all places and God sees and knows all things that occur in the past, present, and future while at the same time being free from time and space as we know it. We don’t go into all that. But it is a great way of developing their understanding of God’s authority over all things to understand that He truly does see all their actions and even knows their thoughts before they express them. 
God is also a righteous judge. His standard is perfection. They need to know that we are to strive after and try to live according to God’s revealed will from the Bible—but that we will never achieve this on our own or during this lifetime. We will always fall short of glorifying God completely because of our continued struggle with sin in our hearts. This points to our ongoing, perpetual need for Jesus Christ and what He accomplished on the cross for us and in our place. 
God is omni-benevolent—meaning “all-loving” and “all-good,” all the time. Even in His acts of judgment and wrath is is led by love in a way we may not understand. Add to that, that God’s benevolence and love toward us is NOT based on how good or bad we’ve been this year. It is based on His own love and grace. 
God pours out grace to us—unearned favor that we could never deserve nor earn. Therefore, it is not based on how good or bad we’ve been. It means that even though we deserve wrath—God gives us a free grace gift of salvation. 
God also pours out mercy on us. Where grace is something we get for free that we didn’t deserve—mercy is not getting what we do deserve. We deserve wrath—but God shows mercy to us holding back what we actually deserve. 

So, there are innumerable opportunities to bring in the truth about God when we’re discussing Santa Claus or their “naughty and nice” behaviors or their desire to receive, receive, receive! In all of these things is beautiful opportunity to show how Christ is glorious and worthy of living for in all things! 

Even though we have had many conversations about the “pretend” aspect of Santa and the Elf, our boys still love, love, love the idea of Santa and this troublesome Elf! 

What if your stance looks like it's failing? 
They want to “believe” so bad. That’s not evil. I’m not concerned about that as a parent. I don’t worry at this age that they seem to have more desire to please Santa (for this two weeks) than be obedient to Christ. It is my job to know their hearts and shepherd those hearts continually--not just the two weeks building up to Christmas. The other night, one of them even went over to the Elf (which we’ve had for five days now as a gift) and kind of asked or prayed to the Elf to give him certain gifts. 
We simply began to ask these questions in a fun and engaging way:
 What was it you were just doing? Was that similar to praying to God? Can that Elf really answer prayers or get you what you want? Who is actually the only One who has the power to hear and answer our prayers? When we pray do we just ask selfish requests for ourself or for others? What is the focal point of why we celebrate Christmas? Why do we put up the tree? Why do we have a blast with Santa and Elf fun? It all points us to the season when Jesus came to earth to save us from our sins, reconcile us to God, and give us eternal life to live with God forever! 
By the third question they were all laughing and joining in with the fun. They even begin to mock the silliness of praying to or expecting these fairy tale objects to be able to do anything for them. 

So the separation between the One true God and a fun, pretend, fairy tale can coexist! 

Caution for all stances. Grace is needed. 

We go to heaven based off of what Jesus accomplished on the cross—namely substituting His perfect obedience in not breaking God’s law in His life and the sacrificial atonement in our place bringing forgiveness of sins, reconciliation to God, and adoption into God’s family. 

We do not go to heaven because we made good decisions in our abstinence from Santa Claus. 
We do not go to heaven because we made good decisions in our abstinence from Elf on the Shelf. 

We do not go to heaven because we made the decision to partake in pretending about Santa Claus. 
We do not go to heave because we made the decision to partake in pretending about Elf on the Shelf. 

It may seem ridiculous to have to type or read those last four sentences, but there are some hard-line stances being taken by some folks on how necessarily evil it is to participate or how evil it is to make your kids miss out on these elements. 

Wherever you’re at on this issue—please know that you need to have grace and be loving with people in their own stance. People loudly boast of their stance without realizing how it comes across to those who have a different stance. I am writing mainly to those inside churches who may not realize how judgmental their little preferences may come across to others. Sometimes people feel as if you think they are stupid and pagan to have a different stance than they have. All of this does two things most clearly: it takes away from an inviting environment of love and it takes away from worship of Jesus Christ to be hijacked into personal preferences. 

Sankie P. Lynch

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