Tuesday, January 31, 2006

'Tis the season

"One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. . ." (Romans 14:5, 6).

It is the last day of January, over a month past Christmas. This post is for those who are questioning whether or not to celebrate the holiday next season. This is actually a response to Rand's question, but when I started to reply to it on his blog, I realized that my response was turning into an article of its own.

Why address this in January? First, anyone dissatisfied with the season will still have that sentiment fresh in their minds. Second, this will give you most of the year to be thinking and praying about how you and your family will handle this next season. Now, I happen to know Rand, his wife, and his three precious children personally, so I suppose I could have answered him privately. But I got the idea that if one person (or family) asks a question "out loud," then others are probably also asking it silently.

I felt free in a way I never felt before, this year, because we did not do one single thing to celebrate a pagan Roman holiday. This was the first year for us to completely treat the day like any other. Last year the only thing we did was fill stockings for the children and eat a big dinner. That was our way of saying one last good-bye to Christmas, and weaning the children away from it. Getting away from Christmas is our way of saying, "No more compromise with Catholicism or paganism." That in itself is worth the bother to us.

Right away I am sure that there are some who object to the very thought of Christmas being Catholic or pagan. Many Christians are of the opinion that the ungodly of this world stole Christmas from the Christians, but, in fact, it happened quite the other way around: Christians, or, more accurately, Catholics, stole Christmas from the pagans in an attempt to attract pagans to the faith. (You can take a look around and decide for yourself whether or not that actually worked, by and large. Compromise rarely, if ever, attracts the world to true Christianity in any lasting, saving way.)

That is all I intend to say on the subject of the origins of Christmas, or whether you should let such origins affect your decision to celebrate or not. The main purpose of this post is to address the question, "So we don't celebrate any more; now what?"

Here are a few ideas from personal experience and from friends.

What to do about relatives:

1. We don't go visiting over Christmas partly because my mom gets nervous about any of her loved ones travelling in winter, and partly because we find vacations more enjoyable in the summer. Both my and my husband's families live hundreds of miles away, so maybe we have an advantage over those whose families live close by. We have found, however, that most of them have more time and energy, and enjoy our visits more, in the summer when their schedules are not so hectic. Sometimes you can offer to come for New Year's instead. There may still be the "holiday spirit," but this tactic will show that you still want to be with the family even though you object to Christmas itself.

2. My parents usually offer us either a gift sent in the mail, or a check. This year I asked for a check to spend on magazine subscriptions and books. I told my parents that was how the money would be spent. If we had chosen the gift sent by mail, we would have been expected to give suggestions. In that case, I'd have listed some books we've been wanting. My dad LOVES to give books as presents, so this would not have been a problem at all. You could suggest things your children need, or things they've especially been wanting, or one thing the whole family can enjoy together.

Both my husband's parents are dead, but if they were still alive, they, too, would have offered money in place of presents.

What to do within your family, with your children:

1. A family we know who used to visit our church gives their children a certain amount of money to spend on Boxing Day sales. Other than that, they treat the actual day as no different from any other day. They homeschool if it's a week day, and do normal weekend activities if it's a Sat. or Sun.

(If you have conscientious, theological children, be careful about the Boxing Day sales. I mentioned to the family that I might go out early the day after Christmas and get some Christmas candy on sale. My 16-year-old son said, "Oh, yes. Go get the meat sacrificed to idols after it goes on sale.")

2. As mentioned earlier, we "weaned" our children off Christmas by gradually doing less each year. Two years ago, we did not bother getting out any decorations except a miniature ceramic snow scene and a few candles. Last year we didn't even do that, and the only gifts we gave were what would fit in the children's stockings. This past season we did nothing at all, making a clean break from the holiday completely.

3. Explain to your children why you quit. Even a 5-year-old is able to understand a little about the dangers of compromising with the world (talk about "little" sins committed to save ourselves from embarrassment, or to make ourselves more "popular"). The older the child, the more in depth you can get, perhaps even turning it into a full-blown Bible study done a little at a time during family devotions.

What to do with questioning friends:

1. A popular question during the Christmas season seems to be, "So, are you all ready for Christmas?" (Or, to the children, "What is Santa bringing you this year?") After Christmas, the question goes backward: "How was your Christmas?" (Or, to the children, "What did Santa bring you?") It is easy to say you don't believe in Santa. Harder is to say that you don't believe in celebrating the holiday at all, and that your children got nothing. I did not know how to handle these questions at all, so I asked someone else how they handled it.

Basically, my friend simply says, "Actually, we don't celebrate Christmas, but we had a good day. How was your holiday?" This is said in a pleasant, friendly way that takes a stand without being needlessly offensive.

Most of my children have been able to be gracious about their responses to people, since they don't seem to be as sensitive to popular opinion as I am.

What to do with Christian friends/relatives who see nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas:

1. Are they fully persuaded that what they are doing is to the glory of God? If so, you probably won't be able to change their minds by preaching to them. Instead, simply explain your course of action and your reasons for it, and let it go at that. And only do the explaining if the subject comes up on its own in normal conversation. Usually it's best to say only little bits at a time, unless they want to spend a whole conversation on the subject. Don't be defensive or offensive, just state your case simply and briefly, and go on to something else.

2. Have they given you gifts or sent cards? Receive them graciously in the spirit in which they were given, and say thank you. Enjoy the bits of news you get from the family letters typically sent this time of year. Pray for God's blessing on them.

When friends/relatives simply can't (or won't) understand:

1. Stand your ground graciously, humbly, but persistently, just as you did when your unsaved friends and relatives thought you were crazy for becoming a Christian in the first place. They will eventually get used to the idea and stop bugging you about it. Take heart. The first year is usually the hardest.

I am sure that there are plenty of "what if" questions that have not been answered here. In that case, PRAY. God will lead the heart that is truly yielded to Him. In fact, DO NOT act upon any of these suggestions without first praying for God's direction. And if you are a wife (this blog was meant primarily for wives and mothers), DO NOT do anything without your husband's full, whole-hearted approval (a grudging, get-the-wife-off-my-back okay does not count).

May God guide as you pray through this, and other situations that may arise through the next year.


Friday, January 27, 2006

The Family Library

"I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me" (Psalm 101:3).

"And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret" (Ephesians 5:11, 12).

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Philippians 4:8).

These three verses have been the standard by which we judge our children's reading material (and, indeed, our own). Books need to be profitable spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. Books with swearing, immorality, witchcraft or magic are definitely off our shelves. Books that put evildoers in a "good" light are also out.

All right, that was easy. After all, those things are blatantly anti-Scriptural. Now for the hard part. What if most of the book's content is good, but there's this one little section that is questionable? This dilemma was faced recently in connection with one of my favorite books from childhood. The whole book was good, I thought, except for one minor section, which I merely skimmed over. But wouldn't you know it, that was the ONE section of the entire book that one of my younger sons enjoyed the most! He thought it was hilarious as he retold it to the rest of us, wanting us to join in the laughter. At that point I realized that I needed to re-evaluate that book, and perhaps others on our shelves, as well.

Spiritually profitable books are those that tell a story or a biography in the context of accurate biblical truth and sound doctrine. We have had to be especially careful with biographies and historical fiction, since the doctrinal bias of the author colors the life of the person he/she is writing about. For example, I once read a fiction book that included the real Jonathan Edwards as one of the minor characters. In the story, he was called to the bedside of a dying girl and asked to pray with her. In the process, he gave the gospel to this girl. He basically led her through the standard "sinner's prayer" and pronounced her saved. Any one who has studied the life and writings of the real Jonathan Edwards will immediate recognize the error here. He would NEVER have dealt with a sinner this way! Dying or living, child or adult, that person would have been asked to examine their hearts in the light of Scripture, and encouraged to pray by themselves. He would have waited for the Lord to burden the individual about his/her sin, and left them alone to pray their own prayer before God alone.

Similar things have been written of John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, and others. Spurgeon, especially, would be greatly grieved to read the things he is now supposed to have believed. He fought tooth and nail against those things, and that fight so wore on him that it led to his death.

Mentally uplifting books are those which give accurate information without wicked, gory details. This is the hardest for me to judge. Since we homeschool, we have lots of resources on our shelves that give historic and scientific facts. Scientific resources aren't hard to deal with. We just keep evolution off the shelves, and the rest takes care of itself. Historic resources are harder. Here, again, the bias of the author will color the information given, whether it be a documentary, biography, or historical fiction. The most awful things will be presented in a favorable light, while anything having to do with true righteousness and godliness will be given a mere footnote at best, or criminalized at worst.

Once again, it is easy to keep away the blatantly bad. Harder is to sort through the material that looks good. Christian conservatism, especially in the United States, has done a lot more harm to our historical reference materials than many would like to admit. To read most of their histories, you'd think all the great men who are called the Founding Fathers of America were the most godly men you'd ever hope to meet. Were they? Absolutely not. Most were deists who denied the diety of Christ and believed God had no real influence in the modern world. The infamous "Jefferson Bible" is full of holes where Thomas Jefferson cut out everything he believed to be in error. Benjamin Franklin spoke of a "higher power" but never bowed his knee to the God of the Bible. Most of these men were idolatrous Masons.

Emotionally uplifting books are those which encourage good character qualities such as self-control. The average romance novel does nothing of the sort. Characters whose anger, hatred, selfishness, sibling strife, etc., are seen as normal behavior do not encourage good character in our children. Sorting out the bad, again, is easy. And difficult, again, is dealing with books from "Christian" authors and publishers. What about the "Christian" romance novel? Even the "best" of these appeal to the flesh and the lusts thereof. How are family relationships portrayed? Do brothers and sisters fight a lot? Do mothers support the fathers? Are wives submissive to husbands? Are dads seen as doofuses and laughed at? Do children look up to and respect their parents? To whom do the children go most often for advice--their parents, their peers, or some other trusted adult?

I added a new link to my sidebar: the Castleberry family. They are a homeschooling family who write and publish their own books. I have come to share their philosophy regarding books for the family, and recommend them to you.

Two other book-related links are listed. Grace and Truth Books distributes books written mostly from a sovereign grace perspective, but let the buyer beware: we have encountered a few questionable items from them. Nevertheless, most of their stuff is fantastic. I have almost decided to remove the other link for Christian Book Distributors. I've left it on only because they sell homeschool curriculum at discounted prices. A look at their most recent homeschool catalog, however, reveals that they are becoming more and more ecumenical in what they recommend and distribute. Buyer be doubly aware.

I have not mentioned videos, DVDs, cassettes, TV, newspapers, magazines, or radio, choosing to focus on books. Yet all the above applies to these as well.

God's grace to you as you look at your bookshelf,


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

If you're thinking of spamming my blog...

...be forewarned that you will be automatically deleted. Although I was not able to post here during the past eight months, I did keep tabs on the place through my e-mail. Some unsavory characters posted links to porn sites, while others used my blog to promote their own agendas and/or favorite websites. Rather than taking the time to sort good from bad, I have adopted the policy of deleting any and all posts containing links to other sites.

This is MY blog, and I will post the links I think are necessary.


Pearl of Grace

Why I haven't been here in a while

I must first apologize to anyone following my blog for not having kept up with it during the past 8 months. After getting back from my sister-in-law's funeral in May, life suddenly became extremely busy for our family.

For several years we had been considering buying our own home--a first for us since we have always rented. We had been looking around rather casually, not really getting too serious about it, since we really couldn't afford the average house-with-land-in-the-country that we needed for our large family. A few days after we got back from the funeral, I was surfing through our local real estate websites, and came across a fixer-upper on an acre of land offered for a very low price. The Lord seemed to go before us the whole way through the buying process, and in less than 6 weeks' time we went from not having any prospects on a house at all to first-time homeowners.

The next 3 months became a whirlwind of activity, with us scrambling to make this non-habitable house somewhat habitable before winter set in. With paying rent and mortgage, plus utilities at two homes, we were also feeling a severe financial crunch, so we were trying to hurry. Our rented home had become a sort-of mini farm by then, and we had a huge garden to harvest, chickens to put in the freezer, and rabbits to move. All this in addition to sorting and packing. The packing was tricky, since our new house is much smaller than our old one, and much of our stuff had to go into storage. We really don't have a lot of we-don't-use-it-every-day stuff, so it was hard to decide what to put in storage and what to leave out.

Somewhere in the middle of all that it was confirmed to us that we are now expecting our ninth child in March, adding midwife visits to our list of regular activities.

And then there was homeschool. We finally moved sometime in October, and I started then to look over the books we had and what we needed to order. My husband and I decided that this year we needed to use a more self-teaching curriculum because of all the upheaval in our lives, so I began ordering curriculum accordingly. We got four of our children started in November, and are only just this week getting our two oldest enrolled in a video correspondence high school. (They had some things to finish from the previous school year so that I could count it for transfer credit, hence the long wait.)

Even though we started some school in November, we got off to a pretty rocky start. For one thing, our budget would not allow us to order all the curriculum at once. For another thing, we were still trying to settle in, and still had some remodelling to do. My attention was divided between so many things, and I was not able to give my fullest to any of them.

By the end of December, I felt we were doing great. We were getting consistent with school work, and were adjusting to the new routine a new house brings. Then one morning late in December my second oldest son came to me complaining of "bumps" all over his head and "blisters" all over his chest and arms. Oh, joy! Chicken pox! Two weeks later, the other seven children got them all at the same time. And I got a really bad cold!

I think we're done with all that now, and I think we can get back to "normal"--whatever "normal" may be. We haven't really had a "normal" for months. My husband is in the midst of preparing for our annual church business meeting, and asked for my help in remembering the highlights of the last year for our church. I honestly could not help him much. Most of the year is pretty much a blur to me!

Well, that catches me up to the present. This has been a longer post than I'd like; the next ones will be shorter (and hopefully more spiritually uplifting!).

The Lord has given us much grace in all of this--our family actually seems closer now than before we bought this house.

Pearl of Grace