Last week I wrote about my good advice to spend time each morning reading my Bible instead of getting online on my computer first thing and checking email, Facebook, and blog comments. I have been sticking to that plan, following that advice, every morning since that first one when my computer wouldn’t go to any of those sites. It has been wonderful! I finally finished Ezekiel and have moved on to other books of the Bible.
Yesterday morning I read chapters 5 – 8 of Zechariah. I am really enjoying this minor prophet so far, but in many respect it is still not an easy read. (Much better at 6:30 a.m. with a cup of coffee than at 10:30 p.m. all bleary eyed and ready for bed).
One passage in particular challenged me to think about whether I am doing all I can to please God, or whether I am more concerned about my own comfort.
Zechariah 7:4-12 (NLT)
4 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies sent me this message in reply: 5 “Say to all your people and your priests, ‘During these seventy years of exile, when you fasted and mourned in the summer and in early autumn, was it really for me that you were fasting? 6And even now in your holy festivals, aren’t you eating and drinking just to please yourselves?
7 Isn’t this the same message the Lord proclaimed through the prophets in years past when Jerusalem and the towns of Judah were bustling with people, and the Negev and the foothills of Judah were well populated?'”
8 Then this message came to Zechariah from the Lord: 9 “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. 10 Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.
11 “Your ancestors refused to listen to this message. They stubbornly turned away and put their fingers in their ears to keep from hearing. 12 They made their hearts as hard as stone, so they could not hear the instructions or the messages that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies had sent them by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. That is why the Lord of Heaven’s Armies was so angry with them.
As I read this, especially verse 6 (in bold), I wondered if we haven’t done with Christmas what the Jews did with their holy festivals while they were in exile. We focus so much on partying, on eating and drinking together, and on exchanging gifts, during this season. Do we do this just to please ourselves? Or are we doing it to glorify God?
The World Vision gift catalog has been on my mind a lot this Christmas season, and I’ve pondered giving to those in real need instead of to those who aren’t. If you aren’t familiar with World Vision or their gift catalog, let me explain what it is all about. Through the catalog, you can purchase a goat or chickens or a well for water or a yurt or any number of things for those in need around the world. And you can purchase these things in the name of a loved one and receive a gift card or small gift item that you can give to your loved one letting them know what you have given in their honor. I’ve actually done this before for my three college roommates one year, and they loved it!
Thank about it. How many people are on your Christmas list who really don’t need that sweater or tie or bottle of perfume or kitchen gadget or book that you were thinking about getting them? Wouldn’t they be better off with the warm feeling they would get from knowing they had helped someone in need? And wouldn’t that please God more because you would be showing mercy and kindness to widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor.
Imagine if we all replaced just one of the gifts we were going to buy for someone who didn’t need anything this Christmas and bought a goat for a poor family in Guatemala instead? Just one. Not your whole Christmas list, but just one gift.