That Saint Nicholas was a Christmas Ninja seems to me almost a matter of record. As a church leader he would have known Jesus’ words from Matthew 6:
Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
If anyone practiced this stealthy directive, it was Saint Nicholas back around the year 300. As the Holy Wikipedia informs us:
In his most famous exploit, a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Even if they did not, unmarried maidens in those days would have been assumed as being a prostitute. Hearing of the girls' plight, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to save them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the house.
Who else is so covert? Ninja! So I declare Nicholas is a Christmas ninja, along with the wise men who sneakily evaded King Herod. Other Christmas ninja include the dad who sets up a model train set without succumbing to a full speed test, and to my mom, who baked a few acres of Christmas cookies but managed to hide them from teenage me, aka "the human silo". Unfortunately, being recognized as a “famous ninja” punctures the essential sneaky vibe, like Batman saying, "I'm Batman. But you can call me Bruce." If Nicholas aimed to be secretive in his giving, then he failed spectacularly. Not only was he unable to hide his own acts of kindness; "Santa Claus" subsequently was credited with millions of gifts. But clearly, he tried.
Have you tried as an individual to give secretly? Successful secret giving requires extraordinary finesse, especially in giving to acquaintances. Lying is not an option, though misdirection might be ok. "Me? Give you that? Oh, look over there, is that a flying reindeer?" Even when successfully anonymous—giving through the church helps----the Christmas ninja risks the poison of pride. That is one reason why Jesus said we should forget our own giving.
Giving that just throws money at problems can lead to more problems. The highest quality of giving involves not just dollars, but engages the giver's heart, soul, mind, and strength. "They gave in a way we did not expect: They first gave themselves to the Lord and to us. This is what God wants." Such top level giving can rarely be entirely secretive. Sometimes the Christmas ninja must work in the light.
Speaking of lights, I enjoy the pretty lights of Christmas time. Jesus suggests that for lights we should set ourselves on fire.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
"Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing," and "let your light shine before others" do not conflict. The purpose both of stealth giving and of visible giving is the same:! Bring gratitude to God!
So, give, but before giving, check your ninja tools. Gratitude to God? Check. Compassion? Check. Humility? Check. Discernment?
I can rarely if ever claim to have mastered discernment. Discernment depends upon prayer and practice.
Human kindness can influence people to appreciate God’s kindness. Not every seed of kindness will sprout immediately or even grow at all. But no sowing means no harvest.
I do feel uncomfortable when the seed grows out sideways instead of up, when my giving causes someone to say, “Oh, you’re a good person.” I feel clumsy and un-ninja-like. I feel as though I stumbled in front of a guy as he tried to take a picture of his girlfriend. There is danger in shushing applause, “Don’t thank me, thank God!” People stop being thankful!
The art of deflecting praise squarely to God instead of into the shrubbery is a ninja art. This subtle skill of deflection requires practice and pondering. For starters, don’t crush gratitude. However shortsightedly it begins, allow thankfulness room to grow. As a Christmas ninja, exploit the element of surprise: go the second mile, turn the other cheek. Give of your time. Give especially of the ears rather than of the mouth. Give cheerfully. Does someone compliment you? “Thanks, your words are encouraging,” awesomely gives them participation in what you are doing. Create a context of appreciating God, so by your example people in the same way thank God.These are among the ways of the Christmas ninja.
Many Christmas stories conclude vaguely, “Christmas is about giving.” This is mostly right.
Christmas is about giving —giving to people, yes, but originally and by all rights Christmas is about giving gratitude to God. Maybe recipients won't glorify God, but givers can give gratefully, remembering the King's words, "Anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me." and "Freely you have received, freely give."
Charlie Brown’s sister Sally is not entirely wrong in claiming, “Christmas is about getting, getting all you can get." Absolutely, Christmas is about getting--getting kindness from God:
Christ gave each one of us the special gift of grace, showing how generous he is. That is why it says in the Scriptures,
Do you aspire to be a Christmas Ninja? Be one with the Gift.
"The Lord God is my strength. He makes me like a deer that does not stumble, so I can walk on the steep mountains." - Habakkuk 3:19
"Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?" - Robert L. May
(To see a response to the following, rest your cursor over the question. If this doesn't work for you, responses also follow further below.)
1. He was elf-taught!
2. A Remind Deer
3. (shrug) I have no-eye deer!
4. A Remain Deer
5. Yep, that was Alex, and Deer the Great.
6. A Repeat-Often Deer
7. The first deer obviously is the Lead Deer.
8. The End Deer.
9. He uses a Proofread Deer.
10. A Bored Deer.
11. A see-deer tree.
12. Infield Deer and Outfield Deer
13. A kid deer
14. An intrude deer
15. A hoard deer
16. Old Deer
17. Sir, Command Deer, sir!
18. A Spend Deer, possibly a Lend Deer.
19. Juan. "Ay, fetch me my Juan Deer."
20.There are laws against Inside Deer Trading!
During our recent caroling at Powhatan Nursing Home, the residents and visitors endeered some of the above. Except for the people who does'd off. Where did I get this Bambi banter? From a Joke Buck. OK, that's all. I am fawnished.
As we complete the speed read of the Bible in 2014 via The Story, what most impressed you?
Responses certainly will vary. Where I learned most concerns Jeremiah, God's Biggest Loser.
If you had asked me about Jeremiah a year ago, I would have mumbled that he mainly warned his leaders of their stupid plans, and suffered for speaking truth to power.
In his vocal confrontations, Jeremiah did not invoke ten plagues or call down fire from the sky. He just spoke for God. When the Babylonian army was smashing Jerusalem's powerful ally Egypt, Jeremiah predicted that the Babylonians would conquer also Jerusalem. Big deal. Vegas oddsmakers would have called at least 5 to 1 favoring the Babylonians.
Jeremiah predicted the death of one of the recalcitrant Jewish leaders. Big deal. Given the siege and looming invasion, all the Jewish leaders were in jeopardy.
When God called Jeremiah to sacrifice a nice job as priest at probably around age seventeen, what did God promise? Did God say, Jeremiah, you will be able to turn your stick into a snake? No. Did God say, Jeremiah, you will lead my people to victory? No. God said, Jeremiah you will have a spiritual gift for landing in jail, being tortured, and experiencing a generation of disease, starvation, cannibalism, and violence. As the excruciatingly long story unfolds, Jeremiah didn't escape troubles. No parting the sea, no being fed by birds. Jeremiah simply survived troubles.
Did God give Jeremiah a robe of many colors? No, God told Jeremiah to make an unforgettable point about sin by wearing stinky underwear (Jeremiah 13). To accessorize—and underline a warning about impending slavery—God directed Jeremiah to wear an ox yoke (Jeremiah 27). Early on, God told Jeremiah, "You must not marry and have sons or daughters in this place. For... they would perish by sword and famine." (Jeremiah 16). God, that's not the way to recruit a young man.
Most appalling to me, for all Jeremiah's sacrifices, God did not give Jeremiah success. The leaders to whom Jeremiah shouted God's directives at best ignored Jeremiah and more often threw him in jail or down a well. Once (Jeremiah 36) when Jeremiah sent his warnings in writing, the king showed his contempt by burning each page as it was read.
No miracles. No respect. No girl. No success. What did God give Jeremiah for his troubles?
"Fire in my bones." Jeremiah received a calling to speak God's word. Indeed, God talked to Jeremiah and through Jeremiah. The presence of God in one's life is a terrible and wonderful thing.
God gave Jeremiah a few friends and supporters such as the scribe Baruch.
Though not without Jeremiah's frequent protest, Jeremiah's state of mind and words tracked God's point of view. In the end, the predicted devastation came. And came again. The city was leveled. Bodies lay unburied from violence, disease, and starvation. Friends were led as conquered slaves off to Babylon 500 miles away. Jeremiah himself was about to go into exile. But instead of getting to say, "told you so", at this dark moment God gave Jeremiah a message of hope. To convey that hope, instead of a PowerPoint presentation, Jeremiah bought Jerusalem real estate (Jeremiah 32:13). Against a stark landscape, Jeremiah claimed, We'll be back. God will help us rebuild.
Jeremiah's message of hope encouraged another fellow who spoke for God.
"During Darius’ first year as king, I, Daniel, was reading the Scriptures. I saw that the Lord told Jeremiah that Jerusalem would be empty ruins for seventy years.... While I was saying these things in my prayer to the Lord, my God, confessing my sins and the sins of the people of Israel and praying for God’s holy hill, Gabriel came to me ... and said to me, 'Daniel, I have come to give you wisdom and to help you understand.... A command will come to rebuild Jerusalem.'" (Daniel 9)
Without Jeremiah, would Daniel and his friends have had courage to stand up to peer pressure? Without Jeremiah, would Daniel have been a happy meal for lions? Without Jeremiah, would Daniel have had boldness to stand up to four world kings?
The faithfulness of Daniel and his friends likewise encouraged Ezra and Nehemiah to finally effect the rebuilding of Jerusalem, perhaps with some assistance from--gasp--Queen Esther (Nehemiah 2:6).
Reading through The Story at jet speed misses many details, but reveals many intriguing connections.
Jeremiah had faithfulness. On observing faithfulness people tend to dismiss it if it doesn't get prompt results. "Nice guy, but what a schmuck. What a loser." Yet faithfulness is a light all the more needed in darkness. Even if not immediately rewarded, later faithfulness can encourage and guide others who need hope.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.