reflections of mine others might find useful

Category: Christian Perspective (Page 1 of 13)

Someday, I’ll likely discover that… I killed myself.

 

My guess is that someday when I arrive in heaven, I’ll find out that I’m there because I killed myself.

 

  • Perhaps I will discover I died by my own poor judgment, not looking both ways before walking out into an intersection.
  • Or perhaps I’ll find that I should have paid attention to that noisy wheel bearing, which made my front wheel fall off, which made me lose control on the highway, which caused my fatal head-on collision with the semi.
  • Maybe I’ll learn my death was caused by the Roundup I sprayed upwind on that one blustery day, which entered my lungs and started the cancer that would kill me.
  • Perhaps I will have died from keeping my cell phone too close to my bed at night, slowly frying my brain cells.
  • Maybe my undoing will have been caused by the taurine (whatever that is) in my Rockstar energy drink.  Come to think of it, there are a lot of things I ingest without a clue about what they are–any one of them could have been my undoing.
  • Maybe it will have been due to the butter I used to eat, then the margarine I replaced it with, then the butter I went back to.
  • Perhaps the thing that will have killed me is some adventurous thing I ate overseas:  the silkworms, the cow udders, the goose intestines, the 1000-year-old egg.  None of those had nutrition labels, which I would have likely disregarded anyway.
  • Perhaps, in my obsession with fitness, I’ll learn that I ran a few too many miles per week, which actually weakened my heart instead of strengthening it.
  • Possibly I’ll learn my demise was caused by one of the many vaccines I took in my lifetime, not knowing much (or caring much, quite frankly) about any of their long-term effects.
  • Maybe I’ll find I died from a currently-unknown long-term side-effect of the Covid virus that I wasn’t careful to avoid contracting.
  • Perhaps it’ll be revealed that I died because I believed and followed the wrong medical advice from those who I thought seemed credible at the time.

Of course, it’s entirely possible I’ll end up in heaven due to no fault of my own: I was murdered by a robber, hit by a drunk driver, or killed by a tornado.  But if I had to bet, I’ll bet it’s more likely that I will have contributed to my own death.  And I’m actually ok with that.

Why am I reflecting on all of this?

Because many people today seem consumed with doing everything possible to not kill themselves.  They seem bent on eliminating all health risks, trying to live as long as humanly possible.  This would be an understandable and appropriate view for those who do not believe in the afterlife.  After all, if this life is all there is, then maximizing one’s number of days makes total sense.  Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.  Now there’s a consistent worldview!

But the Christian belief that we are currently living in The Shadowlands–as C.S. Lewis phrased it–and that paradise is our eternal destination means we mustn’t put an inordinate amount of focus on health, life preservation, and life extension.

Am I saying we should throw caution to the wind and live reckless lives?  Not necessarily.  But I am saying that those of us who hope in the afterlife should only take reasonable safety precautions–not absolute safety precautions.  We could spend our entire life fearfully consumed with avoiding every health risk, making safe choices, and joylessly striving to prolong our days, all the while potentially missing what we’re actually here for.  That would be an inconsistent worldview!

Christians like me who are convinced that heaven will be a far better place than earth should spend more energy dreaming of that life rather than holding-on-for-dear-life to this one.  The Apostle Paul said it well, “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (Philippians 1:22-23).  Paul wasn’t suicidal, but he kept a proper perspective on life and death.  For the believer, death is a promotion, not the end.

This eternal perspective allows us to worry little about life extension.  In fact, it goes the other way and even enables us to become risk-takers since the self-preservation of our mortal bodies is no longer our ultimate goal.   I have history on my side here;  we see the Christians’ disregard for health and safety throughout church history.  Look at the physical sufferings of the apostles. Look at generations of martyrs who chose to surrender their bodies to death rather than recant their faith.  Do we accuse them of self-harm or commend them for their strong faith?  Faith.

Consider the physically reckless way the early church cared for those with communicable diseases.  This morning I was reading how the early Christians in Carthage responded to the great plague of 251 AD.  “Cyprian urged them to nurse sick people and touch them.  He reminded them that they could act in this mortally dangerous way because their faith in Christ, which gave them hope for everlasting life, had healed their fear of death.”  [The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, 2016, by Andrew Kreieder, p. 111].

Someday I may learn that I killed myself.  It will likely have been due to ignorance, inattentiveness, or personal failure.  Oops.  Nevertheless, what I really hope to discover on that day is that my brief earthly life was characterized more by “fruitful labor” than life extension.

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Honesty is not the best policy

 

I don’t want you being honest with me — and I promise not to be honest with you either.    I want us to withhold the truth, avoid transparency, and be pretenders.  In fact, I don’t want anyone in the world being honest with each other.  Honesty is not the best policy.

My friends may be surprised at me saying such an outlandish thing.  As a God-fearing person who often speaks about truthfulness, integrity, and accountability, this doesn’t sound congruent.

Here’s what I mean.

We don’t need to disclose everything we’re thinking.  Just because it’s in my head doesn’t mean it needs to be spoken.   Before talking, I need to consider whether speaking my thoughts would be beneficial.

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Here, Paul tells the Ephesians not to let everything in your head come out of your mouth.  In other words, “Put a filter on it!”   Prior to opening up your mouth, make sure your words suit the occasion, build up, and give grace to the hearer.  Less is more.

James, in 1:19, agrees, telling us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Our culture today completely fails in this area.  People are slow to listen, quick to speak, and filterless — particularly in our online communications!

Less is more.  We don’t need to share all of our opinions or always get in the last word.  Why do we feel it so necessary to tell others all the things that displease us about them?  How about putting a stop to our constant critiques and obeying Philippians 2:3 instead, which tells us to treat others better than ourselves!

We’ve drifted a long way from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous Sonnet 43.  “How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.”  If written today it would read, “How have you offended me?  Let me count the ways.”  People are quick to point out their dissatisfactions, grievances, and disappointments in brutally honest, hate-filled attacks.  Let’s be different;  let’s never insult others by our honesty.

But what if the honesty of others insults us?  What then?

I recently read a book about apologizing, where the author contends that we must honestly tell people whenever they hurt us.  I completely disagree.  As I’ve blogged elsewhere, we can forgive someone who has hurt us without needing to inform them of the hurt they caused.  Let me take my hurts to Jesus, who understands mistreatment better than anyone, and then let me treat the offender with undeserved, unconditional mercy, grace, and love.  Only if it would benefit the other person do I suggest telling them what they did to me.

Is honesty ever a good policy?  Certainly.  Here are occasions where I think honesty is vitally important:

  1.  We need to be honest with God, ourselves, and others about our own weaknesses.  To hide our fatal flaws is foolish.  That’s why one of my personal Life Resolutions is to “keep no personal secrets of any kind, but rather disclose any areas of weakness to trusted friends that they may hold me accountable…”
  2. If I become aware that I’ve hurt someone, I should confess my sin honestly, request forgiveness, and seek to restore harmony.  Matthew 5:23-24 says, “…if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
  3. When a person has hurt me AND it would also benefit him or her to understand the effects of that hurt, my honesty would actually be a kindness.  But make sure our motive involves his benefit, not our vindication or comeuppance.  The goal of such honesty must be to help him learn the ways others may be adversely affected by his actions.  The focus should be on educating more than confronting.
  4. When someone’s performance is sub-standard, a supervisor’s honest feedback and possible discipline are necessary.
  5. When someone exhibits behavior that is unethical, self-destructive, or harmful to you or others, honest, constructive criticism is essential.  Such honest communication may help reveal the person’s blind spots and prevent further harm or abuse.  But be sure the motive behind such honest feedback is protection and reformation and not judgment or condescension. Galatians 6 admonishes us to restore a straying person gently, something that takes great sensitivity, courage, and honesty.

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Why I resolved NOT to read through the Bible in 2020

I’ve always admired those people who can read through the Bible each year.  I once met an elderly saint, who shared with me — shortly before his death — that he had read through the Bible something like 50 times over his lifetime.  Wow!  He has been a spiritual mentor to me, teaching me more about intimacy with God than anyone else.  In many ways, I want to be just like him.

But unlike my mentor, when I’m on my deathbed, I will not be able to report having read through the Bible 50 times–or anything close to that number.  Sure, I’ve tried it on occasion over the years, but most of the time unsuccessfully;  it was one of those New Year’s Resolutions that I couldn’t sustain.   Most of the time I would fall behind, then quit, and then feel guilty.

I admire those who can read through it in a year, and encourage people to do it, but here are five reasons why I am unlikely to make reading through the Bible in a year my annual goal.

  1.  My comprehension level is insufficient to skim-read effectively.  Compared to most people, I’m the kind who needs to read slowly in order to grasp what is being said.  Reading the entire Bible at my speed would take an unreasonable amount of time each day.
  2.  I am committed to the belief that every word (and jot and tittle) of the Bible is God-breathed and purposefully written and so I seek to fully understand all that God is communicating.  If I did try to skim-read the Bible I would feel like I’m just getting the headlines — an overview — and not the details of God’s message.  (This is also why in my Bible study I prefer a more literal translation rather than a more contemporary paraphrase; I’m more interested in the details of what God actually said than man’s interpretations about what God might have been saying.)
  3.  Someone once said, “What matters is not me getting through the Bible, but whether or not the Bible is getting through me. ” Unless I slow down and meditate on what I’m reading I know that God’s Word will not get through me–I will miss the vast majority of personal applications.   Someone else said, “We should read God’s Word for inspiration, not information.”  I want to read it with the mindset that it’s about God’s heart reaching my heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit.  For me, that takes time and a lot of focus.
  4.  I don’t ever again want my Bible reading to be associated with guilt;  instead, I want it always to be a joy and delight.  To me, having to stick to a prescribed daily reading schedule for 365 days in a row makes reading God’s Word often feel like a chore on a checklist.
  5.  My lifestyle is too sporadic and inconsistent to do anything for 365 days in a row!   I know that there will be days when it is just not reasonable for me to spend a chunk of time reading the Bible.  Driving straight through to New Jersey, being sick with the flu, experiencing days of extreme exhaustion, or dealing with an unexpected crisis — these things are realities in my life where grace is needed.  If I were tethered to a strict Bible reading schedule, any missed readings would begin to pile up, necessitating more skimming, frustration, and guilt.  Or just quitting altogether–as I have done many times!

Many years ago, I changed the way I read the Bible.

Now, I prayerfully determine a specific number of minutes that I want to spend in God’s Word each day, knowing that some days it will not be reasonable to do so.   When the appointed time comes, I go to a quiet place with my Bible and a highlighter and I set a timer for my predetermined amount of time.  Then I dive in, absorbing myself into God’s Word, reading as slowly as I can, comparing relevant passages, and underlining the things that are particularly meaningful or insightful.  I get so absorbed that I often lose track of time completely.  When my timer goes off, I simply draw a line in the margin at that point and pick it up there the following day.  No quota to meet, no rush, and no pressure:  just the enjoyment of meditating on what God is saying.  Sometimes I get through two chapters, sometimes no more than a single paragraph.  It doesn’t matter in the least!   Sometimes, God gives me opportunities to share what He showed me that day.

Whatever your plan and pace, I hope that 2020 finds you growing in your reading of God’s Word!

[Update:  in 2021, I tried something new.  Using the Youversion app, I read through the Bible Chronologically, reading through the text and also listening at the same time.  I didn’t stick to the daily calendar schedule, my life is too sporadic for that level of consistency.  But I was able to set aside irregular blocks of time, completing the whole Bible in 7 months, something I’ve never come close to doing before. There was value in chronologically “speed-reading” the entire Bible this way, but it’s not something I will do very often for all the reasons in this blog post.]

 

“Emotionless gratitude” is an oxymoron

Cindy and I visited a church this past Sunday that I just have to blog about.

Now that I’m no longer working on Sundays, we’ve been free to experience a variety of eastern Iowa churches over the past 8 months.  We have loved seeing the vast array of Christian expressions among these faith communities–different styles of worship styles, outreach passions, ministry strengths,  and various ways of connecting people to God.

Sunday brought us to a predominantly African American church–we were two of only five Caucasians present.  We had been hoping for a unique cultural experience and it did not disappoint!

During the 2 1/4 hour service we enjoyed the passionate, biblically-sound preaching, the friendliness of the congregation (hugs included), communion, and the exuberant music.  But the thing that struck me most was the overwhelming sense of elation that permeated the room during worship.  These people were deeply grateful for God’s blessings in their lives to the point of being literally overcome with joy.  At times, some danced, some shouted, and some praised God very LOUDLY, without any pretense or self-consciousness.  At one point an older lady even did what I would describe as “one person conga line” around the sanctuary!  She simply couldn’t help but be so animated at the goodness of the Lord!

My mind raced back to Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes commercials I had seen as a kid, where the TV “Prize Patrol” would arrive at the doorsteps of unsuspecting residents to announce that they had just won a million dollars.  It was always fun to watch the family go bananas over this totally unexpected news: jumping, screaming, speechlessness, dancing, laughing, falling to their knees, etc.  Just like the people in church on Sunday.  Outlandish.  Over-the-top.  Undignified even.

Observing all of this, it occurred to me that those of us who are more reserved in our worship are actually the ones who are deficient.  What if the “Prize Patrol” came to the door and the family responded with a yawn?  It could only mean that either (1) they didn’t understand the magnitude of the gift or (2) that they didn’t believe it was really a free gift intended for them.  Because if they had any understanding at all of how this million dollar gift would transform everything about their lives, their response would have been anything but emotionless!

Seeing these exuberant worshippers on Sunday reminded me of one of the best youth group lessons I ever gave — over eleven years ago.  On that day, I called up one of the kids and proceeded to give her thousands of dollars in front of the group.  The story is worth reading.  The point of my lesson was that the magnitude of God’s personal blessings to us makes us trillionaires.  And undeserving, newly-made trillionaires should respond with nothing less than outlandish gratefulness.

Something’s wrong with me when my gratitude to God is emotionless.  And I’m thankful for how those worshippers on Sunday modeled to me something I need to work on!

What I DON’T pray for my kids

I don’t pray for my kids every day, but when I do, there are a lot more things that I don’t pray for than I do.  

In fact, there are really only three things I do consistently pray for, succinctly summed up in nine keywords.  These are the things — in my view — that matter infinitely more than anything else.

I pray that my kids will:

Know God Accurately

Love God Wholeheartedly

Represent God Authentically

With regard to Knowing God Accurately, I’m asking that my kids will have a real encounter the Creator of the Universe and increasingly understand who He is.  I want their beliefs to correspond to the actual qualities of God, not an understanding skewed by human thinking.  I want them to more fully comprehend His omnipotence, omniscience, sovereignty, justice, holiness, mercy, love, compassion, and grace. 

By Loving God Wholeheartedly I’m asking that my kids would increasingly love God for who He is and continuously turn every part of their lives over to Him as Lord.  Loving God involves more than feelings, it’s a commitment to align their wills with His, surrender themselves to His service, and delightfully obey what He says — regardless of the cost.

In Representing God Authentically, I’m asking that my kids will increasingly become more like Jesus, humbly bear much fruit, and love others — being God’s ambassadors wherever He places them. 

These nine words sum up what matters most to me as a praying parent.  What more could I want but for these prayers to be answered?  That’s why I don’t spend much time praying for the typical things:  success, health, prosperity, finances, careers, or a spouse.  Besides, most of these things will fall into place anyway if these “top three” prayers are answered.

(I pray these same three things for myself, Cindy and others too!)

Btw, here’s what I pray for my kids’ dad — I always pray that I would shepherd, serve, and cherish them more and more…yet hold them looser and looser.

How ESPN has improved my prayer life.

Private prayer is something that I am determined to make a priority in my life.   I’ve blogged before about how I organize my prayer life but I’ve never blogged about finding the right environment for prayer.

We know from scripture that Jesus often withdrew to “lonely places” to pray and he also taught the concept of finding a “prayer closet” in which to get alone with God.  Over the years I’ve found various prayer closets that worked well, but I want to share about one that I’ve found especially helpful over the past year.

I love to run on treadmills at the iGym, but it with my busy schedule it’s hard to justify much time for that.  The thought occurred to me that if I could learn to pray while running I’d be doing two really good things at the same time.  Redeeming the time!

So, more days than not, after some time in the Word I’ve started driving to the gym for my prayer time.  It was a admittedly a bit distracting at first, but over time I’ve learned to block everything out around me and focus completely on my conversations with God.    As you would expect, I select the treadmill which is under the ESPN TV screen (which doesn’t tempt me to look up in the least!)  I also put on noise cancelling ear protectors to block out all the gym noise.  Then I put my phone on “airplane mode,” and set it up on the tray with my prayer app open (described previously), and then launch into a focused session of prayer.

My goal is to meditate through my prayer list while running as fast as I reasonably can — without losing concentration.  If I start to think about my running, I slow down.  Over time my treadmill has become my sacred space.   Here I’ve lifted up the needs of others while also receiving joy, guidance, conviction, inspiration and even brokenness. One day my spirit was so troubled by circumstances that it took me 10 miles to calm my restless heart!   As strange as it may seem, my treadmill has truly has transformed into a sanctuary.

And here’s an extra bonus:  I never get sleepy when I pray!

I share all this not to recruit anyone to pray in a gym but rather to encourage each of you to find your own private place — wherever that might be — to meet regularly with God in prayer.  Make time with Him a priority in your daily schedule!

The surprising lesson I learned from Lexi’s trip to Italy.

Lexi in ItalyOver Spring Break Lexi went to Northern Italy with the UNI Wind Symphony.   She had a wonderful time playing the saxophone which she loves, getting to know her bandmates, and enjoying a new part of the world she’d never seen.

Her social role within the band quickly became that of a cheerleader.  Whenever enthusiasm would wane or boredom would creep in Lexi would pipe up, “Guys, guess what!  WE’RE in ITALY!  Aren’t you EXCITED!!” and that would return everyone’s focus to the amazing reality of their situation.

Lexi was simply reminding her friends of a truth that they already knew but had lost sight of.  Any instances of boredom or lackluster attitudes were merely the result of forgetting what an awesome place they were in.  Her animated reminders brought them back to reality and quickly helped them regain their excitement.

I think we need a similar reminder when it comes to our relationship to God.  It’s easy for our devotional life to become mundane and boring.  Why?  Because just like Lexi’s bandmates we’ve forgotten the amazing reality of our situation and we need to be reminded of what’s true.

“Guys, guess what!  WE’RE INVITED TO HAVE A PRIVATE, FACE-T0-FACE MEETING EACH DAY WITH THE CREATOR OF THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE!! HE WANTS TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU.  Aren’t you EXCITED!”

I’ve been contemplating this ever since Lexi shared about her trip and it has surprisingly transformed my approach to God.

What if I actually started living out what I know to be true?  What if I started to view spending time with God in the same way I would if I was being invited to have breakfast with a celebrity?  Would I hit the snooze button five more times if a head of state was waiting for me at my breakfast table?  Wouldn’t I go to bed early the night before if I had a breakfast appointment with a famous person, and if I were to wake up in the night wouldn’t I be counting the hours?  Wouldn’t I be excited when my alarm went off, no matter how early it was?  Wouldn’t sluggishness and boredom be unthinkable?  Wouldn’t I view my time with this celebrity as a humbling privilege rather than a chore?

By reflecting on such questions over the past months I can honestly say that I have enjoyed my early morning times with God more than ever before.  There have been many mornings when I have bounded out of bed to spend some quality time getting to know God deeper through His Word and prayer.

But it’s easy to forget what’s true.

And so just as Lexi’s enthusiasm reminded her bandmates of what they knew to be true, may this blog post remind you and me of what a privilege it is to be invited to meet each day with the Creator of the universe.

Lexi italy

 

 

Why I believe in “Intelligent Faith.”

IFC newlogo w boxOne of the saddest things is to see people blindly embracing belief systems without any supporting evidence.  God gave us minds to use and to not do so would be about as ridiculous as a person with good eyes living with blindfolds on.  To not use what God gives would be a waste of His good gifts.

But some would argue — as I did in my satirical April Fools joke yesterday –that faith and reason are incompatible.  As if certain things are matters of faith, whereas other things belong to the realm of reason.  I want to challenge that argument.  I would assert that faith and reason need to work together.

But first I need to define what I’m talking about when I use the term faith.  Many skeptics think blind faith is the only kind of faith.  Blind Faith is believing something without any rational evidence, such as believing that the moon is made of cheese.

I agree with the skeptics that this kind of faith is an unfortunate waste of grey matter.

But I’m going to suggest there is another kind of faith — Intelligent Faith.

Intelligent Faith has three components.

  1. a subject to consider (a chair, for example)
  2. a rational assessment resulting in a belief about that subject (the chair appears to be able to hold my body weight)
  3. committing to that belief  (actually sitting in the chair, i.e. exercising faith.)

You’ll notice that reason itself has limitations.  Even in our simple example, there’s a slight element of uncertainty in step 2 — the chair “appears” to be sturdy.  There is no absolute certainty that my chair will indeed hold my body weight — the wood may be rotten inside, the glue may be old, an earthquake may occur as I’m starting to sit down, etc.  So we don’t make decisions based on absolute certainty, but rather reasonable evidence.  Reasonable evidence is all a jury is asked to utilize in convicting someone — absolute certainty is never expected.  We all step out in faith based on reasonable evidence.  Faith fills the gap that reason alone leaves us.

So to put it succinctly:  Reason assesses; Faith trusts. There is no conflict.  Both are essential components needed to live life each day.

We all need to practice intelligent faith every day.  It’s how we decide whether or not to cover our roses after the weatherman’s frost alert.  It’s how we decide what we will allow ourselves to eat or not eat.  It’s how we decide what’s worth living for, fighting for, and dying for.  And what we believe happens after that.

Why the Starbuck’s cups would have offended me.

fox_and_friends_first_-war_on_christmas_starbucksRecently the Starbucks “red cup controversy” made the headlines as it was purported by some to be a “war on Christmas”.  I personally think it was mostly a publicity stunt, as I know of exactly ZERO Christians (and I know a lot!) who were concerned about it.

But it does remind me of my own journey.  Until a few years ago I too might have been offended by such Starbuck’s cups — along with other Christmas trappings that exclude any mention of Jesus.  So for those who haven’t heard my story, let me share what brought me out of Grinchiness.

I wrote the following in Jan, 2008…


 

Anyone who has been around me this Christmas knows that I’ve had quite a change of perspective with regard to Christmas. For the past couple of years I’ve had this ever increasing negative attitude, bemoaning the secular “X-Mas” along with its assault on the spiritual “Christmas.” After all, Santa is spelled with the same letters as Satan!

I was disturbed at how the true meaning of Christmas (Jesus’ birth) is so often obscured by frivolous holiday trappings (decorations, ornaments, trees, the obsession with materialism, and of course, Santa). They’re taking Christ out of Christmas!

My attitude hit an all-time low in early December [2007] when I found myself at odds with my own family. They had the audacity of wanting me to join in the annual decorating of our home, setting up our tree, stringing the lights, etc. My preference was to throw the wicked tree in the recycle bin and go to my room to read the Nativity story instead!

Fortunately, my friend Steve Duffy sent me an email just in the nick of time (no christmaspun intended). It was a 17 page summary of a book on the history of Christmas. I was captivated — to the extent that I immediately bought the book and absorbed myself in it.

The book, Christmas: a Candid History, by Bruce David Forbes, a professor at Morningside College, put it all in perspective for me and transformed my attitude completely. I recommend it for any of you remaining Scrooges or Grinches out there. Here are the things I came to understand.

  1. There is no record that the early church ever even celebrated the birth of Christ at all for the first three centuries. (The Death and Resurrection were their big celebrations.)
  2. Only 4 chapters in the whole Bible mention any details of His birth.
  3. Even so, the season of His birth was never indicated, nor was any commandment ever given about recognizing it in any way.
  4. Midwinter celebrations (like Saturnalia, New Years, and the Winter Solstice) had been held since long before the time of Christ as a way to bring cheer to a dark, gloomy season of shortened days (in the northern hemisphere). These popular celebrations were characterized by greenery (holly, mistletoe, poinsettas), gift giving, lights and feasting along with a lot of raucous partying.
  5. After Constantine legalized Christianity, church leaders added a celebration of Jesus’ birth to these Mid-Winter festivals in an attempt to “Christianize” the festivities and tame the revelry.  (Had they tried to cancel them outright they would have faced stiff opposition.)  December 25th was designated as the day to recognize His birth, adding new traditions to the winter festivities.
  6. Therefore the spiritual aspect to the holidays has always been an “add-on” to a mostly secular cultural phenomenon.
  7. Interestingly, the Puritans almost succeeded in killing Christmas between the 1600s to 1800s, making the point that it wasn’t observed by the earliest church fathers.  Christmas thus fell out of public acceptance.  Their influence is shown by the fact that Congress and public schools were still meeting on Christmas day until 1850!
  8. Just as interestingly, Charles Dickens’ short story, “The Christmas Carol,” and Queen Victoria’s elaborate royal family traditions were instrumental in bringing Christmas back to popularity — this time with a new emphasis on families and children. Shortly after that, legends of St. Nickolas began to morph into today’s concept of Santa Claus largely through the poem “T’was the Night Before Christmas, ” which added to this new focus on children, toys, and gift-giving.
  9. Capitalism, higher standards of living, and advancements in technology have naturally and understandably increased the consumer emphasis of all of our holidays, including Christmas.

 

All these facts helped me realize that my thinking about Christmas was skewed. I learned that there’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying a winter “holiday” with all it’s cultural trappings. And I learned that “true meaning of Christmas” wasn’t predominantly about Jesus’ birth at all. Instead of looking at the glass as half empty, I’m now looking at it as half full, rejoicing at how much Jesus remains a part of an otherwise secular season.

I rejoice that (for now anyways)…

• The name “Christ” in Christmas is still largely a part of the our holiday culture.
• Christmas carols, some clearly proclaiming the gospel message, have endeared themselves to our culture and are commonly enjoyed in public stores, holiday concerts, and on secular radio.
• Nativity sets, reminding the world about the incarnation, are commonplace and culturally acceptable.
• Jesus is thought about and talked about more during this season than any other time of year.
• TV and news specials about Jesus, Bethlehem, etc are common and generally positively portrayed.
• Church attendance at Christmastime has become a cultural family tradition for many–even the irreligious.
• Charity and unselfish giving are great values during this season—affording opportunities to share about God’s generous nature.


 

Since I stopped being a Grinch about Christmas eight years ago, I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoy the holiday season, red cups and all!

Review of Romans 15:14-33 (Sat)

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Here’s the whole text from this past week in the NET translation.

15:14 But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. 15:15 But I have written more boldly to you on some points so as to remind you, because of the grace given to me by God 15:16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. I serve the gospel of God like a priest, so that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

15:17 So I boast in Christ Jesus about the things that pertain to God. 15:18 For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in order to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed, 15:19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem even as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. 15:20 And in this way I desire to preach where Christ has not been named, so as not to build on another person’s foundation, 15:21 but as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”

15:22 This is the reason I was often hindered from coming to you. 15:23 But now there is nothing more to keep me in these regions, and I have for many years desired to come to you 15:24 when I go to Spain. For I hope to visit you when I pass through and that you will help me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.

15:25 But now I go to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. 15:26 For Macedonia and Achaia are pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 15:27 For they were pleased to do this, and indeed they are indebted to the Jerusalem saints. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are obligated also to minister to them in material things. 15:28 Therefore after I have completed this and have safely delivered this bounty to them, I will set out for Spain by way of you, 15:29 and I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of Christ’s blessing.

15:30 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to join fervently with me in prayer to God on my behalf. 15:31 Pray that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea and that my ministry in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 15:32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. 15:33 Now may the God of peace be with all of you. Amen.

There are a lot of things in this passage. I’m going to review this week simply by listing them.

he affirms them,
he reviews his calling,
he gives God credit,
he expresses hope to see the Romans on his way to Spain,
he highlights the generosity of two other churches,
he asks for prayers of protection, fruitful ministry, and joyful refreshment.

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