Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Something To Celebrate

Should Christians celebrate Christmas or not?

Some groups say, "NO!" because of ancient syncretism between Christianity and Paganism in the Christmas celebrations.

The modern pagan's certainly agree.  One recent morning, Lola and I sat in our local McDonalds and realized that all the Christmassy sounding songs were devoid of any mention of Christ. The songs are all about Santa Claus, Rudolph, White Christmases and so on - but no Christ.

Where possible, they scrub Christ right out of Christmas and end up with "Happy Holidays" without any explanation of why these days might be considered happy or holy. Christmas has continued its slide into crass commercialism - all about buying more, newer, bigger stuff. Christmas Holiday Trees can be decorated, of course, and presents can be wrapped. There is plenty of nostalgia for Christmases "long long ago" - as long as you don't mention Christ. The legal eagles of the "Freedom From Religion" group are ready to swoop down wherever they think they can force people to remove Manger Scenes.

So, back to my original question. Should Christians celebrate Christmas or not?

Well, we certainly should not celebrate Christmas the way our pagan culture does. If Christmas is not about Christ, then what is it about? Seems that materialism, greed and excess are all that is left. If that is where our hearts are, then even putting up a manger scene will not redeem it.

We should celebrate Christmas if Christmas is about Christ. Christ should be at the center of a Christian's Christmas. We should spend the season reflecting on the biblical accounts - prophecies promising Christ would come, announcements to Joseph, Mary and Zechariah about his coming, the songs of praise from Mary and Zechariah and Simeon, the birth of Jesus in the stable, the angelic announcement to the Shepherds and their response, the testimony of the magi who traveled from Arabia to meet the new King.

"Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners..."  That is what Christmas should be about for Christians and we should focus on that. When we do focus on that, how can we help but celebrate?
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,Luke 1:46–47

Monday, November 28, 2016

Our Secret Lives

Batman and Superman are not the only ones - we all have two aspects to our lives. There is the public life we live in the view of others and the secret life that is unknown to anyone but us.

It is tempting to say that all of the inane social media posts revealing seemingly every detail of some people's lives must take the place of an internal life that is unknown except to the person. But in fact, that social media presence is likely to be more of a mask than an X-ray. You only see what the person wants you to see - their created persona.

To some extent we don't even know ourselves perfectly. We don't fully understand our own motives for what we say and do. We surprise ourselves - usually in a bad way. We suppress certain memories, we live in denial of certain characteristics, we are blind to various flaws.

But God knows us perfectly - far more perfectly than we can know ourselves. Nothing is hidden from him. He can see right through us. We might bluster or pontificate. We might weep or shout. We might charge the enemy or flee for our lives. But God knows our fears, our rage, our pain, our doubts.

God knows and he offers us a mirror that will show us the truth about ourselves. Not only that, but he will show us the way to resolve our inner turmoil and find true rest.

Hebrews 4:11–13 (ESV)
11Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
12For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

13And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Hallowed Be Thy Name...

Jesus taught his disciples, "When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name." (Luke 11:2)  This beginning to our prayer confronts us with the nature of our relationship to God. That he is our father means we honor him and are dependent on him. 

The phrase, "hallowed be your name" expresses our respect. It means, "let your name be exalted as holy."  It is not that we are urging God to live up to our standards of holiness - but that we recognize and want others to know that God, our Father, is HOLY.

God is not holy because he measures up to some external standard.  God is holy because he is God.  As God, he is the measure of all perfection.  Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, Moral and Immoral and any other similar standard is eternally calibrated by the ultimate reality of God and his holiness.  What conforms to God's holy character is good, right and moral.  Whatever conflicts with God's holy character is evil, wrong and immoral. To sin is to transgress God's standards of holiness.

When we come to God in prayer, one of the first things we must do is acknowledge who God is and who we are in relation to God.  We do not come to God to give him something he lacks or to tell him how to manage the universe or the circumstances of our lives.  We come to God in worship, desiring to be used by God to exalt his name as the measure of all perfection.

This is a very important thing to remember in 21st century America and it would be well for Christians to return to praying according to this formula, "Father, hallowed be your name."

Somehow we have strayed from these essential truths.  Instead of acknowledging God as the measure of all perfection we have come to think that we are the measure ourselves.  Too many nominal Christians have bought into the American idolatry that tells us good and evil are determined by cultural consciousness.  Views on abortion and human sexuality are prime examples, but not the only examples.  Instead of asking, "What does God say about these things?" so called Christians are parroting the views of secular humanists who have sold their ideas through various cultural channels over the past sixty years.

Let God be exalted as the measure of all perfection.  Let his kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Let it begin today by his rule and reign in my life.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Irrational Hubris of Atheism

Last week I was reading statements made on a site for secular humanists.  One particular author made the statement I had heard many times before, that he became and atheist when he decided that God was not necessary.

This reminded me of the time when I was four years old and decided to run away from home. I suppose that I was angry at my mother because of some limit she had placed on my freedom. I packed my tiny red and white suitcase and, in full view of my mother's watchful eye, traveled to the end of the driveway. There I sat on my suitcase and petted my cat, Lovey, while I considered the unlimited options for my future.

I had obviously decided that my mother and father were no longer necessary. Staying with them just cramped my style. Without them I would have unlimited freedom.

Of course, as a four year old I had no idea why parents were necessary. I didn't understand human reproduction and genetics so as far as I was concerned I didn't owe my existence to them. The story of the stork or babies in a cabbage patch would have been a fine story of origins for me.

I did not understand economics and how it happened that we had a house to live in, clothes to wear and food to eat. How hard could it be for me to live on my own? I had my suitcase packed with what I supposed would sustain me. (Of course my mother never took her eyes off of me and would have intervened immediately if I had offered to go into the road. Poor Lovey unfortunately did not have the same level of supervision and eventually met her end in that very street.)

So God is not necessary, you say?  Well what do you know about it, really?

The modern theories of the origin of the universe and the origin of life and of evolution are simply "just so stories" to placate people who want to run away from God. They may satisfy someone who is determined to disbelieve in personal God and allow him to be an "intellectually fulfilled atheist" but what does it have to do with the truth?

What do we know, apart from divine revelation, about our personal existence or the nature of life or the matter of morality and human conscience? The modern atheist is confident that he knows enough, when in fact he knows nothing at all except that he exists and does not like the constraints placed on him by the idea that there could be a God to Whom he might need to give an account. There is nothing new about this.

(Romans 1:28) And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;



Monday, August 15, 2016

Where There Is Life...

The saying says, "Where there is life there is hope." I suppose that this means to suggest that any circumstance short of death contains the hope that things might get better.

As a statement of an optimistic outlook, it leaves much to be desired. Over a million Americans attempt suicide every year and over 40,000 of them succeed. Maybe someone had hope for them while they were alive, but their own hope collapsed under the weight of cynicism and despair.

Perhaps the saying would be more accurate if it was turned around. "Where there is hope there is life." People need hope to live.

They hope that things will get better. They hope they will discover existential purpose and find meaning. They hope that the bad guys will be brought to justice and the good guys will be rewarded. They hope they will find true love and friendship. They hope they will escape debilitating disease and ultimate death.

As long as they have hope, they keep plugging along. But when everything crashes in on them, they begin to lose hope and the resilience they needed to go on.

This is why the gospel of Jesus Christ is such an important message.  This good news says that Jesus conquered sin and death.  By his resurrection from the dead we have "a living hope" (1 Peter 1:3). While there are frustrations and difficulties now, our future in Christ is salvation in a perfect world. Life has meaning because there is a personal Creator who brought us into existence on purpose. God has in Christ provided for both justice and mercy.

Hope is what people need and the gospel of Jesus Christ is the best source of hope.

(1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV) Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Free Will Or Determinism?

There is a fascinating article in "The Atlantic" about the modern debate over the perception and reality of free will. (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/theres-no-such-thing-as-free-will/480750/)

The premise is that science has proven there is no such thing as free will.  If evolution and naturalism are true (and the scientists who are quoted assume this) then humans are no more than very complex meat machines. Each machine operates according to the programming built into the individual through genetic inheritance. There is no such thing as a spiritual component of the human being (or, for that matter, a spiritual reality outside of human beings.)  Decisions are not made consciously, they are made by the meat machine before the conscience is even aware of them.

So the scholars (3x), scientists (6x), philosophers (6x), intellectuals (2x), physiologist(s) (1x), and especially Sam Harris (14x) believe that the truth is that there is no such thing as "free will." They believe in determinism.

Now, some of these "intellectual elites" believe this is a very dangerous truth. They say that if this truth is widely accepted it will undermine any culture and result in antisocial, selfish, unethical and dishonest behavior. The article points to several experiments that supported this idea.

The article explores the various approaches that have been put forward - from hiding this "truth" from the unwashed masses (that is us) and promoting the illusion of free will - to proclaiming the truth while teaching the subtile difference between determinism and fatalism so that people are motivated to be "the best version of themselves they can be." (Harris)

How should a Christian respond to these things?

To begin with, as a Christian, I do not attribute authority to any scientific theorists. They have assumed but have not proven their premises that 1) there is no reality beyond nature and 2) life came from non-life and evolved into higher life forms from lower life forms.  Based on these assumptions, they argue about the implications of their assumptions. Experimental science plays a very small role in their discussions - especially since much depends on the architecture and operation of the most vast and complex structure in the universe - the human brain.

As a Christian, I believe in a supernatural spiritual reality and I accept the authority of the Bible as God's written revelation of himself and his works in relation to mankind. I believe that God is eternal and the universe is created by God according to his plans and purposes. I believe that God created mankind in his own image and gave him the ability (and responsibility) to make real moral choices.

In spite of the musings of the intellectual elites, the vast majority of the world's population of humans believes in their own and other's moral agency and responsibility. It is quite natural for people to talk about what they or others ought to do or ought not do. The Atlantic article mentions this as the source of a human idea of holding people responsible for their actions. This is the basis of any idea of justice, but Harris and others would tell us that such an idea is irrational because of determinism.

As I read this article and similar writings, I am amazed that anyone can take these ideas seriously. The discussion should really be seen as a refutation of the underlying assumptions.  If their assumptions were truly true (i.e., conforming to an objective reality) then there would be no objective reality to the ideas of justice, responsibility, ethics, morality, etc. So it would be ridiculous to argue about a person becoming "the best version of" himself or herself. It would be silly for these theorists to have any concern over how they "ought" to handle the so called truth of determinism.  Given their assumptions there is no "ought" - there is only what is.  Justice, ethics, morals, responsibility and so on have no meaning.

The discussions and arguments about these things disprove the assumptions on which they are based.

Friday, March 11, 2016

What Kind Of Savior?

It is hard to forget that the 2016 presidential election is in full swing. The polarization of America between left and right has never been more evident.

On the far left is Bernie Sanders, a self-styled "Democratic-Socialist" who is doing very well with young adults who presumably do not remember the socialists of the past century. Bernie is pulling Hillary Clinton to the left... but she was already pretty far left to start. Either one of these candidates will, if elected, shift the balance of the Supreme Court to the point where the constitution and bill of rights are completely meaningless and "constitutional" will only mean "the current cultural prejudice of progressive theory."

The candidate most popular with the people on the far right is Donald Trump. I cannot say that Mr. Trump is himself on the far right, because all of his extreme conservative positions are completely opposite of his historic positions on the same issues. He is, at best, a political opportunist, capitalizing on the anger and frustration of conservative Americans who are sick of having been force fed progressive social dogma over the past generation.

What do we know about the character of this man? He is a narcissist, a blowhard, immoral, unfaithful, violent, bigoted, misogynistic, dictatorial, obscene and arrogant. And the so called "evangelicals" are evidently voting for him in the primaries. So Mr. Trump is not even a standard bearer for a position. He is only a mirror reflecting a seething rage among millions of Americans who feel disenfranchised. Will he accomplish anything good if he becomes president?

Who should we vote for? You will need to decide for yourself.

Against this "black-drop" of decay, think about Jesus Christ - the Savior of the World.

Sinless Savior. Loving God. Humble and Meek. The Righteous Judge. Exalted to the right hand of the Father. Glorious in majesty.

Jesus is our hope - our only hope.

I fully expect America to continue its descent into the moral abyss, no matter who is elected. Communities will become increasingly lawless and impossible to police. Vigilante justice will result in shootings and lynchings. Polarization will increase. Despair will be the norm.

But Jesus will stand as a bright light - a beacon of hope - a ray of sunshine - inviting people to come to him for transformation - sins forgiven - new hearts for God - new hope for life everlasting.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Playing Powerball Lottery (or not)

Well, I didn't win the 1.6 billion dollar powerball lottery last night.

Not too surprising, since I didn't buy a ticket.

As I see it, I had a great deal more to lose than I had to gain from entering the lottery. Even if I had won 1.6 billion dollars I would have lost something of infinite value.

God has blessed me with great blessings. My wife and I have been able to purchase our own home. Our combined income is not huge, but it supplies our daily bread. Every week I can sit down and pay our bills. We can buy modest items we desire. We have enough left over to give generously to our church and to help out some people in their various needs.

But it is not so much about what we can afford to buy or do. It is about our sense of gratitude and contentment in God's daily provision. 

Sometimes our cash flow is tight. There are many things we cannot afford to buy. There are things we cannot afford to do. But we are ok with that. We are genuinely content. We have a general sense of peace and wellbeing. We have what we need. We are secure in God's gracious care for us.

There is no better place for us to be. Contentment is the goal and we are already there.

As I spent time in prayer the other morning I was thanking God for all his blessings when it occurred to me that I could buy a lottery ticket. But as I thought about it I realized that I could not enjoy this great sense of contentment and pursue windfall riches through a lottery (or any form of gambling) at the same time. That pursuit of riches is contrary to a sense of contentment. If you are content, you don't need to play. If you play, you will be damaging your sense of contentment.

So I didn't play and I didn't win - and I'm not a bit sorry. I am perfectly happy throwing myself into God's arms every morning and asking him to provide my daily bread. This is where I want to be.