EVERYBODY asks and answers THESE questions

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Michael Emlet, in his excellent book CrossTalk, writes about worldview questions in the chapter “What’s Your Story?”:

A way to speak about the storied quality of human life is to affirm that each person (or community) asks and answers foundational questions about the nature of life, consciously or subconsciously. The answers we give to these questions characterize our “worldview,” our “take” on the nature of reality. The Bible itself answers these foundational questions and urges us to live in light of the Biblical worldview, the true story of the world. In fact, you might say that even asking these questions shows that we are God’s image bearers. As we will see later, the fact that we are broken, fallen image bearers means that we answer those questions in ways that compete with the biblical narrative.

Brian Walsh and J. Richard Middleton propose four basic worldview questions:

1. Where are we? That is, what is the nature of the world in which we live?

2. Who are we? Or, what is the essential nature of human beings?

3. What’s wrong? That is, why is the world (and my life!) in such a mess?

4. What’s the remedy? Or, how can these problems be solved?

These questions—and how we answer them—form the narrative backbone of our lives. They shape the way we interpret life events, from the mundane (no milk in the refrigerator for the breakfast cereal) to the horrific (loss of children in a car accident). They shape our view of ourselves and others. They shape our vision of what constitutes a meaningful life, even a meaningful moment. They shape our beliefs, emotions, and decisions every day. Everybody has an overarching story he or she lives by, moment by moment. Everybody is a meaning maker with categories for making sense of life. Reality does not come to us unfiltered but always through the lens of our perception. The real question is, What lens will we use? What story, what narrative will we use to see our world and interpret our lives?     

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Santa or No Santa?

Good thoughts here on Santa from Noel Piper:

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Thinking About Santa

(Author: Noel Piper)

Over the years, we have chosen not to include Santa Claus in our Christmas stories and decorations. There are several reasons.

First, fairy tales are fun and we enjoy them, but we don’t ask our children to believe them.

Second, we want our children to understand God as fully as they’re able at whatever age they are. So we try to avoid anything that would delay or distort that understanding. It seems to us that celebrating with a mixture of Santa and manger will postpone a child’s clear understanding of what the real truth of God is. It’s very difficult for a young child to pick through a marble cake of part-truth and part-imagination to find the crumbs of reality.

Third, we think about how confusing it must be to a straight-thinking, uncritically-minded preschooler because Santa is so much like what we’re trying all year to teach our children about God. Look, for example, at the "attributes" of Santa.

  • He’s omniscient—he sees everything you do.
  • He rewards you if you’re good.
  • He’s omnipresent—at least, he can be everywhere in one night.
  • He gives you good gifts.
  • He’s the most famous "old man in the sky" figure.

But at the deeper level that young children haven’t reached yet in their understanding, he is not like God at all.

For example, does Santa really care if we’re bad or good? Think of the most awful kid you can remember. Did he or she ever not get gifts from Santa?

What about Santa’s spying and then rewarding you if you’re good enough? That’s not the way God operates. He gave us his gift—his Son—even though we weren’t good at all. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). He gave his gift to us to make us good, not because we had proved ourselves good enough.

Helping our children understand God as much as they’re able at whatever age they are is our primary goal. But we’ve also seen some other encouraging effects of not including Santa in our celebration.

First, I think children are glad to realize that their parents, who live with them all year and know all the worst things about them, still show their love at Christmas. Isn’t that more significant than a funny, old, make-believe man who drops in just once a year?

Second, I think most children know their family’s usual giving patterns for birthday and special events. They tend to have an instinct about their family’s typical spending levels and abilities. Knowing that their Christmas gifts come from the people they love, rather than from a bottomless sack, can help diminish the "I-want-this, give-me-that" syndrome.

And finally, when children know that God’s generosity is reflected by God’s people, it tends to encourage a sense of responsibility about helping make Christmas good for others.

Karsten, for example, worked hard on one gift in 1975. On that Christmas morning, his daddy stepped around a large, loose-flapped cardboard box to get to his chair at the breakfast table. "Where’s Karsten?" he asked, expecting to see our excited three-year-old raring to leap into the day. Sitting down, I said, "He’ll be here in a minute."

I nudged the box with my toe. From inside the carton, Karsten threw back the flaps and sprang to his full three-foot stature. "And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them . . ." He had memorized Luke 2:8-20 as a gift for his dad. Karsten knew the real story.

In fact, a few days later, he and I were walking down the hall at the church we attended then. One of the older ladies leaned down to squeeze his pink, round cheek and asked, "What did Santa bring you?" Karsten’s head jerked quickly toward me, and he whispered loudly, "Doesn’t she know?"

(Adapted from Treasuring God in Our Traditions)                   

 

Agree? Or disagree?

Santa Claus Jesus

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Sinclair Ferguson:

It is always easier to lament and critique the new paganism of secularism’s blatant idolatry than to see how easily the church — and we ourselves — twist or dilute the message of the incarnation in order to suit our own tastes. But, sadly, we have various ways of turning the Savior into a kind of Santa Claus.

Santa Claus Christianity
For one thing, in our worship at Christmas we may varnish the staggering truth of the incarnation with what is visually, audibly, and aesthetically pleasing. We confuse emotional pleasure — or worse, sentiment — with true adoration.

For another thing, we may denigrate our Lord with a Santa Claus Christology. How sadly common it is for the church to manufacture a Jesus who is a mirror refection of Santa Claus. He becomes Santa Christ.

Santa Christ is sometimes a Pelagian Jesus. Like Santa, he simply asks us whether we have been good. More exactly, since the assumption is that we are all naturally good, Santa Christ asks us whether we have been "good enough." So just as Christmas dinner is simply the better dinner we really deserve, Jesus becomes a kind of added bonus who makes a good life even better. He is not seen as the Savior of helpless sinners.

Or Santa Christ may be a Semi-Pelagian Jesus — a slightly more sophisticated Jesus who, Santa-like, gives gifts to those who have already done the best they could! Thus, Jesus’ hand, like Santa’s sack, opens only when we can give an upper-percentile answer to the none-too-weighty probe, "Have you done your best this year?" The only difference from medieval theology here is that we do not use its Latin phraseology: facere quod in se est (to do what one is capable of doing on one’s own, or, in common parlance, "Heaven helps those who help themselves").

Then again, Santa Christ may be a mystical Jesus, who, like Santa Claus, is important because of the good experiences we have when we think about him, irrespective of his historical reality. It doesn’t really matter whether the story is true or not; the important thing is the spirit of Santa Christ. For that matter, while it would spoil things to tell the children this, everyone can make up his or her own Santa Christ. As long as we have the right spirit of Santa Christ, all is well.

But Jesus is not to be identified with Santa Claus; worldly thinking — however much it employs Jesus-language–is not to be confused with biblical truth.

The Christ of Christmas
The Scriptures systematically strip away the veneer that covers the real truth of the Christmas story. Jesus did not come to add to our comforts. He did not come to help those who were already helping themselves or to fill life with more pleasant experiences. He came on a deliverance mission, to save sinners, and to do so He had to destroy the works of the Devil (Matt. 1:21; 1 John 3:8b).

Those whose lives were bound up with the events of the first Christmas did not find His coming an easy and pleasurable experience.

Mary and Joseph’s lives were turned upside down.

The shepherds’ night was frighteningly interrupted, and their futures potentially radically changed.

The magi faced all kinds of inconvenience and family separation.

Our Lord Himself, conceived before wedlock, born probably in a cave, would spend His early days as a refugee from the bloodthirsty and vindictive Herod (Matt. 2:13-21).

There is, therefore, an element in the Gospel narratives that stresses that the coming of Jesus is a disturbing event of the deepest proportions. It had to be thus, for He did not come merely to add something extra to life, but to deal with our spiritual insolvency and the debt of our sin. He was not conceived in the womb of Mary for those who have done their best, but for those who know that their best is "like filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6)–far from good enough–and that in their flesh there dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18). He was not sent to be the source of good experiences, but to suffer the pangs of hell in order to be our Savior.

A Christian Christmas
The Christians who first began to celebrate the birth of the Savior saw this. Christmas for them was not (contrary to what is sometimes mistakenly said) simply adding a Christian veneer to a pagan festival–the Roman Saturnalia. They may have been doing what many Christians have done in marking Reformation Day (which happens to fall on Halloween), namely, committing themselves to a radical alternative to the world’s Saturnalia, refusing to be squeezed into its mold. They were determined to fix mind, heart, will, and strength exclusively on the Lord Jesus Christ. There was no confusion in their thinking between the world and the gospel, Saturnalia and Christmas, Santa Jesus and Christ Jesus. They were citizens of another empire altogether.

In fact, such was the malice evoked by their other-worldly devotion to Christ that during the persecutions under the Emperor Diocletian, some believers were murdered as they gathered to celebrate Christmas. What was their gross offense? Worship of the true Christ — incarnate, crucified, risen, glorified, and returning. They celebrated Him that day for giving His all for them, and as they did so, they gave their all for Him.

One Christmas Eve in my teenage years, I opened a book a friend had given to me as a present. I found myself so overwhelmed by its teaching on my recently found Savior that I began to shake with emotion at what had dawned on me: the world had not celebrated His coming, but rather had crucified Him.

Doubtless I was an impressionable teenager. But should it not cause us to tremble that "they crucified my Lord"? Or is that true only in song, not in reality? Are we not there when the world still crucifies Him in its own, often-subtle ways?

The truth is that unless the significance of what Christ did at the first Christmas shakes us, we can scarcely be said to have understood much of what it means, or of who He really is.

Who is He in yonder stall
At Whose feet the shepherds fall?
‘Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
‘Tis the Lord! the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall,
Crown Him! Crown Him, Lord of all!

And we might add:

Who is He on yonder cross
Suffers for this dark world’s loss?
‘Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
‘Tis the Lord! the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall,
Crown Him! Crown Him, Lord of all!

Let us not confuse Jesus Christ with Santa Claus.

Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths; Eastern, New Age Beliefs Widespread

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From the Pew Forum, here’s what the lack of solid Biblical teaching produces:

“The religious beliefs and practices of Americans do not fit neatly into conventional categories. A new poll by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices, mixing elements of diverse traditions. Many say they attend worship services of more than one faith or denomination — even when they are not traveling or going to special events like weddings and funerals. Many also blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs such as reincarnation, astrology and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects. And sizeable minorities of all major U.S. religious groups say they have experienced supernatural phenomena, such as being in touch with the dead or with ghosts.

One-third of Americans (35%) say they regularly (9%) or occasionally (26%) attend religious services at more than one place, and most of these (24% of the public overall) indicate that they sometimes attend religious services of a faith different from their own. Aside from when they are traveling and special events like weddings and funerals, three-in-ten Protestants attend services outside their own denomination, and one-fifth of Catholics say they sometimes attend non-Catholic services.

Different Types of Religious Services

Among those who attend religious services at least once a week, nearly four-in-ten (39%) say they attend at multiple places and nearly three-in-ten (28%) go to services outside their own faith, according to the Pew Forum survey, which was conducted Aug. 11-27 among 4,013 adults reached on both landlines and cell phones. Attending services at more than one place and across multiple religious traditions is even more common among those who go to religious services on a monthly or yearly basis, with nearly six-in-ten (59%) saying they attend at multiple places and four-in-ten attending services from outside their own faith at least sometimes.

Religiously mixed marriages are common in the United States, and the survey finds that the link between being in a religiously mixed union and attendance at multiple types of services is a complex one. Overall, people in religiously mixed marriages attend worship services less often than people married to someone of the same faith. But among those who attend religious services at least yearly, those in religiously mixed marriages attend multiple types of services at a higher rate than people married to someone of the same religion.

Different Types of Religious Services

Though the U.S. is an overwhelmingly Christian country, significant minorities profess belief in a variety of Eastern or New Age beliefs. For instance, 24% of the public overall and 22% of Christians say they believe in reincarnation — that people will be reborn in this world again and again. And similar numbers (25% of the public overall, 23% of Christians) believe in astrology. Nearly three-in-ten Americans say they have felt in touch with someone who has already died, almost one-in-five say they have seen or been in the presence of ghosts, and 15% have consulted a fortuneteller or a psychic.

Different Types of Religious Services

Nearly half of the public (49%) says they have had a religious or mystical experience, defined as a "moment of sudden religious insight or awakening." This is similar to a survey conducted in 2006 but much higher than in surveys conducted in 1976 and 1994 and more than twice as high as a 1962 Gallup survey (22%). In fact, this year’s survey finds that religious and mystical experiences are more common today among those who are unaffiliated with any particular religion (30%) than they were in the 1960s among the public as whole (22%).”

Read the whole article.

TWELVE THINGS YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T KNOW YOU COULD DO WITH A FRUITCAKE

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1. Paint a few white and place them outside on the grass so people won’t park on your lawn.

2. Use it as building material. (This is actually what the Ancient Egyptians used to build the Great Pyramids.)

3. Keep one under your pillow for home defense.

4. Send one to the junk mail company with a note asking them to take you off their list.

5. It’s colorful, use it as a Yule Log.

6. Carve the Presidents’ faces in one and submit it as a science project.

7. Give one to your boss and tell him it’s a life preserver.

8. Use it as a base for flower arrangements.

9. Donate to the local airport for use as airliner wheel blocks.

10. Grind a few up and give it back to your in-laws in a bag marked "lawn fertilizer."

11. For a community project, sink a few in the ocean and build an artificial reef.

12. Tie one to each foot when you walk through deep snow to keep your feet dry.

A SINGLE Story

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…we usually read the Bible as a series of disconnected stories, each with a ‘moral’ for how we should live our lives. It is not. Rather, it comprises a single story, telling us how the human race got into its present condition, and how God through Jesus Christ has come and will come to put things right. In other words, the Bible doesn’t give us a god at the top of a moral ladder saying, ‘If you try hard to summon up your strength and live right, you can make it up!’ Instead, the Bible repeatedly shows us weak people who don’t deserve God’s grace, don’t seek it, and don’t appreciate it even after they have received it. If that is the great biblical story arc into which every individual scriptural narrative fits, then what do we learn from this story?

-Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, pp. 36-37

The Magnificent King and the Poor Carpenter’s Stepson

Beautiful contrast between the great Herod and the humble Savior by Dwight Pryor:

The Center for Judaic-Christian Studies

The Humble Bethlehem

Author: Dwight A. Pryor

 

. . .NEARBY HERODIUM LAY A SMALL JEWISH VILLAGE named Beit Lechem (House of Bread in Hebrew). Only three miles away in distance, Bethlehem was a world removed from Herod’s opulence and grandeur. Populated by the lowest strata of Roman society, shepherds, and other common folks, no more than 200-300 people likely lived in the lowly rural community at the time. . .  

Read the whole article.