Thursday, December 31, 2015

I resolve to be resolute in avoiding New Year’s resolutions

We’re here again. At the end of another year. Standing on the precipice of a new one. Is it an abyss into which you stare or a 365 day party?

Oh, wait. 2016 is a leap year, so it’s 366 days of either despair or delight. Which is really all about your perspective.

But that’s not what we’re here to discus today. Exactly.

Instead, let’s talk about those resolution thingies that many people like to draw up right about now.

You know, that list of stuff related to self-improvement. Goals. Objectives. To do’s to attack, strike down, and accomplish. Ta da!

Don’t ask me about mine because I won’t be doing a list. I haven’t for a long time.

Why?

Well, in part because I reject the artificial demarcation of the new year as the most significant time to focus on change.

Many who make resolutions and then fail to achieve their goals feel as if they’ve failed for the whole year.

For completely irrational reasons, they think they can’t try again until the old year once again turns into a new year.

Or they need some other time-marker, such as the beginning of the month, or the week, etc. before they can make another attempt at self-rehabilitation

“Balderdash,” say I!

Instead, along with the corporate “they” I say, “There’s no time like the present!”

In other words, get up. Now. Just do it.

“But,” you object, “what if I fail again?”

Simple. Pretend you’re shampooing your life.

Rinse. Repeat.

Don’t delay! Act today!

Holding off taking action on whatever you need to take action on, for example by waiting until the turn of the year to dive into a list of resolutions, raises the question: “Why wait?”

Why put off doing what you’ve discerned is a thing that needs addressing?

Could it be, perhaps, you really don’t want to let go of that thing? Give up that thing? Stop indulging in that thing?

Resolutions tend to be about eating healthier, exercising regularly, being more patient, forgiving others, releasing grudges, reading the Bible daily, managing anger, praying faithfully, contributing time, donating money, denying bad habits, meditating more, and the like.

When we tell ourselves, “Okay, I’m going to start/stop doing [FILL IN THE BLANK] on this specified date [tomorrow, next week, at 12:01 AM on January 1st]” we are actually choosing to delay, to put off, to avoid what we’ve recognized as a needed change.

Or maybe we want to cuddle with that bad habit one last time. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.

Too often, choosing an arbitrary point in the future to begin changing opens the door to a “last thing fling” of indulgence until then.

“Okay,” we console ourselves, “I’m giving up [FILL IN THE BLANK]  starting January 1st. Until then, I will ‘reward’ my good intentions by mindlessly indulging in [FILL IN THE BLANK].”

If the [FILL IN THE BLANK] thing is a destructive behavior or an obviously detrimental habit, then any indulgence is a bad thing!

And it’s probably a sign we really don’t want to make the needed change which means failure is our fate.

Any temporary “giving in” makes changing even more difficult, promotes falling in the future, and can spawn a deadly cycle of indulgence-abstinence-failure-indulgence.

This is not a good thing.

It’s the Holy Spirit in you nudging

As Christians the reason why we’re even considering making changes (aka resolutions) is because the Holy Spirit in us is nudging us to make needed changes.

Let’s examine this methodically with Scripture.

  • Abiding. As Christians, we live in obedience to God’s word with the Holy Spirit as our Helper: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17, ESV). See also John 16.
     
  • Conforming. As we bend our lives to godly living, God works in us: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13, ESV).
     
  • Thinking. Our minds are attuned to the things of God: “‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16, ESV).
     
  • Choosing. We have access to godly wisdom which yields good choices: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5, ESV).
     
  • Doing. We are equipped to do what the Holy Spirit prompts: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, ESV).
     
  • Walking. The Holy Spirit leads us away from evil and toward holiness: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16, ESV).
     
When we resist or put off these Holy Spirit nudges we are delaying our own spiritual growth.

Change is a constant in the Christian life

If you are in Christ, then any urge or desire to make positive changes in your life are being driven by the Holy Spirit dwelling in you.

Therefore, when the Holy Spirit nudges you toward change, you can be assured that God will enable you to carry out this change.

Further, since change is a process, it won’t be smooth going. But that’s okay. Because, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases...” (Lamentations 3:22-23, ESV).

Also, “If we confess our sins, [Jesus] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV).

And since living out the Christian life is an ongoing moment-by-moment endeavor, there is no need to wait until the new year, or for any other artificial future starting point, to “begin” again, and again, and again.

Just as we are to forgive others 70 x 7 (which equals always), we are to forgive ourselves the same amount (Matthew 18:22). You know, like that not-quite-ancient-or-Chinese-saying, fall many times, get up a bunch more.

Delight. Fail. Rinse. Repeat.

Ultimately, there is only one resolution we need to make on a moment-by-moment basis, all year, every year:
“I resolve to, as best I can, love and delight in the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind, and love my neighbor as myself, right now” (see Matthew 22:34-40).

And if you fail?

Rinse and repeat. As often as needed. No waiting necessary.

Which will result in a most delightful year!

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4, ESV).


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How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions? Do you make them? Keep them? Break them? Love them? Hate them? Did you make any? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Or, be like Calvin...







Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I serve at the pleasure of ….. me!


Originally posted August 27, 2009;
reposted here with minor edits.
   
I am an avid fan of The West Wing and own the series on DVD and have re-watched the series several times.
 
Among the things I love about the series is how it shows the development and value of relationships, and how personalities bump against each other within the context of doing the business of the nation.
 
It’s a high pressure, fast moving environment packed with brilliant, driven, A-type extraverts.
  
Conflict and disagreements are givens.

Who do you serve?

A phrase that crops up regularly is, “I serve at the pleasure of the President.”
 
What does this mean?
 
It does not mean that these are “yes” people who merely execute like automatons whatever they are told to do without question. Not on your life! They have strong opinions, varying viewpoints, and hold nothing back. 

The President (played by Martin Sheen) encourages and invites his staff to share honestly and openly as he weighs decisions. He wants to hear all sides and he is open to criticism (respectfully given, of course).
He weighs, values, and considers all opinions.

Then, he, the President, decides.
  
The decisions are hard and the way to go not always clear or easy. But, he is the leader of the nation and knows there comes a time when he must do the hard stuff of taking action. This means he occasionally does things others aren’t happy with.

It’s at these times that you’ll hear the phrase, “I serve at the pleasure of the President.” Even those who strongly disagree with the President’s final choice now set aside differences and turn toward doing their jobs faithfully and with excellence.
 
They respect and trust their leader and each other, and work together to achieve a positive result in line with the President’s direction.

It's a pleasure to serve

Within the context of the Christian walk, in those battles between the spirit and the flesh, conflict and disagreement are givens. And, of course, this flows over into life as expressed through our various personalities.

According to a personality assessment that classifies people as animals, I’m a beaver (2nd highest was golden retriever). One of the weaknesses of the beaver type is “critical of self and others.”

Yes, I am! That’s me to a T.
 
The two inner voices I have to constantly tamp down are criticism and cynicism. To paraphrase Paul, I am chief among critics and cynics. I am truly and naturally gifted in these areas! Sadly, they don’t produce much fruit.

When these two get loud inside me, I try to counter them by thinking about who I am supposed to be serving in that moment. Of course, I’m always supposed to be “serving at the pleasure of Christ.” But what pleases Him in various contexts?

At work, it might be expressed as, “I serve at the pleasure of my employer (or manager, or co-workers).” In relationships as, “I serve at the pleasure of my friend (or spouse, or relatives).” In home groups as, “I serve at the pleasure of others in the group.” And in church, in any leadership or ministry role, “I serve at the pleasure of the head of this expression of the Body of Christ, the Pastor.”

Dying to self to serve Him & others

I am independent and headstrong. But I am trying to always be aware that there is a time for respectfully sharing differing viewpoints, and then there is a time to shut up and do what needs to be done and support those who I am serving, as well as those I’m working alongside of.

Alas, too often, when these two voices get loud inside me, they spill out through my words and actions. What’s left behind in their wake is scorched earth and ashes, metaphorically speaking. I think you know what I mean. When this happens, I am serving at the pleasure of myself to the joy of Satan.

Paul wrote, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and [voice] you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).

If you hear me being critical and cynical, you have my permission to call me on it and get in my face a little bit (lovingly, of course). Criticism and cynicism are two voices that defeat unity. I don’t want to be guilty of that. Especially not within the Kingdom.


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At whose pleasure do you serve? Are there inner voices you need to tamp down that are interfering with your having a servant’s heart? You pray for me, and I’ll pray for you. Then, let’s stand and work together. And please share your thoughts in the comments!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Fearfully and wonderfully made: Spiritual gifts & personality style

Originally posted July 4, 2009;
reposted here with minor edits.

Some years ago I was involved in the planning and execution of a special study series in my church. The study was called MADE, and addressed finding your calling within your faith. It included taking a look at your personality type and spiritual gifts. As a result, my thoughts were turned to more clearly discerning my own giftings within the context of my personality style.

In the midst of working on this series, one day, a woman at work commented during a conversation that she viewed me as analytical. This struck me as interesting since she didn’t know me all that well.

It also annoyed me.

I’ve taken several “personality” assessments; they’re fun. These “tools” always include a category of “analytical” and attach to it activities such as accounting, technical work, and other emotionless pursuits, most having something to do with numbers.

I hate dealing with numbers, don’t consider myself emotionless, so have always rejected the notion that I am analytical. Being analytical just seems so cold and, well, bean-counterish.

However, days after the comment was made, as I was turning it over and over in my mind, wondering what about me prompted this assessment of being analytical, the light bulb went off!

I was analyzing this comment in very fine detail!

Literally, at that moment (since I was alone at the time), I actually said out loud, “Oh my gosh! I’m analytical!!! When did this happen!?!?”

Many months later I’m still coming to terms with this insight and like to think of myself as warmly analytical. You know, I don’t really analyze things -- I ponder them, or mull them over, or ruminate on them, or assess -- well, you get the picture.

The reality is that I’ve always been analytical, but until that moment, had never acknowledged this part of who I am. Now I also see how it impacts other aspects of who I’m not.

One thing I’m not especially is “spontaneous.” Why? Because that’s not who I am as an analytical person. There are times when I’m able to very quickly assess and respond to a situation in a way that appears to be spontaneous. But spontaneity is just not in my makeup.

Understanding my own personality and recognizing how God has gifted me helps me make choices that fit who I am.

When it comes to working with others, getting a sense of their personality styles and giftings, and how the different styles conflict with and complement one another, is very valuable.

I believe God gifts us both according to our personality style combined with the needs of the moment.

My top three spiritual gifts are administration, wisdom, and discernment. Administration is consistently high, as is anything related to writing/communications. The others tend to shift a tad.

Based on DiSC, Myers-Briggs, and other similar tools, I’ve learned that I’m INFJ, as well as an introvert with A-type tendencies; kind of an AB. Mostly, I’ve learned that I’m flexible, often adapting my style to fit the situation.

Generally though, I love process and tend to be methodical when accomplishing tasks. I use lists a lot. I’m able to see order in chaos; I can see patterns in clutter which helps me move from disorganized to organized. Being able to envision the end result, I can patiently work through untangling the chaos.

And I’m a muller: I will spend a lot of time thinking and assessing. At the same time, once I have a clear vision of where I need to go, I’m full speed ahead; let’s git ‘er done!

What about you? Or the people you work with? Understanding your own personality type and giftings, and being able to discern those of the people around you, can improve relationships and productivity, and increase your happiness.

There are several tools, many online, that can help you discern your spiritual gifts and understand your personality. Just Bing or Google “spiritual gifts” and “personality inventories” and you’ll find a ton.

Here are a few URLs to get you started:

Spiritual Gift Inventories. Take more than one and compare results:
http://www.elca.org/en/Our-Work/Congregations-and-Synods/Faith-Practices/Assessment-Tools?_ga=1.18136894.683773475.1451332152
http://buildingchurch.net/g2s.htm
http://www.kodachrome.org/spiritgift/
http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.1355371/k.9501/Spiritual_Gifts.htm

Information on DiSC:
http://www.discinsights.com/cyber/scripts/default.asp
http://www.discprofile.com/
http://www.onlinediscprofile.com/
http://www.resourcesunlimited.com/

Information on Myers-Briggs:
http://www.keirsey.com/
http://www.myersbriggs.org/
http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp
http://www.knowyourtype.com/
http://www.personalitypage.com/


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I once had a person tell me that this introvert/extrovert sutff was hogwash. What do you think? Do you believe there are clear personality types? Is knowing what type you are helpful? What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Waiting to be seen at the Minute Clinic ® (#Poetry Monday*)

Like bells you might hear
near a monastery,
bottles of joy clink
with a musical smile
as the CVS® clerk
gently restocks
the wine aisle.

Cheers!

The doctor
will see you now.













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* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 

Given the better (and weird) weather, I
ve not had to deal with colds or flu so far. Which reminds me that I still need to get a flu shot! How about you? Have you had to visit a doctor yet? Can you relate to the poem, waiting at a CVS or otherminute like clinic? Share your thoughts in the comments!

This poem is included in this collection:

Sunday, December 27, 2015

It’s all good: Relaxing in God’s loving intentions

Originally posted June 25, 2009;
reposted here with minor edits.


For many years my mantra has been, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This is what Paul wrote in Romans 8:28.

Every time I’m in a perplexing or annoying or tough situation, I try to let this verse play over and over in my head and parse through it.

  • I know I love God, even if imperfectly.
     
  • I know He has called me; this has been affirmed countless times.
     
  • I know He has a purpose for me, even if I’m not always clear on what that is.
     
So, whatever is happening to or around me, my all-knowing, all-loving, always perfect God intends it for my ultimate good. This is true even when I can’t see it.

Regardless of what I’ve been experiencing, as I let this one truth soak into my soul, there is less and less stress and anxiety.

Long ago I came to the awareness that nothing touches my life that doesn’t first pass through my heavenly Father’s hands, and that He will never let anything touch me that I can’t handle.

So, whatever touches me is all good. Eventually.

Knowing this, and experiencing it more and more, allows me to relax. I can walk calmly through whatever is thrown onto my life’s path and He will make sure it doesn’t destroy me.

And if it does?

As Paul writes a little later in Romans, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:8).

It’s all good, either way.


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Do you believe God cares about you? Why or why not? What Bible verse helps you when you are experiencing challenges? How do you sense God’s presence? Do you believe that . in Christ, it’s all good -- eventually? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Closet worship: Wearing my grandma’s genes in secret

Originally posted July 13, 2009;
reposted here with minor edits.


I don’t dance. At least not in public.

I did once when I was in high school. I let myself go at a dance that I stumbled upon while at a choir contest in another town. My arms flailed, my head bobbed, my body twisted and turned, my feet shuffled about.

Later, as I thought about it and pictured myself as others must have seen me, my face reddened. That was the end.

Ever since, I’ve never been able to muster up the courage to dance in public. And you can’t make me.

No matter how much I want to, or how much I care about the person I’m with who wants me to, I just can’t move a muscle. I freeze from the inside out.

When I was a kid, the church I grew up in was one rockin’ place. We were Pentecostals and we didn’t care who knew it.

In the summers, before the building was remodeled and air conditioned, the unscreened windows would all be wide open, the music would be pumpin’, and the people would be jumpin’. It was great.

My grandmother Clark, Mamaw, was an amazing woman, full of the Spirit, and totally uninhibited in worship. I guess I didn’t get her genes. She, on the other hand, would let the Spirit take her and would dance her heart out.

Not only did she dance in the Spirit, but she did it with her hands raised, a foreign tongue spilling from her lips, her face lifted toward heaven, and her eyes closed!

Exalting and praising God, she moved from one end of the steamy bug-filled sanctuary to another, in and out of the rows of old leather theater seats, and did not bump into anyone or anything. I never saw her trip.

While it just wasn’t in me to do what she did, I watched her intently. Partly because I thought for sure she was going to do herself or someone else serious harm. She moved fast! But also because it was so cool to see someone totally immersed in the presence of the Lord. She practically glowed.

David, who “danced before the Lord with all his might,” and my grandmother, got it right.

I can just envision David, his body tense with the sense of God’s power, sweat pouring off him, tears soaking his face, snot dripping from his nose, the kicked up dust of the road coating his skin in a moist mud, lost in fierce focused worship, his spirit aching toward the heavens and an even more intimate experience of God.

That’s what you do when you unabashedly acknowledge the depth of sin in you that has been forgiven in the face of His absolute holiness.

There have been moments, alone in the evening, when I plugged my iPod into my ears, clicked to the worship songs I had loaded, and it was as if my grandmother tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Wade in deep. Let go. Just dance!”

And, please don’t tell anyone, but I did.

From time to time, when alone, the songs stirred my introvert heart with the passion of God’s love. “I can only imagine…Surrounded by your glory, What will my heart feel? Will I dance for You, Jesus! Or in awe of You be still? Will I stand in Your presence? Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine.”

My mind filled with the image of being before His throne and I was flooded with the Spirit’s power and gripped by His love.

“Better is one day in Your courts than thousands elsewhere! … My heart and flesh cry out, for You the living God.”

We sing this song in church, and it’s all so nice and neat and proper. But inside, my inner dancing man strains to see His face, to touch his hem, to be embraced. When I’m alone, the inner dancer comes out. Sometimes.

“This is the air I breathe. Your holy presence living in me. And I, I’m desperate for you…”

Sometimes, alone, as I have listened and sung along to songs like these, I became a little like David and my grandmother. I danced, I jumped, I reached up to the ceiling.

In those rare moments, knowing my own potential for evil and understanding that in spite of myself He loves me without reservation, the tears soaked my face, the snot dripped from my nose, my spare tire bounced, my hands clenched and opened, my arms raised to the heavens, my under-exercised body strained in clumsy dance, and I worshiped him, uninhibited.

There were moments it felt as if my chest would split open and my spirit would go soaring straight to the sky. And that is a very lovely feeling.

God doesn’t care how uncoordinated my dancing might have looked. He didn’t care if my rhythm was off or I jerked about like an under-lubricated spastic robot.

What he cares about is the passion in my heart that’s directed toward Him. And in those secret moments, it was laser-locked on His amazing grace and awesome glory. I am humbled, crushed, grateful.

This is true even when, usually, I stand quietly in awe.

I ache and long and yearn to “fly away, oh, glory!” I want to be completely “washed in the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb.” I want to “sing of [His] love forever.” I want to see the “mountains bow down and the seas … roar at the sound of [His] name.”

“Holy, holy, holy….”

I’m not holy, except by virtue of His grace and mercy, and for that, I will dance, and cry, and be foolish. Okay, only in private for now, and mostly in my imagination. I’m an introvert after all (click here see this prior post and this one on the topic).

But apparently I did get a few of my grandmother’s dancing genes. That’s not a bad thing either. Maybe, just maybe, one day, some of that will leak out in public. But, in the meantime, it’s better to have danced before the Lord in private than to never have danced at all.

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Given that I am prone to a-fib, I will admit I dont really do this anymore except in my imagination ;-). If you’re not Pentecostal (or Charismatic) how do you view “those” people? Are you expressive in your worship? Do you believe worship should be quiet and staid? How do you prefer to worship? Do you feel disdain toward those who worship differently than you do? Why or why not? Is there a difference between the content of faith and the expression of faith in worship? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Christmas Cheer of Angels (A Christmas Poem in Five Tweets)

Originally posted December 25, 2009;
reposted here with minor edits.

Suddenly, without warning, the silent starlit sheep-fields blazed bright with the awesome knee-bending glory of God. First, fear; then, JOY!

A solitary envoy angel booms the midnight news: “Emmanuel has come! Lord, King, Messiah, is fresh-born, swaddled in a trough! Go! Find him!"

Abruptly: a torrential host of heaven’s angelic armies appear intoning, “Glory to God in the highest; peace on earth among those He favors!”

Mary dozes as Joseph holds the promise of God in his hands, stained with birth-blood, a baby who awes angels, shepherds, wisemen, and kings.

The Christmas cheer of angels echoes evergreen through the ages. Emmanuel has come! This God/man/baby decorates receptive hearts with Truth.





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This was Tweeted on Twitter in five parts on 12/24/09. Each line is 140 characters including spaces. Merry Christmas! Please share your greetings or thoughts in the comments!


Angel on a stained glass window in the crypt of the cathedral of Strasbourg.

This poem is included in this collection:

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Heaven

 I wrote this devotional a few years ago. It's included in Words for Winter.

Originally posted December 24, 2013;
reposted here with minor edits.

When I was a boy, one of my favorite things to do at Christmas was go to my grandmother’s house. It was a tiny, barely put together farm house next to a train track just at the edge of town. In the house later as an adult, I had a hard time imagining how we all fit at Christmas. It really was tiny. But we all did fit! Aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, the new spouses, and a few strays. The place was packed front to back.

The men mostly sat in the living room with Papaw. He would “chaw” his “tobacky” and they would chaw with each other and glance at the game or Christmas program on the little black and white TV in the corner, warmed by the giant coal furnace that took up half the room! Mamaw and the women held their annual Christmas confab in the kitchen, warmed by the never-off oven and stove.

What a treasure room the kitchen was! We’d never see as much or as wide a variety of food the whole rest of the year. The smells of freshly baked pies and bread, and turkey and ham roasting in the oven were heavenly! Everyone brought something, but Mamaw by far prepared the bulk of it. Everything tasted as delicious as it smelled.

While waiting for the latecomers to arrive and the turkey to get just right brown, we, the kids, played. Indoors and outdoors, no matter the weather. We chased through the tiny house, hootin’ and a hollerin’ and a carryin’ on. At least that’s how Mamaw would describe it when she’d tell us, with a mischievous grin, to “hesh up and settle down a bit.”

Of course, we didn’t get too rowdy. We didn’t want to make Mamaw really upset for fear we’d miss her Christmas prize. Every year, she always gave us kids the special gift. It was one thing we looked forward to as much as anything else at Christmas.

Until there were too many of us for her budget, Mamaw always gave every grandkid a silver dollar! You’d have thought she’d handed us bars of pure gold the way we held those coins. Once in our hands, you’d practically have to pry them loose with a crowbar. They were magical, special, and ours.

It wouldn’t have made any difference how loud we might have whooped it up, she would have still given us the silver dollars. She loved us unconditionally. In a very real sense, we belonged to her and she would not have forsaken any of us.

Every year as we move steadily closer to the 25th of December, there is a question we hear over and over: “What would you like to get this year?” In fact, in many families, written lists of Christmas wishes are mandatory. Once produced, they are put on the refrigerator door so all can refer to them.

All of us wants something at Christmas, even if we say otherwise. There’s something soul affirming in receiving a gift given in love, even if it’s not deserved or wasn’t expected.

There’s no greater gift we can receive than the gift of Jesus Christ and his salvation: “… the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b).

What’s more, once you accept this gift, it’s yours forever. The Lord said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). You are His child.

My silver dollars? Sadly, they’re gone. Lost after several house moves. But what has never been lost is the love I felt when I received those coins. My grandmother’s love was genuine and true. She lives in heaven, but her love lives in my heart even today. Her love is a forever gift worth more than all the silver and gold in the world.

So is the love and mercy of Christ. As long as you walk with Him and grow in grace, you will one day spend Christmas in heaven with my grandmother. And she might just give you a silver dollar!

“‘Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:11-14).





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What are some of the Christmas memories you treasure? Share them in the comments! Read more like this in Words For Winter: A small collections of writings for the season, available for Kindle or in Paperback.

http://www.amazon.com/Words-Winter-collection-writings-season-ebook/dp/B006O1GEE0/ref=la_B001HQ1DDE_1_11?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1387914688&sr=1-11

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Crèche Control: A Christmas mediation



Every year it came out of the basement to make a prominent appearance, usually on top of our TV. This was back when deep-tubed screens were housed in large wooden boxes, fancy faux cabinetry with three channels.

Even though most appropriately labeled a crèche, we simply called it “The Nativity.”

It was made of stiff die-cut cardboard decorated with smatterings of glued-on straw. Packed away flat, the walls folded up where the cardboard was scored and connected with slots and tabs. The roof, a separate piece, once snapped into place, held it all together.

This stable, a holy dollhouse, was an open-fronted room with windows all around. Breezy, for sure.

The figures were molded plastic, poorly painted. Mary, Joseph, a one-piece baby Jesus and manger, three kings, a couple of shepherds, sheep, a cow, a camel, a donkey. Fake greenery planted in foil-covered wooden thimbles graced either side for “realism.”

Above it all a star and an angel. The star was a candle. There was also a small bulb positioned inside at the back, just out of sight, that, when on in the evening, offered a perpetual sunset glow.

This was our traditional Christmas imagery. The key elements of the story compacted into one still scene. A sacred 3D snapshot of compressed time.

Then I heard in some sermon somewhere that it wasn’t a stable, but a cave, where the holy family sheltered. Hewn from the rocky hills, damp and stuffy, but at least offering a little more protection from the elements.

Next, the elements themselves were called into question. There was no bleak midwinter snow on snow or moaning frosty wind as Christina Rossetti had misled us. Rather, it was most likely balmy, possibly fall. Maybe at night it was a littler cooler. But no snow.

Then it was exposed that the three were not kings, nor necessarily three, and definitely not there at the birth. The wise men came later, as much as two years. After their visit, they left, amazed and in secret, triggering a small massacre that isn’t talked about much.

There’s also no report of any angels hanging about at the scene of the birth. Odds are, some have said, there were no animals lowing or adoring either. Not even camels.

And it’s not implausible that Mary and Joseph did not employ a donkey for transportation or travel alone. Instead, they may have been part of a foot-borne caravan, a moveable feast of fellow travelers.

Now, the stable that morphed into a cave, is said to be, perhaps, a guest room in a relative’s house. Or, more likely say some, a ground level room that served as a sort of secure sheep-hold for an animal or two at night.

But that would mean there were animals after all, right?

Who knows.

The Bible’s accounts skimp on certain details artfully imagined over the years. There was no curmudgeonly innkeeper or even an inn, in the traditional understanding of holiday inns.

No talking animals. No angels at the door. No Amahl. No night visitors named Melchior, Balthazar, or Gaspar. Definitely no drummer boy.

Regardless, there is one thing that holds true. The manger. The feeding trough. And Christ as a baby in it.

Now, the manger, the cross, and the grave are empty. But, hopefully, not our resident hearts.

This is immutable: Immanuel, God with us. Oh, holy night, indeed! It is more than enough to draw us to our knees in adoration.


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This is the third post related to this theme of “correcting Christmas.” Click here to read the first, a poem, and click here to read the second, an essay. Is there a special decoration or activity that you had in your house when you were young that marked the start of the Christmas season? What are your favorite memories? Was Christmas a happy time or a hard time? Why? What about now? Please share your reactions to this meditation and your own Christmas memories in the comments!

St. Mary the Virgin, Chappaqua, NY:


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Exposing the myths of Christmas: An “Oh Ho Ho Ho Holy Night” makeover?

Yes, as a child I believed in Santa Claus, even though I grew up in a thoroughly Bible-believing home.

Gasp!

I don’t remember exactly when I realized Santa wasn’t real. But there was no trauma and I can still enjoy the fun of including jolly Kris Kringle in my holiday observance. Miracle on 34th Street is one of my favorite movies (the original in black and white, of course).

Is that wrong of me? Depends on your point of view.

Every year as the holiday season nears, articles begin appearing heralding the “truth” about Christmas.

Some are slanted to rob the season of the Reason we, who are Christians, celebrate and contemplate these holy days.

Others work hard to separate the chaff of “false” traditions from the wheat of reported biblical facts.

The truth is that details regarding the first Christmas are pretty sparse in the Bible.

The primary passages generally include slightly more than two dozen verses from the first two books of both Matthew and Luke.

It’s from these passages that Linus quotes in A Charlie Brown Christmas and serve as the outline for most church pageants.

Of course, there are myriad other passages throughout Scripture, especially in Isaiah 7 and 9, that point to Christ. Several make up the lyrics of George Frideric Handel’s magnificent oratorio, Messiah, a favorite seasonal choral piece.

Yet this scant information fuels a significant and lavish time of holiday reflection and cheer.

Known knowns: things we know we know

What we know, focusing specifically on the traditional elements of the Nativity scene, based solely on the passages referenced, are these few, yet essential facts:
  • Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant (Luke 1:27).
  • This information was conveyed to Mary by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26).
  • The child was conceived via divine fiat (Luke 1:35).
  • He was declared, by the angel Gabriel, to be Jesus, the Son of God (Luke 1:30-32).
  • Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant and planned to divorce her quietly (Matthew 1:18-19).
  • However, at some point an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, explained the circumstances, and instructed him to not divorce Mary (Matthew 1:10-23).
  • Joseph did exactly as the angel of the Lord had instructed (Matthew 1:24-25).
  • Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem as part of a census (Luke 2:1-5).
  • Due to limited lodging options, they were bedded in a place where there was a manger (Luke 2:6-7).
  • Mary gave birth to Jesus and placed him in the manger (Luke 2:6-7).
  • Somewhere near Bethlehem, one unnamed angel followed by a host of angels, appeared to a group of shepherds (Luke 2:8-9).
  • The shepherds were told about Jesus, that He would be found in Bethlehem, in a manger (Luke 2:10-14).
  • The shepherds went into Bethlehem, found the holy family, saw Jesus in the manger, told everyone about the angels, then returned to their shepherding duties, rejoicing the entire time (Luke 2:11-20).
  • After Jesus was born in Bethlehem about two years later, an unspecified number of “wise men from the East” came to Jerusalem, approached king Herod, and inquired about the “king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:1-2).
  • Herod, not happy about this, determined to learn more from his own scholars (Matthew 2:3-6).
  • Herod then told the wise men to visit Bethlehem, find Jesus, and report back to him (Matthew 2:2-8).
  • The wise men (aka Magi), navigating by a star (or was it a comet?), found the holy family and rejoiced at their discovery (Matthew 2:9-10).
  • After entering the house of the holy family, they presented an unspecified number of gifts which included gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11).
  • Later, the wise men were warned via a dream to not report to Herod, so returned to “their own country” by a different route (Matthew 2:12).

The end.

Do you feel like some things are missing? Maybe out of synch?

Based solely on the primary passages from Matthew and Luke, these are the essential facts reported in the Bible about that first Christmas.

Note also that the timeline of events isn’t completely clear.

Known unknowns: things we know we don’t know

From these short passages, a few extra-biblical assumptions have grown up over the years. Some of these have been influenced by modern cultural experiences.

Many neglect to account for the very different practices and places of Jesus’ day, projecting their modern life experience onto that of the holy family.

Many of these assumed elements show up in Christmas pageants, crèches, and carols:

  • In bleak midwinter: While many dream of a “white Christmas,” believing this was the weather when Jesus was born, this assumes several things that Scripture doesn’t address. Much of our thinking about cold snowy Christmases comes from imaginative poetry and carols. We don’t know the specific date of Jesus’ birth. Assigning a wintry December 25th was somewhat arbitrary and even contentious. If Jesus was born in December in Judea, odds are, due to the typically inclement weather that time of year, shepherds would probably not have been out in the fields. It’s also unlikely that a census would have been taken requiring people to travel in bad weather. Some, based on a variety of biblical clues, believe the birth happened during the late summer or fall. We just don’t know for sure.

  • We three kings of Orient are: While this makes for a grand image, there is no indication that these “wise men from the East” were kings, no indication what country they were from, and no indication there were three. They also are never referenced by individual names. While three gifts were named (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) these were not the only gifts given. Some speculate that there could have been a large caravan of people. Rather than kings, some believe, based on Scriptural clues, that these Magi were astrologers or astronomers. And while they came from some place east of Bethlehem, the term “Orient,” which is not used in the Bible, can encompass a large, non-specific area. Oh, and they didn’t show up in the story until about two years after the whole babe-in-a-manger thing.

  • Angels we have heard on high: Angels are an adorable part of every Christmas pageant. And they are usually present in Nativity scenes, live and painted. But, we don’t know if any angels were present at the actual birthplace. While the Bible reports that, on the night of the birth of Jesus, angels appeared to the shepherds “out in the fields,” there is no indication of any angels hanging around the specific spot of the birth. Maybe they were there. Maybe they weren’t. We just don’t know.

  • No room, no room, for Jesus: Oh how we love to hate that grumpy innkeeper who refused Mary and Joseph shelter in their time of need. The thing is, there is no mention of any innkeeper in the story. In fact, there’s no clear reference to an inn or even a stable. The word translated as “inn” in some Bible versions, can mean “lodging place, eating room, dining room, guest chamber” among other things. It’s assumed Mary and Joseph stayed where animals were kept because of the “manger” which is a feeding trough. Based on cultural studies of the times, their lodging place may have been a cave or a lower room in the house where animals were kept at night. We don’t know for certain.

  • Ox and ass before Him bow: Even if the holy family were put up in a stable (whether free-standing with rafters, part of a house, or in a cave) we don’t know that any animals were present. The visiting shepherds may have brought a sheep with them, but why would they? There is even doubt that Mary and Joseph traveled with a donkey. And it just seems wrong that whoever put them up would force them to lodge with animals. As far as animals kneeling or talking, again, this is nothing more than imaginative myth that makes for fun carols. All we know for certain is that the place where God became incarnate was very basic and humble. Even without animals, the place probably wasn’t clean or sanitary. But, even in this, I’m speculating.

These are just a few of the images that have been wrongly attributed to the Christmas story.

But the add-ons don’t stop there.

Unknown unknowns: things we don't know we don't know

Outside of these embellishments to the Nativity, a lot of imagery has accumulated around our celebration of Christmas. Generally this involves attributing spiritual qualities to symbols and traditions.

For some, holly represents the thorny crown placed on the head of Jesus at his crucifixion. The Christmas tree, an evergreen, evokes the hope of everlasting life.

Giving gifts is said to reflect the free gift of grace available to those who believe. Decorating the tree can represent putting on our new life in Christ.

Each verse of the interminable Christmas song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” was said by some to be fraught with religious meaning. For example, three French hens stood for the trinity, and the six geese a-laying were representative of the six days of creation, and so on.

Even food gets into the act! Traditional figgy pudding is said to consist of 13 ingredients, representing Jesus and his 12 disciples. This is only one of the meanings attached to this carol-extolled suet-laden dessert.

For some, the shape of candy canes evokes the shepherd’s crook, while the colors speak to the blood and purity of Jesus.

There are even those who claim fruitcake symbolizes the fruit of the Spirit. While some fruitcakes are soaked in spirits, I would argue its reputation doesn’t support such a positive representation.

Beyond symbolism, there are stories and carols, birthed from evergreen imaginations, that are not factual but meant to personalize the Christmas experience, translating it into a contemporary context.

The little drummer boy was not a real person, but the story of the song does deliver a legitimate message of worship, selflessness, and humility. It’s not unlike the parables Jesus used as teaching tools.

Knowing what we know and don’t, what difference does it make?

I am a firm believer in “rightly dividing the word.” We should never attribute biblical weight or authority to what are merely cultural practices. We need to know what is and isn’t in the Bible.

But cultural practices cannot automatically be considered completely useless chaff and tossed aside. And I am not at all ready to stand aside and let culture strip the season down to nothing but crass commercialism.

God created us in His image and imbues us with fertile imaginations. Using this marvelous attribute to envisage “what it might have been like” at the birth of Christ, filling in the gaps in the biblical narrative, can be inspiring, insightful, and fun.

This is how we make the story of the Bible our own, allowing us to better internalize its vital message.

Further, infusing spiritual meaning into gifting, Christmas trees, mistletoe, and the like can be a good way to fully appropriate and redeem the Christmas season to our faith.

Generally, I believe most Christians are smart enough to understand what’s thoroughly biblical and what’s merely symbolic.

As for Nativity sets, pageants, and even great works of art that include sheep, kings, and little angels galore, these are a kind of visual poetry that condenses all the elements of the story into one scene. This powerful imagery is an effective way to communicate the heart and true Spirit of the Christmas story.

It’s good to remember that the kings (who weren’t kings) came later, that the stable may have been a cave or a room, that no drummer boy visited Jesus, and Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar are just made up names.

At the same time we don’t need to rob the season of these iconic images that, for the most part, lead attention to the main point of the season -- Jesus -- who really was placed in manger.

Yes, we most certainly need to be able to separate fact from fiction. Even so we can be biblically accurate and Truth-centric without being Scrooges regarding relatively harmless traditions.

Instead of humbugging what could be considered an inaccuracy or secularization, let’s creatively use the season to inject joyful truth about the Truth into our celebration and conversations.

Let’s build on the sense of “magic” by sharing the awesome “wonder” surrounding the game-changing birth of Christ.

Although, adding aliens in the mix may be one creative idea too far. I’m not sure. What do you think?


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Additional reading:

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How do you feel about “embellishments” to the Christmas story? What kinds of traditions did you grow up with that later you learned were “inaccurate”? Did you grow up believing in both Jesus and Santa Claus? If so, how did you resolve the truth and the myth later? How do believe is the best way to celebrate Christmas? What’s the most unusual tradition you’ve encountered? Please share your comments! And click here see the theme of this post presented in poetic form.

Triptych of the Nativity, García del Barco (ca. 1450 - ca. 1500).


Monday, December 21, 2015

On the first ever Christmas, my true Lord gave to me... (#Poetry Monday*)


Oh, holy night, the star is brightly shining. Or perhaps a comet?
It is the warm, balmy night of our Savior's globed birth. In the air,
a thrill, but no snow lies glistening. No snow upon snow or midwinter chill.
No regal kings, whether one or three, are present to worship the baby.
Although they who are coming, in their shipless “Orient” wisdom,
may already be traversing moor and mountain seeking incarnate deity.

Silent-ish night, holy night, there is no crib for a bed, a feeding trough
only, one true element of our auld familiar Christmas imagery.
There is no angel dangling above, no kneeling bovine or braying ass.
Shepherds? Yes, a few show up, stunned and stung by angel song.
They ramble in, perhaps a bit boisterous, breathless as they recount
the startling scene that broke over them on the snowless field. Or mount?

Joseph and Mary, with the fresh born ancient Truth, are here, sheltering,
wondering. He assumed to be older than she assumed to be a teen.
But again, this is speculation. There apparently was no inn to be shunned
from, or a donkey on which to ride, or even a stable in which to hide.
Details are lacking. But one truth holds firm. He, foretold, has come
to earth, and nothing remains the same with His new birth. The Son!


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* It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 

Some object to Christmas traditions, especially elements attached to the Nativity, that aren’t specifically in the Bible passages. This poem addresses some of those poetic yet technical inaccuracies, many found in Carols. Can you recognize the Carols alluded to? How do you feel about the embellishments? Are they evil or harmless?
Please let me hear from you! Feel free to share your thoughts and impressions in the comments. (More posts to come on this topic this week. Click here.)

The Nativity c. 1400, Tempera on walnut, Galerie mittelalterlicher österreichischer Kunst, Vienna:

This poem is included in this collection:

Friday, December 18, 2015

What exactly did you meme by that? Things Jesus didn’t (& wouldn't) say...

Originally posted December 18, 2014;
reposted here with minor edits.


I love a good quote. Especially quotes about writing. One of my favorites is from Peter De Vries who said, “I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.”

So true.

Another good one comes from Gene Fowler: “Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Yes, writing can be sweet torture!

Witty, humorous, and inspirational quotes from well-known or barely-known people can be fun to share and hang on our cubicle walls.

A lot of people like to share favorite scripture passages.

Standing on the paper promises of God

When I was a kid, Promise Boxes were a big deal and the source of good quotes. Just about everyone I knew had at least one in their house.

Basically, a promise box was some sort of attractive container made of wood or plastic that held a few dozen slips of heavy paper about 1 inch by 3 inches. Some boxes were cleverly crafted in the shape of loaves of bread with the mini-cards in the top, offering “daily bread.”

Nicely printed on each mini-card would be a “promise” verse from the Bible. For example, verses such as these:
  • “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” - Romans 8:1, ESV
     
  • “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” - 2 Corinthians 5:7, ESV
     
  • “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” - Jeremiah 29:11, ESV
     
  • “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” - Romans 8:28, ESV
     
Promise box verses tend always to be positive, upbeat, and generally what would be called faith-affirming.

Don’t harsh my promise box

What you probably won’t find in a promise box are verses like these:
  • “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” - Matthew 24:9, ESV
     
  • “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” - Mark 13:13, ESV
     
  • “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” - Luke 21:16-17, ESV
     
  • “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” - 2 Timothy 3:2, ESV
     
Ouch! Sometimes the truth hurts.

It’s this imbalance of scripture presented that cause some to look askance at promise boxes.  “Promise box faith” is not seen as particularly well-rounded or mature.

Depending on a promise box for your scripture in-take is like nibbling on snacks instead of eating full, well-rounded meals.

Promise boxing your way through life is as bad as trying to be healthy while eating only junk food.

In fact, the way some use their promise boxes can be akin to seeking wisdom from daily horoscopes or finding more than entertainment in a fortune cookie. If you’re wondering, these are not good things.

Meme me up, Scotty!

With the advent of social media, something new has come along that fills the same function of promise boxes. Today, we have memes!

Positive and happy sounding memes with backgrounds of kittens, flowers, and sunsets abound on Facebook, Instagram, Imgur, Twitter, and all over the Interwebs espousing meme faith.

The positive, inspirational, and uplifting quotations come from people with very diverse worldviews.

On the surface, they seem harmless. But, for people of faith who pledge allegiance to the inspired Word of God, many are far more troublesome than proof-texted verses from a promise box.

Why? Because many meme quotes, besides not being scripture, aren’t even scripturally defensible. They are empty words that can deceive (Ephesians 5:6).

For example, a popular meme passed around recently bore this quote: “Whatever makes you feel bad, leave it. Whatever makes you smile, keep it.”

Can you imagine Jesus saying something like this? Just look back up a few sentences to those examples of not-so-happy Bible verses. All of them contradict this meme quote.

What makes this even more egregious is the meme with this quote was passed around and applauded by a lot of believers.

Let’s look at a few more meme quotes up against scripture:
  • Meme says: “Go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated.”
    Bible says:
    “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’” - Mark 16:15, ESV
     
  • Meme says: “All I want is for my children to be happy.”
    Bible says:
    “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” - 3 John 1:4, ESV
     
  • Meme says: “You cannot hang out with negative people and expect to live a positive life.”
    Bible says:
    “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” - Matthew 11:19, ESV (Or, how about Jesus “hanging out” on the cross between two criminals and one being influenced positively into heaven described in Luke 23?)
     
You get the idea.

Eschewing memes for the solid food of truth

Just because something sounds good doesn’t mean it is good, or right. A critical aspect of the mature Christian life is the development of discernment. 

When it comes to memes and inspirational quotes:
  • We need to discern the truth and value of what’s shared with us: Allowing nice-sounding truisms that really aren’t truth to seep into our thinking can quietly undermine our faith like a growing cavity on an unbrushed tooth. In other words, it’s bad leaven. (Matthew 16:12)
     
  • We need to discern the impact of what we share with others: Sharing truisms that promote philosophies and worldviews counter to scripture calls our own faith into question, creates confusion, and casts doubt on the validity of the Gospel. In other words, we become the bad leaven. (1 Timothy 5:5-7)
     
Before buying into or sharing a meme quote, here are a couple of simple tests to help clarify its value:
  • Can you imagine Jesus saying it? If you can’t then you probably shouldn’t share it or dwell on it. (John 14:6)
     
  • Does it jibe with scriptural truth? If not, then sharing it could mean sharing a lie and we’re called to share truth! (Philippians 4:8)
     
Dr. John White wrote, “For the Christian the essence of honesty lies in not only being faithful to the truth but to the Truth.”

While memes can be fun and provide a quick hit of inspiration, anything that inspires us away from solid truth -- or the Truth (Jesus) -- is dangerous. There’s nothing trivial about flippantly sharing a cute meme that conveys something askew.

Eugene H. Peterson stated, “Good poetry survives not when it is pretty or beautiful or nice but when it is true: accurate and honest.”

The same could be said for good memes. And you can quote me on this.



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Do you agree or disagree? What memes have you encountered that seemed a tad off? Is the content of a meme really all that important? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Just for fun:


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Brief review: I believe & it’s not silly

‘Tis the season for believin’.

Macy’s makes this commercially clear in their seasonal advertising. Even popular movies and TV programs pump up the believing mantra.

“You have everything you need, if you just believe,” and hop aboard the Polar Express.

And little Susan, forlorn that her miracle wasn’t under the tree, mumbles pitifully, “I believe... I believe... It’s silly, but I believe.”

But then, because that’s what the screenwriters pre-ordained, her miracle finally comes into view because, as her mother explained, “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don’t you see?”

Well, not exactly.

Often, even true believers -- aka Christians -- don’t do much better.

When a need is present, the answer to its solution is, “Just believe! Believe real good!”

And soon it all devolves into being the little Christian who could, bearing down and grunting between clenched teeth, “I think I can believe. I think I can believe.”

But all of this begs the question, Believe in what?

Ah, there’s the rub.

Contending in the faith with the creeds

I grew up in a faith tradition that more or less pooh-poohed anything that even resembled the trappings of “them other fancy  churches.” Meaning the Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, not to mention the Catholics. Seriously, don’t mention them.

This meant, in part, we didn’t ascribe to the generally accepted creeds and confessions of the Christian faith.

You know, the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Westminster Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and so forth.

Frankly, I think this was a real shame. Studying these traditional, truth-packed resources would have provided a far firmer theological grounding than did the diluted Sunday school stories we were plied with.

Now, understand, I am thoroughly proud of my church-centered heritage. What I was exposed to was not a waste. But there was (and is) room for significant improvement.

One good resource that churches could employ is R. C. Sproul’s recently re-released and slightly updated book, What We Believe: Understanding and Confessing the Apostles’ Creed (Baker).

Feeding the mind of Christ in us

Too many believers tend to brush off any talk of theology, preferring to wade in the shallows of devotional reading and promise-box believing.

Sproul states, “a flea could wade in the depth of knowledge about God in the mind of the average Christian.”

Sorry, but that’s not going to cut it.

Survival in today’s post-modern world requires more than happy, saccharine, Bible-lite sermons and positive-thinking memes.

Sproul opens the book stating,
“Nothing is as radical as a new mind, and a new mind is a matter of theology. To be conformed to the thinking of this world is to think with its forms and structures. To be transformed is to think beyond the forms of this world. And the power for this transformation is the renewed mind. It means a new set of beliefs. A renewed mind means a major reorientation of what we believe.”

Breaking out the Apostles’ Creed into 13 segments, Sproul lays out a path for better biblical thinking grounded in sound theology.

He starts at the beginning -- I believe in God -- explaining, “That confession is not an expression of a creative imagination or an instance of projection, but a response to the One who manifests himself in creation, in history, in deed and in word, and, supremely, in Christ.”

From there Sproul presents a cogent and accessible argument for each piece of the creed, building solid content behind Christian belief.

In the final chapter of the book, he provides very relevant discussions of the differences between guilt and feeling guilty, theonomy versus autonomy, separating guilt from conscience, how to discern true forgiveness in light of not feeling forgiven, the role of repentance, contrition versus attrition, and cheap grace, among other topics.

Better living through better believing

Believing is a wonderful expression of faith. But to be of any real value, the content behind what’s being believed in must be substantial, viable, and true.

Belief in and of itself is useless. (And Santa isn’t real.)

Sproul has provided an excellent resource using the model of the Apostles’ Creed to help all Christians firm up the substance of what they believe in with clear biblical evidence on which to stand.

The book is a great read for any believer, especially those new to the faith, and would be useful for small group study and Sunday school classes.



BTW: If you read a previous review of a Sproul book, which I panned, I mentioned that there were other books of his that I liked. This is one. As with the previous one, this is a re-issue (one of many prior). However, this one makes that fact more clear and the editing does make it fresh. Publishers typically update and reissue older books by popular authors to freshen the sales.

Random Trivia: These are two actual sentences from the book that, for some reason, cracked me up when I came across them. You’ll have to get the book to see them in context:
  • “Attacks by seafaring Philistines were a constant source of danger.”
  • “Few people grieve when a fly dies.”


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NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


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Did you / do you study the Creeds and such in your church? If not, do they seem foreign to you? Why or why not? Do you believe creeds and confessions are useful for gaining maturity in faith? If not, why not? Please share your thoughts, criticisms, and insights in the comments!