Saturday, December 18, 2010

Welcome to Starbucks! What kind of Christmas can I get you this year?

I like two kinds of coffee.  

Officially, they're both "coffee." But in reality they're so dissimilar, they're like two entirely different things.

One is coffee with flavored cream and sugar. It's a luxurious, desserty kind of thing. The other is coffee black and strong. This drink is bare, sharp, essential. There's nothing desserty about it.

Both start in the same place - made from the same beans and the same water in the same pot. It's what's added afterward that makes the difference.

I call coffee-with-stuff-in-it "coffee drink".
Black coffee I just call "coffee".

Having different names helps me keep mental track of them.

* * * * * * *

I used to think I was a little schizophrenic when it comes to Christmas. On one hand I really enjoy the whole Christmas deal - the lights, the music, the trees, and yes even the gifts. But there's also a part of me that began to feel a little guilty about all the distracting hubbub after I became a Christian.  I mean, really, where is Jesus in all that stuff?

And so, to save myself from an early insanity I decided that, like coffee, there must be two kinds of Christmas.

Officially, they're both "Christmas." But they really are two entirely different things.

Christmas-with-stuff-in-it is a luxurious, desserty celebration.

But there's another kind of Christmas that's just as real, yet intensely more bare, sharp & essential.

* * * * * * *

This year I propose we enjoy "Christmas" to the full.  See, smell, hear, feel and taste everything Christmasy you can. Get everything out of it that hundreds of years of tradition have put into it. And don't even compromise the experience (or belittle God Almighty) by trying to stick Jesus in next to the Tree, between Santa & Rudolph.

But then, when the day arrives, celebrate another Christmas - a Christmas that the world around you doesn't know about or care for. 

Both Jewish and Christian tradition have always called especially holy days, "feasts".

So, I suggest that this year we take a moment out of celebrating Christmas-as-the-world-does-it to celebrate something different, the "Feast of the Incarnation".

This Feast will be a time set apart to fully appreciate the fact that the Eternal God became a human being with only one purpose - to tear us away from sin & death and pull us close to Him. It will be a quiet celebration, maybe at church or in a room by yourself alone with the Lord. It will probably be more an act of joyful worship than a celebration in the normal sense.

And to get you started, here's a text for this day:

In the very beginning, Jesus Christ already was. 
From the very beginning Jesus Christ was God.
Through Him all things were made, and in Him was Life.
But there came a time when Jesus Christ became a human man. 
And He lived with us. 
And we saw His glory.
And His light has taken away our darkness, and His life has delivered us from death.
(John 1:1~17 - paraphrased)

Merry Christmas to you all. 
And many blessings on this Feast of the Incarnation.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A question I pose at the end

Here's a thought.

It seems to me that in every area of our lives we are either winning, losing, or not even in the game.

An example: Wellness
I find that I'm either eating brilliantly and working out every day (winning).
Or binge-stuffing chocolate-covered potato chips while lying face down on the couch (losing).
Or, I mindlessly eat whatever's around, and take the stairs instead of the elevator only if they happen to be closer (not even in the game).

Another example: Finances
I'm either clipping coupons and monitoring mutual funds (winning).
Or spending money with hearty abandon (losing).
Or, I go weeks on end without thinking about cashflow in any way (not in the game).

As I type these examples I begin to notice that "losing" and "not in the game" look quite similar. 

I suppose that's because "not in the game" is really just "losing" with no interest in the outcome. When you're losing you hate the fact that you're losing. When you're out of the game you couldn't care less.

To summarize:
Winning = awareness + success
Losing = awareness + failure
Not in the Game = no awareness + no interest

Now, why do I bother thinking all this out loud?

I've been feeling kind of discouraged recently. I know I haven't been walking much in the Spirit or maintaining a spiritual mind. I haven't been praying like I need to, or feeling much interest in the things of God. And because of my failure in this area, nothing else in my life seems very interesting or meaningful. 

As I mulled these thoughts over the other day, a very clear message popped into my head: "You know exactly what the problem is and how to fix it. But you're not doing it. You are losing the battle for your mind."

And all of a sudden I felt even worse.
I was losing!
Therefore, I was a loser.
I wanted to win, but the opposite was reality.

But just as quickly as that thought came and faded away, a realization took its place.

I suddenly recalled all the many years when spiritual-mindedness wasn't even a part of my life. I was worse off then, in those days when I was my own boss and my thoughts never rose higher than the top of my hair, but I felt just fine.

At that point, I stopped and gave thanks.
The stuff above, about winning & losing & not in the game, had all become clear to me.

Today I'm in the game.
I care. I strive. 
I rejoice when I'm winning, and I agonize when I'm losing.  
And I'm no longer blind, mute, dumb and numb.
I may be having a bad month, but even this is so much better than being out of it altogether.

And all this led me ultimately to the question I pose here today: How many Christians are out there who don't know or care about the "game"?  Who just go to church on Sundays (or only on holidays) and barely think about the new life they've been given?  How many Christians just live their earthly lives entirely content with whatever's in front of them and never even realize that a life lived merely in the world is a dark prison with big TVs and no locks?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The last one on Truth for a while, I promise

To wrap this subject up for a while, I want to explain why I believe the question "Where in the Bible did you learn that?" is the only way to successfully combat false philosophies (aka, Untruth). I'm certainly aware there are other possible ways. I just don't think those other ways are reliable or ultimately correct.

For example, why couldn't a person ask: Where in church tradition did you learn that? or What logic led you to that conclusion? or How does Islam respond to that?

To answer that, we must first answer this: From where do we learn truth? I can come up with only three possible sources:

1.  Reason (we think it out)
2.  Feeling (we go with what out gut/heart says is right)
3.  Revelation (we are told what is right by a "higher source" - a god/spirit, teacher, tradition)

But, there are problems with each of these:

1. There are a lot of things we can reason out, but way too many we cannot, no matter how smart we are. For example, thinking alone could not possibly have discovered the deeper things of Faith, such as Christ's advent and resurrection. To be known, they had to be revealed. Another obvious problem with this source is the source itself - that is, how imperfect and easily-lead-astray our human minds are. If you sit alone under a nice tree on a beautiful day and try to work out a theology describable as "perfectly true", you will fail every time.

2. Refuting feelings as a viable source of truth doesn't even seem worth the virtual ink this screen is virtually printed on. Feelings are about as stable and reliable as waves of the sea. Only a person who would try to build a house on the surface of the ocean would even think of basing his understanding of truth on emotion. It's an easy trap to fall into, but foolish nonetheless.

3. To be reliable, the "higher source" from which we get our information must 1) know the truth, and 2) be willing to reveal the truth. If our so-called higher source is ignorant of anything at all, the truth it proclaims will be flawed in some way. And, if that source is not absolutely Good we should have no confidence it's told us absolute truth. Clearly, most of the sources we normally rely on, like cultural norms, professors, celebrities, books, lyrics, friends, etc must be disqualified.

And it's not just me who thinks this way.

Paul addresses precisely this issue in chapter 2 of Colossians. 

He begins the letter by reviewing for his readers several important truths about Christ and themselves, but then skids into what seems like a purely parenthetical passage:

I say this (ie, the things he's been teaching) 
in order that no one may delude you with 
plausible arguments. . . .See to it that no 
one takes you captive by philosophy and 
empty deceitaccording to human tradition
according to the elemental spirits of the 
world, and not according to Christ. (4 & 8)

In these two verses Paul gives a formidable list of ways that falsehood can get anchored in our heads. He’s not saying that everything produced by these sources will necessarily be false – but that we need to be very careful of the information or ideas we get from them.

Here’s a quick layman’s explanation of what those things mean in the original Greek.

  • Plausible arguments (also, enticing words) – This is like a practiced stump speech. It has all the kinks worked out, and the message is concise, precise, and virtually waterproof. However, this carefully crafted persuasion is intended to lead others into error.

  • Philosophy – This simply refers to speculative inquiries into all kinds of details. Often good, but in its negative sense, an extremely useful tool for making falsehood feel like truth.

  • Empty deceit – Similar to plausible arguments, but the less polished version. These are intentional lies intended to produce error or sin. “Empty” means fruitless and devoid of truth.

  • Human tradition – There’s a little more flavor in the original words than we get in English. While “tradition” is the teaching, precepts or rituals handed down from generation to generation, “human” was added to highlight the inherent flaws in those traditions that can lead us consciously or unconsciously into error. In other words, “Because we’ve always done it that way” is not always the wisest answer.

  • Elemental spirits (also, elemental principles) – These are the basic building blocks of ideas. Like letters, these principles are mixed and combined to create more complex ideas (like words) that eventually evolve into whole philosophies.

Paul was warning his readers to hold fast to the Truth they learned from him (and we in turn learn from the Bible) because Untruth can sound, feel, taste and seem so very right. In fact, its power lies precisely in its ability to mimic truth.

And as you might expect, all this just leads me to encourage once again: Examine the things you believe or assume in light of the Scriptures. Keep asking the question, “Where in the Bible did you learn that?” And keep seeking God’s Truth.