What’s your plan?

As we come up to another new year, its always good to think about your plan – for your life, your family, your community, your church, etc.  All of it.  Being a pastor, December typically does not lend itself to procatively thinking thorugh these things, but I tend to take January as my time to sort some of these things out.

The one thing I do recommend thinking through before the new year hits is “What will be your plan for reading, engaging and staying connected to the Word of God?”  Last year I used the NIV 1 Year Reading Plan, and while it wasn’t my first time reading the Bible cover to cover, it was extremely helpful.

This year I’m planning on using a online/mobile App reading plan from YouVersion.  They have plenty to choose from, so I would encourage you to go here and pick the one that works best for you.  I’m leading towards either the Historical or Chronological Whole Bible plan.

So take a look, pick a plan, and stick to it.  Even better, find a couple of other people to do it with you and meet up once a week at a coffee shop or restaurant to talk about it together.  I couldn’t think of a better way to invest time in your spiritual growth than to read the Bible and discuss it with others.

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The Beauty of Jesus in the Mess of Our Lives

If you caught it, there is a subtle allusion to the Nickel Creek song “The Beauty and The Mess” that I see the quote below pick up and relate to the person and work of Jesus Christ. This theme runs rampant in lots of other musicians work (U2’s “Grace”, Johnny Cash’s cover and dare I say Nine Inch Nails original “Hurt“, even Mumford & Sons “The Cave“).

 

They gave him a manger for a cradle,
a carpenter’s bench for a pulpit,
thorns for a crown,

and a cross for a throne.

 

He took them and made them his glory.

– William E. Orchard

It’s the theme of the gospel, and it can be seen and read in every page of the Bible. The theme that God is able to bring such ugly, messed up, broken-down circumstances to a beautiful resolution.

It’s why it’s funny to me that what a lot of artists get as true, most people in church do not.

Most of us who go to church and would consider ourselves Christians, if we re honest with ourselves, functionally believe that God is really only in the good stuff – good circumstances, good relationships, good job situations, good family dynamics, etc. And so if anything is broken, messed up and ugly, God can’t have anything to do with it.

We functionally believe that if God is with us, everything should be going well, according to our definition of “well” and our interpretation of our circumstances.

The incarnation, life and death of Jesus Christ turns that wisdom on its head.

What men of the people have over the learned

Another great quote from G.K. Chesterton, again talking about what ordinary, men of the people have over the wise, learned and sophisticated: a greater sense of reality.

“Men of the people, like the shepherds, men of the popular tradition, had everywhere been the makers of the mythologies. It was they who had felt most directly, with least check or chill from philosophy or the corrupt cults of civilisation, the need we have already considered; the images that were adventures of the imagination; the mythology that was a sort of search; the tempting and tantalising hints of something half-human in nature; the dumb significance of seasons and special places. They had best understood that the soul of a landscape is a story and the soul of a story is a personality.”

– G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

So, what do you tell your kids about Santa?

I recently received this question, and have yet to respond to the person’s email (please forgive me Jamie!).  But it is a great question, and one that I think is worth sharing with a broader audience.

Below I will share a quote from Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church Seattle and the link to an article he wrote on the subject, as I have found it to be the most helpful and satisfying response to the question at hand.

But before I do, here is my initial two cents to contribute:

Santa Clause is an amalgamation of a lot of stories concerning a real, historic person.  Over time, these stories have made it difficult to separate the truth of who he was, what he did, and why he did it, from the false accounts, reasons and motivations.  Because of this, I am more prone to give grace on the subject rather than demonize the caricature or squash the spirit of finding joy in such a person.

So, like Driscoll, I hope and aim to redeem Santa for my kids.  This means that I do not tell my kids that “Santa doesn’t exist,” or “Santa is the enemy” or that “Santa is just a marketers’ scheme to get parents to spend money on toys they can’t afford to please their children who will forget about them in a week.”  I do tell them that Santa Clause is really a way for us to dress up, remember and celebrate a man who was so captivated by God’s love for him, that he couldn’t help but share it with others by loving them in return.  This looked like giving others gifts as a way of showing that love.

At Christmas time, we celebrate the greatest gift ever given out of love, the birth of the God-man, Jesus Christ, God’s Son. And we too celebrate just like St. Nicholas by giving gifts to others.  Its ok to dress up and pretend (we do it all the time), but we are not visiting the real Santa when we go get pictures at the mall, nor do we think if we leave some cookies and a Coke, Santa will be refreshed as he goes from house to house delivering toys.

There is one area where I am likely to drop the hammer of error when it comes to Santa.  That is the damnable lie that there is a list and if you’ve been good you will be rewarded, and if you are naughty, you won’t get anything.  This is not how gifts work.  Gifts are all of grace, or they are not gifts at all.  This is the greatest lie surrounding Santa, and I believe it needs to be corrected and confronted at every turn.  God did not give His greatest gift to the world because the world was more good than it was bad.  He gave it (His Son, the greatest gift) because He so loved the world! (John 3:16).  Anything else that reeks of receiving a gift because I’ve earned it is merit, not grace, and it has nothing to do with Santa, God or the reality of Christ’s birth during this holiday season.

Here is an exerpt from Driscoll’s article:

So, as the parents of five children, Grace and I have taken the third position to redeem Santa. We tell our kids that he was a real person who did live a long time ago. We also explain how people dress up as Santa and pretend to be him for fun, kind of like how young children like to dress up as pirates, princesses, superheroes, and a host of other people, real and imaginary. We explain how, in addition to the actual story of Santa, a lot of other stories have been added (e.g., flying reindeer, living in the North Pole, delivering presents to every child in one night) so that Santa is a combination of true and make-believe stories….We do not, however, demonize Santa. Dressing up, having fun, and using the imagination God gave can be an act of holy worship and is something that, frankly, a lot of adults need to learn from children.

Link to “What we tell our kids about Santa” by Mark Driscoll

http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/mark_driscoll/2010/12/what_we_tell_our_kids_about_santa.html

Myth is Closer to Reality

Engaging quote from G.K. Chesterton that is worth sharing and reflecting on during the season of Advent.

“And though no man knew it, the hour was near which was to end and to fulfil all things; and though no man heard it, there was one far-off cry in an unknown tongue upon the heaving wilderness of the mountains. The shepherds had found their Shepherd…And the thing they found was of a kind with the things they sought. The populace had been wrong in many things; but they had not been wrong in believing that holy things could have a habitation and that divinity need not disdain the limits of time and space. And the barbarian who conceived the crudest fancy about the sun being stolen and hidden in a box, or the wildest myth about the god being rescued and his enemy deceived with a stone, was nearer to the secret of the cave and knew more about the crisis of the world, than all those in the circle of cities round the Mediterranean who had become content with cold abstractions or cosmopolitan generalisations; than all those who were spinning thinner and thinner threads of thought out of the transcendentalism of Plato or the orientalism of Pythagoras. The place that the shepherds found was not an academy or an abstract republic, it was not a place of myths allegorised or dissected or explained or explained away. It was a place of dreams come true.”

G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

Can God do something about evil? He better!

John Stewart's take on Jerry Sandusky and Our Warped Sense of Morality

Can God do something about all the wicked, evil and depraved ways we hurt one another?  He sure can.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that He better do something about it.  Because if it is left up to us, I fear we will keep turning a blind eye to the injustices happening around us, or worse yet, we’ll let ourselves get upset over the wrong things.

Take the recent Jerry Sandusky/Penn State sexual scandal in recent history.  One of the best critiques of the whole thing came from a guy who makes his living as a comedian. Using satire and irony, John Stewart exposes both the need for accountability (responsibility) within organizations and even “sacred” institutions (like the sex scandals plaguing religious institutions and Penn State Football program), as well as the dangerously deceptive lie of an entitlement mindset.

 Link: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-november-10-2011/penn-state-riots

This is one of his more serious sketches, but he is spot on about identifying the colossal experience of Penn State rioters missing the point in weaping more over Joe Paterno being fired (entitlement) then the welfare and pursuit of justice and accountability for those young boys who were molested under his watch and with his awareness of the situation.

This is a good step.  We need to take responsibility for our actions, and that includes stepping into the messy, scary and sometimes dangerous situations we find ourselves.  Like when we are passing by a door and notice a grown man abusing a little boy.

But time and time again, we prove our utter inability to rise to the occassion.  Our nobility loses out to our lust – for sex, for comfort, for security, for approval – and things just keep going the way they’ve always gone before.

What we most desperately need is not a “Lets do better next time.”  What we need is a Savior who comes into “our can’t” and promises that “He will!”  That’s the great promise of Genesis 3:15:

The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
– Genesis 3:14-15 (ESV)

And its also the great and awaited fulfilment He promises at His second coming:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away…And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”        -Revelation 21:3-5 (ESV)

As great as John Stewart’s commentary is, I think its rather this video that gives me great hope for the future:

A Dream of Heaven from the Jesus Story Book Bible