A Tyndale Christmas

So Tyndale has this promotion going on in relation to thier NLT Study Bibles, and I thought it was worth sharing.

Starting on November 29th until December 24th at the New Living Translation Facebook page we’re giving away lots of great prizes and something free for you just for singing up.

By visiting the giveaway entry page (located on the NLT Facebook page, the link is under the profile picture) and entering your name and e-mail address you’ll be entered to win the following prizes:

  • One random person each day will win a Life Application Study Bible Family Pack (Guys Life Application Study Bible hc, Girls Life Application Study Bible hc, Student’s Life Application Study Bible hc, Life Application Study Bible hc, Life Application Study Bible Large Print hc).
  • One Random person each week will win an Apple iPad 2!

Everyone that signs up gets a free download copy of the Life Application Bible Study – Book of Luke!

The Tyndale Publishing Group always does amazing work, and thier NLT Bible is no exception. Even if you don’t win, I encourage you to check it out.

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The Joys of Halloween

I enjoy Halloween. It’s a night that can be a lot of fun, if handled properly. The focus on death (which consumes one extreme) and the focus on dressing “trashy” (which consumes another extreme) tend to be the most concentrated on elements. Churches, through elaborate “fall festivals,” try to balance it all out by providing a place where people don’t look like a zombie or they aren’t dressed like a hooker. What Churches often don’t understand is that this behavior is simply another extreme.

There is this very interesting book that details the history of Halloween in America, and the findings are worth examining. What will probably strike most people is that this tradition has its roots in the Church.

And not just in the Church, but in direct connection to one of the most widely celebrated Christian Holy Days: All Saints’ Day. Basically, the poor would go from house to house asking for prayers for the Saints, as well as any offerings of charity for themselves.

I could vent for a minute about Christians who bemoan Halloween because of “witchcraft,” but I won’t. I will point out that those same Christians probably ignore the correlations between Christmas and various pagan holidays, but I will stop there. I could also lament how far we’ve come from a tradition that began with generosity towards the poor, and how’ our culture has reduced this grand idea into something trivial and “sugary.” But I won’t.

Instead, I’d like to briefly mention a couple of reasons why I enjoy Halloween:

1) It’s a family affair. My wife and I dress up. Now that our son is old enough, he dresses up too. We spend time with friends and one another. It’s a genuine time of fellowship for us. We relax; share stories; laugh. We do it all.

l_7586cb155c694b778a075bef197004e02) It’s fun. We went as Waldo & Friends this year. Two years ago, we went as tourists (we were in the Dominican Republic which made it funnier). Before that, we went as Batman & Catwoman. We make the most of this event.

3) It’s a reminder. Days like this cause me to look back at history, particularly Church traditions, and remind myself that the Body of Christ has a rich past. Yes, it’s full of mistakes, just like the stories of the heroes of faith. But it is a story that continually points towards God’s redemptive plans for this world.

As All Hallow’s Eve approaches, I will celebrate those who have walked before me in our common faith, and do so with my family. Whether you do or don’t observe the day, just remember not to be too harsh on any Halloween goers this year.

After all, God has a way of bring people back to their roots.

Advent Season, Part IV: …Redemption.

Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For He took notice of His lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy, and He has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear Him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped His servant Israel and remembered to be merciful.
For He made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.
– Luke 1:46-55 (NLT)

This time of year, it’s easy to get busy. It’s easy to forget why we celebrate. And many of us end up not celebrating at all. Browse the Christian blogs on WordPress or Blogger, and the overwhelming notion is that Christians have forgotten what Christmas is about (here are one or two to make the point).

Pick up a Christmas CD by N’Sync, or Garth Brooks, or Kanye West, and you get the impression that Christmas is about feeling something in particular, although just exactly what is fuzzy.

Of course, when Mary offered her song of praise in Luke (see above), I don’t think she worried about sleigh bells or ballin’ at the mall. The promise of her Son was something amazing to her: it was a fulfillment. But not just any old promise was being kept. Read her poem again. Mercy. Hunger. Humility. These are the things that characterized what Mary envisioned through her Son.

Everything we long for, hope for, & even fight for…it’s all about redemption.


My mom had a sister I never met. She is rarely talked about in our family, and until recently I did not even know how she had died. She was 31. In the midst of her varying medical issues, she developed an infection that couldn’t be contained. In an attempt to help her, her doctors wound up killing her. She had been the subject of electro-shock therapy, among other not so pleasant “remedies” during her life. And yet, at the end, her final words were simple. “Jesus,” she whispered. That story still brings my mom to tears, almost 30 years later. It’s a wound that has never quite healed in my family. My grandparents, my mom and her siblings, they go on living despite this pain they still feel.

This is the reason for Christmas.

There are countless other stories. International ones, too. So many in this world seeking redemption, and the healing that comes with it. I tell this one because, well, it hits closest to home for me. But there are others. Some even better, I’m sure.

These are the reasons for Christmas.

This Christmas, rather than bemoaning the lost Christmas Spirit, or demanding that Christmas be “reclaimed,” I think we would do well to remember God’s redemption. It came upon a midnight clear, and it is still offered to those who are weary or downtrodden or hungry or alone.

We worship a merciful God. Let us never forget it.

Advent Season, Part III: Hoping for…

Know Hope

I’m not sure where this picture came from (I think it’s connected to the “Know Hope” vandal in Tel Aviv), but I love it. It’s a beautiful image.

This past week of the Advent Season, I’ve given hope a lot of thought. Hope permeates the Bible, and is included in Paul’s big three. He mentions hope often, as a matter of fact. Yet, my hope has been lacking of late.

Reading the Psalmists, the Prophets, and even portions of Paul seem to turn hope into something other-worldly, unattainable till Jesus’ returns. Or it brings it down to a level I thought petty (particularly the Psalms).

I’ve written previously about the future of Christ’s return, and how it is indeed something to look forward to. But I, personally, have never had much to do with this second kind of hope. I encountered it throughout my readings, and though my initial understanding saw it as something selfish, the Holy Spirit has been revealing this other hope as something else entirely.

When Job, or David wrote about being persecuted, and wanting the Lord to even the score, were they being selfish? Was it just a petty grudge? Paul quotes them, as a means of reassuring the Roman Church, and he doesn’t seem to think it’s all that petty. When I think of justice, I think on a social scale, but I’m coming to see that such a view is an extreme.

The more I read the Bible, the more I become convinced that God cares very much about individual justice.

But not just some kind of future “set everything to rights” justice. The Bible indicates that God cares about justice today. Here. For me.

Let’s think of it in a term other than justice: rest. Justice, after all, will bring rest, and rest will bring restoration. Genuine restoration. Being less tired. Being less cranky. Being less… not like Christ. It seems so silly, so simple. But as Christmas comes closer, it’s important to remember what it is we’re looking forward to.

The family who doesn’t know if they’ll get to spend Christmas in their house because they can’t pay their mortgage? God cares for them (even if the fault is their own). The family who worries that they won’t be able to put Christmas dinner on the table? God cares for them (regardless of their social standing). When we take this idea and lump it in with social justice, we do a disservice to God and His Children. We make the individual less than God intends. But read Psalm 71 or 85. God cares very much for the individual, and all that seems wrong in their life.

This is a personal thing, as unemployment has drained my wife & I’s savings account, and we are closely approaching not knowing how we will live day to day. Despite what mistakes we have made, God cares about our situation. And asks nothing less from us than faith and hope that He will provide.

Rather than getting into “well you should do this” or “you should have done that” this Christmas, let’s try something else. Let’s simply say, “we hope.” After all, hope is a gift, and it will outlast everything else.

Father, as Christmas comes, and we turn to worship You, give me the hope that does not disappoint. Remind me that Your promises are not only of eternal importance, but matter to each of us in the here and now. I have come to a place of doubt, because things have not worked out as I had planned. But Your ways are above mine, and Your purposes far more holy than my own. Bring me into Your will, and grow in me a hope that touches everyone around me. I thank you so much for Your blessings in my life. Never let me forget what You have done. And keep me ever mindful. In Your Son’s precious name. Amen.

A song to melt the heart

“Christmas Eve/Sarajevo” is undoubtedly my favorite Christmas song. Although “Oh Holy Night” is near and dear to my heart, moving me to tears even in the middle of July because of it’s beautiful lyrics, it wasn’t until more recently in life that I came to value that song so much. Here is a good rendition, if you’re interested.

The Tran-Siberian Orchestra’s song is something else to me. Even before I appreciated Christmas for what it is, this song moved me. It speaks to my heart more and more each year as I’ve learned more about how the song came about, and just how truly in touch the with Spirit of God it is.

I wish you could actually hear it on the blog, but you have to go to YouTube to see it. It’s well worth it, though.

The story of how the song came to be goes like this: this guy, a cellist, goes and sits in the middle of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war and just plays his instrument. The version of this story that inspired the song turned out to be bit fantastical. And yet, still this image of a man sitting in the midst of a city demolished by war, with nothing to protect him but his cello and the beauty of the music emanating from it…its breathtaking. I choke up every time I dwell upon it.

The music video is captivating as well, and I encourage you to watch it. We live in uncertain days, at a time where the illusion of certainty has made us aloof. This song reminds me of that. But it also reminds me of the hope that Christmas celebrates.

Our Redeemer has come, and He lives even still. One day, the weapons will be ploughshares and the lion will lay down with the lamb. Christmas celebrates the ushering in of that new world. And I am ever so grateful.

I pray that Christmas will spark gratitude in each of us, and that we will, in turn, share that gratitude with one another in praise to our King.

Advent Season, Part II: Longing for…

This time of year sees Americans rushing out to stores to purchase gifts for those they love. Even if the intended recipient knows what gift they are getting, family and friends insist that they wait until Christmas to get their gift. Some families have traditions that allow for a single gift to be opened on Christmas Eve, in order to enhance the already mounting anticipation.

Longing is a part of Advent. Many long simply to open their gifts. But that is not where the Christian tradition of anticipation began. After all, Jesus did not come to grant us all a Nintendo 3DS. So what does the Christian long for? What exactly does it mean to long?

For starters, listen to the Christmas song “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” If you don’t have it, you can download a beautiful rendition here. Often when we listen to Christmas music, we want something poppy or upbeat. That is all good and well, but we miss something when we leave out the songs built upon agony and yearning. Are you listening to the song yet? Pay close attention to the first stanza:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

El Greco (Greece/1541-1614)When Luke writes of the shepherds going to see the newborn Messiah, they weren’t just going to see a baby who would one day be a great man; they were witnessing the beginning stages of humanity’s redemption. Luke’s previous chapter is scattered with references to Isaiah, and I doubt it’s coincidental. The angels who tell Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds about Jesus are not just proclaiming the birth of a man. They were proclaiming the Kingdom of God! This was the beginning! This was what Israel had been waiting for! Isaiah 2: 1-5 and 11:1-16 give us a picture of what this would have meant to those who first greeted Jesus.

To summarize: all of the longing for God’s justice, for His mercy, for His redeeming love, for His Presence had finally arrived! This was truly a moment to rejoice.

But what now? The early Christians did not look back at Christmas and long for Jesus’ birth, did they? No, rather they looked forward to His return. The joy of Christmas, which is intricately bound up in the agony of longing, is founded on the idea that while God’s Kingdom is being inaugurated here and now, it will not be complete until Jesus returns. As Christians, we don’t celebrate Christmas because we like “baby Jesus” the best. We rejoice during Advent Season because Jesus came once, gave redemption to His people through His life, death, and resurrection, and He will return again to finally set everything to rights. We can be part of His glorious work now, but we still groan for justice and the redemption of all creation.

As the first week of Advent comes to a close, we open our hearts to the agony of a painfully incomplete world, and begin to move into the hope of Jesus’ second coming. Christmas is a time of looking forward to the promises of God, and worshipping Him in return.

The best way to prepare our hearts for this is prayer. I’ll end here with word from  John Chrysostom, who says it much better than I could:

Our spirit should be quick to reach out toward God not only when it is engaged in meditation; at other times also, when it is carrying out its duties, caring for the needy, performing works of charity, giving generously in the service of others, our spirit should long for God, and call him to mind, so that these works may be seasoned with the salt of God’s love, and so make a palatable offering to the Lord of the universe. Throughout the whole of our lives we may enjoy the benefit that comes from prayer if we devote a great deal of time to it.

Prayer is the light of the spirit, true knowledge of God, mediating between God and man. The spirit, raised up to heaven by prayer, clings to God with the utmost tenderness; like a child crying tearfully for its mother, it craves the milk that God provides. It seeks the satisfaction of its own desires, and receives gifts outweighing the whole world of nature. (excerpt from “The Prayer of Longing”)

May we learn to pray in this way, and thus long for our God with all of our heart, mind, body, and soul.

Advent Season, Part I: Fighting for…

The image above is an actual billboard on display in New Jersey. You can read about the billboard here.

As we go into Advent Season, I’d like to take a look at what it’s all about. Why does Christmas matter?

In my own home, there has been lots of discussion regarding Santa (and our son’s future Christmas traditions), and this has set me to thinking about the meaning of Christmas. People have different views about Christmas, and its interesting to me how this plays out in American culture. This video is a good example:

For starters, the claim that Christianity stole Christmas is silly. Yes, other religions have similar holidays (and they may have even come first) but Christmas is the celebration of Jesus Christ coming to earth. No other religion claims that (or calls it Christmas for that matter). It’s also interesting to me that I never hear people raise a fuss over Easter, despite its ties to fertility rites in other religions. The whole argument seems to be more about “Christianity is wrong” rather than a reclamation of the “holiday season,” (it is, after all, hard for someone who doesn’t believe any kind of god exists to reclaim a holiday which celebrates such a deity). But whatever. This is not the real problem anyway.

Part of the reason Christmas has become a battle ground is because Christians do not approach it in terms of worshipping God, as those present for Jesus’ birth did. It upsets people when they’re told God in the form of Man was born on December 25th if the person telling them this is a hypocrite. We, as Christians, do not often treat Christmas in terms of God redeeming humanity, but rather in terms of traditions and hot chocolate and presents. What atheist would ever believe Jesus mattered when the Church spends more money on Christmas gifts than they do caring for the poor?

“That’s an excuse,” some might say. Perhaps. And ultimately, critics are right when they point out that a bad example will not excuse anyone when they stand before God. But we cannot be guilty of using that very idea as an excuse to wage a war in which the victor wins nothing. Make no mistake, winning a cultural battle of words gains nothing, except pride in proving your enemy wrong (which in the end equals…? Well, nothing). We should be fighting for the lives of the lost, not the “reason for the season.”

I know that for many Americans, those two are the same thing. They’re not, though. How do we glorify God? We do as He commanded (love God, love our neighbor, love each other). This is how people will know we are Christians: by our love!

Advent Season matters because it is the beginning of something different, something new.

From now until Christmas arrives, I’ll be looking at what this “something new” might be. And why its important.

Priorities

I have mixed feeling on Shuttle Atlantis’ mission to repair the Hubble telescope.

On one hand, I think it’s amazing what we’ve seen through the photographs taken by the satellite. You want to talk about God’s awesome creation? Browse some Hubble images on Yahoo! or Google, and you will see just how creative God is. I think there’s still a lot we can learn through these pictures, and I think that eventually we’ll have a more accurate grasp on time and space through this (the present conceptions are fine for now, but I think they fall short in many ways and will need some major overhauls in the next 50 years). Through things like this, we not only advance human knowledge, but we come closer to God. The more we learn, the more we realize we don’t truly understand (regardless of what the Associated Press says). But as awesome as all this is, is it worth it? The estimated cost of the Hubble telescope in total is $10 billion. That’s a lot of dough.

And here is why my feelings are so mixed. To provide everyone on this planet with clean drinking water is estimated to cost, can you guess?, $10 billion. That’s it. One satellite gone and the water problem would be solved. Of course, I don’t think it’s NASA’s job to fix the world’s issues. But it puts things in perspective a bit. We’re eager to point out the obvious mistakes (like spending $450 billion on Christmas every year or the automakers taking massive bonuses at the expense of the country), but its not as easy to ask if we’re being good stewards of this life. Let’s say we put the Hubble off for 20 years, we had never launched it in 1990, and put that money to solve the water issue? What would we lose? Could we not launch the Hubble now? Would we be behind in any real significant way?

Its not easy to convince the world that people come before knowledge, particularly when we still so clearly value “stuff” and material possessions over people. Its sad that our priorities are out of whack in so many ways. Its sad that my priorities are messed up too. In the end, I appreciate the Hubble for what it is. But I wonder why we expect one area of our lives to be lived more responsibly when other areas of our lives aren’t? Consumerism in the individual will be more likely to change if those whom we take are cues from change the way they spend money. Change in government is usually top down. But revolutions start at the bottom I guess. So who will make the first move?

One House

C.S. Lewis described Christianity like a house. He wrote that this House had a long hallway with a variety of doors leading off to different sides. Thinking like this, all Christians at some point stand in the hallway, and some stay there longer than others. But for most, there comes a point where we walk through doors labeled "Catholic" or "Baptist" or the ever popular "Nondenominational." Whether we care to admit it or not, everyone chooses a door. Because "it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals." Worship and fellowship happens in the rooms. Study. Rest. Life goes on in those rooms. In the hallway, we’re usually just passing each other by. This isn’t to say there isn’t merit in the hallway though.

…of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house.

Because we do share one common house. Not that there aren’t things upon which we differ, or issues which we take with certain styles, but none of that matters provided we are all living in the same house, built on The Foundation, that true and proper Cornerstone. We build our notions of church up on things we prefer rather than Truth.

And above all, you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling…the question should never be: ‘Do I like that kind of service?’ but ‘Are these doctrines true: Is holiness there? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to move to this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike for this particular door-keeper?’

The first experience with Christ in this world was worship, and those who came to see God Incarnate did not care about the style or location. Worshiping the Christ overshadowed all of their personal preferences. And we forget that.

Crucial to living in the same house together is respect. Respect for those who have chosen rooms different from our own, and respect for those who are still standing in the hallway or just coming in the door.

If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.