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Archive for December, 2014

Dear Santa: I want it all!As I walked into my gym for a workout, I saw this stocking hanging amongst other Christmas decorations and it immediately set my mind racing.

OK, so most of us would never admit to wanting it all. But hey, isn’t that the message our culture tells us? Get, get, get, get. Don’t have the savings? Then put it on credit. Make your Christmas wants clear and make sure your loved ones know it if they don’t come through for you.

In our better moments, we know this isn’t what Christmas is supposed to be about. And yet, the pressure is ON. We’ve been conditioned in ways we can’t even detect to have certain expectations and to keenly feel those expectations from loved ones.

When I think about this, I realize this is part of why I struggle with Christmas and why there are lot of Grinches out there. We just don’t want to be part of this emotional cesspool of expectations and disappointments.

So what do we want? Let me venture a viewpoint: we want a day that is truly HOLY. A day that transcends the numbing daily routine of life – not because we try to make it different, but because it IS different.

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, where winter tends to be colder and darker, Christmas can be seen as a light in that darkness. Hope in what can feel like a hopeless season for sun-deprived people. In other words, holy.

How is this possible? Let’s consider the spiritual point of view. All the best known faith systems out there articulate what we can (and must) do to connect with our creator. It’s up to us to pray more, sacrifice more, worship more, give more, meditate more. How can any of us know when it’s enough?

Now consider Christianity. At its heart, Christmas is not about us doing. It’s about God doing. Basic Christianity (which I believe) tells us Christmas is about our creator seeing our broken condition and reaching out to us — coming to earth as a helpless baby born in an obscure Middle Eastern village.

We never have to wonder if we’ve prayed enough, sacrificed enough, worshipped enough, given enough. God did the heavy lifting and that child grew up to change the world through outrageous ideas like loving your enemy, forgiving no matter what and making it clear that eternity in Heaven is available to EVERYONE, no matter who they are (or aren’t), no matter what they’ve done (or haven’t done).

So what difference does that make to you and me? When you accept the gift of Jesus Christ — whom serious Christians believe sacrificed His life to make up for all the wrong things we’ve done and the right things we haven’t done — this is what will happen:

  • You’ll see all people with new eyes as you understand they are loved by God just as much as you.
  • You’ll realize that life isn’t about getting rich, buying the biggest flat-screen TV going and getting praise and admiration from others. Jesus explained what it’s about in the Bible, in an account of His life called “Matthew”: Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.
  • You’ll come to understand that this life isn’t all there is — in fact, it’s just the introduction to eternity.
  • You’ll start to love Christmas because it’s concrete, life-changing evidence of God’s powerful, active love for His creation.

Does this make sense? Yes or no, post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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Seth_AndrewsIf you haven’t thought it yourself, then I wouldn’t be surprised if you heard someone say it: women are second-class citizens in Christianity.

That’s certainly the opinion of Seth Andrews, who grew up in a Christian home and is now a leading atheist.

If Seth is right, then you certainly don’t want to give any serious thought to this faith.

So is he right? Rather than enduring the words of an old white guy like me, I’ll offer you the answers of three women who saw the graphic that inspired this essay and are happy to explain why they are serious followers of Jesus Christ.

CHANTELLE OSBORNE: What If I said I didn’t feel belittled by Christianity and the Bible, but empowered? Empowered to redefine femininity from how society and the media too often define women: as sex objects who need to maintain a certain physical appearance to be accepted.

As a Christian, I am empowered to embrace my uniqueness – that God has created me different from men with a unique perspective.

Jesus’ trust and confidence in women was evident during Bible times and still is as Christian women throughout history have sometimes had the courage and conviction to accomplish things that men have not.

DEBBIE FLETCHER: If you look at how Jesus treated women, you will see that far from denigrating them, Jesus defied the prevailing views of the day by noticing, listening to and respecting women.

In the presence of Jesus, women were valued and given a voice. (See two accounts of Jesus’ life, called “Luke” and “John”). Furthermore, through Jesus’ sacrificial death on a Roman cross, men and women were brought together as equals.

In the Bible, an early Christian missionary named Paul wrote a letter to a church and said that because of what Jesus had accomplished through His death and resurrection, the distinction between classes of people had been removed.

“There is now neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” Paul wrote.

In fact, Paul tells Christian men that they should “go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting”. This is the farthest thing from being denigrated; this is being given a value beyond anything we could ever comprehend.

DORIS FLECK: Early in the Bible, we see that God created man and woman in His image. They are set as equals. Women play prominent roles throughout the Bible and even feature in Jesus’ genealogy, which is unusual because the culture of that time did not look highly on females.

When Jesus was physically on earth, women could not receive an education and had no voice in their marriage. Jewish men were not supposed to talk to a woman in public. If they did, it was considered a shame. But Jesus of Nazareth created controversy by swimming against the stream (for evidence, check out “John”, one of the accounts of His life). He gave great honour to women.

Author Philip Yancey comments, “For women and other oppressed people, Jesus turned upside down the accepted wisdom … Jesus violated the customs of his time in every encounter with women recorded in the four [Bible accounts of His life].”

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So there you have it. Does this cause you to rethink your ideas about Christianity? Yes or no, post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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tumblr_n9z91ls6xO1r7gbhio1_500When I saw this graphic — posted on an Internet atheism community — the first thing I did was look up the definition of cult. Here’s part of what Dictionary.com says:

1. A system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
2. An instance of veneration of a person, ideal, or thing.
3. A group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
4. A religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.

Does Christianity fit all that? I’m sure some folks would shout YES! Let me beg to differ. As far as I’m concerned “religion” is a set of behavioral rules designed to fit people into little slots and let others pass judgement on them. I would not be a follower of Jesus Christ if that’s what Christianity is about.

It’s hardly a surprise to write that serious Christians venerate Jesus Christ, whom they consider to be the Son of God. Nor is it a shock to write that serious Christians are a group bound together by veneration of Christ.

But by those definitions, “Beliebers” (fans of pop star Justin Bieber) could be labelled a “cult”, complete with all the onerous attributes that most of us associate with that term.

So what happens when anyone leaves any group? Most of the time, it would be questioned, dissected and judged. Indeed, if it weren’t, then the members of the group clearly don’t care about the person leaving.

Serious believers understand that following Jesus Christ means:

  • Having a lighthouse to guide us through life’s nastiest emotional, financial and physical storms.
  • Knowing that we are loved — loved so much that God offers all humanity the gift of His Son, whose sacrificial death makes up for all the wrong things we’ve done and all the right things we’ve failed to do.
  • Having the assurance we will spend all of eternity in the intimate presence of our Creator.
  • When someone leaves all that, should we shrug and walk away? That’s not respectful; that’s telling them they don’t matter to us or to Jesus Christ. And that would be very wrong.

Does that mean we would stage “interventions” or prevent them from leaving like the inmates of Jonestown, the horrific cult that Jim Jones established in South America in the 1970s? That cult ended in 1978 when, on Jones’ orders, more than 900 people drank cyanide-laced punch.

I think even the angriest opponents of Christianity would admit that’s not what following Jesus Christ is all about.

What wise Christians do when someone decides to leave is to remain friends with them, pray for them and welcome spiritual conversations.

Not all Christians are that wise, of course. But I think it’s safe to write that Christianity has nothing to do with any credible definition of “cult”. It has to do with Jesus’s explanation for why he came to this earth: “I came to give life—life that is full and good.”

Do you want this life? Yes or no, post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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