Assorted Thoughts on Christmas

The title here is as descriptive as they get. I basically have a bunch of random thoughts about Christmas. I could write them all as separate posts and try to elaborate and go into loads of detail, but why do that when it’s almost Christmas and you have people to see, presents to wrap, and plans to make? So here you go, assorted thoughts on Christmas from yours truly:

  • The way I see it, the question about “the meaning of Christmas” is rather pointless. Christmas is too big and straddles too many groups and cultures to even have a single meaning. It it’s not something laid out by God’s will in Scripture, so we have no basis for saying it even has to be about Jesus, though of course it’s great if it is. The more important question, in my mind, is “What will you make of Christmas?” or perhaps even, “What will you make Christmas mean to people in need?”
  • Following somewhat on that point, I personally tend to see basically two Christmasses as my personal framework. To me, there is the celebration of Jesus’ birth as one thing, and the common cultural traditions as another thing, both of which happen to be called “Christmas.” I enjoy each one in its own way and as its own thing. I love to think about the significance of Christ’s birth, and to call the world to think about the Savior. In a mostly independent way, I love the air of cheer, joy, friendliness, presents, trees, lights, and celebration. The two can overlap somewhat, but I nonetheless enjoy each part of Christmas in its own right.
  • I think Christmas is a very interesting phenomenon. What drives massive portions of the human race to calm down a bit on the hostility, celebrate peace, exchange gifts, and try to be a little happier than usual? It seems to be something that came along apart from the celebration of Jesus’ birth, so what led everyone to do this once a year? Why aren’t we mostly the same all year long? What power lies behind this kind of global day of the good that something like the Christmas truce could even happen? It’s all rather odd to me, and I cannot help but think that God intervenes, at least a little bit, to give us this time of year. Who’s to say that snow angels aren’t really angels?
  • Why was Jesus born? “To save us from our sins” is the usual answer. So I’d like to ask next, “Would Jesus have come if the Fall never happened and we didn’t have sin?” This is an interesting question, and I believe myself that the answer is “yes.” A neglected part of our theology of salvation is how essential it is for God and man to be united in the person of Jesus Christ, the God-man. Eternal life is not merely the biological reality we would have if we never sinned; it is the life of eternal communion with the Triune God, a life given to us through the Holy Spirit and created by the life of Jesus, the only person in whom divine life and human life are always and completely united and reconciled. So even without sin, I’m convinced that we would not have eternal life without Christmas. Jesus was always destined to be the one Mediator, the Reconciler, the Firstborn over all creation, God’s Word in flesh.
  • I think most churches should take a far more active role in bringing Christmas blessings directly and personally to the people of their local communities. Not just giving money and/or outsourcing to another organization. Not just contributing to a Christmas charitable thingo. Not just shoeboxes. Actually getting out, taking gifts of many different kinds, and sharing the love of Christ face-to-face with loads of people. Not just cheap gifts, either. Nice gifts. Gifts like you would want someone to give you. It’s like that one rule Jesus taught. What was that, again?
  • “Away in a Manger” seems to imply the heresy of Docetism. Just sayin’.
Assorted Thoughts on Christmas

You Should Really All Know About Lectio Divina

I just got through the Spiritual Formation 101 course at the Baptist College of Florida. It was a good and useful course, which has, in combination with a few other factors, actually done wonders for my devotional life and prayer life. I was, however, disappointed that in all of our discussions on prayer, meditation, and Scripture reading the topic of lectio divina never came up. This traditional practice has lots of a long history in Christian devotion and, from my initial experiences with it, is quite beneficial. Yet for some reason in the world I’ve grown up in (evangelical Protestant/Baptist) I’ve never heard it mentioned.

So what is lectio divina? It is a Latin phrase meaning “sacred reading,” and it refers to a specific practice combining Scripture reading, prayer, and meditation. Its origins can be traced back as far as Origen (3rd century), but it its current form it goes back to medieval monasteries, where it was finally put into four steps. The goal of lectio divina is to commune with God personally while/by reading Scripture. My explanations will be mostly pointless without giving the details, so I’ll just jump into the four steps:

  1. Read — The first step of lectio divina is to read Scripture. Usually, you will not want a very long passage for this. Generally a verse or two will be plenty, though of course you are not limited and depending on how long you want to spend and how much focus you have you might read much more. A great longer text might be psalm, for example. I like to pick out a verse or two that particularly strikes me from whatever large reading I am doing at the time.
    Anyway, once you’ve chosen your text you read it slowly and carefully, focusing on it as exclusively as you can. You will probably want to read it multiple times, traditionally four. Pay close attention to words and phrases that stick out to you, and try different emphases each time you read it.
  2. Meditate — The next step is to meditate on what you’ve read. This is not a time for technical analysis or study, but more personal reflection with Christ as the central concern. You want to remove anything but the text and how it relates to Jesus from your mind, and focus on that alone. What does God want this word to show you about His only begotten Word through His Spirit? Stop and reflect on all of this for a few moments, minutes, or I suppose even hours if you’re hardcore enough. Don’t stop the answer to that question, but instead if an answer comes to mind focus on the reality in Christ. Does this text reveal that Christ brings peace for weary sinners? Then rest in His peace during this time.
  3. Pray — Having reflected on the text and listened to God in Christ through the Spirit, you then respond to Him in prayer. Whatever you have gathered from your time of meditation, respond to God in an appropriate way. Did His glory impress itself on you? Then respond, “Glory to You, God!” Was your sin exposed to you? Repent and ask for forgiveness. Whatever you have heard in reading God’s word and meditating on it, pray to the Author about it.
  4. Contemplate — Finally, the last step in lectio divina is to stop and be silent. You’ve read, meditated, and prayed. By this point you should just rest and listen. Do not try to move on yet, but rather spend a few moments, as it were, resting in the arms of God. Anything God has said, let it sink in further. Whatever you have said back to Him, let it stand unadulterated and unqualified for a moment. Just be silent, and sit with Your Father.

If the appeal and potential benefits of this practice are not obvious to you, then I don’t really know what to tell you. This is, as I mentioned, a traditional part of Christian devotion, which is quite intimate and fruitful. If you want to try something new, which is nonetheless ancient, in your walk with God, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I pray someone will benefit from it.

You Should Really All Know About Lectio Divina

One of the Few Things That Can Make Me Angry

I am not an angry person. For the most part, I just deal with people and don’t worry about their nonsense, shenanigans, rudeness, or offenses. When I do think about these things, it’s usually analytically, thinking about the wider patterns in society of which they are a part, and about any theological issues involved. I already digress, though, so back to my point. I don’t generally get angry, and it usually takes some repeated problems to make it happen. Most issues don’t spark any fire any me.

There are a few things, of course, that do. Talking about abortion for more than 5 minutes. Bullies. A handful of politicians. But none of those are the subject of this post. Instead, this post is about what angers me if I think about it for too long: nonchalant money wasting.

What specifically do I mean? I work at a Papa John’s. I see almost every day people spend $20-40 on pizza and cookies. Likewise, I walk into stores and see $1000 TVs that people actually buy. On Black Friday, so many people practically turn into a raging mob trying to throw their money at companies for things that usually aren’t important. College kids buy Starbucks several times a week, or even daily. Well off couples plunk down hundreds of thousands for houses much larger, fancier, and prepared than they actually need. Half of our society, if not much more than that, revolves around buying and selling, and when your society is the size of ours, that guarantees most of the business being done isn’t essential to life and well-being.

So, so much of this money is just wasted. Hundreds of millions of dollars essentially go down the toilet, serving no purpose but to give us some momentary pleasure, distracting entertainment, or a few extra moments of convenience. I could multiply examples, and in fact a part of me is simply dying to do so just to illustrate the severity of the problem and get out some of the frustration that builds even as I think about this subject to write on it. But stop and think for yourself: how much money do you spend in your average week, even average day, that you could quite easily get by without spending? What about the expenses that you could get by without just by putting in a little extra effort?

I know I do this. I try to avoid it, but I do not always do so, and plenty of times if I step back and think too hard about it I get frustrated. But why? Why does this all so rile me? Why does all of this make me so angry?

The reason, which may be obvious to some of you, for my ire is the African child with a stomach bloated from malnutrition and starvation, the Afghan mother struggling to find some kind of health care for her baby, and the old redneck lady who can’t afford to keep electricity hooked up in her trailer. People like these and those in many other situations around the world are suffering in extreme poverty (or at least serious relative poverty for their society), and try as they might they can’t do anything about it. Most of them aren’t just a little bit poor, either. According to Compassion International:

Globally, 1.2 billion people (22 percent) live on less than $1.25 a day. Increasing the income poverty line to $2.50 a day raises the global income poverty rate to about 50 percent, or 2.7 billion people.

This means that for every one of us who can afford to spend $7 for lunch at Chick-fil-A almost whenever we want, there is someone else out there who would have to go without any other food for at least 2 or 3 days to afford that opportunity. 

In the face of such intense and rampant poverty and suffering, the waste I see every day becomes absolutely disgusting. The constant churning of spending more and more money on frivolous or disposable things by whim appears to be pure evil, the evil of a world system under the sway of the evil one. Fancy new gadgets, savory steak dinners, and luxurious vacations are shoved into our faces daily by advertisers desperate for our money, money which could be better spent for the sake of mercy on the poor. And we take the bait! We buy into the system and throw away our money together with our souls for the sake of temporary pleasures, ignoring the billions of people who could never afford our 40-inch TVs or 6-inch iPhones in a hundred years.

Naturally, I’m not saying that we can never spend any money beyond what we absolutely have to have. Moderation is always allowed. But we don’t usually try or think about moderating our spending in order to give. In the US, concern for extreme poverty is extremely low1, and giving is pathetic2. That is what makes me angry. The lack of care, and the lack of action proving care, is what frustrates me.

So let’s fix it. Give. Go. Help. Pray. Send. And waste less money on the stupidities of American consumerism when you can be giving it to those who need it to survive.

If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need — how can God’s love reside in him?

1 John 3:17

One of the Few Things That Can Make Me Angry