Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ten Questions for New Year's Resolutions

HT: Tim Chester

Lose weight. Learn a new language. Remain calm with the kids. Go to the gym. Watch less television. Read the classics. Spend more time in prayer.
What’s your new year’s resolution going to be?
There’s nothing wrong with resolutions. A young Jonathan Edwards famously made a list of 70.
Most of our resolutions are aimed at changing certain things about ourselves. Here are 10 questions to ask of resolutions (whatever time of year they’re made) to ensure we’re being gospel-centered in our approach to change.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

InterVarsity and #BlackLivesMatter

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (InterVarsity) is an evangelical college ministry that is no stranger to social justice movements. Still, it was surprising for InterVarsity to devote an evening at its Urbana missions conference to #BlackLivesMatter. InterVarsity unabashedly called on 16,000 students to support the movement.
What InterVarsity did last night was more than a nod to current events or the need to oppose racism. It was a full-throated, unapologetic call to support #BlackLivesMatter.
You can read the rest.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015: The Year That Nothing Worked

Youch. This is not encouraging.

It’s been a rough year.  Bloomberg’s Lu Wang, referring specifically to economics and investing, has called 2015 The Year Nothing Worked.
Terrorism is back in force, with ISIS giving us nearly daily examples of unsettling, disillusioning cruelty.  That’s hard for humanists, optimists, and progressives to take, day in and day out. The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, making us feel that all of the sacrifice of our military men and women for the high goal of democracy in the Middle East may have been in vain.
Meanwhile, our government seems increasingly incompetent, and many of the candidates for the future seem to promise either more of the same, or to be even be worse.
Gideon Rachman of the London Financial Times says “the whole world is on edge.” He says that usually some country is optimistic and doing well.  But last year not only the United States but the new powerhouse China have been in the doldrums.  He blames not only economic uncertainty but a large scale reaction against governments and elites of every kind.
You can read the rest. Thoughts?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

It's a Wonderful Life

We all know the scene from It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey is told by his guardian angel, Clarence, that he had gotten his wish: George had never been born. The chaotic, selfish, sinful tendencies of the town are amplified as a bewildered George stumbles through Pottersville, panicked and heartbroken that no one knows or cares about him. Eventually, George Bailey’s appreciation for life is renewed as he recognizes that his life is worth living.
After watching It’s a Wonderful Life this year, my eyes fell on the verse hanging in our home:
Now the light [Jesus], which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9)
And he did come into the world. Verse 14 goes on to say: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Suddenly it hit me — what if Jesus had never come into the world? What if he had never been born? What if God had not given his only Son to offer salvation to every person?
You can read the rest.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

How We Forgot the Poverty of Christmas

 Melanie Defazio / Stocksy
We don’t believe in Christmas anymore.
We believe in Christmas gatherings, Christmas shopping, and Christmas recitals, of course, and even Christmas outreach events and Christmas acts of charity. If you are reading this issue of CT while fighting tryptophan-induced sleep, you know that Christmas has dominated our mass-mediated imagination since before Halloween. Christmas is the piece de resistance of a year spent hustling from one “big event” to another, anticipating the next holiday as we try to enjoy the present one.
Christmas is the biggest celebration on the calendar. But we know not what we celebrate.
Church leaders are in a major bind with this one. They have to compete with the usual rivals—Santa Claus, TV specials, and generic holiday cheer that can be felt without taking the family to a church. This year, Christian leaders face the allure of the new Star Wars. In a tossup between the baby Jesus and Luke Skywalker, I’m not sure most Christians would bet on the Christ Child over the Jedi Fighter.
You can read the rest.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

More About St. Nicholas

HT: Stephen Nichols

It might surprise many today to find out that Saint Nicholas (spoiler alert) is a real person after all. Is he the white-bearded man with a red suit, a cap, and a sleigh?

Not quite, but he probably was bearded, did wear a hat, and did travel in horse-drawn, not reindeer-drawn, transportation. The legend behind Santa Claus is Saint Nicholas, the fourth-century bishop of Myra. His hat was the bishop’s mitre.

Nicholas was born in modern day Turkey to a rather wealthy family. Losing his parents at a young age, Nicholas dedicated both his fortune and his life to the Christian church. Very quickly he was appointed the bishop of Myra, on the southern coast of modern day Turkey.

You can read the rest.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Pray for All Persecuted This Holiday

Sergey Ponomarev/New York Times

As we celebrate the holidays, let’s remember that this is one of those savage epochs when some families must choose between their faith and their lives. It is an echo of when Nero burned Christians alive, or when self-described Christians unleashed pogroms against Jews.

This article has some sobering truths about the religious persecution happening worldwide right now. And not just against Christians, but also Yazidis, Mandeans, Bahai, and Muslims. Christ have mercy. We should also be thankful for World Relief, whose work is mentioned positively in this article.

"Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease."

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Brutally Honest Christmas Letter

HT: D.L. Mayfield

Hello! Greetings from the Mayfields. This was our hardest year ever, and we still haven't recovered!

In the past year we:

Left our mission organization. I experienced a traumatizing pregnancy and birth and nearly died. Our baby was born a month early and had to be hospitalized for several scary days at 6 weeks old. We moved across the country and said goodbye to amazing friends and jobs. We put our daughter through a hell of a lot of transition. Our baby never did learn to sleep very good.  Our van broke down never to be resurrected. We moved to the outer edges of Portland, a food-and-culture desert. We moved into a cramped, loud, chaotic apartment complex. Our upstairs neighbors drove their car into my daughter's bedroom. My husband got a job but it is taking forever to get back on our feet financially. Every month we hope that this time we won't qualify for food stamps, but it hasn't happened yet. My anxiety got so bad my body decided to get depressed in order to "fix things." I wrestled with my book manuscript, but it's hard to edit when you are sad and aren't sleeping and have little people to care for. We became very isolated, partly on purpose, partly because we didn't have the energy to reach out to old friends.

You can read the rest.

Star Wars and Nostalgia

Thanks to Charles Taylor’s work A Secular Age, I’ve come to believe the most important question about big entertainment is not “what is this movie/videogame/album about?” but “what is it for?” I don’t think we need another article analyzing the nitty-gritty thematic details of Star Wars. It is a simple, well-told tale of good versus evil with memorable characters and mammoth effects.
What I’m interested in is the function of Star Wars. When thousands of fans line up outside of theaters on December 17 to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens (of which I will be one), what will it be for?
Primarily to have a good time, yes. But also, and perhaps more importantly, Star Wars will be helping fans to forget two things: the loss of childhood and the tragic version of adulthood we’ve received in its place.
You can read the rest.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Year Jesus Was Born

HT: Philip Jenkins

Scholars differ on the exact birthdate of Jesus of Nazareth, though a fair consensus holds that it was not in the year 1. Many favor a date in or around 4BC, and for the sake of argument, let us take that as accurate. If so, the birth occurred during or near a truly dreadful time in the history of what was already a troubled and turbulent land. Although these events are familiar to scholars, they are not at all well known by non-specialists. This is unfortunate, because memories of this crisis certainly shaped memories and perceptions for decades afterwards, and conditioned attitudes during Jesus’s lifetime. If we don’t understand those conflicts, we are missing the prehistory of the earliest Jesus Movement.

You can read the rest.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What Would Jesus Want For Christmas?

Honestly, I’ve never really thought about what Jesus desires for the Christmas season until recently. Across the world, the Christmas story will be read, and discussions of keeping the Christ in Christmas (as cheesy as that sounds), will be had among Christmas.

If Christmas is all about Christ, what does He desire for the Advent season?

  • Does He want us to put up nice trees?
  • Does He want us to buy presents for one another?
  • Does He want us to perform “good” deeds during this season?
  • Does He want another Christmas pageant of musical?
The answer to what Jesus wants for Christmas is found in John 17:24.
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you have loved me before the foundation of the world.”
You can read the rest.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

You Can't Keep Up This Pace

HT: Erik Raymond

Some years ago I was serious about distance running. I meticulously planned my meals, training, and schedule in order to achieve my goals. After a long season of training I laced them up and lined up for a marathon. At the start I took off on pure adrenaline. I ran with excitement passing many people and feeling like I was in the Olympics or something. The street was filled with onlookers and there was music. It was excellent. The only problem was I never slowed down. Like a labrador in an open field I just ran hard for several miles. Then something unexpected happened. At about mile 14 I began to feel irritation in my hips and knees. Instead of slowing down I just winced through it. By mile 18 I was grimacing. By mile 22 I felt like I was in a vice. I had foolishly outrun my ability and my body was paying the price.
This incident has become instructive for me of late. For years I have been privileged to speak to men who seem to take on too much work and go too hard. They are always running on fumes and rarely feel like they are doing their best in a particular area. They regret their busyness. I look back to many conversations where I’ve tried to help guys see their priorities, build a reasonable plan, and some accountability to make it happen. I’ve even used the analogy of life being a marathon and not a sprint. What’s more, I’ve even used my misplaced running zeal as an example of what could happen if they don’t reign some things in.
The only problem was, I never listened to the advice.
You can read the rest.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Advent and Reconciliation

With Advent now upon us, a season of preparation for the coming of the Lord, I have found myself wondering what Peace on Earth and good will toward men might look like on a global scale in a world more interconnected than ever before but still painfully disconnected on so many levels. In 2015 in the United States we can watch earthquake victims in Kathmandu valley dig out from under the rubble in real time. We can then send them aid even though many of the Americans who wire funds overseas to help said victims cannot place Nepal on a map. Flooding our social media newsfeeds are heartwarming videos about radical generosity (and kitty cats pawing at printers), uplifting us even if only for a few brief moments. We then scroll down a little further to see a flood of vituperative political memes and clickbait that appeals to our most carnal, depraved desires.
Advent is not just a time of preparation but a season of penitence. What does repentance, a truly penitent turning of the heart, and the ministry of reconciliation–that which the apostle Paul defines as “not counting their sins against them” (2 Cor. 5:18)–look like today?  The very idea of repentance and reconciliation seems impossible given the grisly barbarism and nasty cultural divisions dominating the headlines, not least of which are the murderous rampages of Daesh and the cavalier disregard in the West for the most vulnerable among us. (I’m thinking of refugees and the unborn here).
But alas, the circumstances were not so different in the era in which the hinge of human history was born two thousand years ago.
You can read the rest.

Monday, December 7, 2015

What Child Is This?

As a child, I was not impressed with a Christmas song that asked a question everyone already knew the answer to. What child is this? Really? It’s Jesus, of course. We all know that — even the kids know that.
What I didn’t yet understand is that questions aren’t just for solving problems and requesting new information. Sometimes questions make a point. We call those “rhetorical questions.” Other times the form of a question expresses awe and wonder about something we know to be true, but find almost too good to be true. It’s too good to simply say it directly like we say everything else.
You can read the rest.

Friday, December 4, 2015

An 8-bit Christmas

For the small cross-section of people out there who, like me, enjoy 1980's video games and singing hymns, here's a Christmas gift for you.

You're welcome.

HT: Tyler Larson

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thoughts/Prayers Now, Wise Action Pending for San Bernadino

Some strong points here. If you want to comment, read the whole article first.
Three cheers for anyone outside the immediate area of a crisis who refuses to pontificate or politicize, but pauses, ponders, and prays.
For some reason, waiting to see what motivated an act, where the weapons were gained, and who the killers were is no longer enough. We are refusing to act says the critic . . . and that means passing national gun control legislation. What legislation? Nobody says, but we should do something.
It is unclear to me why people think praying is doing nothing. If I were an atheist, this phrase would be the equivalent of a public statement of solidarity. What else can a person do in the early moments of a tragedy? When facing the initial trauma of an event, normal people feel sympathy, express that feeling, and this helps everyone.
I pray that God will make my heart just. I pray that the victims rest in peace in the life of the world to come. All of this is good for me. I pray that God will work in the hearts of evil men, knowing He does, but adding my voice, as is fit for me to do. I pray God comforts the hearts of those hurting. This comfort does come. This much I have personally seen when a community was hurting over death, natural disaster, job loss, or sickness.
No Christian thinks that we should “only” pray in every situation, but until we know the situation, Christian are too sensible to suggest what we should do more than standing in solidarity and praying for the hurting. Should we go to war? Should we pass gun control stricter than that of Paris? What should be done?
My thoughts and prayers are with my fellow citizens in San Bernardino.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Dickens of a Christmas

I need to repost this from last year.

People say Dickens invented Christmas: he didn’t – though he aided its revival. Britain’s newly urban population didn’t have much energy or opportunity to celebrate it, thanks to the extremely un-festive combination of long hours of unregulated industrial toil and displacement from the rural communities they’d grown up in. Dickens was the most successful of numerous cultured Victorians keen to revive the season, both out of nostalgia for the (more fondly than accurately) remembered country Christmases of yore and a sense of social conscience.
Many of our ideas about what makes a merry Christmas (including the phrase itself) were his first. Dickens placed charity at the heart of the season and made us hope for snow. In his imagination Christmas was always white, which his biographer Peter Ackroyd puts down to the eight unusually cold, happy winters of his boyhood, before his father, John, ended up in debtor’s prison.
Hence all the Victorian-like appearances of Christmas? I enjoy many Christmas decorations, but how much do we let Dickens influence our celebration of Christmas in comparison to the humble, sacrificial and loving act of God incarnate?
You can read the rest here. HT: Lauren Laverne