Christmas Without A Doubt

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One remarkable thing about being a father is the perspective it gives on my own doubts of God.  While out shopping Y-dran would come across the perfect Christmas gift, he had to have, and then persistently remind us not to forget.  His need for control over what he got really could take away from the whole joy of giving and was a matter of his trust.  He is not sure of my ability or will to give him what is good.

Good Gifts 

Jesus used the analogy of a parent giving to their children to describe God’s disposition towards His creation:

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

(Matthew 7:9‭-‬11 NIV)

It is fun to see a child’s face light up when they receive a gift and it is likely because of this kind of feedback that we are so happy to give.  A good father wants to satisfy all of the needs of their children. They want to give them the best and would never torment them by giving them bad things.  It is especially easy for me to give to Y-dran as a reward for his helpful spirit.  I would give to him regardless, but it is much easier to give when he is being helpful or well-behaved.  I’m reluctant to give anything when he has an entitled attitude or makes demands.  I mean, I really don’t want to raise a son who can’t wait or ever hear the word “no” the first time.  Teaching him what is right is the best gift I can give.

My Father’s Son?

Just months into being a father I can see my own dad coming out and I don’t like it.  It is far too easy to greet inquiries with annoyance and not give the attention a child needs.  He really does know when I’m not making him a priority in my life.  Sure, we will remind him that we put the food on the table and shelter over his head.  However, to be honest, a very small portion of my income goes to him and I would need shelter for myself even if I did not have a family to care for.  And the truth is that I can be thrifty with money to the point of miserliness.

I have been at war with myself since bringing Y-dran into my life.  I’m really trying to be rid of the old man that lives in me, the one who makes others feel inadequate, that sees the financial bottom line as more important than family time, and to be the father who is truly self-sacrificial and involved in a meaningful way rather than merely playing the role.  But the reality is that the apple does not fall far from the tree and I am my father’s son.  I will need to battle it out with my own selfishness and self-righteous defense mechanisms.

Stepfather of Jesus

To some, the idea of raising another man’s son might be a deal breaker.  There was a story from earlier this year about a 5-year-old boy, in China, left behind at his kindergarten after the man raising him as a son found out that he was not the biological father.  

Joseph deliberated the same thing when he found out that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was pregnant:

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 

(Matthew 1:18-19 NIV)

Jesus, according to the Jewish writings of the Talmud, was an illegitimate child, the bastard son of a Roman soldier, and Mary a whore.  And Joseph, prior to a special visit from angels, would have every reason in the world to assume the same.  Even after being assured that the child was of the Holy Spirit, the stepfather of Jesus would no doubt have had to face the whispers of the scandal.  The angel didn’t visit his entire village to tell them and this was not like our times either when it is out of wedlock pregnancy is common.

Fortunately, for me, I’ve not had a struggle with the prospect of being a stepfather and, if anything, it was the prospect of being Y-drans father that kept me from giving up on the relationship after over three years of being apart and waiting.  It is one thing for two adults to break off their own romantic engagement, quite another to leave a boy who already calls you “daddy” behind.  I was willing to fight for the opportunity to earn the trust and love of Y-dran.  If anything, he was the best reason to marry his mother.

Our Father in Heaven 

Many social conservatives tend towards the harshness of a Chinese man who abandoned a toddler for not being his own. But this is not an attitude that is reflective of God:

He is a father to the fatherless and an advocate for widows.  God rules from his holy dwelling place.  God settles in their own homes those who have been deserted; he frees prisoners and grants them prosperity. 

(Psalms 68:5-6a)

Joseph, in taking Jesus called “the son of Mary” by skeptics in Mark 6:3 (an interesting word choice to say the least) as his son was reflective of the fatherly love of God.  Joseph shouldered this wrongful disgrace the same way that God, despite being Holy, is willing to bear the weight of our sin and even call us his own children.

If a man knows the significance of this, of St Paul’s declaration that believers become the sons of God by adoption (Romans 8:15; 9:26; Galatians 3:26) would he ever deny any child an opportunity to have a father?  

There is a sense in which we get back what we give, that there is reciprocity or a kind of karma.  If we are like the servant who buried his talents in fear or the one that refused to forgive another a debt after being pardoned, we will get the unpleasant or judgmental side of God.  We will get what we expect or demonstrate in our own actions.  Therefore, if we want grace for our own sins, to call God our Father, then we must put that old man to death, and be a father figure like the father we never had.  No one had a perfect earthly father, some have been abandoned by the man who should have been that man, but we can all be that source of structure, stability, and abiding love if we choose to be like our heavenly Father.

Why Believe In Sky Daddy?

One of the most intriguing things about the world that we are in is its symmetry and scalability.  There are repeating patterns, from the Nautilus shell to the spiral arms of the galaxy, that are amazingly paralleled in the language of mathematics and yet we really know nothing.  Science is not about knowing, it is only ever about probabilities, we can expect certain things based on prior observation.  And, in that light, the phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” can take another meaning.

The idea of God is ridiculed today and for good reason.  Many who claim to believe in God are completely petty and selfish people, quarreling over buttons on blouses, divided by political ideology and denomination, and full of self-righteousness or pride.  If God exists, then why do Christians live on their own strength and without faith?

It could be that our Father, God, is some kind of invention or an imaginary stand-in used to represent an ideal.  In other words, an Uncle Sam or Rosie the Riveter type of character there as a special example to bring out our best effort.  We know well today that people can believe almost anything, we have those who pretend to be animals and others who take on identities that do not match with the physical reality of their bodies.  So with all of this absurdity on display around us is it not possible that our traditional beliefs could be delusional as well?

Could God be the perfect dad to make up for the deficiencies of our own dad or provide us with a measure of security when our own father dies?  Or a Santa character, watching if we’re naughty or nice, and a manipulation tool used to keep children in line?

Speaking of Santa…

The Real St. Nick 

The Orthodox celebrate St Nicholas.  He is not a fat and jolly man dressed in a red suit who lives in the North Pole with elves and a sleigh pulled by reindeer.  He was a bishop, in Asia Minor, who drop bags of coins into the window of a home at night to help a poor father pay the dowry for his daughters and rescued three girls from prostitution.  So, he gave gifts, and yet he wasn’t giving trinkets to satisfy the demands of spoiled children.  No, he was a man led by Christian compassion and making a difference in his time.

How a holy man becomes the guy crying out “ho ho ho” is truly beyond me. 

A centuries-old game of telephone, I suppose? 

But it does show us that there is something that is real behind even this most distorted and commercialized image.  In other words, the atheist using the myth of Santa Claus as a reason to dismiss God is ignorant.  The myth is based on truth.  Many have rejected only a false image or caricature of God.  They run with “the man upstairs” kind of trope, but the God of Scripture is beyond comprehension and not a mere man.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

(Isaiah 55:8‭-‬9 NIV)

Many simply have the wrong concept of God.  They ​​have rejected the deity of their hypocritical parents or that of judgmental religious fundamentalists and the guy on television always asking for donations.  They see God as the petty tyrant, always out to get in the way of their enjoyment of life or trying to destroy them, and not the Creator who is good and loves mankind.

Daddy Doesn’t Love Me

It doesn’t take long, as a parent, to realize that children need some guidance for their own good.  If Y-dran were left completely to his own devices he would spend his entire day watching mindless content.  The tablet wars have been raging in our home as we try to reign in the entertainment monster.  And that is the worst part, while sucked into the vortex he changes from attentive and helpful to a different child.  This morning he became extremely upset after the WiFi doesn’t keep up with his media demands.

Y-dran may believe that we limit his time and that we refuse to get a better home internet plan because we don’t care.  But what he doesn’t realize is that the tablet is a parent’s easy way out.  If we actually didn’t care we would just let him play or watch endlessly and without any restrictions.  Sure, the end result would be a young person not prepared for success in life, and yet we would at least temporarily spare ourselves of the need to deal with his temper tantrums, right?  Of course, we are thinking of his long-term good which is why we deny his access despite his current wishes.

We can see unanswered prayers as neglect or we can believe that our not always getting what we want is truly the benevolence of our Creator who sees beyond our very limited perspective.  I mean, maybe there is no God, or maybe God is malicious and mean like some contend, but how will either one of those beliefs help us to do better in our life?  I believe in the Father who gives good gifts to His children because that’s the father that I want to be—even when they don’t understand my rules or appreciate my love.

On Cynicism, Courage and the Real War On Christmas

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A week ago someone had called my grandpa and identified himself as being my younger brother. He needed to be bailed out after some kind of traffic law infraction. My grandpa, not one quick to give vast sums of money over a phone call, quizzed his ‘grandson’ and inquired as to why he did not ask his parents first. The spoof caller answered that he wasn’t getting with his parents, at which point it was obviously a scam and my grandpa hung up.

The other day my grandpa called to inform me that someone had just called claiming to be me, his eldest grandson. This time he hung up without hearing another word.

On the same day my grandpa told me about this I had a plea for help, on social media, from an orphanage in Pakistan. Their profile pictures featured a bunch of dear children and those images momentarily tugged at my heartstrings. However, there was no way to verify who they really were. So, I tried to kindly explain my brotherly assistance was required elsewhere. When continued to repeat the request for a Christmas donation, like a broken record, I blocked them. I’ll probably be slower to accept a similar friend request in the future to avoid the need to try to reason with someone only interested in my wallet.

The communication era has brought the world together in ways unimaginable a century or two ago. And, with that development, predatory hoards from around the world can now invade our personal space at any given moment. The marauders no longer need to travel in longboats over dangerous seas, they simply pick up the phone and pretend to be your grandchildren.

This is frustrating for me. There are so many legitimate needs, including that of my family in the Philippines, and these are the real victims of the scammers and schemers. Those who exploit our kindness and generosity do a great disservice to the people around the world who work hard, experience hardship, and could use a little help. It is easy to become callous and uncaring under the deluge of requests. But we must have the courage to care even when there’s a chance of being exploited.

What is the real war on Christmas?

Political activists are constantly claiming a war here or a war there. The left claims that not providing women with free stuff constitutes a “war on women” and the right, not to be left out of the grievance culture fun, whines about the words “Merry Christmas” not being on Starbucks cups—who can forget Joshua Feuerstein’s coffee cup fury and the backlash?

But the real war on Christmas has little if anything to do with corporate marketing and tit-for-tat politics.

Christmas is not about compelling others to use a particular greeting or ensuring that religious displays are allowed in public spaces.

Christmas is a celebration, for the Christian faithful, of the most incredible gift ever given, that being the incarnation of God’s logos in the person of Jesus Christ and the opportunity for our divine adoption. This miraculous birth, to a virgin mother, represents a new hope for humanity and a reason to change ourselves. The true Christmas spirit is our being filled with this same spirit of love and giving of life for the good of others that Jesus embodied.

Turning Christmas into the latest battleground of a broader culture war is to entirely miss the point. Giving Starbucks hell isn’t going to further the message of glad tidings and joy, that’s for certain, and is not likely to win any hearts or minds either. Pettiness is never going to convince a skeptic to consider the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a distraction at best.

The commercialization of the holiday also takes away from the true reason for the season. The birth of our Lord and Savior wasn’t really intended to inspire stampedes of shoppers hoping to wrestle a few dollars of savings from their neighbors. But Christmas has become a marketing boon for retailers and they (along with the rest of our culture) push people to spend money they don’t have for things they don’t need—things manufactured using underpaid foreign workers while the bulk of the profits enriching a few globalist elites. It is a scheme nearly as exploitative as the telephone scammers, but completely legal.

However, those two things (culture wars and commercialization) are mere symptoms of the bigger disease and the one thing that can undermine the Christmas spirit in us—the soul-eating disease called cynicism. If Christmas has a true enemy in this world it is cynicism. Cynicism is a cancerous attitude. It is natural (albeit unhealthy and inhumane) response to a world full of self-interested people and corrupt institutions. The cynical person is one who has seen behind the curtain, who may have been taken advantage of once or twice and is now too overtaken by their skepticism to truly love their neighbors.

It is often the disillusioned idealist who becomes a bitter, critical, and faithless or cynical. Cynicism is, in that sense, a product of those who exploit trust for financial gain, a result of fatigue of being hit from all angles, and a retreat to a position of disengagement. But it is not dispassionate, as it often claims to be with a shrug, nor is this retreat from personal involvement a moral high ground. No, in reality, cynicism is an excuse for being uncaring, cold-hearted and self-centered.

The clever trick of the cynic is to be uncharitable while presenting oneself as being someone concerned about morality or morally upright for being able to identify the evil intentions of others. But the reality is that cynic is a hypocrite merely using the abuses of others as a cover for their own true self-interested indifference. They might cite scams as a reason why not to care and yet will always have another excuse waiting in the wings if that one isn’t applicable. They are simply unwilling to give of themselves.

Truly the cynic is a coward. They are too cowardly to do good in the face of evil, to be vulnerable and take a chance of being exploited. They are also too cowardly, fearing the social cost of revealing the full truth of their real underlying lack of concern for others, to make a full commitment to the evil they truly envy and yet claim to despise. The irony of the cynic is that they are as selfish and as much a part of the problem as the people that they claim has caused their cynical condition.

Caring requires courage and courage requires commitment…

It takes courage to have life experience and not be cynical. I’ve held back on giving to many charitable causes because some of them did seem more like self-interested scams. There is definitely a case for good stewardship, we should be “wise as serpents” because there are “wolves” (Matthew 10:16) who would devour us and lay waste to our hard-earned savings. It does the world no good to empower criminals or encouraging laziness in those who could learn to help themselves.

However, the dividing line between a person desperately in need of love and one merely taking advantage of the generosity of others is razor-thin. In fact, in many cases, there are overlapping motives in those asking for help, some genuine and others corrupt, and knowing how to respond requires a great deal of wisdom and discernment.

For example, a single mother, raised by the system, may indeed be inclined to take advantage of the charity offered and especially the half-hearted kind that comes out of religious obligation rather than a full commitment to love. They might simply intend to get what they can get before moving on. In those cases, it is easy to dismiss such a person, to conclude that they are unwilling to make the changes necessary to be free of their current circumstance, wash our hands, and move on.

Unfortunately, while there is a time to let people learn from their mistakes, the salvation of those who are mired in generational poverty (or otherwise unable to help themselves) often requires an investment that is beyond reasonable. In other words, it takes an investment of faith rather than of mere religious obligation. It requires the courage and commitment to look beyond the risk of being exploited and to unconditionally love another person before they have proven themselves worthy of our help. Faith means being the hands and feet of Jesus.

Had God waited for us to be worthy of his love, he would not have sent his son, we would still be waiting for a Savior and be hopelessly lost in our sin forever. The true Christmas story is God showing us how to love by becoming personally involved and being completely willing to sacrifice himself as an example for us to follow:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-7)

Christianity and cynicism are completely at odds with one another. They might be similar in that both see the chance of being taken advantage of and exploited, but are completely different in how they respond to that chance. The cynical person lives based on fear and uses their knowledge of the risk as a reason to do nothing for those in need. The Christian, by contrast, makes a commitment to do good despite the strong possibility they will suffer great loss for their efforts.

A Christian must go to war with their cynicism, they must help that diseased man heaped at their doorstep, they must aid the broken traveler discarded along the path they trod and must make an unreasonable commitment to overcome evil with good. That is how soldiers win wars, they understand the risk and are still willing to sacrifice themselves for the cause. It takes courage to overcome our fears, to give ourselves as a sacrifice for the good of others, and live out the true meaning of Christmas.

Be courageous and don’t let the scammers and schemers turn your Christmas spirit into cynicism!

A Tempest in a Coffee Cup?

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One may think from the news coverage that Christians are out, torches and pitchforks in hand, looking for coffee shops to burn.  The story is that Starbucks isn’t exploiting Christmas enough and this lack of proper capitalization for a profit of holiday has offended the sentiments of the unwashed religionist hoards.

This fury seems to have originated with a humorous poke at a bland Starbucks holiday cup design.  It was escalated by a fuddy-duddy blowhard extraordinaire (aka Joshua Feuerstein) who, apparently not seeing the joke, posted a video that urged a movement to trick hapless minions of secularism (aka Starbucks employees) into saying Merry Christmas.

And, since then—like that bar fight where nobody knows which drunken idiot started it or why they are fighting to begin with—the story of angry Christians has exploded into a media fiasco.  But strangely the two main characters in this brawl do not seem to exist as much more than mythological creatures and that has led some to wonder if the whole ordeal is a fabrication.

Where are these offended Christians?

In my cadre of conservative Christian social media commentating friends, I have yet to see one who is offended by the Starbucks design.  In fact, of my coreligionist friends voicing an opinion, I have observed two main camps:

1) The Apologists, or those annoyed by other Christians who are offended by Starbucks cups and have taken to social media to scold these theoretical entitlement-minded embarrassments to the Christian cause.

2) The Sanctimonious, or those who are suspicious that this controversy is created by the liberal irreligious media and take their high horse to condemn those annoyed as being pawns in this imagined nefarious plot.

Then there’s one last group made of non-religious friends:

3) The Amused, or those who watch with a little gleefulness, are not overly suspicious of the media and have little trouble imagining Christians that feel they are entitled to special treatment or would become outraged over something as silly as Starbucks cup.

My own opinion is that the whole thing has gotten blown out of proportion.  It has likely only gained traction because we are already accustomed to the cultural wars that take place over issues similar to this.  There is usually a skirmish or two this time of year (whether arguing for and against nativity scenes or some other cultural expressions of Christianity) and this has primed our pumps to expect it.

I also do contend, again, that Joshua Feuerstein represents a small segment of the general Christian population.  There’s always those who are perpetually offended on behalf of their own tribe (look at the Halloween costume controversy at Yale and the chaos at Mizzou as examples) and yet whether or not these outspoken activists represent much more than themselves is an open question.  My own anecdotal evidence suggests that those outraged by the cups are, at the most, a fringe element even amongst fundamentalists.

What’s with the media coverage, anyhow?

If one wants to study the interplay of the media echo chamber and social media viral phenomena they should start here.  There seems to be a positive feedback loop at work in this where a one-man movement on YouTube, picked up by the mainstream media, was then sifted through the amplifier of social media and each step promoting more to add their own opinions.  This has gone through several cycles of growing in magnitude.  Even Donald Trump weighed in suggesting a boycott of the mermaid logo brand.

I do not think this is a media reporting this ‘controversy’ is a coordinated attempt to discredit Christians.  Professional journalists are not any different from the rest of us and will report on what is the latest buzz as we do.  In the age of social media the feedback loop is faster and the amplification quicker than ever.  By the time people start breathing again, we all feel a bit duped and start to wonder how the insanity got started.

Newsflash: All news is manufactured!

And, furthermore, we all participate in manufacturing news when we share about events that interest us.  We present a product of our own perspective whenever we tell other people about anything.  As a professional news reporter, we also select the facts we believe are relevant and omit those that seem inconsequential.  We carefully craft our words to reach our target audience and create a narrative based in our own worldview.

The adage “if it bleeds it leads” holds generally true.  We are drawn to controversy and this latest fracas over Starbucks cups has struck a cord or we wouldn’t be talking about it.  There are evidently enough perpetually outraged Christians like Feuerstein to make a premise of widespread butthurt believable.  He may be a crude caricature of us, but there’s a reason that he’s not taken as parody and that’s likely because he’s representative of a type of person we know does exist.

My decaffeinated analysis of the issue…

Yet, the bigger story is that most people (Christian and secular alike) are seemingly more offended by the controversy itself than the plain red cups that started it.  So maybe we should be careful not to get too carried away in our own outrage over the outrage that may or may not be an outrage at all.  There are plenty of people sharing dumb opinions (Bill Nye on abortion for example) and this is probably a good reason to reserve judgment until the facts are spoken.

Anyhow, for the record, the only problem I have with Starbucks is the inferior quality of their brackish liquid.  I prefer my coffee with milk, sugar, in a Dunkin Donuts cup and agnostic.  If that offends you, then please, by all means, do complain and start a movement or something—I will sip away amused as my blog views climb.

“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)

Why we give on Christmas

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In America it is easy to take our advantages for granted.  We have worked hard, we have invested our abilities and taken advantage of the opportunity to build our dreams.  Therefore, it may seem, the fruits of our labor are an entitlement and not a gift, right?

Well, yes and no…

If we had stayed in bed all day waiting for prosperity to happen we would likely be impoverished and therefore our will to get out of bed is a big part of our success.  However, was it by your own will that you were born with two good legs and are even able to contemplate getting out of bed?

If we are entitled to what we produce by will, but did not produce our legs by will, then who or what do we credit for what our legs helped us produce?  I suppose we could start by thanking our parents, we could be grateful to them for the transmittal of the genetic material that produced our legs and giving them credit for our success.

Then the fact you are able to read this, we can thank are parents and teachers who taught us language.  But, even if they seem older than the hills, they didn’t invent language and nor did the generation before them.  So can we take credit for the ideas we gained through written or spoken language?

Our lives are inexorably intertwined and interconnected like the very internet on which you read this.  The inventors mostly unknown, the contributions of many virtually forgotten and the whole maintained by a nameless mass of humanity, yet we do benefit or we would not use it.

So who or what deserves credit for our success?

We prosper to the extent that we do by ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ and our own efforts amplified by these gifts providence has bestowed upon us.  We cannot take for granted the privilege of a stable economic system and opportunities that even a grade school education provided for us.

If you travel to Haiti the contrast is clear.  In a place where government is especially corrupt and available resources few, even the most industrious person will have a difficult time getting ahead.  Oftentimes their best chance is by escaping to a better environment, yet that is not an option for all and some are stuck doing what they can to earn a meager wage.

Our success is a result of both collective and individual efforts.  Therefore, we all together (personally and all contributors to our lives big or small) deserve all, partial and no credit.  As a web of intersecting circular chains of causality of shared responsibility, deciding who actually deserves credit is actually a true paradox.  This paradox of our own will within determinism is something I chalk up to Providence.

We are created by the dust of stars…

In nature brutal violence and exploitation is normal.  A gazelle in Africa does not consider the rights of the living plants it consumes to be sacred nor does a lion that takes down a gazelle for its’ meat seem to agonize about the decision.  I doubt many would consider incarceration of a lions that killed a gazelle a moral necessity.

The recorded history of thousands of years of human history show a similar disregard for the life of those in the tribe across the river.  The idea of conquest or taking what you could in raids (that including enslaving members of the other tribe to labor or be concubines) was very common behavior and only very recently has become widely regarded as a morally repugnant thing.  It was kill or be killed.

From a logical, reasonable and collectively minded standpoint survival of the fittest is an obvious choice.  With the advent of modern science the idea that imbecile parents produce imbecile children, concerns about overpopulation and idea of gene selection became a basis for eugenics.  So from whence doth this ethic of protecting the weak or nonproductive person come from?

I think it is empathy.  The idea, contained in the proverb “there but for the grace of God go I” and a thought that we are fortunate for what we have been given, is that we should give to those with less because we would want to be helped.  It may be against nature and impractical thinking, but it is evidence that we can think beyond a materialistic perspective.  We see each other as spiritual beings with value just for our own existing.

I believe it is spiritual progress, awakening to more full awareness and transcending nature itself that drives our generosity.  We recognize our own success is not a simple matter of our own individual responsibility, choice and effort.  We realize we are not a product of any one person, institution or entity in this universe.  We are created from star dust, we suddenly have become awake to a reality that we somehow know is unfair and unbroken.

So where does this leave us and where do we go from there?

I turn to God.  I believe to acknowledge God is to humbly admit we cannot take credit for creating ourselves, that we cannot find answers for our existing in ourselves alone and we want to live out an ideal beyond ourselves.

Jesus prayed: “Thy kingdom co me on earth as it is in heaven,” which is literally asking for heaven on earth, and ultimately what faith is supposed to be about.  With this my prayer, I cannot be content to hoard what gifts I have been given for myself only, my family only or my own people only.  If I pray for heaven, I must be willing to create heaven and by that I must be willing to sacrifice myself to see this reality in my own life.

Love for God in the Christian Bible is always defined as giving of our abundance to those in need and commitment to self-sacrificial living.  It is a message to each of us personally to do our part in bringing the ‘good news’ to the world of God’s love for humanity.  It can be misconstrued as religion, as a guilt trip, as a means to judge others, and a tool of oppression, but the true calling of Jesus is for us to give what we have to give.  Rich or poor, male or female, American or other, we all have something to give other and, in our giving to each other, giving to God.

God has given us the ability to create a better world and many squander the opportunity by their immorality, their selfishness, greed, envy, etc.  But faith is acting despite what others do, faith is the only way we will fearlessly lead in bringing heaven to earth and faith is what is required of us.  It is our job, as people of faith, to be the healing hands, the feet ready to carry a load for those struggling and the loving voice.  With faith we can be the hands, feet and voice of God.

I am not talking about strictly charity either.  In fact, I think most of our giving is by our careers, our talents and time.  And, I will go further to say that there is nothing bad about profiting from your efforts, receiving without guilt and enjoying life.  However, I would caution against an entitled attitude that fails to recognize all you have been given that amplifies your own willing effort.  The investments of the blood, sweat and tears of many is what has made the American lifestyle possible.

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48b)

Those who think their security, prosperity and confidence is something they earned—rather than a gift from God—have no need to help those who are without and assume those without have done something to deserve being without.  However, those who know their affirmation and acceptance is only by the grace of God, who understand the very opportunities they have were by divine providence, they will give to those in need with a humble heart.  An ungiving person is an ungrateful person.

So, why do we give gifts on Christmas?

We give because, the Christ child, Jesus was given as a gift by God and we are grateful.  To those of Christian faith, Jesus is the living symbol of God’s ideal, his life the ultimate example and his laying down of his own life so we could know how to live the ultimate hope of humanity.  Our giving on the holiday is symbolic of the gift of the grace of God.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  (John 15:13)

To give as much as we have been given is our expression of fullness of gratitude and that is our reasonable service to God.  If everyone had will to give their all then nobody would be without and in need.  Be a friend to all people of all nations, give your all and bring heaven to earth for someone this holiday besides you or your own kin.

Merry Christmas and God bless!