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.

The Child of a Creative Mind

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A couple months ago I was hit by a book idea.  I say ‘hit’ because that is exactly how it felt.  The source seemed external, the ideas flowed into my consciousness as if being downloaded and I worried I would not be able to get them out fast enough to keep my mind from bursting like an overfilled balloon.  The result was over 17,000 words and a ‘chapter’ that may actually transform into a first book of a series when it is the right time to pick up the project again.

The “Spirit of God” Found in Creativity

My ‘experience’ is not unique to me.  It was topic of a TED talk, “Your elusive creative genius,” where author Elizabeth Gilbert speaks of her thoughts after writing a book that went big and what she has learned since.  She describes a “protective psychological construct” ancient people used that has been displaced with individualistic rational humanism.  People of the past would attribute a “creative thing” other than themselves, which Gilbert argues was healthier and may relieve some of the anxieties felt by many creative people.

Interestingly Gilbert mentions the Greek word “daemons,” which translates as it may sound and is a spirit that possesses a person.  In the Christian lexicon, the word has a rather negative connotation and is the root of demonic.  Others, she claims, would chant “Allah, Allah, Allah” (translates “God, God, God”) when they caught a “glimpse of God” in the extraordinary expression of a person that could not be explained.  However, Gilbert does leave out one thing and that is how the Bible testifies similarly about a creative mind that originates from God and is God.

“Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them skilled workers and designers.”  (Exodus 35:30-35 NIV)

In today’s age it seems even the religious do not characterize craftsmanship as a spiritual gifting and yet we see in the passage above that the “Spirit of God” is given credit for artistry.  Many Christians today tend to compartmentalize their pursuits labeling some activities as ‘spiritual’ and others as ‘carnal’ or lower, but I believe this could be errant thinking.  Perhaps God deserves more credit for the things we commonly attribute to human enginuity or efforts?

If we saw our work (mundane or incredible) as an expression of the glory of God within us rather than our own selves we would be freed of the fear of rejection if our work is not received well or appreciated and also of the problematic overinflated ego if we are successful.  If our great thoughts, athletic talents, entrepreneurial spirit or any unique abilities are not our own it changes how we use them and should make us more apt to share them without reservation.  Giving others what God gave us is the ultimate act of worship.

Child[ren] Born of God’s Spirit

In the Gospel accounts it is noteworthy that the religious critics of Jesus credited demons or the devil (Matt 12:25-28, Mark 3:22-29, Luke 11:15-19) for the miracles he performed.  Jesus countered that his works were good and credited his power to perform and authority to the Spirit (or ‘finger’) of God.  But this wasn’t to merely borrow divinity, it was to claim divinity and to a people who believed in a distant removed God this was blasphemy.  It was in reply to a charge of blasphemy Jesus quoted Psalms 82:6:

“Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’?  If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?  Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father.  But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”  (John 10:34-38 NIV)

Jesus appeals to their own Scripture where the Psalmist describes those “to whom the word of God came” as being divine or a ‘son’ of God.  But this idea of ‘sonship’ is not exclusive to Jesus alone, it is what Paul is talking about with the doing away of Scripture (the law) and becoming children of God through the faith of Jesus:

“Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.  So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  (Galatians 3:23-27 NIV)

And…

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”  (Romans 8:14-16 NIV)

Embracing the Gifting of the Spirit

To be a ‘follower’ of Jesus is about much more than book knowledge and desperately trying to please God through our religious devotion.  No, those who share in Spirit that was in Jesus have freedom to use the gifts God gives.  Many who claim to know Jesus seem not to have embraced the power promised through the Spirit.  Could they be as the servant who buried his talent for fear (Matthew 25:14-30) and deceived?

“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”  (James 1:16-18 NIV)

Do you have a “good and perfect gift” that is left idle for fear of what others may think?  If so, do not fear, be free of those who confine you with their cynicism or doubt, and embrace the gift.  We are given abilities both ‘natural’ or otherwise to bring glory to the creative mind of God.  So, write, sing, work, play, administer, encourage, dance, dig ditches and do everything to honor God.  Stop worrying and live more fully in the Spirit.

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!