Do You Love the Gift or the Giver?

A gift for youIn his book, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, Francis Chan famously asked, “Are we in love with God or just His stuff?” In a society that glorifies the prosperity gospel through shows like this one, it’s probably a fair question to ask.

But it also isn’t a new question that’s relevant to our culture only. About 1500 years ago, another Christian leader, Caesarius, Bishop of Arles, asked the same thing of his congregants. In its volume on the gospel of Mark, the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture quotes him as preaching the following: Continue reading Do You Love the Gift or the Giver?

The Reality of the Incarnation

incarnationtheodoret“For if the incarnation was a fantasy, then our salvation is a delusion. The Christ was at the same time visible man and invisible God.”

(Theodoret of Cyr, Dialogues [quoted in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture])

A Big God for Little People

I’m reading John Piper’s Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent 2013 during my devotional time this month. If you’re not already reading something specific to focus on and celebrate the Incarnation (or even if you are), go download the book. It’s free. You can’t beat free. The readings so far have been deep, meaningful, and encouraging. Today’s entry on Luke 2:1-5 was especially good, emphasizing how God uses the big things of this world to bless the little people who are his. Here’s the key section (emphasis mine): Continue reading A Big God for Little People

My Son, the Con Man

My 2.5-year-old son is a con man. Seriously.

This morning he had donuts and juice for breakfast. He then opened the fridge, found a sleeve of fun-size Kit-Kats and used his puppy-dog eyes and pathetic voice to get one of those. A few minutes later this conversation took place:

Elijah: “Daddy, I’m already hungry.”
Daddy: “You’re hungry already?”
Elijah: “Me too! Let’s have cookies!”

This time his charm didn’t work, which caused a small temper tantrum until he realized that wouldn’t work either.

A few minutes later he was laying on the floor playing with some toys and decided he wanted his mommy. When commanding her to come didn’t work, he pulled out his favorite trick: pretending he wants a hug. Continue reading My Son, the Con Man

Are You a Wise Man?: Three Possible Responses to the Christmas Story

“The Magi Journeying” by James Tissot

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
     are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
     who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1-12)

I’ve always been struck by this story, so much so in fact that it often finds its way into my devotionals this time of year. Matthew sets up such a stark contrast between Herod, the chief priests and scribes, and the wise men from the east, all of whom were operating with the same information, but none of whom reacted to that information in the same way. While at various points in the story, all three parties knew who had been born (v. 2), where he had been born (v. 5), and why he had been born (v. 6), their responses were vastly different, and I believe mirror the only 3 responses any of us will have to Jesus’ birth story this Christmas: Continue reading Are You a Wise Man?: Three Possible Responses to the Christmas Story

Kim Jong Il & the Story of Christmas

The passing of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il has monopolized a lot of news coverage since the story broke yesterday. Much more interesting than the story of his death, however, is the story of his birth … or at least the “official” story of his birth:

For everything that was wrong with Kim Jong Il’s thinking, he apparently recognized one theologically true fact: the solution to man’s problem lies outside the normal human experience. To be accepted as the “savior” of North Korea, he felt the need to make his birth appear to be supernatural. He had to be more than a man. From the Yamato Dynasty in Japan to the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, leaders have felt the need to claim some aspect of divinity in order to present themselves as saviors.

But they have all claimed to be men + something divine. They were somewhat divine or descended from a deity. They were partially god or one god of many. They were not the only God, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

Then there was Jesus: Continue reading Kim Jong Il & the Story of Christmas

Why Santa Won’t Be Coming to My House

I have a 2-1/2 year old son, who in the 3rd advent season of his life is finally starting to appreciate the wonder and excitement of Christmas. His little face lit up when we put up our tree, and when the lights were plugged in, he declared, “Wow! That’s beautiful!” We have a nativity set that uses tealight candles, and he asks us to light them and then wants to try and blow them out. He thinks every package that UPS drops off at our house is a Christmas present for him just because I told him that one was. He points and yells, “Christmas!” at everything remotely Christmasy in any store we go to. He asks to watch Christmas videos. He just loves everything Christmas.

My wife and I might be even more excited than he is for Christmas morning to come. He loved getting presents last year when he didn’t really comprehend what was going on so we can’t wait to see his reaction when all his anticipation for Christmas is finally fulfilled. But one thing that won’t be part of our Christmas Eve and Christmas morning experience is Santa Claus. There won’t be cookies left out for him before going to sleep on December 24th. We won’t be writing, “From Santa” on any of the gifts. His name probably won’t even be mentioned.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with Santa. We watch movies with Santa in them, we’ve given our son Santa coloring books, and we won’t be teaching him that Santa is evil. But we won’t be letting him think Santa brings his gifts either. Once he’s a little older, we’ll teach him the real story of Santa and why we should celebrate the historical St. Nicholas (although that’s already started to some extent since he absolutely loves the VeggieTales St. Nicholas movie), but for now we’ll just let Santa be the cartoonish fictional character he naturally assumes he is.

I know not everyone will agree with us. I’m sure there are some who probably think we’re wrong for allowing any vestige of Santa in our home. Others probably think we’re being too strict and depriving our son of his childhood by robbing him of a belief in Santa. I guess it’s more for that second objection that I want to explain why we will tell our son that his Christmas presents are from us (via a store) and not from Santa (via elves at the North Pole): Continue reading Why Santa Won’t Be Coming to My House

The Spirit of Christmas

One of my favorite shows growing up was Home Improvement. I still watch reruns whenever I find them on. And while critics complained that Tim Allen’s new show Last Man Standing took the Home Improvement premise and just swapped out three sons for three daughters, I saw it as a good thing, and the similarities to Home Improvement have kept me watching since Episode 1 (albeit online later in the week instead of when it airs in prime time).

This is a short clip from the Christmas episode of Last Man Standing, which aired on December 6th. The eldest daughter of Tim Allen’s character has a 2-1/2-year-old son, whom she bore out of wedlock and whose father deserted them. In this episode, the boy’s father, Ryan, returns, and, as you can imagine, gets a less than cordial welcome from Tim Allen’s character. In this clip, his youngest daughter challenges him on the difference between his attitude and what they learn in church. It’s obviously meant to be funny, and Tim Allen’s character says earlier in the episode that he goes to church just to hedge his bets so it’s not like he’s a believer. But I still think it should make us stop and think.

What disparities are there between my actions and attitudes and what I will teach my family through the Christmas story this season? Do I show the love and forgiveness that Jesus showed me through his incarnation? Or is my family getting the impression that the daughter in Last Man Standing got, that I force them to go to church and learn about something that I don’t believe in enough to live out?