Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"Happy Holidays"

In a sermon a few weeks back I said something like, "I think Santa Claus makes Christmas better." To the shock of many in the room, I (an evangelical, sometimes labeled fundamentalist, Christian Pastor) gave props to the secular rituals that have come to be associated with the yearly holidays.

To be forthright:
1) Our family dyes Easter eggs, hides Easter eggs, eats chocolate Easter eggs, and yearly puts out beautifully painted wooden eggs (in Norwegian Rosemaling) .
2) At Christmas, Santa comes and brings candy and presents. We do get a Christmas tree. We even say "Happy Holidays" on occasion.

For all those doubting my salvation, C.S. Lewis comes to my rescue in Reflections on the Psalms. Lewis observes that a devout young boy can appropriately place the resurrection of Jesus and eggs together in celebrating Easter. Admittedly, a time will come when the boy will have to place emphasis on the eggs or Jesus. Lewis writes, "If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat (British for candy)."

Mirth should and can be added to most religious holidays, but at the end of the day we must let the holy day fuel the mirth rather than the mirth fuel the holiday. Otherwise we worship the mirth rather than the Person that brings forth the mirth. At that point we have became pagan revelers rather than pious worshipers.

I pray that your future Holy Days (holidays) would be filled with mirth because they are based on the Savior who came as a baby and died as a criminal to save the world from their sins.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Pastoral Moment...Work Matters!

Back in April, I had the opportunity to participate in a commissioning service. A family in our church is launching an animal grooming business. The family from church, the veterinarian in charge of the business, and a few friends gathered to pray and dedicate the labor to the LORD. I gave a mini message spanning Genesis 1-3 to Revelation 20-22 celebrating the glory of work, the privilege to honor God and do good to neighbor, and the redemption Christ offers to souls and society. My prayer was that this grooming business would be the most loving place in the city, that people would come in weeks early to get their dog groomed just so they can be loved and valued once again.

The commissioning was spawned through the reading of "Work Matters." I also gave a copy to all participants (who didn't already have the book). Glory to God.

Death and Sheol, Heaven and Hell in the Psalms

My main argument: Beware of inviting people to believe in God so that they go to Heaven. Rather invite people to Heaven so they can be with God.

Most scholars rightly observe that the Psalms (and most of the Old Testament for that matter) do not focus in on heaven and hell.  In fact, the word sometimes translated "hell" is really the Hebrew word sheol, meaning "the place of the dead." The place of the dead appears to be a place of emptiness, shadows, and non-existence. This is reminiscent of what one character says in the season and show finale of the TV show House, "Death is eternal nothingness."

It would be inappropriate, however, to assume that the ancient Jews' final word on the afterlife was nothingness. Rather, their understanding was minimal and so they admittedly spoke of death as nothingness and emptiness because they had nothing better to go on. Later revelation from God in the New Testament gave us a fuller understanding of heaven and hell (and yet admittedly, we only have metaphors to begin grasp the glories of the new heaven and new earth and the agonies of hell).

But a person might go on to ask, why didn't God give the ancient Jews more to go on than sheol? C.S. Lewis gives a worthy answer to this question in his little work, Reflections on the Psalms. Lewis surmises that many of the competing pagan religions of the ancient Jews had overemphasized the state and well-being of the dead to their detriment. Rather than focus on living well in the here and now, the pagan cults stocked up for eternity and performed all kinds of religious acts with a hope to bend the gods to act mercifully beyond the grave.

The God of the Jews (Yahweh) took a different approach. Rather than produce worshippers who strove to find satisfaction in the afterlife, Yahweh invited people to find their satisfaction in Him in the here and now--not a satisfaction in the things of this world (think money, sex, and power), but in the God who is both in and above this world. God invited the Jews to delight in Him now, to see that He was the source of life and joy now, and to love Him now.

Lewis goes on to say, "For then those who love God [now] will desire not only to enjoy Him [now] but to 'enjoy Him forever,' and will fear to lose Him. And it is by that door that the truly religious hope of Heaven and fear of Hell can enter (emphasis added)..."  In other words, if you do not delight in God now, you won't delight in Him in later in Heaven. If you don't fear losing Him now, you won't fear losing Him forever in Hell. People choose Hell because they don't love Him. People choose heaven because they love Him.

My main argument: Beware of inviting people to believe in God so that they go to Heaven. Rather invite people to Heaven so they can be with God.

John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (NIV)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Thoughts on Reading

Where have all the good readers gone? Some lament the end of good books; I don't think that is true. We are in an age that not only produces good new books (albeit with a truckload of garbage tales), but we are also at a point in history where we have an accumulation of amazing books over centuries of publishing.

My lament is over the nature of reading itself. There is nothing wrong to read for pleasure. But we are in trouble if that is the only reason we read. There is nothing wrong with reading to be acquainted with the worlds of thought. But we are in trouble if that is the only reason we read. There is nothing wrong with reading to enter into dialog with other human beings for fun, work, and critical reflection. But we are in trouble if that is the only reason we read.

My suggestions:
  1. Read to grow as a person. Read proven (old) books that make you think. Read history (so it is not repeated). Read non-fiction books on character development.
  2. Read award-winning books...not just best-sellers.
  3. Read books that are too deep to ever make it to the screen.
  4. Read books aloud with others.
  5. Read simultaneously with other readers and plan to express thoughts. (book clubs exist, but often you may need to create your own)
  6. Read outside your preferred interests and vocation.

Oh, and please, please, keep reading for pleasure as well. But what you may find out is that reading with intentionality (like suggested in #1-6) may be even more pleasurable (the less carnal and thus more redeemable version of pleasure).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Recent Books Finished as of May 10, 2012

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (theologically-rich, fun, and delightful read by an Iowan!)
Thomas Wingfield, Curate by George MacDonald (beautiful read, free for Amazon Kindle)
A Sketch of the Life and Labors of George Whitefield by Ryle (free for Amazon Kindle)