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Keeping Christmas

Friday, December 16, 2016

There is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is “keeping Christmas.”

            Are you willing to forget what you have done for others, and to remember what other people have done for you;

          to ignore what the world owes you, and to think of what you owe the world; 

          to put your rights in the background and your duties in the middle
distance and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground;

         to see that your fellow men are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy;

         to own that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are to get out of life but what you are going to give;

         to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness—

         are you willing to do these things even for a day?


Then you can keep Christmas.


            Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and the desires of little children;

            to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old;

            to stop asking how much your friends love you and ask yourself whether you love them enough;

            to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts;

            to try to understand what those who live in the same home with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you;

            to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you;

            to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your good thoughts, with the gate open—

            are you willing to do these things even for a day?


Then you can keep Christmas.

            Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world—stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death—and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem so many years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?

Then you can keep Christmas.

And if you keep it for a day, why not always?



That Troublesome Old Testament God - II

Thursday, December 08, 2016

            When we think of some of the tough descriptions of God in the Scriptures, especially in the Old Testament, it is helpful to lay some groundwork.  Fretheim discussed the implications of the following statement  - “God is a relational God.”  He based this, first of all, on the earliest proof in the text – Genesis 1:26-27:

            Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let             them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

            Let US make man.  From the beginning, God reveals himself to be a social being and to be a part of a divine community.  God translates this into his world by making man a social being designed to function in community as well.  God himself works to establish a relationship with mankind, and eventually with a particular community of human beings – Israel. 

            When Israel speaks of God, she speaks of him in human terms.  The Biblical images of God tend to be deeply relational terms.  God has a personal relationship with people.  He speaks to them – they speak to him.  He hears.  He is pleased, and sometimes he is not. 

            So on the one hand, God is described as high above man and beyond his comprehension.  On the other hand, God is described almost as if he is a man – using human characteristics to paint the picture of a God who sees, hears, smiles and cries. 

            God has also made an interrelated world by fashioning a “spider web” of relationships between man and the rest of creation.  Man’s behavior affects more than just himself, but also fellow men, and animals, and the rest of creation (think especially of the Flood here).

            The amazing thing about all this is that God chooses to work from WITHIN a committed relationship to this world, NOT from without.  As a result, when things go wrong on planet Earth, God is affected.  Our God is a God who is involved; indeed, who is deeply committed to this world, his creation.

            In the next post, we will look a little further into God’s creation and how it sheds light on who God is and how he relates to us.

That Troublesome Old Testament God

Thursday, December 01, 2016

            I once had the opportunity to listen to some lectures on the Old Testament by Dr. Terence Fretheim, a prominent OT scholar.  I have read several of Dr. Fretheim’s books, and though I would hardly agree with many of his critical conclusions on the composition of the OT, his theological insights I have often found to be rich and instructive.

            Fretheim’s theme for the lectures was “Problematic Portraits of God in the Old Testament.”  His task was to delve into such things as God’s anger, wrath, judgment, etc.  I would like to make some posts here and share some of the insights that I found particularly helpful.

            Fretheim began by discussing the importance of “creation theology” in answering these difficult views of God in the OT.  One of the main thrusts of this lecture was derived from Genesis 1:26-27 –


            Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”   So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.


            He talked about the importance of the fact that God is a relational God.  “Let us.”  God, from the beginning, was not solo – he was in relationship.  God is a social being and belongs to a divine community.

            Fretheim then listed some characteristics of God’s relationships that have bearing on these difficult portraits of God in the OT:

            1 – God values conversation.  He puts a premium on prayer.

            2 – God values and empowers the work of others.  In a sense, God shares power with others.  He lets others work in his creation.

            3 – God allows others to express their will.

            4 – God is affected by the relationships he has with others.  Sometimes he is provoked...somtimes disappointed...sometimes hurt, etc.

            5 – God does not map out the entire future in detail.  As an example, read Jeremiah 22:1-5.  Notice how in both verse 4 and verse 5 the word “IF” is so important. 


            This was some groundwork information for the subsequent lectures on the troublesome portraits of God in the OT.  More on this in future posts...

A Politician Shows Us God

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

               In Together in Christ, Erskine Wright shares this story: “Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor of New York City during the Depression, and he was quite a character. He would ride the city fire trucks, take entire orphanages to baseball games and whenever the city newspapers went on strike, he would get on the radio and read the Sunday “funnies” to the children.

               At any rate, one bitter cold winter’s night in 1935, Mayor LaGuardia turned up in a night court that served the poorest ward in the city, dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. After he heard a few cases, a tattered old woman was brought before him, accused of stealing a loaf of bread.

               She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick and her grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, insisted on pressing charges. “My store is in a very bad neighborhood, your honor,” he said. “She’s got to be punished in order to teach other people a lesson.”

               The mayor sighed. He turned to the old woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you,” he said. “The law makes no exception – ten dollars or ten days in jail.”

               But even as he spoke, LaGuardia was reaching into his pocket and pulling out a ten dollar bill. “Here is the woman’s fine,” he said, “and furthermore, I’m going to fine everyone in this court room fifty cents for living in a city where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”

               The following day, the New York Times reported that $47.50 was turned over to the bewildered old woman. It was given by the red-faced store owner, some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations and city policemen – and they all gave their mayor a standing ovation as they handed over their money.

               That’s how it will be with God’s world. Just when it seems that all hope is lost, and goodness and mercy shall never win, the Great Judge will come to set things right, deciding for the hungry and the meek of the earth.

                                                                                                                        - selected

There Comes A Time

Friday, November 11, 2016

The following was selected and somewhat adapted from an anonymous source...


               Preaching and politics tend toward the toxic when we fall prey to the idea that somehow political parties, powerful personalities and various changes in public policy can become sanctified delivery mechanisms for ultimate hope. Yes, “there comes a time” when we must speak up—and out. But we must never forget that our best efforts are spent using spiritual weapons.

               Like Sean Connery’s mockery in the movie “The Untouchables,” about how dumb it was for an enemy to bring a knife to a gunfight, when we fail to show up in the church or marketplace of ideas with anything less than the Word of God, we will be ineffectual and frustrated.

               Paul reminded Timothy that we must pray for leaders—all those in authority—but not because they are the most effective agents for cultural change. Instead he said that the focus and motivation for such “political” praying was “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (I Timothy 2:2).  In other words, “May God bless and keep the Tsar … far away from us!”

               The stubborn strongholds of this world—political or otherwise—cannot be effectively countered by merely human methods and power: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (II Corinthians 10:3-4).

               It may be that 2016 is one of those moments when “there comes a time…” for preachers to step out of the pocket and scramble a bit, but we must never lose sight of the line of scrimmage, not to mention the ultimate glorious goal line.

                                                                           - selected and adapted

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