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Scrooge

What the Bible and Ebenezer Scrooge Both Teach Us

In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote the famous book, “A Christmas Carol,” in which he unraveled his story using a rather uninspiring ill-natured man named Ebenezer Scrooge. While many of us have fallen in love with this character, popularizing his phrase “bah humbug” to describe less than spirited Christmas participants, the reality is that Ebenezer would not likely be someone you’d be sympathetic towards if met in real life. He was an unlovable outcast destined to rot away in the four walls of his rather imprisoned home while living a life of greed and gluttony. But, you see, I am Ebenezer, you are Ebenezer, and, yes, even the most bright-eyed kid on Christmas morning is Ebenezer. Let me explain:

The Bible says in Ephesians 2: 1-5,

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Paul teaches us in Ephesians that “bah humbug” came long before “hallelujah.” We were all dead in our past, destined for a life of hopelessness (like that of Scrooge) until Jesus came to change our future forever. His grace, undeserved by all of us, allowed our Ebenezer-like race to find mercy. In Dicken’s story though, Scrooge needed a visit from four people to begin to see change take place: his old business partner Jacob Marley (ironically, bound in heavy chains), the ghost of Christmas past, the ghost of Christmas present, and the ghost of Christmas future. However, according to Paul’s account in Ephesians, luckily we do not need these visitations in order to discover the truth.

Our past without Jesus as Lord and Savior can easily equate to Scrooge living miserably for his flesh, trying to satisfy all that is temporary. Likewise, our present and future as depicted by the ghosts in Dickens story, are equally doomed if we shun the love offered to us by God, refusing to spread it to those around us. We must love God and others in order to begin to change the heart of what matters and we cannot do this properly until we recognize the depth in which we were so gravely lost and what exactly we were destined for. The reason Scrooge had a testimony was because he was given a second chance – a chance to change before it was too late. He saw where he had been, where he was, and what he was headed towards, and this left him in utter terror. As his journey’s dream ended, he saw the truth: his life meant nothing because of the way in which he had chosen to live it. We are no different; indeed we are all Ebenezer Scrooge until we encounter Jesus.

The Christmas story told in Luke, not the cleaver carol by Dickens, allows us to receive a second chance. Our life can start again; we have the amazing opportunity to change our past by acts of Jesus on the cross. We can choose to make our present moments count and we can be like Paul, pressing towards the goal of our future. We are no longer Ebenezer Scrooge, but have the opportunity to live a life redeemed solely by the love  of Christ Jesus.

 

Christmas and the Danger of Popular Consumerism

Christmas and the Danger of Popular Consumerism

In 1 Corinthians 15:33 Paul urges the Corinthian Church,

“Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good morals.  Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God.  I speak this to your shame.”

This is a wonderful time of the year to be reminded that the Christian faith is often about reason and thoughtfulness. This can be especially important concerning the circumstances in which we often find ourselves shopping for Christmas gifts. Each year we are startled to hear the tales of Black Friday and the human carnage that ensues: mobs of people clamoring for deals on the most “popular” items.  But, this season, I found myself asking the questions:

How is popularity determined?  Who says what is this year’s holiday “it” item?  What exactly is it that compels swarms of shoppers to descend on the retail fields leaving them devastated, shelves picked clean? The answers may surprise you.

I compiled a list of this year’s supposedly most “popular” toys from various online sources.  This isn’t a scientific survey obviously, as every list you will encounter is a subjective assessment of what is “hot” this holiday season.  After a bit of digging, I discovered three major companies primarily account for a majority of what’s “popular” this year: four toys in top lists are manufactured by Hasbro , three by Mattel, and five more from Disney; So, 12 of the top 20 toys in total.

Here’s where things get interesting.  In 1996 Disney signed an exclusive manufacturing deal with Mattel to produce many of its animated character toys for three million shares of the Mattel Company.  More recently, with Disney’s purchase of the Star Wars franchise, as well as its production of the Marvel movies, Disney entered into a contract with Hasbro for $225 million in cash to manufacture still more toys.  Where does all of this leave us?  With the combined lists from this year’s most “popular” toys, roughly 60% of them all funnel back to Disney through its various manufacturing contracts.  This is not unique to Disney, as numerous media conglomerates have interests in retail and manufacturing.  Like Disney, they are all able to dictate market popularity by way of advertising on various television networks they own and operate. For instance, apart from Disney having its own slate of named channels on television, Disney also owns all of ABC’s channels (ABC Family, etc.), A&E, and ESPN, making them one of the more formidable names in media.

In short, Disney, and other companies like it, have the television and film markets produce characters for toy manufacturing at companies in which they have controlling interests, and then go on to advertise those products on their owned networks.  All of this informs market “popularity” and contributes to Disney exceeding $42 billion in revenue in 2012 and $100 billion in total market capitalization. Just to be clear, this is not meant to be a soapbox on Disney, but simply to illuminate the shallow reality of where our popular consumerism comes from.

The Corinthians didn’t quite seem to get the message in the first letter, so Paul reminds the Corinthian Church in 2 Corinthians 10:5

“and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

Like the Corinthians, in a world promising mirages among the ever-shifting sands of popularity, we need constant and regular reminders of the thoughtfulness we need to exhibit as Christians.When we allow ourselves to be swayed by this or that trend, this or that media ploy, and especially by such calculated and integrated marketing, we are not taking our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ, nor are we becoming sober-minded as we ought to. The Christian life is not just one of holiday traditions, nor is Christmas time the time of year when we are reminded of the nicer sentiments of our faith like peace and good will. While those are ever-present realities, another is that we need be reasonable and thoughtful people in the midst of a culture not prone to think carefully about the consequences of things like over-spending at Christmas on the “popular” items of the year.

So this year I encourage you to take some of the suggestions for creative gift-giving that thoughtfully highlight the meaning of giving gifts in the first place, such as this one offered by one of our own writers.  After all, it is the thought that counts.

 

The Christmas Story from Gods View

The Christmas Story from God’s View

I love Christmas time. The lights brightly hung outside homes, the presents glistening under the tree, the warm specialty drinks from Starbucks and the beautiful songs heard on just about every radio station. Christmas time is unlike any other holiday, but it is not because of any of the things I just mentioned above.  It is not because of a man in a red suit or the bustling traffic at the shopping mall. Christmas is a reminder of a story that was promised in the Old Testament about a Messiah (Savior) yet to come.

Imagine with me for a moment that you are a seven year old Israelite boy who has heard of the Messiah since your birth. However, there is no Christmas to celebrate each December as you wait for what feels like a fictional superhero to come and save the day. In fact, you don’t even know what Christmas is because you don’t know how the King would come. As you grow up each year, nothing changes. There is no one riding in on a white horse and no prophet hearing God’s will concerning the timeline of the promise to unfold…..there is mere silence. You are now an old grandfather who halfheartedly tells your grandchildren, the next generation of patient believers, of the Savior to come. This is not a magical story of a man coming down your chimney to bring presents and this isn’t an issue of being naughty or nice. This event will change history if what was predicted is indeed the truth. You continue to wait, but nothing happens. Your great- great –great- great-grandchildren wait too….but still no change. Finally, many years later a baby boy is born and his infant cry breaks the cycle of all the silent nights that previously had godly men on their knees hoping they weren’t’t forgotten by God himself.

The moment the angel spoke to a freighted teenage girl named Mary, the one choosen to carry the Savior of the world in her belly, was the very moment the waiting ended. However, the ironic part was that those who had been waiting could not accept that their King would come in such a lowly way and those who had never known they should be waiting for something at all, would be forever changed. For example, a man like Peter, a later disciple of Christ, never knew he would leave his career as a fisherman to follow the Son of God; the famous church-planter Paul, a Roman who would have laughed if you had ever told him he would be spreading the Gospel after Jesus’ death; or a woman like Mary Magdalene who would have lived a life of hopeless searching and hurting if it weren’t for one encounter with a Man sitting at a well. All these people were minding their own business until Jesus radically collided into their lives, offering them more than they could have ever imagined. All of these people accepted Him as the one true God, their forever King. Unfortunately, there were so many others who continued to wait thinking that a baby in a cradle, destined for a cross, was not the King they had heard about as a child on their grandfather’s knee.

We are privileged to have the entire story, the Bible, which shows us the beginning of the story, when mankind fell in a garden, to the night before His death when Jesus prayed in a very different garden for the strength needed to bring about redemption for all. Yet, we still miss the beauty of God’s plan at times. How have we forsaken the true Christmas meaning in our own life? Has it become merely a tradition of chaotic countdowns until all the wrapping paper is scattered on the floor and all the relatives have said goodbye? I know for myself, the excitement of December can easily become a month where I get carried away.  Yet, something so special happened to me in my youth when I watched the Christmas story – a production of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I never knew that on that day, as I desperately wanted to meet the man who died for me, my waiting was over.  As Jesus so eloquently expressed, I would never thirst again.

A few years ago, I was convicted of Christmas because of the way in which it was treated by the masses and the way in which God must see it. It inspired me to write a song called, “Christmas From God’s View,” and I would like to share the words with you:

Have you ever thought of Christmas from God’s view?
He sent down His Son to gain the love of me and you
Have you ever thought about God’s perfect plan?
It’s so easy to re-tell, yet so hard to understand

CHORUS: When we see the cradle, did God see the cross?
When we see the baby, did God see the cost?
When the angels were singing, “Hallelujah, come adore”
Did God see His people betraying the Lord?
Oh, let us see Christmas from God’s view

When Mary first held Jesus as her own
Did she know He would soon ascend back to His mighty throne?
When Joseph kissed God’s face did he see?
A Man, the Redeemer, writing history

REPEAT CHORUS

Emmanuel – God is with us
We are blessed this Christmas day
Hosanna in the Highest
We join the angel’s praise

REPEAT CHORUS

Have you ever thought of Christmas from God’s view?
He sent down His Son to gain the love of me and you
Oh, let us see Christmas from God’s view

Throughout the world, there are people still waiting for the Messiah. Unfortunately, there are many families whose eyes have not yet been unveiled to see that their waiting is over. Additionally, there are those who haven’t even thought to wait because they haven’t yet heard about or met Jesus. The Messiah came in the most unexpected way; a baby placed in a cradle that grew up to take on our sins through a horrific death on a cross.  This was God’s plan and this must be how God see’s Christmas – the pain of knowing why his Son would come to earth and the joy of having all of those who believed rescued back into the Kingdom, no longer separated from Him. I want to see Christmas from God’s view and I challenge you to spend this holiday season reflecting on God’s eternal view of what Christmas means. It is a tremendous opportunity for all of us to share with those who have yet to discover what Christmas is really about. The wait is over, the Savior has come!

 

What is Advent

What is Advent?

If you don’t know what Advent means, don’t worry; I didn’t either until a short while ago. You see, even though I have been a Christian most of my life, my interactions with the so-called “Church calendar” have been sparse at best. Therefore, when the season of Advent came around each year it was easy for me to dismiss it as tired traditionalism that had no place in a contemporary Church setting. My stepping into a more traditional Church over a year ago however, has opened me up to experiencing the real benefit of marking my time by the ancient Church calendar.

As the video below illustrates, Advent actually is the month which signals the beginning of the year for the Christian Church – an ancient way of tracking the passing of time. This is not the tracking of time by days, weeks, and months – but by reflections on the life Jesus lived and the impact He has had on the world.

Think of the various ways you employ to mark the passing of time: the appointments on your day-planner, the time between paychecks, or the number of vacation days you get each year. The Christian Church, throughout the centuries, has instead used a seasonal calendar in order that they might be reminded that on a very real, very specific point in time, God Himself broke into the pattern of our mundane lives with the incarnation of His Son at Christmas – God Himself became a man and the supernatural became natural in order to set the world free. By marking time with the rhythm of Jesus’s life and ministry, the Church for hundreds and hundreds of years has kept their hearts and minds fixed continually on Him, the object and the author of our faith.

So, what is Advent? We use the month of Advent not only as a way of preparing for Christmas day itself, but also as a way of preparing yourself for a new year hopefully lived in the presence of God through your relationship with His Son. I challenge you to think on the Christian calendar this year and how it might impact your journey with Christ. I know it has been a real benefit to me and my walk as I grow more and more each season.

To find out more about  the Christian Calendar or how Advent fits into that calendar, take a look at the following video which I believe sums it up fairly well:

A Biblical Way of Giving Christmas Gifts

A Biblical Way of Giving Christmas Gifts

A few years ago Anna and I really started to rethink Christmas as a family.  We had outdone ourselves buying presents in years past and wanted to be able to enjoy the season without dreading the financial aftermath.  But so much more than that, we wanted to attach a true spiritual meaning to the holidays and keep the focus purely on Jesus.  That was when my wife Anna came across a Biblical idea which takes the focus off consumerism and we have been loving it as a family ever since.

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11)

In Matthew 2:10-11, we see the joyous Wiseman bring their 3 gifts to Jesus.  We have chosen to take this as the template for our gift giving and to show you how far we take it, we actually label the tags gold, frankincense, and myrrh. You see, we have studied the Biblical value of what each of these gifts meant and now give our gifts with there importance in mind. Here is how we plan our holiday gift-giving:

  • Gold was, and is, a symbol of extravagance so we buy our boys a “want item.”  We shop around (and we shop hard) to find the best deal we can to get them something that tops their “most wanted” list.  In years past a bike, a sled, hockey skates, or a video game has found its way under our tree.  These are the fun gifts that make the kids eyes light up.
  • Frankincense was a gift of great spiritual importance.  It was burned on the altar in the temple and was part of numerous ceremonies for the Hebrew people.  In the same way, we have focused on the second gift being a spiritual gift.  In years past, our children have received age appropriate Bibles, Christian music they enjoy, and gifts given on their behalf around the world through World Vision.  One year we actually commissioned a good friend who is a gifted artist to create poster size pictures of them dressed in full Roman armor with the text from Ephesians 6 in script down the side.  Each one of these gifts is carefully explained and we try to create a time of Biblical learning in the midst of the unwrapping chaos.
  • Myrrh was a highly practical gift for Jesus and would be used in preparing His body for burial, foreshadowing His death and resurrection some years later. It was a common part of the burial process in ancient times and was considered a absolute necessity.  In the same way, we use the third gift to find something that our children actually need.  Warm outdoor clothes (living in frigid Northern Ontario these are highly necessary) or something else that is a day to day necessity is wrapped up and given to the boys.  While not the stuff that dreams are made of, they are learning to appreciate that sometimes good gifts are highly practical.
  • Finally, when we give gifts, we be sure follow the model of Jesus (who gave the greatest gift of all to us – the gift of Himself).  We keep Him first and foremost in all our festivities.

We have greatly enjoyed our new approach to Christmas and we hope you might consider approaching the holidays this way too. As a Dad, a few years back, I remember asking our oldest Josiah what we had given him the last couple of years and out of 6 items, he could remember 2. But when I asked him about a family trip we had taken years before, he could remember in vivid detail many of the experiences we shared.  To that end, every Christmas, we focus on the wonderful memories of time spent together serving, living, laughing, and loving as opposed to keeping the focus solely on gifts. You see, gifts will come and go, but the significance of the season, both Biblically and relationally is so important. Therefore, I urge to to consider…  what will you do this holiday season – will you rethink Christmas and your gift-giving as well?