Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Have you ever thought about how holidays bring glory to God?

There is little debate that we humans are creatures of habit. What we see everyone else doing is what we assume we should do, and what we do (or did when we were younger), is what we assume our children should do. There are some habits and uniquely cultural activities that are healthy and I have no problem passing on to the next generation. When I got my first job I also got my driver's license and my first car, that's a fairly common practice in America and one that will probably be repeated by my sons, should God be so gracious. To brush our teeth every night, go to church every Sunday and go to Grandma's every Thanksgiving are all traditions that have legitimate value and are worth passing on.
The danger comes when we allow ourselves to fall into the trap of thinking that since we've adopted many customs and traditions of our culture and childhood that are good and healthy, everything our culture does is good and worth repeating. This is seen perhaps nowhere clearer than in the celebration of holidays. Some of your fondest memories may include shouting "Happy New Year" at midnight, receiving a heart shaped box of chocolates, hunting for eggs after a sunrise church service, watching fireworks, dressing up in costumes and making yourself sick on your collected candy, sitting around a large table eating turkey with your cousins, or tearing the brightly colored paper off your presents around a gaily decorated tree. And because there are such precious memories associated with the sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and feelings of those holidays we are lulled into thinking that they are all inherently good, after all surely something that feels so right can't be wrong... Or can it? The very word "holidays" points us to the fact that most of these were initially intrinsically religious, and even those that weren't at their inception take on moral value when they are celebrated by a follower of Jesus Christ who is to do everything to the glory of God. If we really do claim to desire to bring every thought and action under submission to the Word of God and the lordship of Jesus Christ, then willful ignorance is no excuse either. Can we disconnect Valentine's Day from it predecessor Lupercalia, the pre-Roman celebration of fertility from Feb. 13-15 to commemorate the she-wolf Lupa suckling Romulus and Remus and worship the Greek god Pan, which was celebrated by shepherds running nude through the streets? Can we redeem objects like the Easter Bunny and colored eggs and return them to their original symbolism of life after death and birth from virginity, or should we discard them as being wholly corrupted by commercialism? Is the "harmless fun" of dressing up in costumes and eating candy a sufficient reason to engage and partake of a holiday that has come to represent witchcraft, ghouls, vampires, zombies, and generally every creature that has been historically viewed as coming from hell? Can a christian celebrate Christmas and justify partaking of a Mass or the sacrificing of the Son of God afresh? To say nothing of the ancient pagan festivals held on Dec. 25 worshiping the "sun god", from which Christmas evolved (Jesus wasn't born anywhere close to Dec. 25)!
While I have an opinion and conviction about every one of these issues - which we should embrace, which to redeem and which to reject - the purpose of this article is not to tell you what to believe but to challenge you to think! To stop doing things just because that's the way you've always done it, or that's what everyone else does, and decide whether what you're doing is consistent with scripture and your obedience to it. With Halloween just a day away, now is a good time to ask ourselves what we are doing and why! I can handle it if you've studied the scriptures and have come up with a conclusion that is different than mine, what drives me crazy is people who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ and yet have never even stopped to think about how they bring glory to God through every activity they partake in, even the holidays that bring the warm fuzzies.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A litmus test of true love.

"Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth:" -I Cor. 13:4-8
This is less a command on how we ought to love and more a simple statement on what love is when it is pure. It suffers long and is kind, not because it has been told that is what it is to do or because the gain is greater than the pain, but because love makes pleasurable what others would see as suffering. The old man who has loved the same woman for more than half a century finds not suffering, but joy in being able to be her support and help when she reaches a point where she can no longer care for herself. The parent who has a handicapped child, finds not sorrow in caring for that child, but a joy in love. Selfishness (or self-love) finds that the dependency of another breeds bitterness, real charity (or an active love for someone outside yourself) finds that it nurtures love.
It envies not, because when you love someone your own happiness hinges more on seeing them happy than it does any good that could be done to you or material things that could be given to you. Envy is the perfect antithesis to love, the more good the object of the love receives, the happier the lover is.
Similarly, pride runs contrary to charity because a heart fixated on another has no time or room left for "looking out for number one". Many times professed love for another is nothing more than another facet of self-love, this becomes evident when one party becomes incensed because they are not receiving for themselves the good they imagined would result from their "love". Unadulterated love seeks not her own but always what is best for the beloved.
Is not easily provoked for love covers a multitude of sins. Love is the master emotion in that it tames, tempers, and directs all others. It is a strange truth that an action that can irritate you when coming from anyone else, can cause you to laugh and look back in nostalgia when done by the beloved. In this way the emotions of anger, pride, and envy are displaced by love.
It thinks no evil and while this has been termed by some to be "looking through rose colored glasses" or "being in the honeymoon phase" the scripture considers it a laudable attribute of love. That everything about the beloved would be filtered through the mindset that would interpret the best intentions every time is a reality that we know from experience, and of all the aspects mentioned here this is perhaps the one I most want to facilitate in all my relationships. To always think the best of someone until proven otherwise, is a valuable trait.
Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in truth. While the world is happy to embrace most of these descriptions as they cling to their own definition of love and place it on a pedestal above everything else, this clause here is rejected by them for they often place their god of "love" above law and truth. True love however, does not rejoice in iniquity. Therefore, any perversion or disobedience that one would attempt to justify in the name of love, is not! Those who would cover their wounds of adultery or fornication with the balm of love will find that it is a cleansing agent that stings not one that numbs. The homosexuals that would take it to be their lawyer will find that it is their judge! While love may be the master emotion, it is not the master of ethics, it too finds its very being in obedience to the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Not through naivety, but because it is love and therefore finds it a privilege to bear extra, that the beloved may bear less. It believes things are different this time; though it has not forgotten the offences previously committed, it is willing to risk further injury if the reward is a relationship with the object of its affection. Hopes always for the best, never losing hope or throwing in the towel regardless of the merits or history of the individual, for the hope is grounded in love. Love endures all things, the situations and circumstances surrounding you are peripheral and can be endured and that easily if only all is well between the two of you. And so the marriage vows promise "For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health".
Charity never fails. Of all the descriptors this one informs me that this kind of charity is divinely given, for everything that originates from man is destined to eventually fail, love on the other hand has its author and highest form in heaven and has been given to men as the primary check to evil ultimately winning in this world.

"There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell." -C. S. Lewis