The Naughty List, Postmodernism and Just Desserts

I just re-read my own post from last Christmas, and although a year has passed, I could write the same thing today. Read it here if you’d like. This year my Christmas post is quite different, because the following was not originally intended for Spur. It was written and submitted to three different newspapers, all of which rejected or ignored it. But my writer’s skin is growing thicker — a good and needful thing.

I sincerely hope you are having the merriest of Christmases and that today you are celebrating the birth of YOUR Savior and resting in the peace that is He alone gives.

Postmodernism, the Naughty List, and Just Desserts

Have you been naughty or nice in 2009? That is the ubiquitous question of the season but is it just a lyrical, whimsical, childish query or does the question and its answer define much more about us than we usually acknowledge? After all there are some weighty philosophical presuppositions within the naughty and nice dichotomy. First of all, the dichotomy requires a standard by which naughtiness or niceness can be measured, and secondly, the dichotomy suggests that gifts are merit-based. Yet these assumptions are rarely recognized or discussed.

Is a Standard Even Possible?

Postmodern thought says there is no objective standard, that we can only determine our own values based on our own experiences. In other words, we can all have our own lists, but that there couldn’t possibly be a list. Yet postmodernism defeats its own “no absolutes” argument by claiming absolutely the nonexistence of absolutes. That may take some of us, including me, a few minutes to think through, but when we flex that logic muscle, the reality of it sinks in. Furthermore, we all have an undeniable sense that some behaviors are better than others. Few would attempt to equate the morality of a Nazi prison guard and a humanitarian worker helping flood victims in the Philippines. Yet as C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other.” So when we use the naughty/nice dichotomy we are also making an implicit statement about postmodernism. Perhaps it’s just as Lewis suggested, in our heart of hearts we know there is indeed a standard somewhere out there.

Merit-Based Gift Giving

But there is also the issue of merit. How often do we hear and see the “you deserve it” lingo. It’s everywhere and we even tell our children that they better watch out and they better not cry. The message is that poorly behaved children don’t get gifts, while good little boys and girls earn them. They deserve them. Yet there couldn’t be anything more antithetical to the Christmas story told in the Bible. Because the real gift of Christmas is freely given, not to those who deserve it, not to those who are good, not to those who do well in school, not to those who are charitable or well-mannered, not to those who are religiously observant. The precious babe born on Christmas, the one and only child who never did make the naughty list, is the true gift and the true meaning of Christmas. His love, his peace and his sacrifice are freely given to all. To all, not just to the kindhearted and humble, but to the proud, the rude, the arrogant, the selfish, the impatient, the cruel, the backstabbing, the jealous, the unforgiving, and the irreverent. The greatest gift ever given was given to all.

This year may we discard the ridiculous mentality that anyone is earning or deserving anything. Instead may we hearken back to the original story by wishing unwarranted love, joy and peace to all.

Biblically Beautiful Feet

Some people have beautiful feet with dainty toes and smooth skin. I am not one of them. As you can see from the picture above, mine are large and my toes are fat, and my husband, Will, says my second toe is king of the toes — horror of horrors. In fact, I keep my toenails painted and my calloused heels uber-moisterized to prevent them from being mistaken for man feet. But my ugly-feet complex took a hard blow just the other day when my first grader, Nate, had an assignment concerning feet. He was to trace each family member’s foot and then cut it out. According to Nate, and his questionable scissoring, my feet are as large as Will’s (who is six-foot-four) with the gnarliest toes imaginable. My footprint from Nate’s pattern just screamed out Sasquatch. I was so glad Nate was able to share his artistry with his whole class!

But the Bible has a very different view on feet. In Romans, Paul says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (10:15)

Paul is actually quoting from Isaiah, who wrote, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation.” (52:7)
I love that imagery of a person scaling the mountain to bring good news, to proclaim peace, to bring good tidings and the message of salvation. Scaling a mountain takes effort; it implies sacrifice. But people on the other side crave hope and salvation. They need good news. They’ve searched for peace and have not found it.
The symbolism still applies today. There are many people we encounter everyday who need to know that Jesus loves them, that He provides meaning and hope for their everyday lives. May we be willing to bring good news, to proclaim peace, to bring good tidings, and proclaim salvation? In short, may we have biblically beautiful feet!

No Excuses

I think people have different areas in which they are especially prone to judge. A very disciplined athlete probably has to fight judging the gluttonous couch potato. The lifelong teetotaler might be tempted to pass judgment on the socialite who imbibes too much. As for me, I am prone to judge atheists. Not only does the Christian faith make so much logical sense to me, not only does the coherent message of the Bible resonate with me so completely, I really have a hard time understanding how anyone could think life just happened. Giving birth, watching the stars come out on a clear night, skiing in the mountains, playing in the ocean — these experiences leave me awestruck, totally humbled and convinced there is a God. I don’t understand how people can embrace a truly full life and deny an Almighty. Of course, I’m not suggesting I’ve got it all figured out because I don’t. We’ll always have unanswered questions. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t need faith.

And the Bible certainly doesn’t condone any propensity to judge, not mine, not the athlete’s, not the teetotaler’s. Each of us is called to follow Christ’s example and be loving to all. There are no excuses or exceptions. Love is the standard. Besides, I grew up surrounded by people of faith; a biblical perspective is part of the fabric of my being. Without my heritage of faith, I might not have looked at my newborn quite the same way, or marveled quite so much that a few minutes before that little miracle of a person was inside of me.
But while it is not my job or yours to judge, judgment is coming. Sometimes we focus so much on the fact that God is love that we nearly forget that God is also truth. And the Bible says that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1: 20) In essence this verse is saying that Creation itself should launch a sort of quest to find and know God.
Sadly, we can all think of various ways that followers of Christ impede this quest. May we reflect and pray this week that being judgmental isn’t one of them.

Are You Bringing Strange Ideas?

I’m trying to read from John through Revelation before the end of 2009, and while I’m well into Acts, I’m still going to have to speed it up quite a bit to finish in time. Anyway, today a verse in Acts 17 really struck me. When Paul was preaching the gospel to the Greeks in Athens, they said, “You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” (v. 20)

First of all, I love the phrase “bringing some strange ideas to our ears.” It has a funny little ring to it, and something about it makes me smile. But the gospel of Jesus Christ — the fact that he came to earth as a helpless little babe, lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again — is just as countercultural today as it was for Paul. His audience was a contemplative, philosophical crowd, and Athens was a city chock full of god and idols. But their ears had not heard the simple message of Christ. So Paul told them plainly, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” (v.24) He told them that we are God’s offspring, made in His image — therefore “we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone — an image made by man’s design and skill.” (v.29)
But are we willing to follow Paul’s example? Are we willing to bring strange ideas to the ears of others? Are we willing talk about idolatry (even though it looks much different than it did at Athens), and point people to the One true God “who made the world and everything in it?”
If we haven’t been doing this, it is a great time to start. May we boldly, prayerfully and respectfully bring strange ideas to the ears of others this season of Advent.

God’s Work: What is it?

It’s nearing the end of the year, and this weekend my husband and I will review our charitable giving for 2009. We’ll look at where and what we’ve given and pray about where to direct our end-of-year giving. Although we’re not talking about any huge sums, the number of zeros is irrelevant. We need to be good stewards with whatever we have. And there are so many worthwhile causes, so many organizations doing great things for people and for God.

It’s tempting to ask, “who is doing God’s work?” But do you know what the work of God actually is? How the Bible defines God’s work? In John 6:29 Jesus says, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” That’s our work: believing.
On the one hand, there’s such freedom in this verse. My role on this earth is believing Jesus, trusting Him in things big and small. That’s God’s job description for my life, and it has such vivid parameters. I like that. But on the other hand, if I lived a life marked by belief, defined by belief, if I just personified complete and utter trust in His good, pleasing and perfect will, I know my life would be different.
It reminds me of the father in Mark 9 who pleads, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” May we honestly assess where we have unbelief in our lives and then ask God to help us overcome it. I mean when you think about it, your job is on the line. Believing is God’s work.

Who is a Child of God?

Who is a child of God? And why is it important that followers of Christ are able to answer this question correctly?

Who Is and Who Is Not
The expression “we are all God’s children” is pervasive but is it accurate? Are we God’s children because we were created by Him and loved by Him? The Bible is clear God doesn’t want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9) and He loves us each as individuals more than we could fathom (see the entire book of John). But neither of these facts make us God’s children. No, being a child of God connotes status and relationship, just like it does in any family. For example, I love kids. I often like them better than adults because they are so genuine and funny and enthusiastic. But even though I adore children in general, my own children are fundamentally different. Will, Nate and Sam all have unique status with me based on relationship.
It’s far from a perfect analogy, yet being a child of God is also based on relationship. And how do you cultivate a relationship with a holy and all-knowing God, the very Creator of the universe? John 1: 12 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” There’s really no ambiguity, no room to argue.
So are you a child of God? It depends on whether you believe in Jesus. Have you confessed with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord” and believed in your heart that God raised him from the dead? (Romans 10:9). I hope so.
Isn’t it a Technicality?
Some may think this is just semantics, that I’m being overly technical, but wrong thinking on this issue leads to a skewed, unbiblical worldview. If everyone is already a child of God, what was Golgotha all about? Why in the world would Jesus suffer and die? Another important question we should all know the answer to.
Did you watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade or visit a Macy’s lately? Their marketing campaign is one word: Believe. They scrawl that word over everything and have even trademarked it. But the real magic of the season isn’t at all nebulous or foggy or mystical, and has nothing to do with buying lots of gifts. The magic is the person of Jesus Christ who came to earth and died so that we could all be children of God. May the ubiquitous marketing of Macy’s remind us of Jesus and what he did for us. May we believe and know that we are His!