Today Is Another Day of Christmas

My first Christmas happened in the Spring of 1970. I was 21. I believed, experientially, in an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful, necessarily existent Being, which we in the English-speaking West call “God.”
On that day I believed. That Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. I believed in Christ. I placed my trust in him. That trust has not proven to be misplaced. My trust, my hope, is in Christ as the revelation of God to humanity.
On that day, 42 years ago, Christ was born. In me. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27) God has come to make our hearts his home. (See this little booklet by Robert Munger, which I read many years ago.)
Before my Jesus-encounter, what was I, Weltanshauung-wise? A deist? Probably, and unthinkingly so. A hedonist? Yes. A wandering, lost soul not knowing what he was doing, unconsciously looking for love and meaning? Indeed I was that.
Then, on that day, walking from my apartment into the campus of Northern Illinois University, I got sozoed (see here, and here); I was “born again” (see John chapter 3). I was a “new creation.” Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The old ways of alcohol abuse and drug use fell off me, never to return. I went to my parents’ home and got the Bible that was given to me when I was 12. And, I washed the dishes for my mother after lunch, to her shock. SomeOne was at work within.
I pause now to give thanks. I did not expect this to happen. I was unprepared for the practical act of redemption. I knew I was screwed up; I just didn’t anticipate my unscrewing to actually happen, immediately. But it did. It does.
This forms my argument from religious experience. Something freeing and dramatic and life-changing and lasting happened to me, and I have never been the same. And, it is ongoing, even today, even now. On that first Christmas Day the needle of freedom was inserted into history. On my Personal Christmas Day I got transfused by the blood of Christ.
My faith and trust in him is not mere theory. It forms my ongoing experience. Now. Today.
It’s Monday, December 26. Merry Christmas!

Violent Night

C.S. Lewis referred to it as “The Great Invasion.” In chapter 7 of Mere Christianity Lewis writes:
“One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe–a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin…  Christianity agrees… that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.
Enemy-occupied territory–that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery. I know someone will ask me, ‘Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil-hoofs and horns and all?’ Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is ‘Yes, I do.’ I do not claim to know anything about his personal appearance. If anybody really wants to know him better I would say to that person, ‘Don’t worry. If you really want to, you will. Whether you’ll like it when you do is another question.'”
The most a-cultural telling of Christmas is found in Revelation 12:1-7. We read:
“A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
And there was war in heaven.”
Robert Mounce says that: 1) the “woman” here is not Mary, but the messianic community, the “ideal Israel” (231); 2) out of the messianic community is born a “child,” a Messiah; 3) the seven-headed red dragon is Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2); 4) Satan is looking to devour this child; AKA Jesus the Christ.
Mary has already been prophetically warned about such things. In Luke 2 we read that…
…the old man “Simeon took him [baby Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Violent night Holy night All’s not calm All’s not bright
Christmas Eve – that violent night when the Light of the World descended into darkness…

My Apologetics Class – Coming in Spring 2012

Last winter, outside our Redeemer building

I will teach my Apologetics Class at Redeemer Ministry School this Spring, 2012. If you are a Christian theist, live in the greater Monroe area, and want to study apologetics issues with me for 10 weeks, I’d love to have you in this class.
Classes will begin the week of March 20 and run through May.
The day and time is TBA.
If you want to take it: Cost – $150 (covers any books and materials). Contact our church office to register: 734-242-5277.
I’m expecting to teach on some or all of the following subjects, from the POV of Christian theism.

  • The Failure of Atheism as Philosophical Naturalism
  • The Fine-Tuning Argument for the Existence of God
  • The Moral Argument for the Existence of God
  • Is the God of the Old Testament a Moral Monster?: On the Nature of God as Presented In the Old Testament (Paul Copan)
  • A Historical (Extrabiblical) Case for the Resurrection of Christ
  • How Can Jesus Be the Only Way to God When There Are Other World Religions? The Nature of Religious Exclusivism (With special emphasis on Islam – we may take a trip to the Islamic Center of America to learn about Islam from one of their teachers, as we did last year.)
  • How Can the Bible Be From God, and Therefore Authoritative? N.T. WrightOn the Judeao-Christian Scriptures as Grand Narrative
  • Why Religion and Science Are Not Incompatible: From Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies

I teach this material at an introductory level, and enjoy bringing my students to greater, deeper levels of understanding.
If you’re interested in this class let me know!

Getting Into a Relationship Won’t Heal the Wounded Heart

Linda, in La Jolla
Every heart has its wound. Many hearts have multiple wounds. What can mend the broken heart? Not: getting into a relationship. Not: getting married. Not: co-habiting.
The person with the unhealed bleeding heart brings that heart into every relationship and, if the other person gets close enough, they get bled on. Probably they are wounded too and that’s why, unknowingly, they are attracted to another hurting person. Misery loves company.
Who a person is pre-maritally is who they are maritally. Unless, of course, they change. A human relationship does not have the power to do that. God does. We cannot restore the souls of others; God is the Soul-Restorer (Psalm 23:3). Therefore know and be known by your Maker. I’ve seen that work, in my own life and many others. In marital counseling we try to bring people back to this.
There may be a few exceptions. I’m now trying to think of one but cannot. And this is after many hours of counseling and pre-counseling and post-marital counseling and wedding-doing over the past 40 years. We have seen marriages get restored in love. This happens when husband and wife stop viewing each other as either “savior” or “destroyer,” individually look to God, cry out “Change me, O God!”, and respond to God’s counsel.
Can God use a partner to mediate healing? Of course. But that’s God, not the partner (who gets some credit for being a willing vessel of God). God has mediated a lot of healing to me through Linda, and she would say the same about me. But neither of us is The Great Healer. It is bad news relationship-wise if one is viewed that way, or views the other that way. What will happen is big-time disappointment.
If you are hurting and lonely the answer to your personal hell is not “I need to find someone!” We see way too many mistakes made at this point. Someone dates as a cure for their inner tragedy. Or two unhealed people “fall in love.” Never date or marry as relief for tragedy. Unless you want to see hell on earth in a failing marriage, with children.
Every person’s story is different, especially in the details. Here’s part of mine. I was 21 years old. I had just become a Jesus-follower. I tried to get back into a previously failed dating relationship with a girl who was not a Jesus-follower. Eventually, she broke up with me. I thought, “I am screwed up.” I felt God told me to take a year off from any opposite-sex relationships and work on my own self. I did. It was a wonderful year. I thought, should God ever bring someone into my life, and should we get married, and should we have children, I want to be healed of a lot of stuff inside me.
I am certain every person is healable. I’m certain none of us have it all together, inwardly. I am also certain “getting in some relationship” is not the cure. Success in acquiring a life-partner does not equal a life of emotional flourishing.
In this regard Miroslav Volf, in A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, writes about how “success” fails to bring lasting satisfaction.
“God delivers us from the melancholy emptiness that sometimes accompanies our very success. We’ve achieved what we wanted—we have gotten the corner office—and we still feel empty. We are like a child who wants a toy and, when she gets it, plays with it for a day or two and then craves another. Melancholy inevitably sets in when we forget that we are made to find satisfaction in the infinite God and not in any finite object.” (Kindle Locations 574-578)
We achieved what we wanted. The thrill dissipates. We still feel empty. Bill and Lynn Hybels wrote about this pattern in their still-excellent book on marriage, Fit To Be Tied.
The satisfaction that heals was never meant to be found in another person.

Frost (& the Glory of God)

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

– Psalm 19:1

I went outside to start the car this morning – 8:30 AM. The sky was very blue, and there was frost on the car window. I pointed the car to the blue sky, then took this photo of my
frosted window. The brown thing on the right is a telephone pole.

Then, I cropped some of the detail on the right, and it looks like this.

Getting Free From the Illusion of Our Indispensibility

One of my backyard friends

The Jesus-follower who abides in Christ, who deeply dwells in the presence of God, who actually has a life of prayer, and who lives like a branch connected to Jesus, the True Vine, will experience many things. One of them is this: God will break them of the illusion of their indispensibility. Which means: God does not need you to carry forth the work of his kingdom.

It seems obvious to me that, when I die, the Kingdom Movement will not screech to a halt. My existence on earth is not needed for God to carry on. It is of the utmost spiritual importance to recognize this and live out of it.

James Van Yperen, in Making Peace, writes: “Over and against the superhero, the Spirit-formed leader is first and foremost a servant. This leader starts with the assumption that God needs him or her for nothing. We serve at the pleasure and gifting of our Lord. It is all grace.” (Van Yperen, Making Peace, p. 81)

Praise God that he does not need me to accomplish his eternal purposes! Even without me, God’s will will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. God does not require my
existence. He does not need me. But God wants me, and loves me.

God desires that I be part of his laboring. I am a “co-laborer” with God. “For we
are co-workers in God’s service” (1  Cor. 3:9). I am an ambassador of Christ,
being entrusted with the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 6). God desires
relationship with me. I am his child. God wants to form me and morph me and then
wield me as an instrument of righteousness. “Offer every part of yourself to him
as an instrument of righteousness” (Rom. 6:13). You and I will do well to: 1)
see life as a gift; and 2) see service to God as honor and joy.

If the fact that God does not need you disappoints you, then you have too much of “you”
in you. Neither you, nor I, are God’s gift to mankind. That has always been Someone else.

Rescue Women Out of Sex Trafficking – This Wednesday

This Wednesday I will be going to the…
NIGHTLIGHT TEA & FUND-RAISER at Redeemer in Monroe:
  • NightLight International works to enable women and children to escape sexual
    exploitation and empower them to live and work in the community.
  • Founders Annie and Jeff Dieselberg will speak to us live via Skype during
    the tea.
  • NightLight jewelry, and special paper poinsettias will be on sale.
  • 100% of the proceeds go to NightLight.

Redeemer Fellowship Church
5305 Evergreen
Monroe, MI

From NightLight’s website:

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2

NightLight is an international organization committed to addressing the complex issues surrounding trafficking and prostitution by catalyzing individual and community transformation. NightLight’s vision is to offer intervention to sexually exploited women and children, to enable them to discover their dignity, and to provide a program of holistic transformation, empowering them to live and work in their community.

NightLight’s mission is to build relationships and provide hope, intervention, rescue and assistance to women and children exploited in the sex industry by offering alternative
employment, vocational opportunities, life-skills training and physical, emotional and spiritual development to women seeking freedom. NightLight builds support networks internationally to intervene and assist women, men and children whose lives are negatively impacted by the sex industry.

Gary Wilson’s Art Show This Weekend in Monroe

Part of my Christmas in Monroe always includes a visit to the home of Gary and Linda Wilson and Gary’s annual Christmas Art Show. Gary is one of Monroe’s great local artists, and long-time professor of Art at MCCC.
On display and for sale are many of his creations, from wall sculptures to “pots” like you’ve never seen before to beautful mugs and much more.
WHERE: At the home of Gary and Linda Wilson
327 S. Macomb, Monroe, MI

Fri night, Dec. 2: 7 – 11
Sat., Dec. 3: 10-4; 7-11
Sun., Dec. 4: 2-5