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It’s that magical time of year. We celebrate Jesus’ birth with a surreal sense of wonder. The magic is about more than flying reindeer and mysteriously appearing presents. We also see the impact of the fantasy of Christmas in real life.
The season prompts us to eat without considering calories and spend money we don’t have. We expect relatives, who drive us crazy all year, to fill us with joy. We hope Christmas cards will preserve friendships we’ve been too busy to keep up with the rest of the year. Even snow (which in February is messy and inconvenient) is supposed to bring the beauty and joy of a winter wonderland.
The Real Christmas Story
The sense of Christmas enchantment impacts the way we think about Jesus’ birth as well. We display manger scenes with a refreshed and perfectly groomed Mary who is the picture of serene beauty. Our songs describe Christ’s birth as “calm” and “bright”. We imagine a clean, peaceful infant who never cries or needs a diaper change. It’s an enchanting picture but it’s a fantasy.
Jesus’s conception was supernatural, but his birth was natural. His birth was painful and bloody and messy. He was born in dark and dirty stable. The cold air smelled like animal dung. Despite her joy at giving birth, Mary would’ve been exhausted, messy, and probably a little scared. She was a poor and powerless teenager with a new baby. She was far from home: alone, except for her new husband. Despite the miracle of Jesus’ birth her real life probably didn’t feel enchanted or magical.
There’s plenty of wonder in the Christmas story. An army of angels announce Christ’s birth. A righteous old man utters a glorious prophesy. Wise strangers bring exotic gifts from distant lands, guided by a mysterious star. But amid the sense of magic, real life continues. Government regulations disrupt a young family’s plans. A homeless couple desperately seeks a safe place to stay. Before Jesus is even two years old his family flees for their lives because of a petty, power hungry politician.
Jesus’ birth was a miracle. He brought joy and hope to his family, the nation of Israel and the entire world. His presence mattered, but it didn’t bring an end to frustration or suffering. His life proved that God is redeeming the world, and it also showed how far from redemption our world is.
Christmas in Real Life
Jesus will come back. When he does, the pain and hardships of life will be transformed, like magic, into something wonderful. But that’s not Christmas. Christmas is about the miracle of God’s grace entering real life with all its pain, mess, and brokenness. Jesus’ birth didn’t transform the world into a place of peace. It brought God’s peace into a world of pain and conflict. Christmas doesn’t make real life magic. It invades real life with miraculous grace.
Christmas in real life doesn’t make cookies less fattening, snow less cold or credit card debt less crippling. It doesn’t mean family members won’t annoy us or elves will descend to complete our to-do lists. Christmas means that amidst the chaos and frustrations of real life, God is working. Christmas in real life means that though the world is still a dark place, a great light has come to bring us hope. It means that for all the hate and anger in the world, God’s love is greater.
Christmas is real. It’s not a fantasy. It’s not magic. Christmas is the miracle of love and grace in the midst of sin and pain. Christmas doesn’t demand perfect, enchanted lives. We can honor the spirit of Christmas while sticking to our budgets, diets and personal boundaries. Christmas in real life means extending love and grace to a hurting, messy world. We don’t have to pretend life is perfect because Christmas calls us to love an imperfect world.
Our world is still a place with blood and pain, animal dung, and government oppression, but Christmas tells us that God’s love still thrives, giving hope and joy to all who trust in Jesus. That’s not magic. It’s a miracle.
This is part five in a series of blog posts inspired by C.S. Lewis‘ remarkable work The Screwtape Letters. If you haven’t already done so you may wish to read the previous installments first and return after reading part one, part two, part three, and part four. I’d also encourage you to read Lewis’ masterpiece to get a feel for where I’m coming from with these posts. I plan to continue to alternate posts from this series with other topics.
My Dear Lipweed,
You seem pleased that your patient has a “keen, scientific, mind” and a “high regard for logic”. You claim such traits make him an “ideal candidate for cultivating a strong, modern, atheist”. What drivel.
You have been brainwashed by your own propaganda! You speak as if clear thinking and intelligence are desirable traits. Better tempters than you have succeeded in developing some of the less stupid humans into assets for our Father’s kingdom but this has been accomplished despite intelligence and a high regard for science, not because of it. A keen mind in a patient is never an asset!
Fake news has been in the real news lately. The amount of misinformation that gets shared online is alarming. In addition to the blatant lies of fake news, intentional misrepresentations of truth, opinion masquerading as fact, and gossipy speculation abound on the internet. There are people crafting clever lies to earn money from website clicks. This misinformation is then easily spread through social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Vigilantly Represent Truth
As Christians, we represent the God of truth. Our enemy is the father of lies. Anytime followers of Jesus contribute to the spread of misinformation we dishonor God and advance the agenda of our enemy. As a Christian I lend my credibility, and by extension the credibility of Jesus (whom I represent) to everything I share online.
We must be vigilant representatives of truth. That means we can’t assume what we see online is true just because it agrees with our general perspective or was shared by someone they know and trust. Valuing truth requires us not to share anything until we confirm it contains no false or misleading information, biased propaganda or online gossip.
Check the Facts
I don’t know any Christians that intentionally share false information but we often do it inadvertently. I’m sure I’ve been guilty. It’s especially easy when we agree with the overall message of what we’re sharing. Sometimes information that is technically true is presented in a deliberately deceptive way. This is common with quotations that are taken out of context and statistics that can be manipulated to mean almost anything.
The only way to avoid spreading false or misleading information is to check facts before sharing. If something is valuable enough to share it’s worth investing a little time to fact check it. It’s especially important to check quotations, statistics and fact claims that aren’t sourced. Usually a simple Google search is enough. If you can’t find the same information somewhere else, it’s probably not true. If you find conflicting information, it might not be true, and you shouldn’t share it. If you need to dig deeper you can visit a good fact checking website that provide verifiable sources about the truthfulness of common internet claims. It’s my responsibility to verify anything I want to share.
Meet God’s High Standards
The Bible sets a very high standard for communication. We need to not only avoid active deception we must be sure that everything we say (and share) online and in real life is truth affirming and valuable.
Opinion pieces that don’t pretend to be objective can represent truth but “news” that blatantly favors one point of view is dishonest because it’s pretending to be objective while seeking to advance a particular viewpoint. For this reason, Christians shouldn’t share opinion or propaganda that presents itself as objective, even when we agree with it’s point of view. What seems objective to one Christian may seem deliberately biased to another so we should be gracious to each other while individually erring on the side of truth. If I see an article that presents itself as objective but could be considered deliberately biased, I shouldn’t share it.
Sometimes information is presented not as fact but as theory or rumor. Speculation based on fairly presented information isn’t inherently dishonest. Speculation shapes the way people think about truth without making factual claims so we shouldn’t spread speculation that is mean spirited or agenda driven. This is what the Bible condemns as gossip. The spirit of the speculation is crucial. It’s probably fine to speculate about who will win the Super Bowl or whether an upcoming movie will be good. Sharing a story about a celebrity’s rumored affair or an unproven conspiracy theory about political corruption isn’t uplifting and beneficial.
Empathy can help us avoid spreading unbiblical bias or speculation. We should put ourselves in the shoes of the person the story’s about. Would I feel OK if this was written about me? It also helps to consider the source. Find where the story originated and see what else is there. If there are a lot mean, gossipy stories it might be best not share. If only a single viewpoint is represented across the site, the story you’re thinking of sharing is probably biased.
When in Doubt, Don’t Share
Sometimes it’s tempting to share something that I haven’t been able to verify or that may contain hidden bias or gossipy speculation. If I can’t resist sharing something that is mostly true and makes a great point I need to qualify it when I share. I can say something like “I’m not sure everything here is accurate but I think it makes a great point” or “This seems a little biased but it’s worth considering”. It’s also a good idea to explain if something I’m sharing is satirical so that no one mistakes it for real information.
The safest thing to do, though, is simply not share anything that is at all questionable. Disclaimers only go so far. Most of us overestimate the value of what we contribute to online conversations. Rarely will something I share change anyone’s mind. If there’s any chance that what I’m sharing might compromise the truth in some way it’s not worth it.
So, feel free to share this blog post but only if you’re confident that it contains no false or misleading information, that it’s bias is clear, not hidden under false objectivity, and that it doesn’t contain unfair speculation. It’s time for us to step up as followers of Jesus and start valuing truth more than Facebook likes. Let’s not hit share unless we’re absolutely sure.
This is part four in a series of blog posts inspired by C.S. Lewis‘ remarkable work The Screwtape Letters. If you haven’t already done so you may wish to read part one, part two, and part three first. I’d also encourage you to read Lewis’ masterpiece to get a feel for where I’m coming from with these posts. I plan to continue to alternate posts from this series with other topics. Part five will be published on November 25th.
My Dear Lipweed,
You have bungled it! By our Father Below, you must see that. Why, in the name of all that is evil, would you allow your patient to enroll in a Philosophy class of all things? Not only to enroll but to be engaged and interested. For him to be immersed in Mathematics, Chemistry or even a properly narrow History course might have sufficed as distraction but Philosophy is the very opposite of where we want his mind to be.
You ignorantly seek to reassure me that the professor is a staunch atheist, as if that is a safeguard against the disaster you are flirting with. Have you even read my letters? Our goal is not atheism! Our goal is a pseudo-Christian who is angry and hateful toward the world but ignorant about the condition of his own soul. This requires distraction, subversion and above all apathy. You have awakened your patient’s intellect regarding subjects he has no business thinking about! Do not think you will avoid punishment.
Donald Trump has defied predictions and won a narrow victory over Hillary Clinton in the electoral college. I know followers of Jesus who are thrilled with this result and those who are dismayed. Below is some advice for each group as well as some thoughts on how all of us can come together as Christians after the election.
Advice for Trump Supporters
You probably feel vindicated. You may be optimistic about the future. That’s great. Don’t let it lead to pride or gloating. More Americans voted against Trump than for him. Many who voted for Trump did so with great reluctance. There is no mandate. None of us know what kind of President Donald Trump will turn out to be. He will probably disappoint you eventually. Elected officials usually do. Stay humble. At best, this is a first step. There is a lot of hard work ahead to make the kind of positive changes you’re hoping for.
Millions of Christians will vote November 8th. If we take our calling seriously we’ll do our best to vote like Jesus would. We can’t say for certain which candidates or laws Jesus would vote for. That doesn’t mean we can’t vote like Jesus. Our attitudes and values matter far more to God than how we mark our ballots. With that in mind here are five ways to vote like Jesus this election.
Vote for the Interests of Others
Our natural inclination is to vote for our own interests. We tend to favor candidates and laws that benefit us by lowering our taxes, improving the benefits and services we access and protecting the freedoms we want to exercise.
The Bible calls us to put other people’s interests ahead of our own. Jesus did this consistently. If we want to vote like Jesus we must consider how our vote will impact others, especially marginalized people and people who are different from us. Will lower taxes or better benefits for me negatively impact others? Will protecting my freedoms endanger the liberty of others? If my bottom line in the voting booth is “What’s in it for me?” I’m not representing Jesus, no matter how I mark my ballot.
This is the third part in a series of blog posts inspired by C.S. Lewis‘ remarkable work The Screwtape Letters. If you haven’t already done so you may wish to read part one, and part two, first. I’d also encourage you to read Lewis’ masterpiece to get a feel for where I’m coming from with these posts.
Next week I will publish a traditional post. This series will resume with part four on November 11th.
My Dear Lipweed,
I regret to inform you that Sapknuckle’s treachery could not be proven. For now, he will remain in his post. Working with him will be unavoidable but do not trust him. He is desperate to avoid punishment for his failures and has no regard for the greater work of our kingdom.
I promised to address the culture war in this letter. As explained in my previous letters the process of inoculation has weakened the church in America substantially while maintaining a façade of Christianity in the broader culture. That façade was so vast and the church meant to support it so weak that we are now witnessing its collapse. Though delightful, this collapse presents two real dangers. First, with the façade crumbling many inoculated patients may become aware of their actual standing with the Enemy. Second, those that are devoted to the Enemy may see the church’s true weakness and turn earnestly to him for help, which he will surely give.
With the approaching election the voices telling Christians how to vote are loud and numerous. In reality there’s no single Christian political perspective. That’s not surprising given that, with few exceptions, the Bible doesn’t directly address how Christians should engage in government. Perhaps the most well-known of those exceptions are Jesus’ words commonly translated “ Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”. This phrase comes from an encounter described in Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17 and Luke 20:20-26.
Those words have been used to support virtually every competing vision for how Christians ought to relate to government, from politically active to politically abstinent, from submissive to authority to subversive toward it, from promoting government sponsored religion to opposing government’s existence. A godly perspective toward government and politics requires understanding of God’s word on the subject. Let’s take a fresh look at Jesus’ words about paying taxes to Caesar and try to clear up some of the confusion.
Jesus’ radical message made him enemies on both ends of the social/political spectrum. Eventually the Pharisees (populist religious conservatives) and the Herodians (pro-Roman political elites) came together to conspire against their common enemy, Jesus. They set a trap for him by asking him to take a position on the “third-rail” issue of their day, Jews paying taxes to Rome. [Read more…]
This is the second part in a series of blog posts borrowing from C.S. Lewis‘ remarkable work The Screwtape Letters. If you haven’t already done so you may wish to read part one, first. I’d also encourage you to read Lewis’ masterpiece to get a feel for where I’m coming from with these posts.
Next week I will publish a traditional post. This series will resume with part three on October 28th.
My Dear Lipweed,
You are quite right that the practice of inoculation is declining. Overt hostility toward the enemy is becoming an increasingly viable (and more entertaining) option but inoculation remains the best strategy for your patient. Any attempt to make him an atheist or a pagan would require him to consider questions of truth and morality. Once such questions are asked we cannot guarantee a favorable outcome. If, for example, you suggest that all those stories in the Enemy’s book couldn’t possibly be true you run the risk of him thinking about those stories and perhaps considering what it would mean if they were true. Such a perilous scenario is easily avoided by simply keeping him from thinking anything about the stories one way or another.
If you’re like me you’re currently being inundated with unsolicited advice about how to vote on November 8th. There’s no shortage of voices telling us which candidate is more trustworthy or qualified or why one set of political positions will lead to prosperity and the other to certain doom. Unfortunately, there isn’t much consensus. Even Christians can’t seem to agree on which political views best represent our faith.
A lack of clarity
Voting Christians generally agree about what matters to God. We want to promote compassion, integrity, justice, morality and other Kingdom values. Even so, we often disagree about how to vote. Shouldn’t people who read the same Bible and serve the same God agree on important political questions?
As much as we would like clarity, contemporary political issues are almost never directly addressed in scripture. We try to extrapolate from Biblical principles as we form our political views but that doesn’t mean other Christians will reach the same conclusions we do. Most political issues deal with complex matters and have a wide variety of implications. So, it’s not surprising when well-meaning Christians disagree about how to honor God through political action.