I shot this on 12/20/10 at about 1:30 AM -OK, it was actually 12/21- with my Sonya Alpha.
I shot this on 12/20/10 at about 1:30 AM -OK, it was actually 12/21- with my Sonya Alpha.
The following is a reprint of an article published by Ryan Shinn in his channel on Examiner.com
This year the keep Christ in Christmas debate has heated up anew with First Baptist Church of Dallas pastor, Robert Jeffress, new website listing businesses that are refusing to acknowledge Christmas. He has appeared on Fox News as well as local news outlets discussing this apparently controversial site.
The current debate seems to have three sides, those who support Jeffress for taking a stand on this issue, secularists who are attacking Jeffress for various reasons, and Christians who think the whole debate is distracting from the purpose of Christmas.
Eric Wallace’s blog, The Unwasted Life, summarizes this last perspective quite well with a list of reasons why Jeffress is off-base. Yet while Eric makes very good points about why Christians should not take part in this debate at all, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.
Most of the anti-Jeffress discussion falls into three basic categories. The first is that while Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, it has always been primarily a secular holiday with most of its elements derived from pagan sources that have little to do with the actual birth of Christ. People have pointed out that elements such as Christmas trees do not have Christian beginnings, but most of these things were adopted by early Christian missionaries as cultural touch points used to relate the gospel to the people’s pagan traditions. This sort of evolution is happening currently with Halloween. Many churches celebrate the holiday as a Harvest Festival and exchange the day’s original purpose with a Christ-centered message.
The second attack is that Christians have no business getting involved with political debates that play into the hands of the secularists. The problem with this argument is that it misses the point entirely. Many Christians are simply tired of the expectation that they will spend a lot of money for gifts at stores that refuse to even mention Christmas. The message is, “give us money while we disrespect you.” Many Christians are responding with their dollars. This is not as much a sign of protest, but capitalist democracy.
Finally, they attack Jeffress directly for more controversial statements he has made, particularly regarding homosexuals and Muslims. This is not surprising. When people have little of value to say in defense of their positions, they often resort to ad hominem attacks. Whether Jeffress is against homosexuality or Islam, or kills puppies, it has no bearing on this issue. -Ryan
Young Timmy stared wide-eyed at the mountain of tightly wrapped presents under the tree. It all looked so beautiful to his young eyes. Each little light reflected off of an ornament. There was the small glass globe that he had received from Ma-ma two Christmases ago—‘May the glory of advent fill you with tidings of great joy.’ Next to it, the small brass shepherd shape from some time before his birth. Then there was his favorite, a small Woodstock with a Santa hat, that he sometimes delicately removed to play with when no one was looking. This was just a sampling of the keepsakes that decorated each branch, a growing beacon to the promises of great joy that lay in each parcel underneath. They were all reminders, and each Christmas, one more was added to the tree.
“You know the rule, Tim. You can pick one to open up tonight before we go to Christmas Eve service,” Dad said as he sat down the book he was reading. Mommy came into the room with her new red sweater and green dangly earrings, now ready to go to church.
“I want the red one in the back!” Timmy bounced.
Mommy shook her head. “Why don’t we leave that one for later. It is so far back, we’d mess up the whole living room,.” That one was the show-stopper for tomorrow morning, the Red Rider BB gun of Timmy’s wish list. This year, they had to visit 4 stores before they found the singing little bear-thing that all the commercials had convinced every child in America they had to have. Timmy would certainly shriek in joy when he tore off the paper. He would forget all about it by mid-January, most likely.
“Before we open anything though, let’s talk about why we celebrate Christmas,” said Dad. “Come up and sit next to me.”
Timmy crawled up, as Dad opened the Bible that always sat under the coffee table below the current issue of O magazine Mommy received every month, yet seldom actually read. He grabbed the little ribbon marking the book of Luke, chapter 2.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Dad closed the Bible and returned it to its proper place.
Timmy understood a lot of this. He had heard this read each Christmas in church and on the DVD they watched a week ago. He knew that it was the same story that was illustrated by the Nativity figurines on the little table by the front door. He had heard that Jesus was the reason for the season. But the story did have a lot of big and weird words, and he didn’t get what shepherds had to do with it all, or even why everyone kept discussing a baby from long ago that was born in a barn. But this is what they were supposed to talk about before they went to that little church full of people he didn’t know.
The adults made sure that all of this was done before they got to do all the fun parts of Christmas that he looked forward to. If they didn’t read this part and light the candles at the church, maybe Santa wouldn’t come, the presents would never get opened, and they’d have to throw away the cookies now cooling on the kitchen counter. Sometimes, you had to do the stuff the adults wanted to do before you could have fun.
“Who else was there at the manger, T?” Dad asked.
“There were those 3 smart guys with camels,” Timmy answered proudly.
“Yes, the Wise Men,” Mommy said, smiling. “And what did they bring?”
“They had gifts for the baby,” he answered.
“Right, and that is why we get gifts on Christmas,” said Dad.
“Santa brings us gifts because of that?”
“No, Santa is different. He brings you gifts if you’ve been a good boy. But yes, Santa is bringing us gifts because of that story. See Jesus is the reason for the season.” Dad looked at Timmy with a smile and a pat on the head.
“Can I open that one, then?” Timmy jumped off the couch toward the tree. -Ryan
1. Read the Bible with an eye for genre.
Some biblical critics (meaning people who examine the actual literature of the Bible) look at the text as nothing more than ancient literature. This causes some Christians to react with statements like, “I take the Bible literally.” This statement sounds devout, but it is quite absurd.
Psalm 36:7 says “People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Jesus follows this same metaphor in Matthew 23:37 saying, “I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” No one actually suggests that the Bible is saying God is actually a bird. The text is using a picturesque metaphor.
The Bible is quite robust as literature. It contains narrative (Genesis, Matthew, et al.), prophetic literature (Daniel, Revelation), Poetry (Psalms, Song of Solomon), epistles (instructional books like Ephesians), personal letters (to an individual like Philemon), and others. A person wouldn’t read a love letter the same way that they would read an instruction manual. In the same way, they shouldn’t read Psalms the same way that they read Galatians.
A lot of problems in understanding the Bible come from not considering the intended purpose of the book they are reading. For instance, the purpose of Psalms is to glorify God and remember His goodness, not to teach doctrine. This is not saying that Psalms cannot teach doctrinal truth, or even that it is not the inspired word of God, just that doctrine is not the point of the book.
2. Get yourself into the heads of the original readers.
Many Bible experts will make the statement, “something in the Bible can never mean to us what it didn’t mean to its original hearers.” This doesn’t quite make sense, as original readers of prophetic books like Daniel couldn’t quite have understood the completeness of the prophecy. But this is a generally good guideline to follow in most cases.
For instance, Genesis 9:4 and Leviticus 17:10 both state provisions against eating blood. Some religious people use this as reason for God to be against blood transfusions. While the Bible neither speaks supportively nor prohibitively specifically about blood transfusions, an original hearer of God’s message in these passages would have not thought about a medical procedure to save someone’s life. They would have connected it to pagan idol worship that required drinking blood. Therefore, it is doctrinally quite dangerous to make a leap in applying these passages to a life-saving medical procedure.
3. Practice Exegesis not Eisegesis
No, this isn’t misspelling Jesus. These two words refer to interpreting scripture. Gesis refers to the text of the Bible. Ex (ek) means out of and eis means into. For any student of God’s truth, the goal should be to find out what the Bible means, and then apply that meaning to life, even if that isn’t quite what a person really wants the Bible to say. The opposite of this, eisegesis, is to twist the scripture (or cherry-pick verses out of context) in order to get the Bible to say what a person wants it to say.
A good way to remember the difference is that exegesis is to find out where Jesus is, and place an X in that spot (x-a-Jesus) as the marker for where God wants people to be. Eisegesis is like putting Jesus on an ice rink, where a person could push him to wherever he’d like Jesus to be (ice-a-Jesus).
4. Allow the Bible be a little bit mean.
Actually, the Bible isn’t really mean. It is the loving word of God. But unless a person is perfect, the Bible is going to point out a lot of ways in which humans cannot meet God’s standards. It has been reported that Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, said that if we always find the Bible to be our friend, perhaps we haven’t read it.
The Bible was clearly not written as a self-image booster for humanity. Whenever a person comes face to face with the presence of God, the first realization is always how unworthy, frail, and weak humanity is when measured by God’s standard. The second understanding is that God forgives and loves us anyway. Before a garment can be cleaned, a person must admit that it is dirty. The same is true with a person’s soul, and the Bible is one of the major ways that God teaches this lesson to humanity.
5. Let the Bible change you.
The Bible is not meant to be merely literature. The serious student of Jesus should read the Bible asking 3 basic questions:
God never intended people to read His word, smile to themselves, and then go about their daily lives. He meant it to be poignant, “sharper than any two-edged sword,” and potent for changing lives. Swords were not meant to be decorative wall ornaments. They were meant for stronger stuff, as is the Bible.
A Busy Week in the Newsroom
For connoisseurs of news and politics, the flurry of activity this week has been thrilling. There have been assassinations in Iran, countries in the EU going bankrupt, and another little scandal brought on by a website called Wikileaks.org. Over the last day and a half, the US has also willingly revealed some rather embarrassing information about the actions of the Federal Reserve Bank over the last few years.
On Wednesday the Federal Reserve revealed new information about the recipients of the money given in 2008 and 2009 in order to bail out businesses and banks under TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program). The information also indicated dollar amounts the bank has given. According to The Washington Post, the Fed essentially loaned GE $16 billion, Harley Davidson $2.3 billion, and Verizon $1.5 billion. None of this was publicly known prior to Wednesday’s announcement. This new information is serious and troubling, as partly indicated by its placement on the front page of many newspapers and top-red status on the Drudgereport.
This federal candor brings to the surface some serious questions. Why would the government choose to release such scandalous information at this time, when they are already embarrassed by the current leak of information? Further, what do they stand to gain through this level of disclosure? Finally, how could government funds allocated to some of the largest companies in the US, totaling $3.3 trillion go unnoticed by any of the nation’s news outlets until now, and what does that mean about the state of American journalism?
Candor in the Fed
Time almost always clarifies questions such as these, but at this moment Wikileaks appears to be more the impetus behind this Fed announcement than merely tangential to it. Wikileaks has been a constant thorn in the side of the US government over the past several years, as it has revealed increasingly damaging and embarrassing classified information about the government’s secret activities. This week, they began publishing 251,287 classified US diplomatic cables on their website. While this document dump is possibly less damaging than some previous leaks, it is very embarrassing for the US.
But what appears to be even more significant is the website’s claim to be on the verge of releasing information on “a major bank that is still in existence,” according to a Reuters report. Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange has declined to announce the name of this bank. So people are guessing. Prognosticators are placing their money on Bank of America. They might be wrong.
Of course there could be other reasons for The Fed’s recent disclosure, but it appears likely that they are assuming that the next Wikileaks disclosure (set for January) will target the Federal Reserve Bank itself. This would make sense. In order to stay relevant, Wikileaks is under pressure to have increasingly major leaks to share. It is not clear what vendetta the site has against the United States (if it is not simply about freedom of information—which seems doubtful), but it is clear that the site is focused more on government actions than it is on business corruption. Sharing secret bank documents would be somewhat out of the site’s typical MO.
If the Fed assumes that the next leak is to be about them (whether it actually is or not), it would make sense for them to dump this information while there is already so much political embarrassment on the table. The chances that the banking information will get lost in the glut of news are much greater, and it takes away power from Wikileaks disclosures, lessening the impact. If the Fed is wrong on this guess, they will be playing into Assange’s strategy quite nicely, however. The Fed must assume that this information cannot be hidden forever, and now could be as good a time as any to release it while it must compete for front page status.
A Blind Press
One question that doesn’t appear to be answerable at the moment is, how in the world did the entire US free press miss $3.3 trillion in unreported aid sent to major American businesses? That much money does not get hidden very easily, even in an economy the size of the United States. One might understand how money sent to GE, which owns NBC and affiliated news outlets, might have suppressed this inside their newsrooms, but how the news could have escaped every competing outlet and the blogosphere is simply astounding. Perhaps the American free press should be more embarrassed about this disclosure than the Federal Reserve Bank and the US government.
Many answers to these riddles will have to wait until after January. But the American public should expect more self-disclosures by the US, and possibly American banks, and further world tension involving Wikileaks. December and January should be quite exciting. -Ryan