A Room Shaking Night

The ending of Mark’s gospel is frightening to me.

Women attended the grave of Jesus, only to find him gone. An angelic being told them that Jesus was en route to Galilee.

The women left the grave, in the words of the gospel, afraid. At once, the women realized the gravity of such an event.

Aftermath of RedemptionThe resurrection of Jesus, and the promise of the resurrection for humanity, is a controversial idea. In one year, the amount of people who believe in Jesus’ resurrection dropped 13%, from 77% to 64%. Other statistics state that only 75% of those who describe themselves as “born again” believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

I tend to think it’s a threatening, for one reason. Imagine, for a moment, standing fully in the presence of the God of all, without harm. Whatever you believe about God — whether Creator or Provider or Protector — to stand in his Presence without harm is an incredible thought.

Which is why the resurrection threatens us. It speaks to our own arrogance. The message of the resurrection is that we, now, are incomplete, regardless of personal success. The resurrection confronts our own immaturity, this side of death, and that, I think, is why we have difficulty accepting it at face value.

This post, the next in a succession of comments over the New Testament book of Acts, makes us confront the resurrection, through the eyes of those who believe it, and those who are threatened by it.

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Comment over Acts 4:1-31

What began as a time for evening prayer for Peter and John became an epic confrontation between those who were to be the true “rulers of the twelve tribes of Israel”: the apostles … or the Sanhedrin.

Peter invoked the ire of the current leadership, not because a man had been healed, but because Peter taught that because of Jesus, resurrection from the realm of the dead is a certainty. Peter didn’t try to persuade this group that Jesus’ resurrection really happened. Instead, he told them that Jesus’ resurrection guarantees a future resurrection for everyone. The Sadducees, who were there, wanted none of that – they refused to believe in the resurrection, historically, because the Torah said nothing about the resurrection. So they could never buy the idea that the Messiah of Israel had died, only to come back to life.

It’s easy to see why such teaching, and the healing of the lame man, made Peter and John viable threats, though – the people believed the apostles instead of the Jewish religious leaders. So, in an effort to damage the credibility of the two apostles, the religious leaders imprisoned Peter and John.

Their plan backfired.

The imprisonment of the two apostles was the catalyst for yet another miraculous growth, with 5,000 men counted as believers in resurrection.

But the Sanhedrin was not content. The following day, Peter and John were forced into a hearing before the Jerusalem leadership (apparently the same group that sentenced Jesus to death), where the apostles were questioned about the power that allowed them to heal the former lame man. Peter, though, saw it as a moment to share the gospel with the seditious group who killed his rabbi.

So filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter addressed the skeptical group. His words were few, but powerful. He proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus, and that it was Jesus’ name which provided the power to heal the man

Perhaps the most startling teaching Peter shared, though, was that salvation can only be found in the name of Jesus. This is the first time the word salvation appears in Acts and it appears, not in the context of thousands of people calling on the name of Jesus and being baptized in his name, but rather it appears in the context of a lame man being healed. That’s important. The man’s healing, after all, was the point of Peter’s and John’s questioning. So salvation, at least here, must mean more than perhaps what we’ve believed, what we’ve learned, or maybe even what we’ve been taught. In this context, salvation means the total restoration of a person from every kind of brokenness and stigmatization – physical, spiritual, political, moral, and even eschatological. (That’s a pretty big word which really means an understanding of what happens after death.) The lame man’s physical condition prohibited him from enjoying full rights in any of those categories. But once healed, he was fully accepted in every category, and could now function, without reservation, in the social realm of the Jewish culture. In fact, according to Luke, every division on planet earth was controlled by the devil. Jesus, and the power of his name, erases such divisions, however they appear, and saves people from separation. This, in Luke’s world, was the meaning of the word salvation.

So, for Peter and John, the lame man found salvation, not simply healing, in the name of Jesus. His entire life was restored back to its original intention, an intention broken by  his inability to physically walk, itself a result of sin in the world.

These were pretty strong words by Peter, and the council knew it, not because of Peter’s actual speech, but rather how the apostles appeared. The council watched Peter and John be transformed from just unschooled, uneducated, ordinary men, into men who spoke with boldness. The word “boldness” is an important distinction for these men — it was a Greek word often used to describe Greek philosophers. Peter and John, then, were no longer just men unschooled in the rhetoric of the Torah. They were no longer just men untaught in the skills of oration. They were extraordinary, and the delivery of their words was extraordinary, because they were filled with the Holy Spirit and had been with Jesus. In fact, the council of Jewish rulers – the very same council that had condemned Jesus to die – were speechless, could not deny the apostles’ testimony, and were unable to even mention Jesus’ name, even when they told Peter and John stop such public teaching.

Peter and John, though, chose to defy their order, because they just simply couldn’t help but talk about what they witnessed. The two men were released, not only because they had not broken any law thus far, but because the council was afraid of the people.

Peter and John “went back to their own” – meaning the other apostles, the true rulers of “the twelve tribes of Israel,” (certainly not all 8,000 believers!) – and shared the edict of the council. The first response of this group was to pray, not to be spared from persecution, but for boldness to continue to witness. And theirs was a prayer of unanimity!

They addressed God as “Sovereign Lord,” and the following words of the prayer indicated the belief that everything — creation, the words of David, and the so-called decisions to arrest and kill Jesus — happened because God decided them to happen. Even the threats the believers received were part of a divine plan. And this group did not pray for a release from the persecution, but rather prayed for boldness in the face of persecution.

The Lord heard the prayer (the room shook – a new symbol in Acts of the presence of the Spirit), they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they did speak the word of God boldly.

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A Few Discussion Questions

  • Have you experienced legitimate persecution and threats because of your belief in Jesus? If so, explain.
    • If you haven’t, then explain why you haven’t.
    • Why does following Jesus threaten people, anyway?
  • Read Acts 4:1-4.
    • Who interrupted Peter and John? Why?
    • Why would the resurrection disturb people? Those who deny the resurrection – what do they believe about life and purpose? Explain.
    • Is the resurrection of Jesus still a disturbing thing? Explain.
  • Read Acts 4:5-12.
    • Peter and John healed a lame man in Acts 3. Is this sort of healing still possible today? By what power did Peter and John heal? If that power is still active, then shouldn’t healing still be possible? Explain.
    • Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit (v 8). Wasn’t he already filled with the Holy Spirit? (See Acts 2:4.) So what does this mean? And how would he know? How did Luke know?
    • What does “salvation” mean? What did Peter think it meant?
  • Read Acts 4:13-17.
    • How did the council react to Peter and John? What was different about them?
    • Does being filled with the Holy Spirit produce such a dramatic change? Every time? Explain. Should it?
    • Why couldn’t the council even say the name of Jesus, in v 17? Why is the name of Jesus so threatening?
  • Read Acts 4:18-22.
    • Peter and John refused to abide by the council’s order according to what reason?
    • Does their reason surprise you? Convict you? Why do they feel so compelled to keep talking about Jesus? Do they have something we don’t? Explain.
  • Read Acts 4:23-31.
    • How did this group pray?
    • How did they address God? The Greek word for “sovereign” is the origin of the English word “despot.” Is that an accurate depiction of God? In their prayer, for what do they credit God? Are we as eager to credit God for every single thing … even the things we determine as harmful? Explain.
    • Why didn’t they ask to be spared from persecution? What did they ask for, instead? Why does that matter?
    • How did they know God heard their cries? Does God still shake rooms today, because of the cries of his people? Explain.

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A Prayer

Father, you are sovereign. We don’t tell you in order to remind you. We say that, in this prayer, because we need to hear our own mouths say that.

We ask today for courage to proclaim resurrection in your name. We know that the events that may threaten us are, in fact, ordained by you, for your own glory, and we pray, now, that we can have the freedom to proclaim the good news even in the midst of events that would cause us to suffer.

Bless your name, God!

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¹Depending on translations, Jesus was referred to either as a capstone or cornerstone. The Greek word can be used interchangeably. The capstone finished and completed a Roman arch, and held the two opposing sides together. A cornerstone was the first stone of a building, the stone by which all subsequent stones were measured. Either way, the word meant that Jesus was the ultimate completion of life, or the ultimate beginning of life.

Not Sure What To Call This One

This is an unusual post, considering what I’ve posted lately, but I had to share something that struck me this weekend.

It takes discipline to spend time with the Lord. Extreme discipline. Discipline that I do not have on my own.

I thought of my daily routine this past weekend, in a strange moment of clarity and perspective, of spending time reading the bible, praying, reading Tozer and Ravenhill and Murray. Reading commentaries and scholarly discussion. Reading one verse at a time, and getting stuck at an overwhelming thought found there. Reading an entire book in the bible. Reading a few chapters. The amount of prayer God is calling me to, now, is almost unbearable, more than I’ve ever prayed on a daily basis in my entire life. Often I play my guitar and sing worship songs with my family at night. That’s a really special experience (I really, really like playing the guitar), but it still requires time, in the evenings, and especially when we are supposed to be “winding down.”

But really, when I’m not fulfilling some responsibility, the things in the paragraph above are what fills the gaps of time. It’s an odd, strange, routine.

And I do those things every day, either early in the morning, or in the early evening. And I don’t write that here out of some act of public piety.

I write it here because, honestly, it’s quite difficult. There are mornings that I am tired of going “to the well”, tired of being (sometimes) (mercilessly) convicted, and in those mornings I will attempt to do something else. And without fail, when I try for other selfish choices, I always hear the voice of the Lord say, “Do you really want to do that?” It’s a question that often hurts, and often refreshes. And, at times, I ignore it.

There are good mornings, though. Right now I’m reading through 1 and 2 Samuel (don’t ask why), and can’t believe the audacity of David’s prayers, and the voice of God answering him. So, right now at least, these times are encouraging. They aren’t always, though.

But, honestly, the road to “the well” is outside of my control. That’s tough for me. I won’t/can’t say that the things in the third paragraph “start my day right,” because often I’m wrecked before 7AM, convicted of sin and hopelessly needing the filling of the Holy Spirit. In fact, that’s mostly every day. I approach daily responsibilities depleted, with my mind on what the Lord gave me, sometimes having difficulty thinking clearly because the Holy Spirit’s work in me is so incredibly active, purifying me of so much garbage. And I don’t often want that. But, alas, God doesn’t concern himself always with what I want. (Remember the shade tree God grew for Jonah, only to make it die?)

I am, at this stage in my life, not necessarily accustomed to these deep feelings, even though my life has been filled with this routine for quite some time. I don’t like hearing from people who call this sort of discipline a “healthy priority”, because I feel, at times, it would be easier to read the news, or watch what Fallon did the night before. Easier on me, anyway. Watching Fallon doesn’t require me to think — I can be mindless, as “checked-out” as if I were a thousand miles away, and sometimes (really, a lot of the time), that’s what I would prefer. Being engaged is so exhausting.

But the well is deep. Dark. Mysterious. It has water, but sometimes the water is deeper than I wanted it to be, and God pulls me farther in. And, mostly, I go against my will.

So, yes, it takes much discipline to do this, to walk this path. At least it takes much discipline for me. I wake earlier than I’ve ever done so in my life, because, many days, it just takes that much time. I wonder if Muller and Spurgeon ever felt like this.

But I do know what life would be without this kind of routine. At least I know what my life would look like, because I’ve lived it. Empty. Fake. Out of control. Debt-ridden. Awful choices. Sin. But filled with lots of friends who (I discovered) varnished their lives with Jesus and smiles and music and alcohol and the “latest and greatest” to hide the hollowness. Some of my friends still live like that, and I hurt for them. I know the emptiness because I’ve lived it. I can spot it.

What is even more hurtful, I think, is I’ve tried to share this path with a few, only to be hurt by their words, then ignored because … well, because of whatever reason. I tend to think that my words often betray the level of engagement this kind of life requires, and many just don’t want it. I understand that. I often don’t want it. It has wrecked everything I ever thought I needed, or wanted. And it would be easier to keep friends, at times, than to speak of the honesty that this weird life of mine demands of me.

So, yes, this is a tough, tough, tough road. It defies convention. Goodness, it defies convention. I can’t really write that statement enough.

And this — this previous 900-word essay — is what struck me this weekend, in a strange moment of clarity and perspective. I’m thankful for a blog today, so I can spit it out, and wonder if anyone else feels this way.

I can’t leave this post though, until I at least tell you that it has been the sweetest thing I have ever known. To be in such a constant place of hearing from the Lord, and being constantly convicted of my own sin, is so peaceful. Strangely peaceful. Crazy peaceful. Unconventionally peaceful.

But, man, it’s still tough.

A Strange Tale of Suspected Intoxication

A group of drunks would certainly attract a crowd.

There is a pretty famous story, actually, of some suspected drunks talking in different languages. The suspected drunks did speak other languages, but they weren’t drunk at all.

It’s no surprise that intoxication was the original reason for the anomalous activity. The larger crowd just couldn’t tolerate the idea that anything supernatural could occur.

And humanity still seems to want to explain phenomenon that can’t, or won’t, be explained. I mean, what would you think if you saw a crowd of people inexplicably begin speaking in languages you had never heard before?

See.

We just don’t like the idea of seeing or hearing something we can’t explain.

Which makes Acts 2 seem more like fantasy than reality, more like inebriation than sobriety. That intolerance still keeps many believers stale and sterile, because there is something “more,” but it doesn’t look anything like our idea of “normal.”

This is the third post in Acts: The Aftermath of Redemption discipleship group conversations, by the way. You can read the previous posts here.


Acts 2:1-47

It was Pentecost, the feast at the end of harvest, and the first great Jewish feast day after the Passover (Acts 2:1).

The Passover, by the way, was the celebration, fifty days earlier, when unleavened loaves of bread were eaten during their Aftermath of Redemptioncommemoration meal. Unleavened bread was the meal of the Passover because the Hebrews were required to eat unleavened bread, or bread without yeast, during their exodus from Egypt. They were told to make their bread without yeast because their exodus would happen suddenly, and they would have no time to wait for the bread to rise (Exodus 12:7-13).

But Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover, was the celebration when the Hebrews offered the wheat of their first harvest to God (Exodus 34:18-24). The haste of the Exodus, remembered with the bread of haste (the bread without yeast) during Passover, gave way to the feast of the promise, in Pentecost, which featured bread with yeast — because there was no need to escape anymore.

Pentecost, then, was the celebration of peace. Practically, they could wait for their bread to rise, because they weren’t going anywhere — ever again.

So, realize something as you keep reading. Pentecost was a celebration with lots of food, full bellies, laughter, joy, and celebration, because God had rescued his people and given them a bountiful harvest. There was no more need to escape, nor to eat in a hurry, because they were in the promised land, and God had rescued them. This small bit of information frames what happens in the coming verses.

So, let’s begin again.

It was Pentecost, the feast at the end of harvest, and the first great Jewish feast day after the Passover (Acts 2:1).

There were 120 disciples (Acts 1:15), celebrating Pentecost, but also waiting, in essence, for the promise of the Holy Spirit. They had no way to know, though, that Pentecost would be the day they would also receive the only gift that would ever matter.

So, in the midst of their own celebrations, something spectacular happened.

A sound, like a violent wind, filled the house where they were — but it wasn’t wind. And what looked like tongues of fire filled the house and rested on each of them — but it wasn’t fire (Acts 2:2, 3). And all 120 people experienced this (Acts 2:17ff). They were aware that this was the moment the Holy Spirit filled each of them.¹

Outside, in the city of Jerusalem, perhaps 180,000 Jewish pilgrims from some 15 different nations — from the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) — celebrated Pentecost in the streets. Thousands of these pilgrims knew something spectacular happened to the small group of people, though, but these street-walking pilgrims couldn’t understand it. The only explanation they could offer was that Peter and his friends were intoxicated (Acts 2:5-12).

The first public response toward those filled with the Holy Spirit, then, was doubt and confusion. Perhaps it’s enough to wonder if people, filled with the Holy Spirit, still elicit this kind of response from others.

So Peter addressed the crowd, and the rumors of his intoxication (again, Luke 12:11, 12). And he did so with the Twelve Apostles, not Eleven. He spoke to the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Luke 22:28-30; Acts 2:36), as they celebrated the peace of God during Pentecost, in spite of their own Roman occupation, and he told them that a new age had dawned (Acts 2:17ff).

And that this new age began with a countdown toward its own demise.

He quoted to this crowd a prophecy from one of their own prophets, Joel, who wrote at least 400 years prior to this moment in Acts 2 (Joel 2:28-32). I encourage you to click the link to Joel and read it. You should immediately notice that the introductory words are different from what Peter quoted.

Joel wrote “In those days,” while Peter said “In the last days.” And that, dear reader, is a pretty significant detail.

Luke, Peter, and the first-generation believers actually believed that the last days had begun, and had begun with cosmic events (events, by the way, not reserved for the “end of time,” but rather when the Spirit was given). The Holy Spirit — the very Presence of God — was given to the world, and everyone could receive this gift, from the least to the greatest, both women and men.

These were not the last days of their Roman occupation, though. Peter had no way to know that. Jesus had already said that specific times and dates were reserved for God alone (Acts 1:7). So these weren’t “the last days” of being occupied.

Instead, they were “last days” filled with the very Presence of God. The pilgrims weren’t losing anything, but were instead gaining everything.

So, obviously, Peter told these Jewish pilgrims that he and his friends weren’t intoxicated, but were filled with the very Presence of God, and this Presence would obviously produce things in their lives not necessarily described as “normal,” could even possibly be confused with intoxication, and would give anyone access to the dreams and visions of God.

But Peter wasn’t finished.

Having dealt with the rumors of his inebriation, he turned his attention, and his words, to Jesus. There are four notable themes to his speech.

  • First, Peter did not hide Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. He squarely dealt with any doubt that God would allow the Messiah of Israel to come from a dirt-poor, out-of-touch town like Nazareth (see John 1:46). Yes, Nazareth was an unlikely, even scandalous place, from which the Messiah could emerge, but Nazareth was also completely acceptable in God’s plan.
  • Two, Peter did not defend the resurrection of Jesus. He simply proclaimed it.
  • Three, Peter said that Jesus was, at that very moment, exalted at the right hand of the Father, where Jesus had received the Holy Spirit – only to give it to his disciples (Acts 2:32, 33). Jesus, then, was alive, even though he had been killed!
  • Four, God had made Jesus to be both Lord and Christ (v 36). He was both the Master and the Messiah of the world.

Peter’s message stunned and convicted the crowd (Acts 2:37), and three thousand of these Jewish pilgrims were baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38) for the forgiveness of sins. But be careful here. Baptism for the forgiveness of sins has been traditionally interpreted as meaning that forgiveness can’t be given until baptism occurs. But it’s equally possible to see Peter’s statement as asking the crowd to be baptized because their sins had already been forgiven. The Greek word translated as for in English translations can also be translated because of, and, if done so in this particular verse, would change the way many of us have learned to understand Peter’s appeal.²

As Acts 2 closes, then, we find these believers sharing life together in a distinct form of fellowship. Most English translations list the word “fellowship” in v 42 as what this group enjoyed. In fact, the word could be better translated as “communal form of life,” and, once translated such, becomes Luke’s first description and title of the church. In fact, this is probably what early believers actually called themselves, before they called themselves “the church.”

This group also had an expectation of the supernatural (Acts 2:43).

And finally, we find the second of Luke’s accounting of the number of believers. The group had grown from 120 to 3,000, and continued to grow because of daily addition (Acts 2:47). Soon, though, mere addition would not be enough, and the Lord would begin to multiply the number of believers (Acts 6:7).


A Few Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Acts 2:1-4.
    1. Why do you think this happened on the day of Pentecost? What do you know about Pentecost, anyway?
    2. Imagine being in that room. How would you have described what happened?
    3. Why, exactly, did God choose to give the gift of the Spirit this way?
    4. Why do you think Luke had trouble reporting exactly what happened?
  2. Read Acts 2:5-6, 12-13.
    1. Does the gift of the Holy Spirit provide a physical change? All the time? Explain.
  3. Read Acts 2:14-21.
    1. Peter described this event as the beginning of “the last days.” Why? How did he know?
    2. What were the things that would happen in “the last days”?
    3. Are we still in “the last days”? If we are, do these things still happen? Should they? What happens if they do occur, but we don’t see them? 5.
  4. Read Acts 2:22-24.
    1. How did Peter describe Jesus?
    2. Did Peter defend Jesus’ resurrection? Why not? Should we need to defend the resurrection? Explain.
  5. Read Acts 2:42-47.
    1. How did the first group of believers live? Is this just a utopian society, or should believers still live this way?
    2. The early believers had a sense of awe. What does that mean?
    3. They called themselves “the fellowship.” That was an early title for “the church.” What does that kind of title imply?

A Prayer:

Father, it is no wonder that these people accepted, as fact, that the supernatural workings of your Spirit were accepted and expected. We pray for that same sense of awe. We pray for a renewed sense of wonder, that you are alive and are working in unbelievable ways.


¹It’s worth mentioning that no other New Testament writer mentioned this moment. Paul wrote of the gift of the Spirit (Gal 3:2; Rom 8:4-11; Eph 1:13), but said nothing about Pentecost. And John wrote that the apostles received the Spirit the day of Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:22), fifty days before Pentecost.

²For a much, much more detailed explanation, click here. Read, too, Acts 10:43; 13:38-39, 48; 15:11; 16:30-31; 26:18.

Acts of the Apostles: The Aftermath of Redemption

I will be posting an on-going short commentary on the New Testament book The Acts of the Apostles.

Aftermath of RedemptionI am currently reading, writing, and teaching my way through this book, fascinated by the constant story and presence of the resurrection of Jesus. So, because of its insistence on the resurrection, I tend to see it as a book of witness, rather than a book of history. It is Luke’s sequel — it is the aftermath of his story of redemption.

It just seemed right, then, as I’ve prayed, to post some of the things I’ve learned, and I do believe that someone within the reach of this tiny site will need to see this.

On a more personal note, though, there is a considerable and obvious vacuum of believers in our world who know about Jesus, but who don’t know Jesus. The bible has become a book relegated to the teaching of pastors and ministers, while many believers tend to gravitate to other mediums to be spiritually fed. I have grown tired of such, and feel there is a great vacuum of accessible materials for those who lead small groups or discipleship groups, or even for those who wish to learn on their own.

Continue reading

A Jolly Conspiracy

In one of those awful Disney movies about dogs who talk, there is a scene where a sleigh pulled by puppies is trying to get back to the North Pole. Yet these puppies had never pulled a sleigh before, and they didn’t fully believe in the North Pole anyway, so they had to ask how to get there. The driver of the sleigh, another puppy, said, “Just follow the North Star!”

My family watched that scene, just last night, and after the sleigh puppies were told to follow the North Star, one of my daughters said, “That’s not how you get to the North Pole. That’s how you get to Jesus!”

__________

Saint Nicholas is everywhere. His image is on boxes of cereal and band aids and chocolate goodies. He is featured in countless commercials, seated on firetrucks in local parades, and is embroidered on those really bad Christmas sweaters. He’s mostly caucasian, with a white beard and a red suit. And he’s always smiling.

It struck me as odd, though, that for an annual season, an entire culture (the entire world?) promotes a belief in a supernatural benefactor that requires an inherent goodness from people before gifts are given — and his name isn’t God. And mostly, we are fine with that, until we realize that we are the ones giving gifts in the name of the patron saint of both thieves and children.

We spend money so gifts can be given in the name of someone who really isn’t even alive. Inordinate amounts of money, by the way — amounts that are probably disproportional to our income. We spend gobs just to make sure that this jolly conspiracy is perpetuated.

I wouldn’t call it lying.

But I would call it a masterful deception.

__________

One day a year, children awake with sleepy eyes and generous dreams, with the hope that Saint Nicholas has visited their home. They soon hold in their hands the gifts and presents that were given to them in the name of Saint Nicholas. (“We don’t need no stinkin’ parents!”)

Parents smile, and create Instagram shots of their kids. Grandmothers call and say sweet things like, “Santa was good to you this year, wasn’t he?”

And then, a few days later, when the tree becomes a nuisance, parents receive the credit card statements, and wonder why they spent so much money on gifts that are already forgotten.

So the budget-shuffling to pay those bills begins, because the minimum monthly payment has just grown by more than moms and dads had expected.

(“We just wanted them to have a good Christmas!”)

__________

We are slaves to something that, in the end, does more damage to our family than does it good.

This jolly conspiracy is built around debt, over-consumption, and excess, and it enslaves us. Moreover, it becomes difficult to find the mission of Jesus in the midst of soaring credit card bills. Yet we continue to be a part of it, even when it hurts.

When it’s put that way, it sounds almost diabolic, doesn’t it?

Or, like an addiction that needs some serious therapy.

__________

It’s hard — really hard — to not look at this jolly conspiracy as it is filtered through a gospel lens. Read no farther than Luke 4, and Jesus’ own mission statement, where he believed his divine mission was to feed the poor, to give sight to the blind, to give freedom to prisoners and to give freedom to the oppressed.

Freedom.

Freedom!

Jesus’ mission was to give freedom, yet our national spending habits from November 25 through December 25 rob us of freedom.

We willingly make decisions that teach our children about the gross excess of Americanism, at the expense of the very freedom Jesus offers.

And, by default, our kids will continue the cycle of ignoring the the most profound blessing of Jesus on the biggest gift-giving day of the year.

I’m not sure that’s exactly what we want to teach our kids, especially if we believe in Jesus, and believe in his message of freedom.

(An iPad mini just doesn’t seem to compare to that kind of freedom, does it?)

__________

Isn’t it interesting that we are partial to such a conspiracy, though? To underscore the point, consider this question:

What would Christmas morning look like if our children received gifts from their parents in the name of Jesus, instead of the name of Santa?

I think gift-giving, and gift-receiving would change. I know, because I speak from experience.

My family ended this jolly conspiracy a few years ago, telling our own children that the gifts they would receive, meager though they may be in the eyes of some, and extravagant in the eyes of others, would be because we were blessed by God to give those gifts. These gifts would no longer come in the name of a man in a red suit. And, we told them,  there may come a day when the Lord gives us trials, and gifts would be sparse. I am not a pessimist, but no one is spared from times of desperation, and I didn’t want to find myself enslaved to something, and someone, that — if that day ever came — wasn’t even real.

So, no more conspiracy. No more strange men visiting our home in the middle of the night, while everyone sleeps.

(And no more strange rabbit delivering eggs, either.)

In fairness, it took us almost a year to reach this decision, in large part because our culture says to uphold this jolly conspiracy as long as we can. For the longest time we thought perpetuating the deception was the right thing to do.

In the end, though, I grew tired of my kids “praying” to Santa — in the form of a Christmas list — and asking him for the things that would make their lives complete. I found myself to blame for those strange moments, when I began to believe that this loved tradition ignored the God who had graciously provided for my family.

I wanted to praise God on Christmas morning, and I wanted my kids to do the same.

__________

I’m dreaming of a better Christmas — a Christmas that doesn’t mix a fictional character with the birth of the Messiah. Our world has very little against the man in the red suit, but is quick to disregard the baby in the manger. I, for one, am tired of that.

__________

So here I am, and here you are, together, on some strange corner of the Internet, talking about Christmas. We haven’t discussed children in foster care, who wish to be reconciled to their families. We haven’t discussed the poverty experienced by some children, and we certainly don’t want to discuss it when we gather around a table of plenty. We haven’t talked about those who sleep in their cars on Christmas eve, or those who wake up with a hangover on Christmas morning. I’m not sure we need to.

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If the reason for the season is Jesus, then let Jesus be that reason. Let the gifts we give be in his name. Let those in our circle, in our community, know we care because we become the hands that give the gift of freedom in the name of Jesus. Let our kids see Jesus throughout the season, not only in pedantic Christmas specials on television, but in the face of the hungry who are fed.

It’s time to end this jolly conspiracy.

I’m not trying to start a movement. I just want you to pray about it, and let the Lord show you what you should do next.