Thursday, December 21, 2006

Who are These "Wisemen"?

Last December, my blog was in its infancy. Now, a year later, I have had a blast writing about all sorts of things and even having a few people read some of what I write. This article was one of the first I posted on here, and since it is time that people are thinking about Christmas again (duh), I thought I would pull the old "re-post". Have a Merry Christmas everyone!

Of course you have seen them. They are the three tall old guys towards the back of the nativity scene that sits on your shelf. There is always one with dark skin, there are always three, and they are always present beside the crib...rather, manger of Jesus. But who are these wise men really? Scholars suggest that the biblical connection of these men dates back to the Exile, when Daniel is placed in charge of Babylon and "all its wise men" (Daniel 2:10, 48). These men were astrologers and great thinkers of their day and were perhaps instructed by Daniel about the God of Israel and the Prophesied Messiah that was coming, as he was their superior. There is a good chance that Daniel's influence and faithfulness to God in a pagan and foreign nation is the reason that we see these wise men, also called "kings" or "Magi", worshiping Jesus.

Nonetheless, grandma's old nativity set certainly has some inaccuracies it must work out. For one, they followed the star to Jerusalem from the east, and then to Bethlehem, a journey which probably took them years to complete. Thus, we would never see Wise Men and shepherds worshiping side by side as is so commonly seen (note: Matthew records Magi, Luke records shepherds, so there is no biblical claim that they worshiped the Savior together). Actually, the Greek word (I am not an expert in Greek, but I have friends who are) used to describe Jesus in Luke with the shepherds present denotes "baby", whereas the word describing Jesus in Matthew with the Wise Men is closer to "child". Thus, there is a good chance Jesus was several years old when the wise men dropped in. In addition, we have no way of knowing how many Magi were present. There could have been three or a dozen. We often assume there were three because three gifts are mentioned, though the true number is anybody's guess. As far as ethnicity, they would have most certainly been Persian, thus having olive colored skin and middle eastern features. In the end, we know for certain that men of wealth called "Wise men" visited Jesus and worshiped him and brought him gifts (which is also probably where the custom of gift giving at Christmas originally comes from). Pretty amazing that such men would worship a baby in this way. They must have known there was something special about this kid. He certainly was one extraordinary baby.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"I Can't Wait 'Til It's Over"

In the past week, I have had the opportunity to chat with a few people about Christmas and how close it is. These are not generally close friends, simply people at the bank, guys I play basketball with, etc. I have noticed a common theme in the responses people have to me pointing out that Christmas is only a week away (or however long at the time). They say, more often than not, "I Can't Wait 'Til It's Over!"

"I Can't Wait 'Til It's Over." Think about that. We have piled so many duties and stresses on to the birth of Jesus that we look forward, not to the day and reflecting on a day that changed the course of human history, but on when it has passed.

Is that the attitude we should be having about the day we celebrate the birth of our Savior, the Messiah? Have we lost the sense of awe and wonder that the coming (or Advent) of our King originally had? I think that the obvious answer is "yes, we have."

Imagine the shock, the absolute crippling terror that invaded the shepherds as they lay in complete darkness staring at the sky, until an Angel of the LORD appears. Imagine Mary, holding her new baby, remembering all the amazing things the Angel had told her about her little son. Now, there he was, sleeping in front of her in a feeding trough. Imagine Joseph, with his son coming at the least opportune time, wondering if they would find a place to deliver his baby, or if his young wife and baby were in danger because of so little room. Imagine the Wise Men, traveling years because of a belief in their gut that there was something special at the end of their journey.

Wherever you are this Christmas season, remember the reason we celebrate, and do whatever you have to do to connect with God and experience a bit of the wonder and anticipation that gripped those who were involved 2000 years ago.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A "Santa Clause-Like" God

About a week ago I finished rereading one of my favorite books of all time: Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller. In this book, Miller moves past the non-theological stuff, and becomes a theologian. He retains the non-religious factor, which is great, but it is certainly a different animal from Blue Like Jazz. If you have not yet read it, put it high on your list.

Anywho, the first time I read it was over the summer, during one of the busiest months of my life. I didn't have time to blog about it, as you can imagine, so the second time through, I left note cards in the pages where I wanted to blog. there are about 20 of them, so there will be plenty of stuff on here in the next months about this book. Trust me, it is all good stuff.

In chapter two, Miller is talking about impostors, and he tells a story of meeting Santa Clause as a kid. He goes on to say that he had a view of God that was much like Santa Clause for a long time, and thinks that many people today do too, because it is very convenient. Here are some clips of what he says, along with my commentary.

"I realize grown up people should not think God is like Santa Clause, but you would't believe how perfectly convenient it was for me to subscribe to the idea. The benefits were astounding."

"First: To interact with Santa Clause, I did not have to maintain any sort of intimate relationship. Santa simply slipped into the house, left presents, ate half a cookie, then hit the neighbors'. There was no getting us out of bed in the middle of the night to have sloppy conversations about why I was still wetting the bed."

Isn't it astounding that the majority of the people who would call themselves Christians do not have (perhaps don't even want) a personal relationship with God? I think that most people who are "religious" would fall into this category. However, in scripture we see that God offers himself to us forst and foremost. Relationship is the purpose of everything. Repentance. Forgiveness. Morality. Love. Law. It is all relational and a part of the big relational dynamic. Yet, there are a whole host of people who feel that they are right with God, yet do not have a relationship with him. Perhaps they think it would be too "sloppy." It would violate their intimacy and sense of privacy. They don't want to let anyone in, and certainly not God.

"Second: Santa theology was very black and white; you either made the list or you didn't and if you didn't, it was because you were bad, not because of societal pressures or biochemical distortions or your parents or cable television, but because you were bad. Simple indeed."

This is interesting, because I think there are certain aspects of Christianity that are very black and white (Jesus said "If you love me you will obey my commands"), and others that are incredibly complex. I think the truth lies on both poles. I feel that we must continually boil the message down to the most basic parts (where possible and appropriate), while at the same time acknowledging the complexities and exploring the mystery. I suppose that just like any relationship, it is bound to be complicated. I love my wife; simple. How does that translate into important decisions about our life together; complex.

"Third: He brought presents based on behavior. If you were good, you got a lot of bank. There was a very clear reward system based on the most basic desires of the human heart: Big Wheels, Hot Wheels, Legos. You didn't have to get into the spirit of anything, and there was nothing sentimental that served as the real reason for the season. Everybody knew it was about the toys: cold hard toys."

Wouldn't it be great if the Kingdom of God was based on the American principle of instant gratification. You help an old lady cross the street, you get $500. You read to a blind kid, you get good health for a year. You go to church this get the idea. But it isn't really like that. Relationships generally aren't (that theme keeps coming up). Instant gratification is rarely relevant outside of a marketing context.

"Fourth: Kids who were bad got presents anyway."

Ahh, yes. the old "everyone is included" idea. The problem with this is that it doesn't promote good behavior, nor is it realistic. It would be like saying, "You can be a jerk husband, and you will still have a great and happy marriage." The real world doesn't work that way. We do see Jesus spending time with the sinners, but it was because those people were more real than the hypocrite Pharisees anyway.

To conclude, my goal is twofold: to get you to think and to get you to read this book. Let me know if I do either one.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Christian vs Christ-follower

I saw these funny vids over at the Think Christian Blog. They are spoofs of the PC vs Mac comercials, and they make some neat statements about the religion of Christianity, as opposed to following Christ. Check them out. I think you will enjoy them.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Garden, Not a Gamble

I got the opportunity yesterday to go to a wedding. A girl who was formerly of our youth group got married, and Angela and I were happy to attend. I have to say that after you get married yourself, you look at weddings completely different. Before they were boring services designed for women that were only delaying the food at the reception. I would guess that is how most unmarried guys view them. However, when I got married in August of 2005, all of that changed. Our wedding was awesome. Looking back I honestly would not change a thing. From the parent vows, to the message stressing the covenant relationship of marriage, to my best man (and best friend) dropping the ring, it was all the perfect mix of joy, laughter, sincerity, destiny, commitment and love. And now I am different, in so many ways, the least of which may be that I view weddings differently. As I sit and listen to the music, watch the processional, watch the grooms face as his bride is escorted by her father, listen to them repeat their vows to one another, see them officially announced as man and wife...I think of my wedding and everything comes back. I think of how I am still so amazed at how great it is to be married to an awesome woman who is so very loving. I am very blessed.

Anyway, I was struck by something that Jim, our Pastor and the one performing the ceremony, said that I thought was incredibly profound. He said that, unfortunately, many people view marriage today as a gamble, a virtual rolling of the dice, hoping the person they are pledging their lives to is the one, that it will work out. This has caused a whole host of problems in our world today, the greatest of which is the divorce epidemic and children living in broken homes, but I won't get into that here. Jim followed up with saying that marriage is more like a garden than a gamble. A garden you tend and plow and water and plant the things you want to grow and, with time, they grow. It is not a gamble; it is nature. It is the life process. Marriage is the same way. With love and respect planted, and a relationship nurtured, the marriage will bloom. Jim stated that in 40 years, each couple will have the result of what they have done to tend the garden. If we looked at Marriage like this more often, we would be better off. May we see ourselves as gardeners of the most important kind. My we love and respect our wives as much as we possible can, and in doing so, I think we will make the world a better place.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Christians Being Christians

This is Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle talking about Christians being missional, or as I would say, Christians just being true Christians. He is a bit abrasive towards the "seeker" churches, but he makes some great points. Check it out.