Thursday, December 29, 2011

North Korean funeral

Having served with the 2nd Infantry Division near the DMZ in the Republic of Korea, I've maintained an interest in the region. One cannot help but notice the outpouring of grief, and wonder if it was required, even coerced. While this may be true, a nation that claims to be atheist can have nothing good to say about death, the final enemy. For an atheist, death is the end, with nothing further to hope for. Life has little meaning, since life is an accident of nature on a world that just exists for no higher purpose, and thus how we live is a matter of arbitrary other words, the message of he book of Ecclesiastes.

If there is no God, a funeral has to be the ultimate downer, a miserable experience that reminds us that we will all die and cease to exist...but for the Christian, death is not "the end" but "to be continued". We can talk about the future, with hope. There is grief and loss expressed at Christian funerals, but not despair; certainly not the gun-wrenching agony we've seen on TV over the death of a ruler. C.S. Lewis confidently stated, "There are better things ahead than any we leave behind." Amen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I've been asked what books I'd recommend to someone who's getting started in the Christian faith. Here are some suggestions...

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, by R.C. Sproul
After You Believe, by N.T. Wright
Knowing God, by J.I. Packer
Prayer, by Phil Yancey
A Short Life of Christ, by Everette Harrison
...and a good Study Bible in a modern translation (like the Life Application Study Bible)

That's a good start.

Santa in School

I was surprised when Saugus made national news yesterday because our Superintendent of Schools banned Santa Claus from the classroom. Yet if Christmas is to be removed from the public sector, Saint Nicholas is a logical extension of the ban. The only reason the ACLU hasn't opposed him is the public outcry. I feel sorry for Mr Langlois and for any who feel caught in the need to avoid offense by eliminating something most people cherish. While "Santa" may have devolved into myth, the real saint was a devoted follower of Christ. Let him back into school, and also the Reason for the Season, at least in the name of diversity and inclusion. By the way, most people aren't offended by Christmas. I had lunch the other day with group of Jewish friends, and when the waitress wished us a "Merry Christmas" they smiled, said "Thank you", and wished her one as well--no offense taken. Now that's the holiday spirit!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Advice for new believers

1. Find an older Christian who will commit to discipling you on a regular basis.

2. Attend church regularly.

3. Make sure you understand the gospel. Clarify this before ‘moving on’ to other things. But don’t stay away too long! Learn to live a ‘gospel centred life’.

4. Start bible-reading daily. Follow a plan (eg. ‘I will read 2 chapters of the New Testament each day’). If you have the time and desire to do so, be ambitious in what you read. However, don’t be discouraged if you can’t read quickly. And don’t expect to take in everything you read.

5. Start praying daily. If it helps, meet with another Christian for a period to help get you started. Learn from how others pray, but don’t feel you must copy them. As a simple guide: praise God, confess sin and ask for things that you and others need.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is a vital pathway to learning and growth. Naturally, you will have questions about countless things, so ask away!

7. If you are ‘a reader’, consider getting hold of a Christian book that will help you learn more about the bible. Ask your pastor or mature Christian friends for recommendations.

8. Tell others you are a Christian. New Christians make some of the best evangelists. Your first two years as a believer may be your most productive in reaching unbelievers.

9. Be patient with yourself. You have the rest of your life to grow as a Christian!

(from blog Unashamed Workman)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas on Sunday

When Christmas falls on a Sunday…

Many churches, finding that Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, are choosing to scale back their services or even cancel them in light of the holiday.

“This is a consumer mentality at work: ‘Let’s not impose the church on people. Let’s not make church in any way inconvenient,’” offered David Wells, professor of history and systematic theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. “I think what this does is feed into the individualism that is found throughout American culture, where everyone does their own thing.”

Fuller Theological Seminary professor Robert K. Johnston worries that another Christmas tradition is fading. “What’s going on here is a redefinition of Christmas as a time of family celebration rather than as a time of the community faithful celebrating the birth of the Savior. There is a risk that we will lose one more of our Christian rituals, one that’s at the heart of our faith.” Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary, called it a “capitulation to narcissism.”

It didn’t help that some of the megachurch spokespersons gave less than helpful answers as to why, such as the desire to cater to the family (which could hold true on any other Sunday as well), or simply to be “lifestyle-friendly,” which positions them to charges of wholesale capitulation to culture. Even worse was the response that church services would be cared for through DVD’s, which is jolting to anyone with even the barest of theological sensitivities to the doctrine of the church and its worship.

But somebody needs to call “time-out” for a minute, because neither side is getting this one right. The critics are being too quick on the draw, and the reasoning offered by the churches cancelling their services isn’t what best validates their choice.

First, evangelical churches of all kinds throughout the United States have seldom held services on Christmas Day even when it has not fallen on a Sunday (a tradition that dates back to the Puritans).

Second, marking Christmas has never been tied to a Sunday-specific celebration (as with Easter). If there is a day that has uniformly been seized by churches to celebrate the birth of Christ, it has been Christmas Eve - and the large churches being chastised for not having Sunday services on the 25th are planning on offering numerous services on the 24th.

Third, it is not simply the megachurches who are doing this – churches of all types are, at the very least, scaling back their service offerings for the 25th (so making this about a megachurch or seeker-targeted sellout is unfair).

Finally, some of the rhetoric criticizing churches for opting out of services on the 25th skates dangerously close to Sabbatarianism, with a fair dose of legalism to boot. To insist that we must meet on a Sunday – any Sunday – can be debated. Early church records show a preference for worship on the “Lord’s Day,” but only the second-century church manual, the Didache, directed Christians to meet at that time. No day was set aside in Gentile Christianity for worship until the time of Constantine and the institutionalization of the church, but nowhere is it directly commanded in Scripture.

So are we admonished to gather together as believers? Yes. But not necessarily on a Sunday morning.

For many years, Christmas Eve has been the day of choice for the communal celebration among Christians of the birth of Christ. Celebrations could be held on Christmas Day, but very few would come. If one cares about leading the church to celebrate the birth of Christ, they should go with the hundreds or even thousands that can assemble on Christmas Eve against the handful they might be able to engage on Christmas Day - particularly since there is the biblical freedom to do so.

This isn’t compromise; it is common sense. But it is a moot point for most churches. The volunteer base needed for a Christmas Day service simply cannot be met. As I joked with one reporter, the critics who want to insist on a Christmas Day service have no intention of being the one sitting in the nursery watching someone else’s child. They may not have any intention of attending at all. I recall a deacon in the church I pastored while in seminary insisting on a Sunday night service on Super Bowl Sunday. We had the service; he stayed home to watch the Super Bowl.

The larger issue, of course, is how best to address the valid cultural concerns expressed by individuals such as Wells, Johnston and Witherington, who are well-intentioned and justifiably concerned about the world in which we live and what it might be doing to the church.

My contention is that they have the right description of a cultural malady (materialism, individualism, consumerism), but the wrong diagnosis (that it is demonstrated by whether you go to church on December 24 vs. December 25), and have certainly applied it to the wrong patient (the churches choosing to scale back or cancel on the 25th) – which makes their prescription all the more ineffective (to fight the culture war, we should have services on the 25th).

We will not keep Christ in Christmas through a Christmas Day service, whether on a Sunday or any other day of the week. We will keep Christ in Christmas by working to keep His birth in the center of our hearts and celebrations (as Christmas Eve services will most certainly do).

We will keep Christ in Christmas by avoiding the materialism our culture places upon the holiday season.

We will keep Christ in Christmas most of all by reaching out to individuals within our culture for Christ so that one day they may celebrate His birth with us.

Whenever it is we meet to do it.

-James Emery White

Friday, December 2, 2011


"The Bible answers important personal questions like: Where do I come from? Who am I? What went wrong with this world? What went wrong with me? What can be done about it? And what can I expect in the future? Answers to each of these questions are found in the pages of Scripture, and these answers shape how we view ourselves, others, and the world in which we live. When these truths operate in our minds, we are living by a Christian worldview." –Tony Reinke (from Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books)