Last night I attended my fifth grader’s school Christmas concert, and I noticed something I had never seen before. It seemed that every fourth parent was carrying cut flowers to give to their child. One even had a dozen roses. When did this start? And what does it mean?
I understand the need to support our kids, but for standing on risers with one hundred other kids? No one had a solo, so this wasn’t a case of honoring Emma’s special night. When I was in choir we gave flowers to our director. It never occurred to any of us that we should get some too. This gushing disease is spreading. Last spring I attended a gymnastics open house, where parents showered flowers and stuffed animals upon “Tumblebees,” preschoolers who crawled over bars while wearing leotards.
Why so much fuss over a normal performance? The principal last night opened the concert by promising that what we were about to see would “take our breath away.” Really? One hundred kids singing “Little Drummer Boy” is perfectly fine, but anyone who got goose bumps needs to get out more. Why isn’t it enough to have our children sing a standard Christmas song and then thank them for their standard performance? Did any of the children behind her really think they were going to amaze and wow their parents with “Fa-la-la-la-la”? And if that really did take our breath away, what words would be left to describe the truly amazing events of life?
Aren’t we setting our kids up for disappointment? When they hear us gush over normal, won’t they discount our words the next time we say something is extraordinary? Worse, won’t they stop believing there is anything that is truly special?
After the concert I caught a few moments of news before bed, and one of the stories said that American kids rank twenty something in math, science, and reading. Maybe so, but they also have flowers. Lots and lots of flowers.
The editorial cartoon in today’s Grand Rapids Press pokes fun at Walmart for asking people to donate so its workers can have a happy Thanksgiving. This story made national news last week, proving that none of the newscasts do much original reporting anymore.
When I mentioned the story to my parents, they told me the manager of the guilty Walmart goes to their church and belongs to their Adult Bible Fellowship. He said he set out the bins so his employees could give to their colleagues who had suffered recent tragedy and loss. This is no different than what any workplace might do for its unfortunate employees. This one just happened to be at a Walmart.
What Walmart pays its workers is a serious moral question, with strong arguments on both sides. Let’s not demean the conversation with unfair accusations. The manager may be guilty of not realizing the toxic political environment surrounding Walmart, when even an act of kindness will be reverse engineered and used against him, but he is not guilty of what the news media alleges. There may be examples of stony hearted capitalism within Walmart. But this is not one of them.
If you are interested enough in this title to have clicked on its link, then you probably deserve to read this.
Cow goes moo, sheep goes baaa, but what does the fox say? The fox says whatever they do, just with different signs. What something says is what it communicates, not how it communicates it. If this weren’t true, then mute people would be unable to say anything, which of course isn’t true.
So if you insist on singing the song, which has about five minutes of shelf life left, change the words to “What symbols does the fox use to say?” Just sayin’ (another meme which has already expired).
Most chapters in Despite Doubt cite Martin Luther, because the man who endured so much Anfechtung has much to teach us about faith and doubt. I found his observation on the first of the Ten Commandments particularly helpful, and I cite it here to encourage you.
Luther observed that the first commandment is “the commandment to believe,” for God is ordering us to put all of our “confidence, trust, and faith in [Him] alone and in no one else.” This command carried Luther through his dark night of the soul and enabled him to counsel others. He reminded doubters that God has commanded them to hope and believe, so their doubts are a form of disobedience. If for no other reason, they must believe in God because He has commanded them. If they still find it hard to believe, they should not despair over their doubts but instead should “humble [themselves] before God, deploring this fact, and in this way begin with a weak spark of faith and strengthen it more and more every day by exercising it in all [their] living and doing” (Despite Doubt, p. 135-36).
When Martin Luther struggled with doubt he reminded himself that belief in God was a command, and the very first one. This command liberated him to believe out of obedience until he could believe out of firm and certain knowledge. And that knowledge was sure to come, for Jesus said, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God” (John 7:17). Obey the truth, and you will eventually come to know even more truth. You will know more than enough to believe, more than enough to put your doubt away (Despite Doubt, p. 171).
The other week one of my students who leads worship mentioned that December is a frantic month for everyone involved in his area. This led us to wonder why every church must put so much effort into its Christmas programs. I understand why we do children’s musicals—because parents and grandparents insist on it—but why must we do adult productions every year?
If I was a pastor of a church in Grand Rapids, I might suggest we take this year off and rather than do our own cantata/play/musical, load up the church bus and travel together to take in what other churches are doing. Why not travel as a church to Calvary Church’s “Festival of Lights,” the interdenominational “Hark Up,” or a Lutheran church’s live nativity scene? We could enjoy the benefits of everyone else’s hard work, and afterwards go out for ice cream. You’re welcome.
While I’m on the subject of Christmas musicals, here are actual titles of kids Christmas programs: “The S Files,” “Fear Not Factor,” “Mission Possible,” and “Three Wise Men and a Baby.” Besides being at least ten years out of date, does it bother anyone else that the best we can do is knock off whatever fad is trending in our culture? Is the actual story of Christmas so bland that we’ve got to dress it up with a Star Wars, Cowboy, Hawaiian, or Game Show theme?
I feel a little sad for God. He did the most amazing act ever, and we need to turn it into “I Witness News” or “Harold the Christmas Star” to keep our attention. Good grief! That’s also a line from the Charlie Brown Christmas, which some church in your area is probably doing. That one might be worth seeing, especially if it gets you off the hook from having to practice for your own. You’re welcome.
I could point to evidence from nature. Why is there something rather than nothing? And why is this something beautifully arranged, as if it was designed? We live on the razor’s edge in a universe that is finely tuned for life. If the Earth orbited much closer to the sun we would burn up; if it inched farther away we would freeze. If gravity had been stronger or weaker than one part in 1040 (that is a ten with forty zeroes behind it), then life-sustaining stars such as our sun would not exist.
Or think small. Every time you scratch your skin, about ten skin cells flake off and become stuck beneath your fingernail. Each of these cells contains your entire genetic code, which if stretched out would fill three hundred Encyclopedia Britannicas (remember them?). Somehow each cell knows to read only that part of the code that pertains to its place in the body, and somehow for most of us this voluminous code is mostly spelled correctly. Just one typo in this three hundred book set—one wrong letter in the wrong place—may cause a debilitating disease or deformity.
But though “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1), the evidence from nature is not the main reason why you believe in God. Here is how you can know for certain that God exists: You just do.
How is that persuasive?
Because you know that you do.
The Apostle Paul declares that you, along with everyone else, know that God exists. He writes, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Paul says that God has made his existence “plain” to everyone, so no one can stand before God and say they honestly didn’t know about Him (Romans 1:19-20). Many may plead ignorance, but they don’t have an excuse that God will accept. He knows they know better (Despite Doubt: Embracing a Confident Faith, p. 49).
Yesterday I heard a couple of stories in the media about the Christian owned businesses and schools that are suing the government over our right not to fund abortions. The arguments against the lawsuit seemed to be that corporations aren’t people so they don’t have the freedom of religion and the slippery slope argument of what will the religious people object to next, vaccinations?
Neither of these arguments seem weighty enough to ask someone to violate their conscience and pay for the destruction of human life. And Christians have always thought so. I was reading again Rodney Stark’s superb The Rise of Christianity this morning and found this timely paragraph that Athenagoras wrote to the emperor Marcus Aurelius (p. 125):
“We say that women who use drugs to bring on an abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion…[for we] regard the very foetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care…and [we do not] expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child murder” (Plea, chapter 35).
Their website problems may have been a surprise, but anyone who was paying attention to the last 2,000 years would have known that our lawsuits were coming.