“Happy Holidaze!?”

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
Luke 2:19

“This year, no matter what, I am NOT going to allow myself to get caught up in all of the meaningless hype and frenetic activity that has consumed so many of my past Christmas seasons!”

How many times have you flipped the calendar to December with this kind of adamant resolution?christmas-panic

There is just something about this time of year that can make us feel like we are cresting a steep hill on roller skates, and it will take all of our strength and determination to merely survive the chaotic descent into New Year’s Day. Maybe you feel a looming sense of dread that you will, once again, wake up on January 1st in a disappointed daze as you look back at what should have been some semblence of a meaningful celebration of the birth of the Savior, but all you can recall is a blurred flurry of Christmas-ish happenings that are devoid of lasting substance?

I suppose we could avoid this imminent disappointment by merely lowering our expectations to a near cynical level and resigning ourselves to the harsh reality that Christmas is all about commercial excess with a dash of seasonal lights, and that’s just how things are now.  Or, if we still have a small reservoir of passion about this season left in us, we might join Charlie Brown in throwing our hands up in the air in utter exasperation over the realization that Christmas is no longer Christmas.

frustratedcharliebrown

Or maybe there is another option… a better option…

Every year when we gather as a family, usually on Christmas day, to read Luke’s account of the birth of Christ found in the 2nd chapter of his gospel, I am routinely struck by the insightful disposition of Mary as she celebrated the very first Christmas. This young, new mother found herself  in the lowliest of surroundings with the promised Son and long-awaited Savior lying before her in what was essentially a feeding trough. Upon hearing the angelic proclamation as it was retold to her by the visiting shepherds,

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

Luke simply tells us,

Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

What I find so compelling and instructive about Mary’s response is that it was not at all contingent upon circumstances, constrained by schedule demands, nor corrupted by sentimental, self-serving expectations. A few brief moments of genuine, worshipful reflection on what God had promised and what He had done in bringing the Savior into the world – that was her Christmas celebration!

It was the kind of celebration that could occur at any time, in any place, and under any circumstances. It’s depth of meaning centered not on the traditions of a season, but on the trustworthiness of God’s promises.

So, I say let the festive madness of the season begin. Let the sights and sounds of the holidays wash over us in waves. Bring on the rich foods and rushed shopping days. And yes, let’s protect those cherished family traditions and pass them on to our children.

But…

winter_solitudeLet’s not confuse any of that with Christmas. Let’s not fill our calendars, our senses, and our bellies with seasonal delights that eventually leave us feeling empty.  Quiet contemplation of timeless and transcendent Truth has a way of nourishing and satisfying our souls like no other activity. Behold, the Savior has come! He is Christ the Lord! Christmas is here, and none of us has to miss it!

Tools of the Trade

By Dilawar Khan

In the early 19th century, a group of weavers and textile artisans made a name for themselves by protesting the rise of machinery in Britain. These “Luddites,” as history has come to know them, became a byword for technological resistance and ignorance. If I’m perfectly honest with you, I readily identify and resonate with their kind. It took me well into the year 2012 to start texting and another year and a half to add a data plan to myAnti-Technology first smart phone. Even the nomenclature bothers me; what’s smart about a phone? I think it right to resist fads and trends to a certain degree. What my stubbornness wouldn’t permit me to realize until late in the game, however, was that I can’t turn myself into the kind of person who waves a shovel in the air anticipating the end of culture as I know it. It’s just too easy to be reactionary in an attempt to preserve something. Much like the lithium ion battery changed the way I looked at power tools, I’ve come to see the place for the devices we all carry back and forth on a daily basis. The metaphor doesn’t quite fit, however, as I propose to explore why tablets, smart phones, and phablets, as they’ve come to be called, are so much more than tools. I wish this article had five simple steps to offer you, but the truth is that nothing is easy about it. As we step into the realm of wise stewardship, we can only beg to be illumined by grace and scripture.

If you consider the broad strokes of history, man spends his time attempting to do what he can to better his situation. Improvements in technology generally produce a greater ease in culture as free time becomes more readily available. Think through the wheel, the yoke, and every improvement in metallurgy that’s ever been; you’ll see an increase in time for thought and other pursuits spring up in the wake of breakthroughs. The circuit board is no exception to this rule. I can avoid hyperbole and still claim the world has never been the same since the PC. While we struggle to fulfill a dominion mandate, wrestling with the original posture of humanity over creation, we continue to live with the effects of the fall. Remember that pesky business about toil being increased and thistles in the ground? The scope and scale of our worlds have changed, but humanity hasn’t. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes about the balance between law and freedom; but his particular emphasis is on the responsibility of believers to one another. In 6.12 Paul states plainly that he “will not be mastered (dominated) by anything.” People look for things to live by: swords, wealth, pleasures and treasures of all shapes and sizes. To my recollection though, broad swathes of culture were never put at risk from an overly enthusiastic tendency to identify with the wheel and the plow.

The age we live in presents us with things that are more than tools. If I consider my iPhone for a moment, in many ways it wouldn’t stand up to a hammer. It’s a key that I keep in my pocket- but not with my actual keys, smartphone-worldthat might scratch the screen. It’s both a door and a window, capable of opening up information and giving me access to people and places that I might have otherwise spent hours, if not days, trying to find. Everyone in this day and age is at least somewhat familiar with the dangers of the internet. We’re all trying to navigate our way through a virtual world that is filled with echoes of the actual one. There’s thievery, sexual immorality, violence, and access to every other vice you might wish to avoid. From the benign but ridiculous cat memes to the evils of webpages catering to one night stands and affairs, we know it’s all out there. The change in our technological landscape might be different, but we aren’t. This is the first check anyone should conduct before venturing off into the online world. If we’re tempted to think that we’re improving as rapidly as our devices, we’ve been beaten from outset. Remembering our Genesis is of vital importance.

Do you accept the communal nature of mankind? “It is not good for man to be alone,” God himself says. We see community present in the Trinity; and the promise of heaven is one of perfect community with Christ and his people. As we return to that 1st Corinthian letter, Paul is frequently calling them out on their failures with regard to relating to each other properly. What would he have to say to a population causing itself spinal injury because of how long they stay hunched over a phone? The telephone itself was a marvel of connectivity, the mobile made it easier to keep in touch, but what’s seemingly changed with the smart phone? Options, options and more options; it’s all the rage and the average cell phone user today employs a minimum of three means to reach out to others. Three way calling is no longer something people will pay big money for. We’ve got greater access to people than ever before; but the issues haven’t changed. Divisions run rampant. People learn to associate with likeminded individuals found online because they aren’t learning to manage conflict in reality. The approval of an internet group can be an easy substitute for genuine affirmation. We begin to set our markers for success on the number of likes we get on posts, while disapproval can be cast off, deleted, or isn’t an option at all. On the surface all of this seems extreme, but think about all the missing context.

A professional chef posts an image of dinner, a baking whiz sets up a cake that looks like an entire landscape, a youtuber claims that repairing your own transmission is easy, and all of a sudden the race is on. There’s a grand game of one-upping taking place all across the world on a daily basis. More than ever people ask themselves why they can’t look like a certain picture, do things like a certain video or have the things they see posted all over. The crucial juncture has arrived, the internet is a place of terrible anonymity and exaggerated identity. Meaningful community grows up around the dispelling of the first and a developing honesty about the second. So at a given moment, someone online can act invisibly and without fear of the consequences that a real life scenario would produce. Have you ever played a video game online? The number of times someone will threaten to kill you after one is astounding, particularly if you’re as bad at some of them as I am. I believe these responses to be tame in comparison to some of what occurs on other websites. In the face of our own anonymity, and that of others, it’s very easy to be de-humanizing.

What is my identity? Who am I? Historically, it’s been deemed a question for the ages. The story of Narcissus provides us with a powerful Roman reminder of this. The young hunter, Narcissus, full of life and strength, rejects the love of a nymph named Echo. She is turned into a voice, and becomes the selfsame concept, while he falls in love with himself and wastes away, eventually being transformed into a flower. Ovid saw a great waste in the young man, whose self-obsession is now considered a disorder. It is certainly reminiscent of the innumerable “selfies” posted all over the internet. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to commemorate something, but peel it away a little and the camera will constantly remind you of how beautiful you are… or aren’t. The stream of these going up is also somewhat reminiscent of the evil queen’s mirror in Snow White. Classical heritage and our children’s bedtime stories warn us about being concerned with who’s the fairest of them all.

What does the Bible have to say? After his famous series on love in 1st Corinthians 13, Paul proceeds to speak of growing up as being a stage in between. He wanted to put off childish ways because “now we see through a mirror dimly.” In the book of James, the man who stares at his reflection intently immediately goes away and forgets what he looks like. The juxtaposition between that man and the one who looks into the Scriptures is a necessary one. Both of these sections deal with Christian conduct and undoubtedly point us towards our own failures in assessing our identity. We can suffer neither anonymity nor exaggerated identity in the light of Scripture.

We will constantly wrestle with the tools we have available. Even things as a simple as human hands have been used to fashion idols and this is because the heart is inclined to do so. What makes the smart phone such a narcissusunique threat is the constant access available out of pocket. If we’re not careful, it becomes a little pool for us to waste away in front of like Narcissus. Text Neck is a medical phenomenon now precisely because that threat is real. Maybe someone you know isn’t using it to substitute for self, but rather for others. Learning to deal with people, even the ones we disagree with, is a life skill that can’t be overestimated. How will we fulfill the Great Commission without it? There’s vice and virtue to be found in places online, but all of it is virtual. Without the presence of real people and real relationships, operating in the multiple dimensions that we were created to live in, people will continue to report feeling lonely even as they achieve greater connectivity than ever before. The advantages offered by our technology as greater than ever before. Using them properly isn’t a question of simple steps, but rather a daily evaluation of whether we’re using the device or it’s using us. The phone is smart precisely because it’s capable of taking us into a microcosm at will. Do we emerge the better for it, or are we transformed into lights, sounds and pretty things?

A Good Read: “From Forgiven to Forgiving” by Jay E. Adams

From Forgiven to Forgiving


How comfortable are you when you read? Are you the type of person with a nice spot on the sofa, or are you someone with the ability to turn a page on the treadmill? Whenever an idea comes our way, the internal posture counts for more than the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I’m speaking of that willingness to conduct an interior review, while I read, rather than watching the thoughts go by. As an educator, I’d call it active versus passive reading; but in the coffee spills and calendar jams that constitute my daily life, I frequently find myself in contempt of the familiar. Biblical topics will usually provoke this quicker than any others. It should come as no surprise to you then, that reviewing a book on being forgiven does more to self-illuminate than to market.

I’m on the first page of the first chapter, and Adams is telling me all about the substantial claims that “go about masquerading as forgiveness.” I’m curious, but still primarily suspicious. It’s been years of people telling me to read this or that and often finding that the book says nothing. Then there’s the categorical failing of many authors. You know, whenever so and so releases a new book, it basically repackages what the last one said? Another fifteen dollars to read your last book reworked through metaphors about movies instead of history? Consider my surprise when Adams informs me that this isn’t a book answering the question “what does forgiveness do?” He’s taking a swing at the issues which confuse what forgiveness is, namely: apologies, the old forgive and forget, and the feelings that drive us to approach it in many different ways.

Sometimes “sorry” simply isn’t enough. If you’re into etymology, the word apology comes from the word apologia, or defense. We don’t want to go up to people asking them to accept our defense, do we? The profoundly Christian power of forgiveness, according to Adams, comes from one person confessing guilt and asking to be forgiven. For some, the distinction seems irrelevant, but what saying “I’m sorry” seems to do, is elevate how badly someone feels into a strong enough reason to move past an issue.

What about forgiving and forgetting? There’s a problem with that too. Indeed, even as God promises to remember our sins no more, we understand that an omniscient ruler of the universe can’t actually forget. What He can do, however, is deliberately not use them against us. There’s a reversal that takes place when this happens between two people then. Once a person grants another forgiveness, the forgiven individual is expected to keep the other from using the persistence of memory as a weapon against them. It’s good to understand the expectations placed upon us. But I thought forgiveness was a more private thing?

The process of forgiveness is intended to bring reconciliation to people through the process of confrontation over sin. The whole of Adams’ book is set in the context of Matthew 18. This idea of feeling like we’ve forgiven or moved on has little to do with the spiritual discipline prescribed by scripture. After all, sin’s tendency is to divide, isolate, and as James tells us, eventually produce death. Eventually we’re each called to take a step we’d rather not take. The work of being reconciled to others is messy, but how can we be peacemakers if we don’t? A passive aggressive status quo simply won’t suit in this case.

Adams’ book is a well balanced approach to both types of conversations. There’s a good amount of information on needing to confront other people with their sin and be reconciled. If you’re like me, there’s about the same amount of advice on going to others and asking them to forgive you. Familiarity almost cost me a good read here. It doesn’t matter if you intend to read this one in bed or at the gym, just make sure you approach this slender text with an active mind looking towards self-evaluation.

What Satan Thinks About Education

Apollyon:  “I will be God. I must be God. I will dedicate every part of my being to achieve my ends.”

Legion:  “But, how? Jehovah has created a weapon that cannot be defeated-the Word of God. It changes the very nature of the sinner’s heart and captures his affections, actions, and words. That weapon also instructs the mind of his subjects so they can discern when we are working. His subjects study the Word and use the Word so the Spirit of Jehovah can change them and teach others.”

Apollyon:  “You are right. I would like to simply kill them all, but he won’t let us. However, while we can’t stop the power of His weapon, we may be able to remove it from certain areas of their life.”

Legion:  “I don’t understand how we could possibly get them to do that.”

Apollyon:  It will take time and we must be patient, but the most obvious would be to remove the weapon from the education of their children. Our strategy would be one that employs great subtlety as well as our usual tactics of deception and confusion.

Legion:  “Oh Great One, I must hear your plans.”

Apollyon:  “It is a brilliant and multifaceted approach. Because His subjects are generally weak, we will find the weakness in each one of them and exploit it. First, let me share with you how we will deceive and confuse the parents.

Some of the parents say they believe in the absolute power of His weapon, but secretly they do not. We will exploit that weakness by pointing out every situation where a child in a Christian school does not become a Christian. I will encourage them to disregard the importance of having their own child in a place where the weapon is wielded every day.

We will constantly remind the parents that they should be very concerned about their financial futures. So much so, that fear will overcome any ideas about spending money to have their child in a school that uses the weapon. We will be quick to dull their memories about Jehovah’s promises to provide for them.

We will encourage parents to think not about the spiritual condition of the child, but more so about athletics and obtaining scholarships to go to college. This is sure to work well until their child gets to the college years and the parents find out that they did not attain their goal and the child knows nothing about Jehovah. At that time, it will be too late for them.

Even though His subjects claim that they know every child is born a sinner, we will encourage them to think of their children as little subjects who are going to heaven because they exhibit a sweet personality and a compliant nature. This will give the parents a sense of protection for the child that is not grounded in reality. We will encourage them to send them to a school where they will have no weapon to defend themselves, or have the ability to go on the offense for Jehovah. Even though the parents are educating the child without the very means that Jehovah has ordered, they will blindly believe in the power of Jehovah and his ability to work in the life of that child. We will help them forget what Jehovah says about training of children and the vulnerability and foolishness of every young person. We will work on the child slowly and allow the parent to have hope that the child is learning the ways of Jehovah; meanwhile, we will be teaching the child our ways.

We will prey on the parents’ desire to see many new subjects come to the light in a school where the weapon is forbidden. We will convince them that any small mention of Jehovah or even a drawing done in an art class is enough to convert one of our worldlings into one of Jehovah’s subjects.

For those who rely on feelings or leadings instead of the clear teaching from Jehovah’s Holy Book, we will put thoughts into their heads so they can conclude that they are being led to place their children in a school that hates Jehovah.”

Legion:  “This is truly a brilliant strategy. To use the weaknesses and strengths of Jehovah’s subjects to confuse them in such a way that they are actually destroying their children is incredibly exciting! But, what about Jehovah’s leaders? Surely they will step in and correct the wrongheaded thinking of the subjects?”

Apollyon:  “You are beginning to learn, my young apprentice. Yes, we have a plan for Jehovah’s leaders as well. Just as we will do with Jehovah’s subjects, we will exploit the weaknesses and even the strengths of Jehovah’s leaders.

We will create so many problems and challenges for the leaders that they will have no time or energy to face the challenge of getting Jehovah’s subjects to be faithful in educating their children. Whenever they think about it, we will be sure to overwhelm them so they put the battle off until some later date. Their teaching or comments about education will become muted and they will tell themselves Jehovah will lead the subjects as He wishes. As an added bonus, we may also succeed in muting the teaching about family devotions, because to do so would require teaching what Jehovah says about having His weapon before the children 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We will convince them to think about a Jehovah school in such a way that it can be ignored. We have many ways to make that work for us. For example, we will lead them to think the school is self-sufficient, or the children that attend are somehow better than or not as sinful as those in secular schools, or that the school is safe and does not face the same spiritual war as a church.

When they become convicted into thinking about it again, we will convince them that a discussion or teaching about education in their church is divisive so they need to avoid it. We will help them picture a situation where many families would become angry and leave. This will create fear in their hearts and we will draw them to think also about the financial implications should that happen.

We will encourage them to think that having an education in a place without the weapon does not always turn out badly. We will dilute their conviction that the absence of the weapon in education does damage to a child’s heart and mind by giving them regular examples of exceptions, even though we know that only happens because Jehovah has been exceedingly gracious to his subjects.

We will give Jehovah’s leaders a false sense of comfort and an expectation that children attending a school where the weapon is used needs no support from the churches. We will exploit a zealous evangelistic mindset by fooling them into believing that their support must go to areas where the weapon is hated and forbidden.

We will lead and encourage Jehovah’s leaders to conclude that an occasional mention of Jehovah’s school means that they are supporting the school simply because they mention the school at all. We will tempt them to compare themselves to the many churches that never mention Jehovah’s schools at all, instead of judging themselves according to Jehovah’s teachings.”

Legion:  “Truly, you are the master of deceit and lies. I hope to one day be as wise and wicked as you. I have only one other question. If none of these things work, do you have a final solution that will keep Jehovah subjects from placing their children in a school that uses his weapon?”

Apollyon:  “Yes, my ultimate tactic is most brilliant and it takes the very core of the weapon’s teaching and turns it on its head. I used the same tactic long ago on Jehovah’s first two subjects. We will have Jehovah’s leaders tell the parents that they must send their little children to a place where the weapon is forbidden because they must evangelize other children. Think of the irony of it-they will be sacrificing the hearts of their children for the sake of saving others without the weapon to achieve it.  In the end, we will control both the hearts and minds of His subjects as well as those who are the children of our subjects!”

Legion:  “This is so grand, so diabolical, and so wonderful. I wonder if it will really work.”

Apollyon:  “It already has.”

“We Will Not Hide Them From The Children”

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! 
I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, 
things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. 
We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation 
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
Psalm 78:1-4

The Bible tells us that children are a gift from God. Along with the gift comes great responsibility and ultimate accountability. Parents are called to think Biblically about their parenting, especially in the particular area of education.

Culture is defined as the dominant or pervasive worldview in our society. Whether or not people in the culture discern its existence, the fact remains that there is a particular culture in which their children are being educated and trained to think. Every Christian parent must examine the quality and philosophy of the private or public school their child attends because the heart and mind of a child is being impacted every day.

The following sections are linked to FAQs and brief articles which are designed to help us as parents know the plain commands and precepts from God. Our ultimate hope is that we may see Him work in the lives of our children and one day stand before Him and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”