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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label holidays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label holidays. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

William Bradford on the Spirit of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and across the nation, people will be gathering and reflecting on the blessings they've had over the year. Such a tradition goes all the way back to the very first Pilgrims who had far less to be thankful for. William Bradford, the leader of the Plymouth Colony, wrote in his diary just how large the toll was upon the settlers at Plymouth. Reflecting on the hardships of that first year, he writes:
But here I cannot but stay and make a pause, and stand half amazed at this poor people's present condition; and so I think will the reader too, when he well considers the same. Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation (as may be remembered by that which went before), they had now no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain or refresh their weather-beaten bodies, no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succor. It is recorded in scripture as a mercy to the apostle and his shipwrecked company, that the barbarians showed no small kindness in refreshing them, but these savage barbarians, when they met with them (as after will appear) were readier to fill their sides full of arrows then otherwise. And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men? …

Let it also be considered what weak hopes of supply and succor they left behind them, that might bear up their minds in this sad condition and trials they were under; and they could not but be very small. It is true, indeed, the affections and love of their brethren at Leyden was cordial and entire towards them, but they had little power to help them, or themselves; and how the case stood between them and the merchants at their coming away, hath already been declared. What could now sustain them but the spirit of God and his grace?

May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: "Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voice, and looked on their adversity, etc. Let them therefore praise the Lord, because he is good, and his mercies endure forever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, show how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry, and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord his loving kindness, and his wonderful works before the sons of men.1
Of the 102 passengers that boarded the Mayflower for the new world, 51 died prior to that first Thanksgiving. 2 There were only seven dwellings erected the first year3, meaning the Pilgrims dug graves at seven times the rate as they built houses, yet they give thanks to God for "his loving kindness, and his wonderful works before the sons of men." Something to remember as you give thanks.


1. Bradford, William. "Of Plymouth Plantation: 1620-1647." The Plymouth Colony Archive Project. Patricia Scott Deetz and Christopher Fennell, 26 April 2003. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
2. "List of Mayflower Passengers Who Died in the Winter of 1620–21." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
3. Gale, Nahum. The Pilgrims' First Year in New England. Boston: Massachusetts Sabbath School Society, 1857. Print. 145.
Image courtesy and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License

Monday, November 09, 2015

Make #MerryChristmasStarbucks Truly Meaningful

It seems the new Starbucks holiday cups are causing a bunch of Christians to see red. As first reported by the Breitbart website, the 2015 holiday cup design went with a minimalist approach, simply using a red cup with no markings other than the Starbucks logo. This is a deviation from past years where the cups featured pictures of snowmen, tree ornaments, reindeer, carolers, and snowflakes. Some immediately took the new design as a slap at Christmas. Breitbart quotes British Parliament member David Burroughs as saying, "The Starbucks coffee cup change smells more of political correctness than a consumer-led change. The public has a common sense grasp on the reality that at Christmas time, whether you have a Christian faith or not, Britain celebrates Christmas."1

Other Christians soon jumped on the bandwagon, wishing to present the cup as the latest salvo in the War on Christmas, an activity which seems to have become as much a tradition in Christian circles as Wal-Mart unveiling decorations in their stores two weeks before Halloween. One person even created a video where he "tricks" Starbucks employees into writing Merry Christmas on their cups by giving the phrase as his name when ordering.

I'm not certain such a move will cause Starbucks VPs to sit in a conference room and exclaim "Sneaky little hobbitses. Wicked, tricksy, false!" Yet, the claims of "anti-Christian" are being passed around the Internet faster than you can brew a Tall espresso, with cries of boycotts for Starbucks removing the Christian faith from Christmas. At the same time, mainstream outlets are providing additional high visibility with their stories like this one that point and mock, essentially stating, "Look at these stupid people! Aren't Christians out of touch?"

It's Not Surprising that Secular Companies Act in Secular Ways

Let's all take a breath, shall we? First, the cups. I'm not certain how having a plain red cup makes Starbucks any more anti-Christian than snowmen. Do snowflakes and reindeer signify the incarnation or are they neutral images that even atheists can use to decorate their homes? The reality is Starbucks wants people—Christians and everyone else—to get into the holiday spirit because Starbucks can sell more stuff and make more money that way. That's why they sell an Advent calendar (albeit disemboweling the word advent its meaning.) You don't need Christmas to learn that Starbucks is a secular company; their political positions demonstrate that. They commercialize Christmas because they are interested in the commercial benefits, just like almost every retail store you will come across. Plain red cups are not the issue here.

Secondly, while the corporation may be driven by the almighty dollar instead of almighty God, it doesn't mean the barista behind the bar holds those same opinions. I know Starbucks managers and baristas who love the Lord with all their hearts while working for Starbucks. You may even hear them tell you "Merry Christmas" if you gave them a chance.

Looking to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

Third, I think the complaint about the cups does the very thing that the Christians are supposedly rallying against: it trivializes the coming of Jesus by reducing such a monumental event of history to printing on a cup that will end up in the trash twenty minutes after it is presented. Do we need Christmas cups to celebrate God's gift of the Messiah to mankind? By winning the cup battle, will any more people come to know and trust in Jesus? How does this help our witness?

Let's face it, the early church celebrated the advent of Christ not by demanding that Roman merchants write it on their bags, but by telling others why the event is celebrated at all. Yes, Christmas is a Christian holiday; it always has been. Don't let talk of Saturnalia fool you. There is no historic support for the idea that Christmas was invented as an alternative to a pagan festival. Because it is a Christian celebration, it's OK to wrap yourself in all the traditions and trappings. But for those who are not Christian perhaps asking them why Christmas is such an important holiday would be a better approach than railing against them not having decorated enough.

How well can you explain the importance of Christmas? Are you equipped and ready to tell others why it means so much to you? Are you ready to say the Savior's coming is exciting because you desperately needed saving? By protesting and boycotting instead of changing minds and possibly changing hearts, Christians further alienate Christianity from the greater society, ironically strengthening the very problems they are complaining about.

Don't wait for Starbucks to say Merry Christmas to you; you need to tell those at Starbucks "Merry Christmas; and here's why it's indeed merry…"


1. Hallett, Nick. "MPs, Christian Groups Slam Starbucks 'Scrooges' Over Red Cups." Breitbart News. Breitbart News Network, LLC, 05 Nov. 2015. Web. 09 Nov. 2015.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Christian View of Halloween (podcast)

Halloween is rapidly approaching and once again Christians are faced with the most overtly pagan holiday on the calendar. What are the origins of Halloween and should we allow our kids to Trick or Treat? In this podcast series, Lenny looks at the history of the Christian tradition of All Hallow's Eve and shows that you may be wrong in your assumptions on this very American holiday.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Gentile Forgiveness on the Jewish Holiest Day?

Why read the book of Jonah on Yom Kippur? This evening will mark the observance of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. This is by all accounts the holiest day pf the Jewish calendar when all observant Jews will fast, reflect on the sins they've committed in the past year, and seek some absolution from them. Yom Kippur was instituted by God in Leviticus chapter 16 and it is the one day out of the year where the High Priest can enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple to bring a blood offering designed to cover the sins of the people. Included in the ritual is the transfer of sins from the people to a scapegoat.

Because there is no Temple today, the ritual commanded by God cannot be followed. Instead, some Orthodox Jews follow the Rabbinic tradition of the Kaparot Ceremony, where a chicken is used to transfer the sins from the people.1 Observant Jews also refrain from eating, wearing leather, and sex for the entire day.2

A Reluctant Jewish Witness and Forgiveness for the Gentiles

There is one other interesting tradition, though. On the afternoon of Yom Kippur, the Book of Jonah is read in Synagogues across the world. Of all the books in the Old Testament, this one is a really strange choice, as the Jewish prophet Jonah is continuously derelict in carrying out God's command to preach repentance to the savagely cruel Ninevites. After seeking to flee from God's command and a bit of aquatic indigestion, Jonah eventually (albeit reluctantly) preaches forgiveness to these enemies of Israel. He then sits atop a hill to watch their impending judgment only to be utterly amazed that these Gentiles actually repented and were forgiven! The bad guys make good and the good guy comes off really bad.

Nahum Sarna offers some insight into the choice of this strange text:
What is remarkable is that the work is not at all about Israel. The sinners and penitents and the sympathetic characters are all pagans, while the anti-hero, the one who misunderstands the true nature of the one God, is none other than the Hebrew prophet. He is the one whom God must teach a lesson in compassion.

It is precisely these aspects of this sublime prophetic allegory, and in particular the subthemes of the book, that inform Yom Kippur. These motifs attracted the ancient Jewish sages and led them to select Jonah as one of the day's two prophetic lectionaries.1 Its universalistic outlook; its definition of sin as predominantly moral sin;2 its teaching of human responsibility and accountability; its apprehension that true repentance is determined by deeds and established by transformation of character (Jonah 3:10), not by the recitation of formulas, however fervent; its emphasis on the infinite preciousness of all living things in the sight of God (Jonah 4:10–11); and, finally, its understanding of God as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness” (Jonah 4:2)—all these noble ideas of the Book of Jonah constitute the fundamentals of Judaism and the quintessence of Yom Kippur.3

The Dovetailing of Both Traditions in Christ

Given the Temple's destruction, there is no faithful follower of Judaism that can accomplish the traditions commanded of them in Leviticus 16. The Orthodox seek to emulate it as best they can, with each synagogue offering a chicken. Less stringent forms of Judaism see personal abstinence and prayer as enough. But the huge hole that the lack of a Temple creates is a noticeable void.

That void is filled when you understand the ultimate atonement that Jesus offered. The New Testament book of Hebrews makes it explicitly clear. In chapter 10 it states:
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.4
The writer to the Hebrew them explains that Jesus didn't have to offer his blood year after year but he entered the true Holy of Holies in heaven and offered it once for all time. Because of the perfection of this atonement, his forgiveness is extended to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. While the Jews have been reluctant to receive it for now, the Gentiles have embraced it giving us a perfect reflection of the book of Jonah.

Some say that Christianity is a cult of Judaism; it's an offshoot that abandons the core Jewish understanding of God and his dealings with man. I don't see it that way. I see Christianity as the fulfillment of Judaism and the only way one can properly approach God based on the requirements he delivered through Moses. Jesus fulfills the law. May my Jewish friends be blessed and have an easy fast this Yom Kippur.


1. "The Kaparot Ceremony." Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center, n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
2. "What is Yom Kippur?." Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center, n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
3. Sarna, Nahum. "Jonah and the Whale: Why the Book of Jonah Is Read on Yom Kippur." Biblical Archaeology Society. Biblical Archaeology Society, 20 Sept. 2015. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
4. Hebrews 10:1-4, ESV.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The True Value of Motherhood

It's no secret that our world is upside-down. Perhaps not upside-down in the physical sense, such as all the globes should be stood on their heads, but inverted as to the cultural understanding of value. We continue to use the wrong yardstick in measuring what's truly worthy to be pursued or what we deem as valuable. Thus we value the feelings of the adults and claim such are all that legitimately sanctions marriage or we value the desire to hold a child and think that such is all that is necessary to deem oneself worthy to become a parent. However, as anyone who has been married for an appreciable length of time will tell you, it requires quite a bit more sacrifice than the initial feeling can sustain. Similarly, parenthood requires sacrifice on the part of the parent for the sake of the child. This is one reason why both marriage and parenthood are inextricably bound together.

Many times I've had discussions with others about what has been labeled the disparity women face in the workplace. Women, they tell me, should be represented equally in the number of positions on every level across every field. (Of course, it seems these people don't care nearly as much about women garbage collectors or sewage technicians as they do video game developers or NASA engineers.) But I think that's completely wrong.

I agree that women are are just as valuable as men and can contribute to all fields. However, to ask for parity across all occupations is simply silly. It makes no sense to have women's worth measures in the game of career advancement, which is a game men have traditionally played throughout the ages.  Why should women measure their worth using a man's yardstick? It is like telling a British football player he must be measured by his execution of American football rules. Yes, they are both called football, but they are drastically different.

One of the reasons women are valuable is their ability to offer a different perspective and say to the men, "Perhaps your chasing after power and position and the almighty dollar isn't the thing that should drive you. Perhaps you should value your family more and value your time with them instead of spending the extra time at work and away from the home." For what is a worker other than an indentured servant that must answer to others (his deadlines, his employer, his stockholders, or his customer)?

That's why I see the mother who chooses to stay at home and rear her children as holding immense value. Here we have an individual willing to sacrifice for her family in order to shape the future leaders of society. She pours herself into helping them form their thoughts and their moral character. If people are more valuable than money, then those who grow children into moral human beings are doing more valuable work than the one who schlepps of to his nine-to-five (or seven-to-seven) job every day regardless of the position's title.

I'm not alone in my feelings. C.S. Lewis, in one of his letters, wrote something very similar, comparing how a woman who stays at home must feel with all the chores and demands place upon her.  He writes:
I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife's work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc. exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, "To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour". (1st to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter: 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist…1
I've seen this in my own household, with my wife putting her shoulder to the unending tasks of laundry, cooking, cleaning, shuttling children to various practices and appointments and doctors and classes. I've watched her seek to instill in each of my children a value for God and for the Good. I can think of no more honorable a position than mother and the person who devotes herself fully to such a task is worthy to be honored on a day like today. Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there. May you who shape human beings into virtuous men and women be blessed for your accomplishments.


1 Lewis, C. S., W. H. Lewis, and Walter Hooper. Letters of C.S. Lewis. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1993. Print. 447.

Friday, April 03, 2015

With Christians Dead, What's So Good about Good Friday?

The students were praying. It was Holy Thursday, when Christians remember the Last Supper and Jesus’s prayer in the garden. Then, suddenly, gunmen burst into the room and began shooting. CNN reports that 147 people were killed in the Islamic attack on Kenya University, with Somali gunmen singling out Christians for slaughter.1 After shooting some Christians and taking others hostage in the prayer service, the terrorists then proceeded to the student dorms, allowing Muslims to escape while executing the Christian students, according to witness Joel Ayora.

The news is gruesome and we mourn with our Christian brothers and sisters in Kenya, just as we mourn for Christians in other areas of Nigeria who have been slaughtered by another Islamic faction, Boko Haram.2 We also mourn for the Christians who were killed or driven from their 2,000 year old home of Mosul to the point of extinction by ISIS terrorists.3 According to Open Doors, each month 322 Christians are killed for their faith across the globe, along with 722 acts of violence against believers.4 And acts of persecution are growing.5

Islam Compared to the Cross

Today is Good Friday, and this day really emphasizes the difference between Christianity and all other faiths. It underscores the Uniqueness of Christ and his instruction to his followers. In Islam, Mohammad conquered with his armies while Jesus conquered with his blood. In Islam, Muhammad sought treatment to cure him and pleads for healing before his death6. In Christianity Jesus chooses to "lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:1, ESV). In Islam, followers are instructed to "fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)" (Sura 9:5, Yusuf Ali) when Christians are told "rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (1 Pet. 4:13, ESV).

The suffering of Christians is sobering, yet we still rejoice because what Jesus accomplished on this day will ultimately make such sufferings worthwhile. Instead of seeking to conquer by force, Jesus conquered by sacrifice. Instead of viewing enemies as people to be slaughtered, Jesus saw enemies as victims to be saved. Instead of looking to establish its dominion in this world, Jesus sought to establish his kingdom by first defeating death and sin. When Christians suffer for their faith, they are simply following the model of their Lord.

It is because of his victory over death that Christians can rejoice, even when they face death. This is why we call this particular Friday "Good." It signals that the ultimate enemy of man has been defeated and no matter what our end on earth, our destiny in heaven can never be taken from us. Remember Christ’s sacrifice this Good Friday, Pray for those who also laid down their lives for their faith in him, but also pray for those who took those lives. Christ died for his enemies; may they be reconciled to him.


1. Levs, Josh, and Holly Yan. "Gunmen Attack Garissa University College in Kenya." CNN. Cable News Network, 2 Apr. 2015. Web. 03 Apr. 2015.
2. Morgan, Timothy C. "How Boko Haram's Murders and Kidnappings Are Changing Nigeria's Churches." Christianity Today, 16 Oct. 2014. Web. 03 Apr. 2015.
3. Esposito, Lenny. "The Atrocity Against Christians in Iraq." Come Reason’s Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 22 July 2014. Web. 03 Apr. 2015.
4. "Christian Persecution." Open Doors. Open Doors USA, n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2015.
5. Newman, Alex. "Christian Martyrdom Doubled in 2013, Persecution Growing." The New American. The New American, 16 Jan. 2014. Web. 03 Apr. 2015.
6. Silas. "The Death of Muhammad.", 28 Nov. 2002. Web. 03 Apr. 2015.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday? (Podcast)

Every Christmas and Easter the charge is made that these holidays were originally pagan celebrations that Christians usurped for their own purposes. Is this true? Are Christmas and Easter nothing more than an attempt to convert unbelievers by allowing them to keep their festivals? As the holiday season approaches, we'll show why such a charge can be easily dismissed.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Enjoy the Trappings of Christmas

Merry Christmas! I hope you have a chance to celebrate the day today. It's easy to see all the commercialism, the merchandising of a sacred remembrance, and resent buying gifts or gathering to spend time with extended family. It's even easy to think that the trees, presents, and decorations distract us from the real reason for Christmas, that is the coming of Jesus. But that isn't true. Just as the solemnity of bonding two people together is followed by a celebration, so to should the joining of holy God with human flesh be recognized. That isn't my idea; Saint Augustine preached on it over 1500 years ago:1
That day is called the birthday of the Lord on which the Wisdom of God manifested Himself as a speechless Child and the Word of God wordlessly uttered the sound of a human voice. His divinity, although hidden, was revealed by heavenly witness to the Magi and was announced to the shepherds by angelic voices. With yearly ceremony, therefore, we celebrate this day which saw the fulfillment of the prophecy:
  • "Truth is sprung out of the earth: and justice hath looked down from heaven." 2
  • Truth, eternally existing in the bosom of the Father, has sprung from the earth so that He might exist also in the bosom of a mother.
  • Truth, holding the world in place, has sprung from the earth so that He might be carried in the hands of a woman.
  • Truth, incorruptibly nourishing the happiness of the angels, has sprung from the earth in order to be fed by human milk.
  • Truth, whom the heavens cannot contain, has sprung from the earth so that He might be placed in a manger.
For whose benefit did such unparalleled greatness come in such lowliness? Certainly for no personal advantage, but definitely for our great good, if only we believe. Arouse yourself, O man; for you God has become man. "Awake, sleeper, and arise from among the dead, and Christ will enlighten thee."3 For you, I repeat, God has become man.
  • If He had not thus been born in time, you would have been dead for all eternity.
  • Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, if He had not taken upon Himself the likeness of sinful flesh.
  • Everlasting misery would have engulfed you, if He had not taken this merciful form.
  • You would not have been restored to life, had He not submitted to your death; you would have fallen, had He not succored you; you would have perished, had He not come.
Let us joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festal day on which the great and timeless One came from the great and timeless day to this brief span of our day.
So, give voice to the joy that we have in the Savior's arrival. Enjoy your holiday and I wish you a very Merry Christmas!


1. The text of Augustine's sermon #185 has been reformatted by me. The translation is taken from "For The Feast Of The Nativity: Sermon 185." Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons. Trans. Sister Mary S. Muldowney. New York: Fathers of the Church, 1959. 6-7. Print.
2. Ps. 84.12
3. Eph. 5.14.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Why It Must Be a Manger

In our house, the manager of our nativity set stays empty until Christmas eve, when we place the baby Jesus there. We used to have a nativity that was ceramic and hand made by my mother. Jesus couldn't be removed. But when my kids were born, they were fascinated by the set and wanted to play with the people. Rather than forbidding such curiosity, we encouraged it by buying a molded rubber set where they couldn't break the figures.

One of the outcomes of that choice was a couple family traditions that developed. First, the Wise Men were placed at the back of the house and traveled through each child's room before arriving in "Bethlehem" on Christmas Eve. (Yes, I know this isn't historically accurate, but it serves to make the point to the young audience.) Secondly, the baby Jesus is hidden and doesn't get placed in the manger until we ask one of the kids to do it on Christmas day.

The act of placing Jesus in the manger offers all kinds of opportunities for discussion. Have you ever wondered why Luke makes the point of saying that Jesus's first bed was a manger? There are at least three reasons that I can think of to show why the manger is important.

The Manger Links Jesus to All Men

Scholars like Ben Witherington tell us that Bethlehem was most likely too small to have a formal inn. The word used for inn is the Greek katalyma which is translated "guest chamber" and could be used for a guest room as well. Jesus sent his disciples to find a katalyma to eat the Passover meal in Mark 14:14. Given that Bethlehem was the family home of Joseph, they most likely stayed in a relative's house, but with so many relatives showing up, they would be relegated to the larger open room attached to the house where people would bring their animals in for the night.1

This would instantly make Jesus relatable to shepherds. Shepherds themselves were not thought of highly in Jewish culture, and to see the Savior of the world in the very tool they themselves used to feed their livestock symbolized that this King of Israel was for all mankind. No rank or provide bars access to the lord. He has come for anyone who would seek him.

The Manger Shows Jesus's Humility

Secondly, and perhaps most obviously, the humble beginnings of Jesus in the manger shows the very attitude of Jesus in becoming incarnate. Philippians 2:5-8 describes the incarnation this way:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
That attitude persisted even through Jesus's adult life. He remained poor, and eschewed material comforts, saying The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." (Luke 9:58, NASB).

The Manger Shows Jesus as the Bread of Life

Lastly, the manger is a crucial symbol of Jesus as the one upon who we rely for our existence. Mangers are feeding toughs; from them an animal receives its nutrition. Jesus frequently compared himself to our sustenance, saying "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh" (John 6:51). Even in establishing the communion service, Jesus equated the bread to his own body. The first thing done to the body of the baby Jesus is to lay it in a manger. Thus, by that very act he is shown to be real food for the whole world.


1 Witherington, Ben. "No Inn in the Room-- a Christmas Sermon on Lk. 2.1-7." Ben Witherington. Ben Witherington, 9 Dec. 2007. Web. 24 Dec. 2014. .

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

You Just Might Be Celebrating a Japanese Christmas

To look at it, Christmas in Japan looks pretty Western. There are Christmas trees, lights, and even pictures of Santa adorning windows. There are some differences, of course. Christmas cake is ubiquitous and you may be a bit disturbed to discover that what you thought was a statue of Santa was actually Colonel Sanders decked out in a red Santa outfit. It seems that many Japanese think a proper Christmas dinner centers around a bucket of KFC. But, such are the quirks of a holiday spread across the globe. Cultures will interpret the joy of celebrating Christ's coming in their own ways, right?

Except the Japanese don't. Japan is a country that is only about 1% Christian, according to the Pew Forum1. Christmas isn't an officially recognized holiday at all; children still attend school and businesses are open (especially KFC!) Yet, the trappings of a Western tradition are there. So, why do the Japanese get into the decorations and the trees at all? It seems those Christmas cakes provide some good insight into the motivations for the Japanese celebration.

Pre-World War II Japan didn't have a lot of exposure to Christians. The Roman Catholic Church had sent missionaries to the island in 1549where they "soon established churches, hospitals, orphanages and educational institutions, which became venues whereby the two cultures could encounter one another."2 Yet, crushing martyrdoms and extended persecutions left Japan with only a sliver of Christian believers who were forced underground for centuries.3 The nation was still feudal and agrarian, with only the elites having the wealth for indulgence. Cultural scholar Hideyo Konagaya states that "Modernity and affluence in Christmas were still not a realistic notion when rural lives and feudalistic social systems still predominated."4

Christmas as Affluence

After World War II, things were worse. According to an NPR article, the economy was a disaster. People there did whatever they could to make ends meet, but luxuries such as sugar or chocolate were in short supply. However, US soldiers often had candy bars they distributed to children.5 Konagaya writes, "Sweet chocolates, above all, given by American soldiers epitomized the utmost wealth Japanese children saw in American lives. They brought the message that affluence and happiness took American forms (Fujiwara)."6 Cake had also been previously linked to western affluence and it was "available exclusively to the upper aristocratic class or urban elite."7

However, as Japan's economy recovered and then boomed in the 1980's, "Christmas celebrations gave the Japanese the most tangible pictures that could convey images of prosperous modern lives in America" and the cake was the epitome of that symbol of success."8 Today, young urban Japanese see Christmas Eve not as a day to celebrate at home with family, but as an upscale night on the town where tangible gifts to your beloved are expected.

Sometimes a Mirror is Uncomfortable to See

While the Japanese interpretation of Christmas may seem remote, I think Konagaya was right when noting that the Japanese were simply trying to mimic American values and traditions. They saw the commercialism, the emphasis on stuff, the weight we placed on the trappings of the day and presented all of that without any of the spiritual root that should be the focus of Christmas. Was something lost in the translation? Perhaps. Yet, an imperfect mirror will distort an image but it can highlight flaws you hadn't noticed before.

We need to make sure in our Christmas celebrations that Jesus is the central focus for the day. The Japan Times noted this conversation where a Japanese woman enquired about the origin of Christmas from an American man:
Young Japanese woman: Is Christmas celebrated to mark the birth of Jesus or his death?
American man: Do people usually go shopping before a funeral?
At least she knows it has something to do with Jesus!

When my kids were young, we used cake to celebrate Christmas as well. It wasn't a Japanese Christmas cake; it was a birthday cake. We had a plastic Nativity set that the kids could play with. We would set the Wise Men figures at the back of the house and the kids would move them each day until their journey was complete on Christmas Eve. We would also hide the baby Jesus figure until Christmas morning. Later that day, we'd decorate the cake with birthday candles and everything. It isn't much, but these traditions put the emphasis back on the coming of Jesus instead of the coming of presents.

I pray that you and your family will emphasize the amazing gift of the Savior, of God with Us, this Christmas. Make sure that your outward celebrations show that aspect of the holiday. After all, you never know who's watching.


1. Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, comp. "Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Christian Population." Pew Research Center, Dec. 2011. Web. 23 Dec. 2014. 2. Hull, Simon. "Christian Heritage of Japan." The Japan Times. Japan Times Ltd., 04 Aug. 2014. Web. 23 Dec. 2014.
3. Hull, 2014.
4. Konagaya, Hideyo. "The Christmas Cake: A Japanese Tradition of American Prosperity." The Journal of Popular Culture 34.4 (2001): 121-36. Web.
5. Bruzek, Alison. "Japan's Beloved Christmas Cake Isn't About Christmas At All." NPR. NPR, 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 23 Dec. 2014.
6. Konagaya, 2001. 122.
7. Konagaya, 2001. 122.
8. Konagaya, 2001. 123.
Image courtesy Catherine and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A (Not Too) Serious Christmas Quiz

With Christmas rapidly approaching, mainstream media fills its coffers with tales of how Jesus never existed or why the traditional Christmas tale cannot be believed.  Therefore, I think it’s time for another of my a bit tongue-in-cheek quizzes, this time focusing on Christmas and its history. For previous quizzes, check here and here.

  1. It’s believed that early Christians began celebrating Christmas on December 25 because:
    1. If it was any earlier, stores would be hanging Christmas decorations right after the Fourth of July.
    2. Given the complexity of assembling bikes and wagons, it needed to be one of the longest nights of the year.
    3. They followed a tradition that Jesus’ death (thought to be on March 25 AD 30) would also be the anniversary of His conception.
    4. Only those crazy Orthodox Christians want to hear Perry Como and Bing Crosby after the New Year begins.
  2. How do we know that the Magi did not show up until up to two years after Jesus’ birth?
    1. Because they’re men and they would have never asked for directions.
    2. Because Matthew 2:11 describes Jesus and Mary now living in a house, and after Herod “determined from them the exact time the star appeared” gave an edict to kill all male children two years and younger.
    3. It took them that long to wrap the gifts.
    4. The roads from Mesopotamia to Jerusalem are always jammed with holiday traffic.
  3. The accomplishments of the real St. Nicholas, who lived in the 4th century, include:
    1. His later life in politics running against Burgermeister Meisterburger.
    2. Being a true proto-hipster and ushering in the beard-cult.
    3. Inspiring Nicholas Cage’s parents with an Internet-meme worthy name.
    4. Attending the Council of Nicea and supporting the full divinity and humanity of Jesus, even to the extent of purportedly punching the heretic Arius in the face.
  4. The Immaculate Conception refers to:
    1. The Roman Catholic doctrine that Mary was conceived without original sin in order to bear the savior.
    2. A new brand of cleaning product.
    3. A brilliant idea for a concept car… and definitely NOT the clay model of the AMC Pacer or Gremlin.
    4. No-mess adoption.
  5. Bible scholars believe that since Bethlehem was such as small town, Jesus was most likely not born in a cave but in a back room of a relative’s home. The misconception stems from:
    1. The Greek word katalyma which is translated “guest chamber” and could be used for a guest room or an Inn. It was also used in Mark 14:14 when Jesus sent his disciples to find a place to eat the Passover meal.
    2. The need to give the kids who cannot act but only shake their heads “no” some kind of part in the Christmas play.
    3. How dumb our Nativity scenes would look if an angel was perched on the roof next to a television antenna.
    4. No one wanted their relatives to think that extended stays are somehow Biblical.
  6. The Christmas phrase “Peace on Earth, Good will towards Men” refers to:
    1. A misogynistic greeting that has no place in our cis-gendered society.
    2. What you tell the store clerk when you’re trying to return that ugly sweater without a receipt.
    3. God’s goodwill act of providing His Son as the way men could have peace with Him.
    4. An archaic greeting which has been replaced by the now more popular “Keep the change, ya filthy animal!”
  7. The practice of abbreviating Christmas as “Xmas” began because:
    1. Large X’s would be placed on children’s back fences, serving as targets for their Red Ryder BB Guns.
    2. It’s how people were crossed off the pot luck list if they ever showed up with a fruitcake.
    3. Because people come into Christmas day eXhausted with their cash eXtinguished.
    4. The X is not crossing out Jesus, but it represents the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter for the Greek word Christ (Χριστοζ).
  8. Early Church Father Tertullian taught that the Magi were instructed to leave “by another way” because:
    1. Holiday traffic would be a killer.
    2. They wanted to see the Dead Sea and maybe pick up some souvenirs at the gift shop.
    3. Given their reliance on astrology and magic, the command symbolized God telling them to change their superstitious belief system.
    4. They had a booking to perform a magic show for a Bar-Mitzvah in Joppa.
  9. The 12 Days of Christmas refers to:
    1. Proof that any gift larger than “five golden rings” is completely unmemorable.
    2. The twelve days beginning Christmas Day and ending January 6 at the Feast of the Epiphany, where some Christians have historically given gifts.
    3. How long it feels waiting in line to purchase those gifts the last days before Christmas.
    4. Each of the days network television will air It’s A Wonderful Life.
  10. The Virgin birth is central to the Christmas story because:
    1. It fulfilled the prophecies given of the Messiah in Gen 3:15 and Isaiah 7:14.
    2. It’s the only time the sermon of the real Parson Brown is more interesting than that of the snowman Parson Brown.
    3. It gives those folks at the Discovery Channel a chance at another “documentary” seeking to debunk something.
    4. Mary saturated everyone’s Instagram and Facebook timelines with baby pictures.
Answers:  1:C,   2:B,  3:D,  4:A,  5:A,  6:C,  7:D,  8:C,  9:B,  10:A

Image from A Christmas Story © 1983 Warner Bros. Movies. Used in accordance with fair use.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How Can I Celebrate Peace on Earth With Tragedy In My Life?

This past week, the headlines have been especially horrifying. A crazed terrorist takes hostages in a Sydney chocolate shop, killing two people including a woman shielding a pregnant woman from the gunman. The Taliban kills nearly 130 school children in Pakistan. How can the promise of Christmas, the season of peace on earth and goodwill towards men be realized with such evil going on?

Actually, the question isn't new. In a Huffington Post article entitled "Whatever Happened to 'Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men'?" Robert Fuller said that he wondered the same thing even as a child:
My take-away questions from Sunday School were:
  • Why are moral precepts—even those that everyone accepts—widely ignored?
  • Why has "peace on Earth, goodwill toward Men" not been realized?
I wondered about this gap between the ideal and the reality as World War II raged, as the Holocaust was revealed, and as Japan surrendered to American atom bombs. It seemed to me then, as it does now, that religion's most serious short-coming was not that it harbored "deniers" of well-established science models, but that it had not found a way to realize its own aspirational goals.1

Looking For Candy Canes in Coal Mines

I think that a lot of people feel the same way as Robert. They watch the various Christmas specials, they see the slogans painted on storefront windows, yet they think that the Christmas promise of peace and goodwill is just as illusory as the story of a jolly old elf sliding down your chimney. But these folks are starting in the wrong spot. They're like people who shop for stocking stuffers in a coal mine. You'll never find toys and candy there. The reality is that this world is fallen. It's filled with men who are corrupted by sin and if left to themselves would never seek peace with one another.

But that's exactly why the Christmas message is so joyful. God hasn't left us to ourselves; He sent His only Son to earth to save us from our fate. In announcing the birth of Jesus, the angels weren't asking human beings to be nice to one another. They were announcing that God has provided a way for peace between Himself and mankind. God was exhibiting goodwill toward men in giving them a Savior. See how Luke 2:14 is rendered in different translations:

Translations of Luke 2:14

New International Version Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.
New Living Translation Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.
English Standard Version Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!
New American Standard Bible Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.
King James Bible Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Holman Christian Standard Bible Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!
NET Bible Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!

As you can see, the responsibility is God's and the action is towards mankind. That's why Christians should celebrate Christmas even during the most difficult of circumstances. I know it can be hard to feel the Christmas spirit when the bills are piling, health is threatened, or tragedy is pushing in all around you. Yet, Christmas proves that God has better plans for us. Perhaps we won't see that this year, or even the next. Our hope lies ultimately in our destiny where God will "wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away" (Rev 21:4, ESV). That hope began by lying in a manger in Bethlehem and was proven on Calvary's cross.

I feel sorry for folks like Robert Fuller. He thinks that Christianity fails because we aren't getting any better. (Actually, Christianity has dramatically improved the lot of humanity in demonstrable ways.)But the promise of a world of peace and goodwill isn't found by those who work for it. It has been offered as a free gift to those who believe on Him who God has sent (John 3:16, Romans 10:9). Unless you claim that gift, Christmas will always be a disappointment.


1. Fuller, Robert. "Whatever Happened to 'Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men'?" The Huffington Post., 09 July 2012. Web. 17 Dec. 2014.
Image courtesy John and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Date of Christmas has Nothing to Do with Pagan Holidays (video)

Is Christmas really just a repackaging of a Roman Feast? Two Roman celebrations, Saturnalia and Sol Invictus, were celebrated in December. However, that doesn't mean that Christians used those dates to create a holiday of their own. In this short excerpt, Lenny demonstrates how December 25 has its origin in a Christian tradition and why it makes no sense to think that early Christians were trying to come up with their own alternative to pagan holidays.

You can watch the entire lecture here.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Christmas Faith-Defending Challenge

A couple of years ago, I decided to offer a Christmas Faith-Defending Challenge, asking donors to prayerfully consider giving $25 to at least three worthy organizations dedicated to training Christians on how to "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." While Christian apologetics is not well known in many circles, the work that these ministries do is proving more and more vital to young believers who are challenged both intellectually and morally; and challenged with an increasing intensity. Many of the organizations are quite small and every donation can make a huge difference in their ability to carry out the calling God has uniquely equipped the to do.

So look at the list below, choose three (or more if you desire) and meet the challenge! You will truly be a blessing to them and make a difference in the Kingdom.
  1. Apologetics 315 Ever since Brian Auten got the itch to blog his apologetics homework back around 2007, Apologetics 315 has been one of the top resource sites for gathering and disseminating apologetics information. The weekly apologist interviews along with the Top 16 Apologetics podcasts and the growing list of apologetics ministries and materials put Brian at the forefront of internet resources for both apologists and lay people. Since my last challenge, Apologetics 315 has completed its registration with the IRS and donations are tax-exempt..
    Support Apologetics 315 here
  2. Christian Apologetics Alliance The Christian Apologetics Alliance is a relatively new group that formed through social media as a way to help train budding apologists in ways to better their craft. It has grown into a full-fledged ministry with a speaking referral service, an online publication, a special apologetics for parents group, and much more. They are still in the process of gathering funds to file for a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt license, but all gifts given to the org are deductible upon its completion. The CAA currently accepts donations via PayPal.
    Support the CAA here.
  3. Come Reason Ministries 1996 marked the beginning of the web site, one of the first apologetics sites on the Internet. Since then, the ministry has grown to include a wealth of online resources like podcasts, YouTube videos, articles, blogs, and live teaching events. Over 20,000 people each month access the site articles with visitors coming from most every country on earth.

    Currently, Come Reason takes up about 50% of my workday but provides only 10% of my income. As we receive more and more requests for help and materials, I want to be able to focus exclusively on providing answers and apologetics materials to those who need it.
    Support Come Reason here.
  4. Evangelical Philosophical Society If all your favorite apologists could be considered superheroes in battling worldviews, the Evangelical Philosophical Society would be the Hall of Justice where they all congregate. The EPS has done a stellar job putting out one of the top-ranked scholarly journals on the philosophy of religion (Philosophia Christi) as well as the annual EPS Meeting where scholars can meet and discuss the latest issues in the field of apologetics. Beyond the academic arena, they host the annual EPS Apologetics Conference, where each of the over 30 speakers present for free in order to keep the costs down for the general public. The EPS basically covers their costs with memberships and subscriptions, so any donations provide a bit of a cushion to the great work they do.
    Support the EPS
  5. Illustra Media We live in a visual age and if you want to get your message across, you will need to do so visually. Concepts such as the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum or the origin of life are especially difficult to discuss without a model. Luckily, apologists have Illustra Media to handle the tough task of making compelling DVDs on such intricate topics - and they do so with beauty and finesse. Using computer animation along with interviews from high-visibility personalities such as Lee Strobel and Dr. Stephen Meyer, Illustra makes a compelling case for the Creator that is as faith affirming as it is awe inspiring. All this even though the two founders operate basically out of their house!
    Support Illustra Media here
  6. JP Moreland/Eidos Christian Center Another well-known figure in philosophy and Christian apologetics is Dr. J.P. Moreland, who authored the phenomenal Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview (with Craig), Scaling the Secular City, and many other popular books. However, most people don't know that Moreland, as an in-demand speaker, also has his own nonprofit ministry, Eidos Christian Center. The main goal of the organization is to help support selected speakers and authors who are doing great work in promoting the Christian worldview. There are many churches and groups who may not be able to afford a speaker the caliber of Moreland, but Eidos seeks to stand in that gap, providing the funds necessary to get solid Christian thought into the minds of the larger culture. JP's been a huge influence on me in my growth as an apologist and his organization needs to be more recognized.
    Support JP Moreland/Eidos Christian Center here.
  7. Ratio Christi Ratio Christi is a unique organization reaching out to college students. Rather than creating a whole new ministry, they leverage existing Christian clubs and study groups on college campuses and universities across the country, and pair them up with a trained apologist who can help answer the tough questions that students or their professors will invariably raise. The idea of meeting people where they are is practical and I love the idea of empowering apologists to come out of the study (or away from the computer screen) and meet real students with real needs. Their San Jose State University club was just kicked off campus along with other Christian groups as part of the university's draconian "diversity" policy.
    Support Ratio Christi here.
  8. Mike Licona/Risen Jesus Mike Licona's monumental work The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach delivers over 700 pages of support for the contention that the resurrection of Christ is as strong a fact of ancient history as there ever can be. Many talk about his book replacing N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God as the new standard work on the topic. Licona has been very active in conferences where he teaches on topics such as addressing so-called biblical contradictions and how to understand the historical nature of the Gospels.
    Support Mike Licona/Risen Jesus
  9. Mary Jo Sharp/Confident Christianity Speaking of women in apologetics, Mary Jo Sharp has not only embraced her calling, but she's running with full gusto. From conference speaker to author to a couple of very stimulating debates against Islamic scholars, Mary Jo and Confident Christianity are showing what an apologetics ministry with focus and purpose can accomplish - even with a miniscule budget. Her clear style resonates well with both students and women's groups. A donation here could help Confident Christianity cover travel expenses so she can reach even more people with a smart and winsome Christian faith.
    Support Confident Christianity here
  10. Stand to Reason's Brett Kunkle & Alan Shlemon Stand to Reason is one of the flagship apologetics ministries in the country. Led by Greg Koukl, the team there is always providing top-notch teaching and material, whether on the radio, on the web, or in person. While STR is pretty well known, less so is its powerful student impact leader, Brett Kunkle and speaker Alan Shlemon. Kunkle has been doing a remarkable job with junior high and high school students, preparing them for the absolute war of worldviews they will face when heading off to college. He is the originator of the Apologetics Missions Trip concept; taking kids "in the field" to talk with atheists, Mormons, and others hostile to Christianity. Shlemon has been cutting his own path in focusing on cultural issues such as abortion, homosexual marriage, and Islam. Both gentlemen do not get paid by STR, but must raise their own support - so your gifts can mean quite a lot!
    Support Brett Kunkle   Support Alan Shlemon
There we are. These are ten different apologetics organizations that could really use your support. For $75 you can be a huge blessing to these organizations and also truly help advance the Christian worldview. Blessings to you this Christmas season and during the New Year. May you continue to take every thought captive for Christ.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Binds Us to the Past and the Future

Thanksgiving is an important holiday, one that properly reflects our dependence upon God's grace and acknowledgement of his provision in our lives. But who is responsible for an entire nation recognizing their need to offer thanks to their creator?

Thanksgiving proclamations have a long history in American government. While Abraham Lincoln established an annual recognition of thanksgiving in 1863, the practice goes back much further. George Washington offered the first official proclamation as President of the United States in 1789. But even before our Constitution was written, the United States Continental Congress recognized their need to offer thanks to the Almighty.

Of course, Thanksgiving is rooted in the tough winter the Puritan settlers experienced after landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620. But, the exploits of the Puritans were not nearly as ingrained in the psyche of the young nation as they are now. It took a stirring speech by the famous Daniel Webster to do so. Webster was asked to speak at Plymouth Rock on December 2, 1820, to mark the 200 year anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower in the new land. It was Webster's speech that painted such a vivid portrayal of the sufferings and difficulties they faced, that Americans took the story as symbolic of the resolve the country itself bore. Here's how Webster began:
Let us rejoice that we behold this day. Let us be thankful that we have lived to see the bright and happy breaking of the auspicious morn, which commences the third century of the history of New England. Auspicious, indeed, — bringing a happiness beyond the common allotment of Providence to men, — full of present joy, and gilding with bright beams the prospect of futurity, is the dawn that awakens us to the commemoration of the landing of the Pilgrims. Living at an epoch which naturally marks the progress of the history of our native land, we have come hither to celebrate the great event with which that history commenced. Forever honored be this, the place of our fathers' refuge! Forever remembered the day which saw them, weary and distressed, broken in everything but spirit, poor in all but faith and courage, at last secure from the dangers of wintry seas, and impressing this shore with the first footsteps of civilized man!1
The entire speech is contained in the book The Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster which is available as a free download here. Webster felt that the Pilgrims' attitude toward God was not only proper, but it cemented the citizens of the US to those stalwart pioneers. In the same speech, he said "neither is it false or vain to consider ourselves as interested and connected with our whole race, through all time; allied to our ancestors; allied to our posterity… , binding together the past, the present, and the future, and terminating at last, with the consummation of all things earthly, at the throne of God."2

I like Webster's concept that recognizing our God in a day of national Thanksgiving ties us not only to our American heritage, but to our progeny who will follow after us long after we've passed on. It is all the more reason to give thanks on this special day.


1. Webster, Daniel, and Edwin Percy Whipple. "First Settlement of New England." The Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster, with an Essay on Daniel Webster as a Master of English Style. Boston: Little, Brown, 1879. 25. Print.

2. Webster, 26.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Trade Your Thanks for Desire - Doors Open at 6PM

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and it's one of the busiest holidays of the year. Traffic swells on roads and at airports as people travel to celebrate a day of thanks, prayer, and togetherness with friends and family.

At least that's the Norman Rockwell version of it. It seems every year that merchants are pushing more and more to be invited to dinner as well. Yesterday I received an e-mail from Staples trumpeting the fact that they will be open Thanksgiving Day from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM. Staples. An office supply store! So I'm supposed to leave my family and my home on a day set aside to give thanks just to go out and grab that new fax machine I've been eyeing? Is it really so important to grab a printer or tablet that you cut short some of the few precious moments you have to be with loved ones all in the same place?

While Staples is an easy target, Target is just as guilty. But I don't place the blame primarily on the retailers. The secular world wants to make money, and they know that holiday shoppers can be attracted with "early-bird sales" and "doorbusters". In an article for Colloquy, Lisa Biank Fasig reports:
"When the Macy's Herald Square store opened last year, more than 15,000 people were waiting, said Jim Sluzewski, senior vice president of corporate communications at Macy's.

"What we learned is we didn't open early enough," Sluzewski said. "We had very large crowds just about everyplace, and what many of them told us is that (they) wished we had opened earlier."1
The article goes on to say that many of the Thanksgiving Day shoppers are young, falling into the 13 to 30 year old demographic. Do the young people of today value their stuff more than their relationships?

How is "Give it to me at a discount" Thankful?

The problem isn't simply the devaluing of Thanksgiving as a family holiday, but the fact that running out to the store to grab that "much needed" television or laptop at deep discounts is directly contradictory to the concept of the holiday itself. The day was to be reserved for giving thanks to God for his provision and blessing in our lives, not to say "what I have is OK, but I won't really be happy until I pick up that thing in the ad."

Lest I come on too strong, I do want to say that I understand money is tight and people will want to be able to save where they can. I get that. However, I also think that we need a rest—a Sabbath if you will—from those concerns every once in a while. My oldest son is married and has a daughter. To be able to gather with them for an evening is worth far more than the $100 I could save buying a TV on Thanksgiving night. Those times are too precious to waste on stuff.

There is also a concept of trust I think gets lost in all this. God commanded Israel that they should not only have a day set apart from work once each week, but he also commanded one year where they should not actively farm their fields. That took an enormous amount of faith on their part in trusting God to provide. There are so few days offered to us in modern society where we even have the opportunity to rest and reflect on the blessings in our lives; I'd hate to lose Thanksgiving to the merchants.

A Cautious Analogy

In our rush to push Black Friday into Black Thursday, I see an analogy. I want to be careful in saying I'm not calling everyone who shops on Thanksgiving Day a sinner; I'm merely using the phenomenon as a parallel to a more important point. Thanksgiving Day sales are driven because stores want to exploit any opportunity they can to make money. They know that if they offer enticements, people will come and not only buy the drastically marked-down items, but they will pick up accessories and other things where profits can be made. Therefore, as the competition gets more fierce, they continue to push their opening earlier and earlier, tempting shoppers to visit their store first.

On the other side, consumers justify their actions by saying they needed that item or they needed to save those extra dollars to make their budgets work. As they are faced with earlier openings, they feel like they might miss out, becoming more immune to the problem while reinforcing the store's actions. This is exactly how sin works in a person's life. Self-justification and small concessions lead to more dependence on the sin itself (whatever that may be), until the sin stands in direct contradiction to those values one says he has. No addict has ever purposely sought out his addiction, yet the consequences of his concessions lead to serious problems.

I don't know if the Thanksgiving Day opening trend will continue. Many fewer shoppers are expected this year as compared to last.  But, I don't doubt that we send the wrong message to our families and to the retailers when we don't take a Sabbath from commercialism and appreciate the most valuable of all resources: time giving thanks with our families.


1. Fesig, Lisa Biank. "New Research Carves Up Thanksgiving Numbers." Colloquy, 24 Nov. 2014. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Jesus as God and Man

Christians at Christmas celebrate Jesus becoming the incarnate Son of God. But exactly how can God be a man? Does this mean God is limited to a certain time and place? In our most recent podcast series, we explored the humanity and divinity of Jesus and how both are crucial to his role as Messiah. Listen below.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Rights Don't Come From Nature

Last week I began to examine how the rights of all people, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, must be rooted in God. I looked at the concept of rights being bestowed by governments or by the common consent of the people within a society and found both wanting. Today, I'd like to look at the possibility that rights come from our natural existence rather than a divine creator.

In such discussions, it becomes important to clarify our terms. We must understand both the concept of rights and the concept of nature to which I'm referring. For rights, I've covered that somewhat in my last post. However, to reiterate I quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy which has a fairly good summation on the universality of human rights:
Human rights are universal All living humans—or perhaps all living persons—have human rights. One does not have to be a particular kind of person or a member of some specific nation or religion to have human rights. Included in the idea of universality is some conception of independent existence. People have human rights independently of whether they are found in the practices, morality, or law of their country or culture. This idea of universality needs several qualifications, however. First, some rights, such as the right to vote, are held only by adult citizens or residents and apply only to voting in one's own country. Second, the human right to freedom of movement may be taken away temporarily from a person who is convicted of committing a serious crime. And third, some human rights treaties focus on the rights of vulnerable groups such as minorities, women, indigenous peoples, and children.1
When I am discussing nature as the supplier of rights, I'm pointing to the idea that the natural world is all there is; we exist only because of the physical laws of the universe and perhaps some fortuitous chemical combinations and mutations that ultimately resulted in human beings. This concept is well known as metaphysical naturalism or materialism and has many adherents within the scientific community. Those who ascribe to this worldview and still seek to maintain that human rights are real would seek to ground those rights in the natural world instead of God.

But this is where the problem lies. Nature cannot bestow rights at all. The natural world is what we observe. It has materials and laws, such as the laws of gravity or the laws of physics, which describe how certain materials interact. If one drops a cannonball off a ledge, it will fall at a certain acceleration. If one combines an acid and a base, the result will be salt and water (and possibly a big explosion!)

But laws such as these are merely descriptors. They tell what will happen if certain conditions are met. Human rights are something different. For while all living persons have rights, it is not the case that all living persons will be able to exercise those rights. People are denied their rights by dictators or repressive regimes all the time.

That means that nature only provides an "is" description of the way things are while someone being allowed to exercise his or her rights fall into an "ought" description. Rights are things based in the intrinsic value of being human. Nature doesn't care about value, it is indifferent to whether creatures live or die. Species have gone extinct since the dawn of time, even without man's help. Sickness can wipe out entire nations. That is simply how things are. This means that rights are fundamentally different from nature and the description of what is. An "ought" can only be derived from a moral law, which must come from a transcendent mind.

Scottish skeptic David Hume is famous for explaining the is-versus-ought distinction. Hume explains that simply because something is the case, it does not mean that such ought to be. In Book III, Part 1, Section 1 of A Treatise of Human Nature he expounds on this, writing that "moral good and evil belong only to the actions of the mind"2 and therefore cannot be reasonably derived from only external circumstances. He continues, "All beings in the universe, considered in themselves, appear entirely loose and independent of each other. It is only by experience we learn their influence and connection; and this influence we ought never to extend beyond experience… But to choose an instance, still more resembling; I would fain ask any one, why incest in the human species is criminal, and why the very same action, and the same relations in animals have not the smallest moral turpitude and deformity?"3

As Hume has shown, there is no way to connect the "is" of the natural world to the "ought" of human rights. Even if you argue that such rights help human beings survive, who is to say that humans shouldn't go extinct? Nature doesn't care. Therefore, as rights are part of those "actions of the mind" it requires a mind to ground them, and since human rights are universal, that mind must not only transcend all of humanity, but be able to establish value for all of humanity. The Creator of humanity would fill both necessary conditions for universal human rights to exist. Therefore, the Founding Fathers had it right: it is only in our Creator that we are endowed with certain unalienable rights.  No other explanation makes sense.


1. Nickel, James. "Human Rights." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ©2014 The Metaphysics Research Lab. Web. 13-12-2013. Accessed 7-7-2014.

2. Hume, David. "Moral Distinctions Not Derived From Reason." A Treatise of Human Nature, Book II, Part 1,Sect. 1. Project Gutenberg. Web. 10-11-2012. Accessed 7-7-2014.

3. Ibid.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Rights and Their Freedoms Come from God Alone

Today, millions of Americans will celebrate the 4th of July, marking the founding of our nation. Many others across the world will also take note of the day because of the uniqueness of the founding of this country. This is the first and only nation in the history of mankind not to come about because its citizens share a certain family or ethnic heritage. It didn't form because of geographic boundaries or as a group of people coalesced from war. The United States of America is the only country on earth that was founded expressly on certain ideals.

Today, Americans celebrate not simply the birth of our nation, but also the freedoms this nation offers. It is the freedoms that we cherish that make a difference. But, where do those freedoms come from? The Founders unanimously agreed that that all men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."1 But if God doesn't exist, would the Declaration make any sense? From where could we derive our rights if not from God alone?

In thinking about this question, it seems to me that one has only four options when arguing for the rights of persons: Our freedoms either derive from the inalienable rights granted to us by the government, the common consent of the governed, by nature, or by God alone. In the next couple of posts I intend to argue that none of the first three options make any sense. Only God can grant inalienable rights and thus it is only through God that we have any right to the freedoms we enjoy. Then, I'd like to look at a couple of those rights specifically in light of the liberal backlash against the recent Hobby Lobby court decision.

Rights don't come from governments

The first option one has in establishing our rights is the claim that they are bestowed upon us by the government. This seems problematic on its face, though, for if a government can bestow rights on an individual, then that same government can take them away. Such actions are no longer rights, but should be considered privileges that the government allows the governed. I had heard this often in high school when I was taking drivers education classes. "A driver's license is a privilege, not a right."2 The state may revoke the license if it deems you unfit to drive or if you are uncooperative by not submitting to an alcohol test, for example.

Rights are different than privileges. They are things that cannot be removed by fiat. While a government may trample on one's rights or ignore one's rights, the right itself remains. For those individuals, such as criminals who are incarcerated, they may have their rights curtailed, but that is only after a trial that shows others' rights were being infringed upon by their actions. However, no one is divorced from his or her rights.

This is what Jefferson meant when he invented the word "unalienable," it is impossible to erase rights or transfer them to another. All people have them, and that was precisely the argument the Founding Fathers were making. They were separating themselves from the government because their rights were being abused and their freedoms were being trampled. They felt it was necessary to dissolve the bonds with the government of England, so that their rights would be exercised freely. Therefore, rights cannot come from the government. Rights exist prior to governments.

Rights don't come from the governed

Because we understand that rights precede governments and that they must be unalienable, option two becomes fairly easy to dismiss. Rights cannot come from the common consent of the governed because if our rights are given by common consent, then they may be removed by common consent. The United States is a government as Lincoln put it "of the people, by the people and for the people," formed "by Authority of the good People of these Colonies" as the Declaration says. But it is not simply the agreement of the citizens of a country that bestows rights upon themselves. Such rights are again not unalienable. If they can be agreed upon my mutual consent, then they can be removed by mutual consent. Therefore, rights given by common consent are not inalienable. They are again not rights but simply agreed upon privileges.

Rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (not the happiness one feels when receiving a birthday gift, but the more sublime pursuit of contentment in life) must be unalienable if they are to be rights at all. That means they must transcend any human authority, for human authorities can never bestow anything unalienable. It is God alone who can do so. The Framers knew this and they appealed to God repeatedly in the Declaration. They declared that it was necessary for them to assume "the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them." They said that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." They even finished the Declaration with an appeal to God and His authority: "We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States."

In my next post, I will look at the idea that rights are not derived from nature, but for now we should remember that to celebrate the freedoms that we cherish as Americans means to celebrate the rights we recognize as the basis for those freedoms. But for rights to be real, they must be grounded in Almighty God. So, say a prayer during your holiday celebrations, and thank your Creator for giving brave men the wisdom to recognize where your rights come from. Without God, there can be no freedom.


1 The Declaration of Independence (transcript). The National Archives. Web. 4 July 1776. Accessed 4 July 2014.

2 In the article "Law Talk: Who says driving is a privilege and not a right?" Barton Dieters cites the 9th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals decision in the case of Donald S. Miller v. the California Department of Motor Vehicles, where the court ruled that there simply is no "fundamental right to drive. See . for more.

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