Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

What is the meaning and significance of Christmas for Christians?

It’s the time of year when we explain what Christianity is about.

God exists

Basically, we know from a variety of scientific arguments that the universe was created and fine-tuned for life by an intelligent agent that existed causally prior to the beginning of the universe, because this agent brought the universe into being. Our purpose as humans is to enter into a two-way loving relationship with this Creator/Designer of the universe. This is the only way that we can ultimately be happy and fulfilled.

We avoid God

Now, when you look at human experience, none of us is interested in finding out about the character of this Creator/Designer, because we are afraid that if we find out too much about him then we will have our freedom to do as we please constrained by the demands of a relationship with an all-powerful, all-good being. Just knowing that such a person exists and has a character distinct from our own is enough to cause us to flee from him so that we can stay autonomous from the obligations of the moral law that he expects us to follow.

Christians believe that this universal desire to avoid an all-powerful, all-good God who will judge us is a result of bad behaviors inherited by us from the very first rebellion against God by our ancestors. Ever since that rebellion, the capability for relating to God has been lost, because we no longer have the ability to stop our rebellion against God. Christians call the first rebellion of our ancestors “The Fall of Man”.

What does this rebellion look like for us today? Well, we want to do whatever we want, in order to be happy, and to ignore God’s demands. We want to have happy feelings, including security, community and being morally good, all without a relationship with God. We want to acquire and rearrange matter for our selfish ends without acknowledging and honoring the Creator/Designer of that matter. And, of course, we would like other people to affirm, voluntarily or involuntarily, that our rebellion against God is really the height of moral goodness.

Additionally, some people imagine that God, if he exists at all, must desire our happiness. And of course when their needs are not met by this invented God, then they become even more bitter at God, and eventually decide that God could not really exist since their selfish needs are not being met by him. It never seems to occur to us humans that some pain and suffering may be permitted by God in order to turn our attention away from pleasure and security in this life, and back towards a relationship with him.

This is the mess we find ourselves in. This propensity for turning away from God and trying to pursue selfish happiness and security apart from a relationship with God is what the Bible calls “sin”. Every single one of us deserves severe punishment for refusing to pursue a genuine two-way love relationship with the God who is there. That is the mess we are in before Jesus appears to address this problem.

Jesus saves the day

I cannot say much about how Jesus solves the problem of rebellion against God, because that is really the story of Easter, and today we are dealing with the story of Christmas. But I can say that the solution to the problem requires that God step into history to communicate with his creatures and to perform actions in order to be reconciled with them. That is the message of Christmas: God is stepping into history to do something to end our rebellion. Easter is the story of what he does.

This is talked about in the Bible in John 1, for example.

John 1:1-5:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2He was with God in the beginning.

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

You can substitute the word “Word” there for Logos, which really means logic or reason or wisdom. This is a person with a divine nature, identified with the eternal being of God, who exists causally prior to the creation of the universe, who is going to take on an additional human nature, including a human body. (Christians believe that there is one divine “what” being and three divine “who” persons). Software engineers, you can think of Jesus having two natures as multiple inheritance in C++.

And it continues in John 1:10-14:

10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here the word grace doesn’t mean like a graceful ballet dancer. It means an instance of mercy received from a superior. A person (a “who”) identified with the divine being (a “what”) has decided to make us a top-down offer of mercy.

The same message of God stepping into history is found in the Christmas carols that people sing at Christmas.

Christmas carols

Here’s the best one, “O, Holy Night“, and it says:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

When we were in rebellion, we had lost our most valuable capacity – the capacity of being in a direct relationship with God. And if the newborn baby Jesus can accomplish his mission (and he did), then we are going to regain that capacity for a direct relationship with God.

Now look at “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing“, which one of my favorites:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”

Basically, as I often say, there are only two kinds of people in the world. There are people who are willing to respond to the offer of a relationship with God, with all the little sacrifices and compromises that a relationship entails, and then there are people who are not willing to respond. For the people who are willing to respond, the appearance of Jesus is the best thing that could possibly happen, because now we are finally going to have a chance to deal directly with God, face-to-face, to find out what he is like, and change ourselves to be more like him, with his help.

And that is why people celebrate Christmas. It’s the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. It is the story of God stepping into history to be reconciled with his rebellious creatures. It’s the story of the divine Logos subjecting himself to the life of a creature in order to rescue us from our sinful, self-destructive rebellion. This love for undeserving creatures is above and beyond the call of duty. We didn’t love him, but instead he loved us first, and he loved us enough to come down here and suffer with us so that we could be reconciled with God.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Do people become Christians because they are born in Christian countries?

J. Warner Wallace takes on a textbook case of the genetic fallacy.

Excerpt:

The History of the Ancient World
Christianity emerged in a largely Jewish or Pagan culture (a polytheistic mix of religious beliefs within the Roman Empire) completely hostile to the claims of Christianity. History records the hardship faced by 1st Century Christians who concluded Christianity was true and devoted their lives to Jesus. These believers did not become Christians because Christianity was the default religion of the time.

The History of China
China also has a history of religious suppression related to Christianity. The native culture of China has historically embraced some version of Shenism or Taoism. While Christian missionaries labored in China for centuries, their efforts were often suppressed by governmental regimes (like the Communist Party of China). In spite of this suppression and the cultural inclination toward Shenism or Taoism, Christianity has continued to grow as an underground movement, with some reporting as many as 130 million Christians now living in China. These believers did not become Christians because Christianity was the default religion of their region or culture.

The History of Persecution
History has demonstrated Christianity continues to grow in spite of intense persecution. Christians have historically come to faith in regions where Christianity is not the default religion. For this reason, Christians are still the most persecuted religious group in the world, particularly in places like North Korea, Muslim countries, India, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. These suffering believers did not become Christians because Christianity was the default religion of their region or culture.

And he concludes with this:

Millions of Christians have historically demonstrated a willingness to embrace the Christian worldview simply because they found it to be true. In many of these situations, Christianity was not the default position of their family, culture, region or era in history. I was not raised in a Christian home. The one man I respected more than anyone else (my father) has always been a committed atheist. I didn’t know any outspoken Christians growing up, and I was hostile to the claims of Christianity until the age of thirty-five. While I had examined a number of eastern religions, Mormonism, Islam and the Bahá’í Faith, I was eventually persuaded by the evidence of the New Testament gospel eyewitness accounts. On the basis of those accounts, I began an investigation of Christianity and the existence of God. Like so many others, I came to believe Christianity is true, not because of my surrounding influences, but on the strength of the case itself.

I remember Wallace saying in one of his podcasts or in the audio book how he didn’t need anything when he became a Christian. He had a wife and family and a job he loved, which he excelled at. Sometimes, people just investigate things and then go where the evidence leads. My entire family on my mother’s side is Muslim and atheist, and on my father’s side it’s Hindu and some Catholic. No one pressured me into becoming a Christian – I didn’t even go to church until 5 years after my conversion. I am the first evangelical Protestant in my family. No one tries to deter me from it, because they lose the debate. They just haven’t looked into it as much as I have. Usually, what happens is that it all ends up as “do it because we’re your family”. Well, that doesn’t work on me.

Protestant Christianity is what you settle on when you investigate these things seriously, and are willing to live with what you find out. Most people don’t want to live with what they find out. I have Hindus in my family who reject Christianity because of pride in their Indian culture. Others reject it for community reasons – they want to please their parents and relatives. Some in my family reject it because they wont let anything come between them and their pursuit of success, health and wealth. Others simply believe what their professors tell them in order to get good grades. I wasn’t born into Christianity and even as a Christian, I’ve received no mentoring or support, even from people I look up to. I’m very much a lone wolf Christian – the kind that William Lane Craig warns everyone about. Sometimes, you just go where the evidence leads, whether people support you or not. I’ve never cared what people thought of me, or felt pressure to believe as others believe. I think that desire to fit in is a non-Christian trait.

Filed under: News, , , , ,

Short pro-life responses to six pro-choice slogans

Two posts: (first post, second post) by Daniel Rodger, who lives in the UK.

Here are the six slogans:

  1. ‘It’s a women’s right to choose.’ 
  2. ‘Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one.’
  3. ‘Keep your Rosaries off my ovaries.’
  4. Vote Pro-choice. Politicians make crappy doctors.’
  5. ‘May the fetus you save be gay.’
  6. ‘Stop the war on women.’

I had not heard #5 before. But here are the first two responses:

1. ‘It’s a women’s right to choose.’ 

Of course we all respect someone’s right to choose, it would make you seem like a moral monster to deny something western civilisation values so highly. However, clearly there are many circumstances where the right to choose has its limitations. No-one is trying to tell women they can’t choose what to eat or who to talk to but the idea that choice is absolute is nonsense. One must clarify what is being referred to when we talk about having a right to choose to do something. If I wanted to choose to shoot my dog or beat a child for fun you would likely be abhorred at the nature of my choice and tell me that I have no such right to do so.

Very few people think that we should be able to kill other human beings with impunity which means that the nature of this ‘choice’ begs the question and assumes something about the nature of the unborn. That they are different, less valuable, outside of our moral circle, disposable and whose geographical location justifies their killing in the name of Western autonomy. Clearly whether someone is male or female they do not have the ‘right’ to choose to do whatever they want. Dressed up in more philosophical language we would find ourselves responding to the bodily autonomy objection that has been suitably refuted elsewhere ad nauseam.

2. ‘Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one.’

Let’s try and use similar logic on some other moral quandaries, ‘Don’t like slavery? Don’t own one.’ Don’t like wife beating? Don’t beat yours.’ Don’t like child abuse? Don’t abuse yours. Don’t like strawberries? Don’t eat them. What this slogan does quite effectively is that it moves abortion from being something that may be an objective moral wrong that kills a developing and innocent human being to one of personal tastes. Very few people would accept that preferring strawberries over apricots is morally similar to preferring to keep slaves or not, yet this is the category the slogan is putting abortion in. Slavery is wrong because it treats intrinsically valuable human being’s as a commodities that can be traded and sold.

However the real crime of this slogan is that it promotes the idea that those who are Pro-life only think abortion is wrong because they don’t like it, which is false. Whether someone likes strawberries or apricots is a personal preference that no-one would disagree with, but equivocating between that and an act that kills another human being is absurd and assumes moral relativism. This leaves the proponent of such a slogan in the position of having no authority to tell us that neither slavery and wife beating are wrong if I happened to like them.  Lets get this straight, when someone who holds the Pro-life view says abortion is wrong they are not simply saying they don’t like abortion, they are saying it is objectively wrong regardless of how someone may feel about it.

His first post covers the first three objections, the second post covers the latter three objections.

If you like these, you can find a whole collection of them here.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , ,

Why do people celebrate Christmas?

It’s the time of year when we explain what Christianity is about.

God exists

Basically, we know from a variety of scientific arguments that the universe was created and fine-tuned for life by an intelligent agent that existed causally prior to the beginning of the universe, because this agent brought the universe into being. Our purpose as humans is to enter into a two-way loving relationship with this Creator/Designer of the universe. This is the only way that we can ultimately be happy and fulfilled.

We avoid God

Now, when you look at human experience, none of us is interested in finding out about the character of this Creator/Designer, because we are afraid that if we find out too much about him then we will have our freedom to do as we please constrained by the demands of a relationship with an all-powerful, all-good being. Just knowing that such a person exists and has a character distinct from our own is enough to cause us to flee from him so that we can stay autonomous from the obligations of the moral law that he expects us to follow.

Christians believe that this universal desire to avoid an all-powerful, all-good God who will judge us is a result of bad behaviors inherited by us from the very first rebellion against God by our ancestors. Ever since that rebellion, the capability for relating to God has been lost, because we no longer have the ability to stop our rebellion against God. Christians call the first rebellion of our ancestors “The Fall of Man”.

What does this rebellion look like for us today? Well, we want to do whatever we want, in order to be happy, and to ignore God’s demands. We want to have happy feelings, including security, community and being morally good, all without a relationship with God. We want to acquire and rearrange matter for our selfish ends without acknowledging and honoring the Creator/Designer of that matter. And, of course, we would like other people to affirm, voluntarily or involuntarily, that our rebellion against God is really the height of moral goodness.

Additionally, some people imagine that God, if he exists at all, must desire our happiness. And of course when their needs are not met by this invented God, then they become even more bitter at God, and eventually decide that God could not really exist since their selfish needs are not being met by him. It never seems to occur to us humans that some pain and suffering may be permitted by God in order to turn our attention away from pleasure and security in this life, and back towards a relationship with him.

This is the mess we find ourselves in. This propensity for turning away from God and trying to pursue selfish happiness and security apart from a relationship with God is what the Bible calls “sin”. Every single one of us deserves severe punishment for refusing to pursue a genuine two-way love relationship with the God who is there. That is the mess we are in before Jesus appears to address this problem.

Jesus saves the day

I cannot say much about how Jesus solves the problem of rebellion against God, because that is really the story of Easter, and today we are dealing with the story of Christmas. But I can say that the solution to the problem requires that God step into history to communicate with his creatures and to perform actions in order to be reconciled with them. That is the message of Christmas: God is stepping into history to do something to end our rebellion. Easter is the story of what he does.

This is talked about in the Bible in John 1, for example.

John 1:1-5:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2He was with God in the beginning.

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

You can substitute the word “Word” there for Logos, which really means logic or reason or wisdom. This is a person with a divine nature, identified with the eternal being of God, who exists causally prior to the creation of the universe, who is going to take on an additional human nature, including a human body. (Christians believe that there is one divine “what” being and three divine “who” persons). Software engineers, you can think of Jesus having two natures as multiple inheritance in C++.

And it continues in John 1:10-14:

10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here the word grace doesn’t mean like a graceful ballet dancer. It means an instance of mercy received from a superior. A person (a “who”) identified with the divine being (a “what”) has decided to make us a top-down offer of mercy.

The same message of God stepping into history is found in the Christmas carols that people sing at Christmas.

Christmas carols

Here’s the best one, “O, Holy Night“, and it says:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

When we were in rebellion, we had lost our most valuable capacity – the capacity of being in a direct relationship with God. And if the newborn baby Jesus can accomplish his mission (and he did), then we are going to regain that capacity for a direct relationship with God.

Now look at “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing“, which one of my favorites:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”

Basically, as I often say, there are only two kinds of people in the world. There are people who are willing to respond to the offer of a relationship with God, with all the little sacrifices and compromises that a relationship entails, and then there are people who are not willing to respond. For the people who are willing to respond, the appearance of Jesus is the best thing that could possibly happen, because now we are finally going to have a chance to deal directly with God, face-to-face, to find out what he is like, and change ourselves to be more like him, with his help.

And that is why people celebrate Christmas. It’s the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. It is the story of God stepping into history to be reconciled with his rebellious creatures. It’s the story of the divine Logos subjecting himself to the life of a creature in order to rescue us from our sinful, self-destructive rebellion. This love for undeserving creatures is above and beyond the call of duty. We didn’t love him, but instead he loved us first, and he loved us enough to come down here and suffer with us so that we could be reconciled with God.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What is the meaning of Advent? Why do Christians celebrate Advent?

Calendar of Christian Holidays and festivals

Calendar of Christian Holidays and festivals

Advent is:

Advent is the season that begins the liturgical year. It consists of four Sundays starting with the Sunday closest to November 30th. The word advent is derived from the Latin adventus, which means “coming” or “arrival.” In the societies of the Roman empire, the word adventus referred to the arrival of a person of dignity and great power — a king, emperor, or even one of the gods. For Christians, Advent is the time when the church patiently prepares for the coming of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. On a personal spiritual level, Advent is a time when we should long for a new breaking in of God’s Spirit upon us.

Here is a good post about the story of Advent by Rev. Donald Sensing at Sense of Events blog.

Excerpt:

They were not a wealthy couple. They got by all right in Nazareth because Joseph was a carpenter, a skilled job, but he didn’t make enough money for the finer things of life. Like everyone else in their country, Joseph and Mary relied heavily on their extended families to help them get through the lean times. And when they were doing well, there was always a third cousin or an aunt twice removed who wasn’t, so they helped as much as they could.

To say it was inconvenient to leave Nazareth to travel to Bethlehem would be the greatest of understatements. They had not counted on leaving Nazareth before the child was born. In fact, they didn’t think they would leave Nazareth ever. But a decree had gone out from the Roman emperor that the whole empire would have to pay a special tax. For some reason, the rulers of Judea decided that they may as well take a census while they were at it. Because of the tribal and clannish nature of society, the authorities ordered everyone to go to their ancestral hometowns to be counted and pay the tax.

Protests that some people could not make the trip, such as the aged and infirm, were simply met with rebuff. So Mary, very late in pregnancy, was compelled to schlep down the Jordan River valley on the back of a donkey. The journey by road was about ninety miles, plus having to climb more than 1,300 feet in altitude, so the trip took more than a week. You can’t travel fast leading a donkey on foot carrying a very pregnant woman.

They arrived in Bethlehem on yom rishon, which simply means, “the first day of the week,” the Jews having a specific name for a day of the week only for the Sabbath, the last day of the week. On the Sabbath, they had not traveled because religious law forbade long-distance travel on that day. Besides, they had needed the rest. So on Sunday afternoon, yom rishon, they reached Bethlehem, just one couple among hundreds of families arriving for the census.

Joseph was a lineal descendant of King David, whose hometown had been Bethlehem. Joseph never made too much of his royal ancestry. Certainly, he was not the only descendant of David, and just as certainly, Joseph never thought about claiming the ancient throne. The Jews had lived under foreign domination for hundreds of years, first by the Greeks and then the Romans. The idea of regaining political independence was simply absurd. There was no way successfully to fight the Roman army, as dozens of Mediterranean nations had discovered.

The little town of Bethlehem lacked the infrastructure to cope with a large influx of people needing to stay for several days at a minimum. The early arrivers had gained lodging with relatives, but the small houses filled up fast. There were few inns in the town that had filled well before Joseph and Mary got to town.

Joseph tried to gain lodging at an inn, but the owner was unyielding. He explained that to take them in, he’d have to throw someone else out. He would not have such dishonor on his head, pregnant Mary or no.

“Try the outside of town,” the man said. “There may be a few homes there with space for a kinsman.”

Click here to read the rest. This is a good post to send to people who don’t know what Christmas is about.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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