Some Assorted Thoughts on Labor Day

It's Labor Day (or Labour Day, here in Canada). Most of us know it's a celebration of work (and rest), but where did it come from? Here are 7 things you didn't know about Labor Day.

I'm grateful for this day, for the joy and privilege of work and the grace of rest. Scotty Smith was too, so he penned a prayer for Labor Day

Since I like my work, this day is a happy reminder and affirmation of what I'm doing. But many are discouraged by their work, and they feel oppressed and like they're laboring in vain. John Piper wrote for the people who feel like they're laboring "for nought." 

On one hand, there are people who struggle with discontentment in their work. On the other hand, there are so many of us who struggle with idolizing work, liking it too much, placing it on a plane above the gospel. Erik Raymond writes how Labor Day reminds us of work's proper place in the Christian life.

What we really need is a biblical understanding of work, a clarity about vocation. Gene Edward Veith writes that for us.

In a lighter but similar vein, Trevin Wax answers the question, "Why do we work?"

If you can, rest today, and rejoice in work tomorrow. Both are good, both are gifts, and both are necessary for the Christian life.

Happy Labor (Labour) Day.

God's World Is Pretty Amazing: A Reflection for Earth Day

For me, a Christian, Earth Day is not about worshiping the earth. It's about worshiping the earth's maker.

And He is startlingly beautiful. This beauty is splashed and splattered all over the world He's made. We see His beauty in dark green evergreens and golden pink sunsets. We see His beauty in powerful waves and still oceans and blue skies and dry deserts. We see it in waterfalls and mud holes and puddles and snowflakes. We see it in hurricanes and blades of grass, spring flowers and autumn leaves.

God's creativity is also displayed on His earth. We see it in the seasons, as the colors and temperatures change and blend together. We see it in unique physical landmarks - like Badab-e-Surt in Iran, the Tianzi Mountains in China, Spotted Lake in British Columbia, and The Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. Google some images and marvel.

God's grace is displayed on His earth. He has made all the conditions perfect for life. If the temperature of the sun was a fraction of a degree off, or the gases in the air just slightly different, or the earth's crust an inch or two thicker (or thinner), everything would be wrong. But God's world was created exactly the way He wanted it, and He made it to sustain our lives. Oxygen is God's grace. Life is God's grace.

So it's Earth Day. Great. Take some time today and really appreciate the earth. But don't worship it. Worship the earth's creator.

Why Christians Should Be Involved in the Arts

There are two main fallacious ideas concerning Christians' involvement with the arts.

The first is that Christians should avoid them altogether. Stay out of Hollywood, don't write for secular publications, don't make a career out of painting, and so on. The second idea is that Christians must create art that is explicitly "Christian." In other words, we must paint pictures of Bible stories or make movies built around a Christian couple doing Christiany things or only write Bible studies.

Both of these ideas are absolutely false. Christians are called to redeem the arts by pursuing them in a God-glorifying manner. That means everything Christians create will have the indelible mark of their God on it - whether they are painting a cross or a bowl of fruit.

Mark Altrogge has an excellent piece today on why Christians should be involved in the arts. He writes:

"When I was little my aunt said she loved how I sang all the time. In grade school my teachers let me spend extra time in the library drawing. My parents got me my first oil painting lesson when I was 12. And when I was 14 the Beatles invaded America and I had to get a guitar and get in a band. In college I majored in art ed and got a Masters in painting.

But when Jesus saved me in my early 20s, I began to wonder if art was a waste of time. I could be evangelizing or praying or doing something spiritual instead of dabbing oil paint on a canvas. And besides that, everything is going to burn up anyway at the end, so what’s the use of creating things? Or if I do paint a painting does it have to be a Christian theme? Does it have to have a cross in it or be a scene from the Gospels?

Here are a few reasons why Christians should play banjo and decorate cakes, knit sweaters and make movies, do photography and write poems:

Because God has commanded us to take dominion over the earth. In other words take the raw materials of the world and make stuff out of them.

Because when we create we act as those the Creator made in his own image. God could have made the world in black and white. He could have created one kind of food. Instead he made luna moths and mimosa trees and jungles and deserts and garden spiders and red-winged blackbirds and ring-necked snakes. God didn’t make a strictly utilitarian world. He decorated it with weeping willows and tiger lilies.

Because the arts are a way to bless others. A way to serve others and bring joy to others. A beautiful wall hanging in someone’s living room can bring them joy over and over again and again.

Because the arts bring joy to us. When God created the earth at the end of each day he looked on what he had made and saw that it was good. God enjoyed what he created. And he wants us to get joy from what we create.

Because beauty reminds us of the Beautiful One. When we see a cool painting or hear a moving symphony it points us to the author of all beauty. When I hear the theme from Jurassic Park I don’t simply think of John Williams’ talent, I think of God."

7 Reasons To Start Reading (Something) Today

Reading is not always easy, not always even fun. But reading is vital to the thinking, growing, maturing Christian. The Bible should always be our indispensable foundation, but reading other books is necessary too.

Here are seven reasons to stop making excuses and start reading (something) today:

1. Reading introduces you to new ideas. Fiction and non-fiction both transmit a worldview and address ideas. Every book in existence is about ideas. Some are lovely, and some are violently evil. But you will never know them if you do not read.

2. Reading introduces you to new friends. Whether it's the author or characters, there is a unique parasocial bond that is created through books. You feel like you know these people, like the imaginary ones exist and like the real ones are now your friends. What joy can be found in reading about people you care for.

3. Books make you smarter than television. Books are not easier than television. You need to think to read, need to stretch your mind and invigorate those brain cells. Movies are so much more easily accessible. You can just "turn off your mind." But is that what we really want? Is that making us more intelligent beings? Sure, television in moderation is okay (if you're watching the right stuff), but are you sacrificing reading for it?

4. Books just make you smarter. In general, books increase your intelligence. They expand your vocabulary, invite you to understand new concepts, shift your paradigms, allow you to become a generally more well-educated individual.

5. Reading makes you a more critical thinker. If you read, you will inevitably come up against beliefs that you disagree with. Engage with that conflict. Think more deeply about what you believe and why you believe it. Analyze reasoning.

6. Reading makes you feel things. Emotions are not inherently bad. Feeling grief, feeling joy, feeling humor or delight through books is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a wondrous side effect of being invested in literature.

7. Reading makes you a better Christian. Even if you're not reading the Bible, you are applying your Christian worldview - your beliefs in depravity and redemption and restoration - to what you read. You are reading books that make you a more thoughtful individual, a more mindful person of the world God has created.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Martin.

12 Tips On Finding The (Perfect) First Job

Today I'm over at TheRebelution with my article on tips for looking for a first job.

Last autumn, it happened. All of my fear, excitement, trepidation, dreaming, praying, hoping, and searching ended.

 I got my first job.

 It was a momentous occasion. A first job usually is. Ask almost any adult what their first job was and they’ll grin and tell you a dozen stories about it.

 As I look back on that experience, there are twelve things I learned about looking for a job (first, or otherwise) as a teenager.

1. Don’t make it about money.

Sure, you may need the job for money – and that’s okay. I got my first job because I needed to pay for car insurance. But don’t let money be your focus or you’ll miss out on unexpected and potentially rich opportunities.

Instead of asking where you can make the most money, ask, “Is this where God is calling me to work diligently and serve?”

2. Keep your convictions.

There are many workplaces that I avoided simply because I couldn’t stand behind their products. Their clothes were desperately immodest. Or they sold pornography. Or they advocated organizations or items that simply opposed my convictions. Don’t compromise your standards.

No number on a pay check is worth sacrificing what you believe.

3. Communicate with your parents.

If this is your first job and you’re still living in your parents’ home, keep the communication lines open with them. My mom actually drove me to my first interview. She edited my resume. We prayed with my dad. They always knew exactly what was going on with the job search, what my feelings were, and how to counsel me.

4. Think outside the box.

Look at the classifieds and the help wanted pages, but don’t be afraid to drop off a resume at a place that isn’t publicly looking for help. That’s what I did, and my initiative won me an interview and, later, the job. The assistant manager was so surprised. “How did you know we were hiring?” she asked. My ever so eloquent answer: “I didn’t.” I simply knew that I wanted to work there.

5. Pursue the impossible.

Don’t be afraid to go after the job that you really want – even if you seem unqualified. Even if it seems unattainable. Even if they laugh at you. Even if you don’t get it. Teenagers can do incredible, inexplicable things. We can take responsibility and do big, hard, exciting jobs. You and I both know it.

So apply for one.

Read the rest here.

Photo Coutesy of Ben Raynal and Flickr Creative Commons.

You Will Be Known By Your Squiggly Lines

Our fingers are really rather fascinating.

Look at the tips and marvel. There are little mazes inscribed on them, squiggly lines that spin in circles.

Our identity is in those squiggly lines. I still remember my elementary school trip to the police station and pressing my thumb onto a wet pad of navy ink. And then I got to stamp it onto a piece of paper.

"There is no finger print like that," they told me.

I am unique. The squiggly lines make me like no other. 

The infinite creativity of an omniscient God strikes me anew. Our finger tips bear an indelible mark of our individuality. I am different than you, and my fingers - my fingers - display that.

God's creativity is unspeakably imaginative. Have you ever looked in a mirror at your own eyes? How can my eyes look so similar to yours, yet our faces look totally different? How can two browns be so alien? How can our eyes be unique?

God formed us for His glory, to display His greatness. He knit us together in our mothers' wombs. He made us as individuals.

That's why I can't change my gender.

That's why I can't change my race.

Thank God for the way that He made you - totally unique, yet fashioned in a way that reflects His creative beauty. And even when the world mocks, laughs, and rails against you, celebrate it.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Dale Martin.

What To Do About Bruce Jenner

With the Vanity Fair cover making a media splash and Bruce Jenner's gender reassignment surgery front page news, it's likely that you or I or another Christian is going to be asked to comment on it. So what do we say? What emotions do we express? Sadness, anger, happiness?

Alex Duke has a wise response.


By now, you’ve probably seen the Vanity Fair cover where Bruce Jenner introduces the world to his new persona: Caitlyn.

It’s the kind of image that takes your breath away, eliciting all sorts of panging emotions—aversion, compassion, and deep, deep sadness. It’s also the kind of image that will become a cultural lodestone for generations to come, like one of those classic Life magazine covers.

It’s an image that crystallizes a national metamorphosis as much as a personal one. It’s proof of micro-evolution—of a man, a magazine, a world shedding its skin. It’s also an image that resists complacency. Once you’ve seen this magazine cover, you are without excuse. You are forced to choose: Are you now looking at a man or a woman?

The future tense gave room for breath, room for thoughts and prayers and well-postulated arguments. But that time’s gone now, so somewhere—and likely sometime soon—you will be asked, “Did you see that Vanity Fair cover? What did you think?”

Christians are called to give a reason for the hope we have in the gospel. We are expected to do so with gentleness and respect, with a clear conscience, so that the ones who are speaking maliciously of our good behavior in Christ would one day be ashamed of their slander (1 Pet. 3:15–16).

Working backward through these verses, we find a useful template for thinking through our response to culturally celebrated icons that stand in proud opposition to the hope we have in our Lord Jesus and his finished work in our place.

Read the rest here.

Don't Use Busyness to Avoid Your Problems

We are busy people living in a frenetic-paced world. That is a fact of life. The most acceptable social response to, "How are you doing?" is "Busy" and then we laugh and say, "But what else is new?" Our technologically-motivated, severely social (media) world forces us to move at a rapid pace. It mandates our schedule.

Busyness in itself is not bad. If we busy ourselves with good works and equally make time for rest, we can use busyness to our advantage. It ultimately depends on what we're busy with and how we're busy with it.

So then, busyness can be good or it can alternately be very bad.

One particular way it can become bad is when we use it to escape our problems. There is a point that almost all of us have visited where being busy becomes a scapegoat for dealing with reality. We use it as an excuse to avoid hashing out and working through a conflict.

When we don't have to sit down and eat dinner as a family, we don't have to deal with underlying resentment. When we don't have time to fill out college applications, we don't have to deal with our parents' expectations. Busyness gives us an escape.

This becomes a dangerous and unhealthy way to deal with our problems and our fears. Avoiding reality under the guise of busyness is selfish and single-focused. Our lives are a part of something bigger than just ourselves. Escaping our problems temporarily through busyness is simply putting off the inevitable; we will have to deal with reality. Putting it off simply wastes precious time and self-inflicts us with an unneeded sense of turmoil.  

So then, the next time you are tempted to use busyness as a scapegoat to avoid conflict, consider your own heart. Are you putting the needs of others above yourself? And are you using your time in the most godly way possible?

Beauty in the Details

I write a lot. Especially now that I've joined the team over at Bravery Magazine. I regularly contribute to TheRebelution, and lately I've begun querying other literary platforms.

The only problem is that I need something to write.

That's why I'm always looking. I read a book, watch a movie, go to the dentist, go to work, eat out, drop books off at the library, read other articles, study, write papers, and I always keep my eyes open. I always am looking for something to write. Something worthy of reflection. Some beauty in the details.

In that way I feel very fortunate to be a writer.

I am forced to pay attention. If I ignore the mundane or tune out during the ordinary, I'm likely to miss something special. Maybe it's simple, but there are lessons to be learned all around us.

There are times I am struck by my sinfulness while slicing a cucumber.

There are times when I reflect on grace and pain in the doctor's office.

There are times when I'm reading a textbook and I see an application to the Christian life.

There are times when I'm watching sketch comedy and I see the peculiarity of Christianity.

There are times when I see road rage and am awed anew at the depravity of man.

Don't close your eyes to life. There are lessons to be learned today, sin to be repulsed by, grace to be marveled at. This is the day that the Lord has made. Will you rejoice intentionally in it it?

Don't waste the details of your day today. For it is there that you are most likely to find beauty.

That's How They Look at Me

I've been a fan of the family-friendly sketch comedy show, Studio C, for a while now. But what? you say. Family-friendly sketch comedy? While it may sound downright doubtful at first, I assure you that there is such a thing, and Studio C is it. But whose idea was it to make wholesome comedy? The answer to that is probably not going to surprise you.

It's a group of Mormons. Born out of ideas from veterans of Brigham Young University's drama club, it plays on BYU TV and stars a cast of BYU students and graduates. Yet the only reflections of their faith in Studio C are a staunch morality and a glaring lack of any off-colour comedy. I can dig that.

One of the actors on Studio C is a particularly funny individual, especially on his social media pages. So funny, in fact, I started following him on Twitter. And true to his apparently hilarious self, he posts funny memes and Vines and Instagram quotes. But on this more personal platform I also see his faith come out. He retweets and posts verses from the Book of Mormon.

And I just find it kind of weird and sad. Here he is, pouring hours of effort and years of faith into a fictitious deity. He's championing a false cause, preaching a fake gospel. As an individual, he appears friendly, down-to-earth, and just your average guy. I think we'd get along pretty well. Yet I can't help but pity him that he's wasting years in an empty faith and feel sympathy at his ignorance.

Then I realized that that's how non-Christians look at me.

They probably think it's nice that I have a faith to lean on, a crutch to assist me through this tumultuous life. But they don't think it's real. They think my faith in the God of the Bible as revealed in Jesus Christ is as faulty as I consider the Book of Mormon to be. They probably find it awkward.

I am different than them. Just like I feel a rift in my identification with this Mormon comedian, I feel a similar disconnect from non-Christians. We are not the same. We can be friends, but our friendship can only go so far. We don't share the only thing that matters in light of eternity - a unity because of Christ. We are not brothers and sisters. We are different.

And non-Christians will continue to look at me like I'm different, like I'm strange and awkward, like I'm wasting my life on a false cause. But that's okay. Because we are different. And that's something we shouldn't be ashamed of. Rather, it's something to embrace. It's something to use as a witness.

It's something to showcase our light to a dark world that is staring at us.

The Perverted Madness That is 50 Shades of Grey

The trailer's out and it's a little over a week until it hits theatres. 50 Shades of Grey has been hailed as "Mommy porn," and after leaping onto bestseller lists has now made its way onto the silver screen. The depravity in these books (and presumably in the movie) is expressed in manifold ways, particularly in its positive portrayal of the degradation and despicable abuse of women. It is bitterly misogynistic.

Two very helpful articles have recently come to my attention that give a needed Christian perspective on these books (and the forthcoming movie). Though most Christians, doubtlessly, will not see the movie, it is making a cultural splash and we need to perceive its meaning so we can assess the ripple effects.

The first article is by Tim Challies (co-written with Helen Thorne), titled simply, "7 Lessons from 50 Shades of Grey." Challies and Thorne write:

The trailer is smoldering temptingly on computers around the globe. Fans of the book are checking their diaries and booking tickets online. Reviewers are readying their pens and preparing their remarks. In just a few short days 50 Shades of Grey will hit the big screen, just in time for Valentine’s Day. 
On one level, this is just another in a long line of films with a storyline that portrays sex and relationships in ways far removed from God’s design. But it is so much more than that. I believe that 50 Shades of Grey can serve as a kind of cultural barometer that alerts us to the colossal changes that have been occurring in recent years, and to the consequences they bring. 
So what can the 50 Shades phenomenon teach us today?

Read the rest here. 

The second article is by Douglas Wilson for Huffington Post, called "Fifty Shades of Prey." Here he highlights what 50 Shades means for women and how it is just another part of a cultural movement that is reshaping how women see themselves. He hearkens back to another literary (and later, big screen) phenomenon: Twilight. 

Now as many know, the publishing phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey began as Twilight fan fiction. This is no accident at all. The train not only leaves one station, but it usually arrives at the next one. The two publishing phenomena are using the same basic device -- women who learn to view themselves as prey. And it's working (like crazy) this time around as well.

Read the rest here. 

And pray for those ensconced in the darkness of abuse and the mires of depravity and pray that God would use the darkness of 50 Shades of Grey to make people see sin for what it is. And pray that Christians would stand up and shine the light of redemption into this dark, desperate world.

Jesus is Better than the Super Bowl

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman may face the most difficult decision of his life on Sunday. Or, at least according to The Washington Post blog. His girlfriend Ashley Moss is due to give birth to their first child sometime this week. What if it's Sunday, though?

"Over the past couple of decades, athletes have increasingly recognized the need for, and been granted, time away from their sports to attend the births of their children. However, rarely does that time away come at the expense of an opportunity to compete for a championship. 
For many readers, this will probably seem like a no-brainer: You go and be by the new mother’s side. ... On the other hand, there’s no guarantee that Sherman will ever again have the opportunity to play on this stage, while it’s likely that he and his girlfriend could produce many more children if they so choose. And doesn’t he owe something to his teammates?"

The author poses this question for his readers: "Would you attend the birth of your first child or play in the Super Bowl?"

Sixty-seven percent said play in the Super Bowl. Welcome to America.

And then there's Rocky Seto, Seahawks assistant coach who says: "Jesus is better than the Super Bowl."  His comments on winning last year's Superbowl and on heading to this year's:

“This Super Bowl thing, it’s such a big deal to the people of the Northwest. You can see how the Seahawks provide identity for so many people. What’s cool is that God has opened up a platform through winning to talk about Jesus Christ, the greatest treasure of all. Why do we want to win? I know the brothers on the team, they want to win to glorify God and tell more people about Jesus Christ.”

Two nights ago I heard an ad on the radio that said: "How do you know you're a fan? You wake up and pray to the [sports] gods." What that (wildly misguided) commercial recognized is that we are fundamentally religious people. We all pray to some god, many, though, a figment of their own imagination. This Sunday we're reminded how many people pray to a pigskin and the tendency of our own hearts to idolize our enjoyments, to turn our hearts from the one true God. 

It may not be football to you. It may be books or media or your cat or your family or food or your body or money or school or your car or, or, or. The list of potential idols could go for miles. 

Take this weekend to focus your heart and adjust your priorities. Search your soul for idols and trust and obey the good God who gives us gifts to enjoy. And enjoy those gifts this weekend - enjoy the Super Bowl - but don't idolize. 

The Endearing Quality of Courage

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies may be gory (sometimes, in fact, a little unnecessarily), but it displays a virtue that has been gravely minimized on a society-wide level. It is courage. The courage to fight when you feel afraid. The courage to be strong for those who are weak. The courage to come to the defense of those in need. The courage to shake off the comfort of cowardice. The courage to endure. The courage to stand up for what is right.

And while our society may laud the heroic displays of courage in a film, they laugh at them in reality. In "real life," we're more apt to, as my mother put it, laud the cowards. We celebrate the people who claw their way to the top, pushing past women and children, motivated by greed and self-interest. These are the self-made men, our popular personages.

Cowardice unspools its thread through human history all the way back to the Garden when man broke God's rules and then hid like cowards from responsibility.

And then cowardice died in the face of the greatest act of courage this sin-spattered earth has ever seen: the cross. God Himself stood up and came to the defense of His desperate, weak creation. When we were trembling from cowardice, God was strong. The Shepherd died for His flock.

For the Christian, we are called to be courageous. As God commanded Joshua so many years ago, we are called to abandon the lethargy of fear and irresponsibility and be brave. That means standing up for the weak. It means telling the world about that almost unfathomable courage of the God-Man. It means not remaining silent in the face of evil, whether that be the murder of children or the injustice of racism. It means being true to the Word of God above all else, at any cost. Courage means being faithful to our courageous King.

The Hobbit displays a mere fictional fragment of the beauty of courage. Yet it awakens in us a desire to fight for our fellow man, to rage against the march of evil. And as Christians we are called to this on a deeper level. We are called to be courageous for the King.

The Christian's Guide to Ethics and Morality

We live in a morally tangled society. This is one where lines between right and wrong have been blurred to gray, and black and white have been replaced in our vocabulary with words like "tolerance" and "equality." Nearly everyday we're confronted with ethical dilemmas. But in the face of a society that's thrown absolute morality out the window, we Christians have a different approach to ethics.

I've already mentioned that Christians are not exempt from ethical confusions. We wonder in our academic, work, and even familial situations, "Is this right? Is this acceptable?" But our morality is rooted firmly in the highest form of ethics codes ever written - the Word of God. This is the book by the author of morality.

We have questions about ethics. The Bible has answers. No, it does not list every modern scenario, nor does it detail the gritty, specific questions you may have. It is not exactly like the code of ethics at your office. But it delineates between what is right and wrong, what is moral and immoral. The Bible gives us black and white, absolute morality, a standard for truth. For we serve the God of justice and truth.

"The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he" (Deut. 32:4).

The Bible talks about justice, poverty, equity, deception, cheating, stealing, gossip, fraud, abuse, honesty. It is not quiet on ethics. Read the book of Proverbs. Or Matthew. Or Deuteronomy. Or, wait; you'd best just read the whole thing.

Yes, we will get in ethical confusions that the Bible does not have a clear answer on. That doesn't mean that the Bible is silent on the issue. At the core of every ethical question is the desire to be morally right. And the Bible details how to do that.

The Christian's guide to ethics and morality is theoretically simple and pragmatically challenging: go to the Book. Read the Bible. Live the Bible. It tells us what is right and wrong in this morally tangled age. And when you get in ethical dilemmas that the Bible does not speak lucidly on, go to someone who knows the Book well and talk to them; search the Scriptures together and pray and find a solution that is biblically and morally right and do it.

We are people of the Book. That means we live by the Book. And that is the Christian's guide to ethics and morality.

"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

The Gospel According to Peanuts

Did you know that A Charlie Brown Christmas was predicted to be a flop? Did you know that it almost didn't air because Linus reads Scripture? All this and more is revealed in Lee Habeeb's 2011 article, "The Gospel According to Peanuts."

Few headlines about network television make me giddy. Fewer still make me hopeful that all is good in the world. But back in August of 2010, I read the following headline from the media pages with great excitement: “Charlie Brown Is Here to Stay: ABC Picks Up ‘Peanuts’ Specials Through 2015.” The first of these to be made, the famous Christmas special, was an instant classic when it was created by Charles Schulz on a shoestring budget back in 1965, and thanks to some smart television executives, it will be around for at least another five years for all of us to see and enjoy. 
What people don’t know is that the Christmas special almost didn’t happen, because some not-so-smart television executives almost didn’t let it air. You see, Charles Schulz had some ideas that challenged the way of thinking of those executives 46 years ago, and one of them had to do with the inclusion in his Christmas cartoon of a reading from the King James Bible’s version of the Gospel of Luke. 
The more things change, the more things stay the same. 
As far back as 1965 — just a few years before Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?” — CBS executives thought a Bible reading might turn off a nation populated with Christians. And during a Christmas special, no less! Ah, the perils of living on an island in the northeast called Manhattan. 
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was a groundbreaking program in so many ways, as we learned watching the great PBS American Masters series on Charles Schulz, known by his friends and colleagues as “Sparky.” It was based on the comic strip Peanuts, and was produced and directed by former Warner Brothers animator Bill Melendez, who also supplied the voice for Snoopy. 
We learned in that PBS special that the cartoon happened by mere serendipity. 
“We got a call from Coca-Cola,” remembered Melendez. “And they said, ‘Have you and Mr. Schulz ever considered doing a Christmas show with the characters?’ and I immediately said ‘Yes.’ And it was Wednesday and they said, ‘If you can send us an outline by Monday, we might be interested in it.’ So I called Sparky on the phone and told him I’d just sold ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ and he said, ‘What’s that?’ and I said, ‘It’s something you’ve got to write tomorrow.’” 
We learned in that American Masters series that Schulz had some ideas of his own for the Christmas special, ideas that didn’t make the network suits very happy.

Image Credit:

Is It Ever Okay to Lie?

There is a big debate in Christian circles about lying. Is it ever okay for a Christian to lie? What if we're saving lives like Corrie ten Boom and Rahab and the Hebrew midwives? Does that justify lying? Are there multi-leveled planes of morality, where life-saving is on a higher plane than truth-telling and thus we must sacrifice telling the truth to save a life? This debate goes on and on, dancing in circles, often skipping to irresolution.

Frankly, I don't understand it. We throw out the term, "grey issue" when it comes to lying but I think this is neither responsible nor biblical. God's thoughts on the truth are as black and white as they come.

"You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another" (Leviticus 19:11).

"There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers" (Proverbs 6:16-19).

"Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit" (Psalm 34:13).

"God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?" (Numbers 23:19)

People will accuse me of being too simplistic. But I think that this command is simple. God says do not lie, ever. There is not a single caveat in Scripture, nor ever any inclination that there are such things as planes of morality. Norman Geisler says that there is a hierarchy of values in the Bible and that, when some come into conflict, we need to subordinate the lower for the higher. So if mercy and truth-telling come into conflict, mercy wins out. 

I disagree. God never, never says that lying is okay if  (fill-in-the-blank). If we think that we need to disobey God to obey Him, we have a lack of trust in Him and a warped view of His law. 

People will use the example of Rahab. You've probably heard it. "She lied to protect the Israelite spies she had hidden to keep safe and she's in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith," they will say. Rahab's lie comes in Joshua 2. If you read the account through, you'll see that the author of Joshua never condones or commends her lie. He simply states it, much like he states the fact that she was a prostitute. We are not arguing for the morality of prostitution because of this text. Why would we argue for lying? Furthermore, when she is mentioned in Hebrews 11:31, her lie is not what got her there; it is her reception of the spies and her belief in God.

In John 14:6 Jesus called Himself, "the truth." Numbers 23:19 says that God never lies. Psalm 119:160 says that all of God's words are truth. The Lord says in Zechariah 8:19, "Love truth." John 4:23 says that God requires us to worship Him in truth. First Corinthians 13:6 says that love is about the truth. Ephesians 6:14 calls us to put on the belt of truth. Second John 2:2 says that truth lives inside a Christian and will be with us forever.

The truth is not simplistic. It is a non-negotiable command for the Christian. We are called to it, no matter what. It is never okay to lie. 

The Death of the Classy and the Depravity of (Wo)Man

I was about fifteen minutes early for work yesterday. I had just picked up a book from the library, so I parked and then opened up the book. I had read maybe three sentences before a series of sharp, staccato horn honks lifted my head. Before me were two SUVs and two middle aged women driving them.

The first SUV was at a stop line in the parking lot but she hadn't stopped. The other SUV was driving through and had been nearly cut off by the first SUV. The woman who was driving through slammed on her horn a few more times before irately rolling down the window and shouting at the other woman, "That's a stop line! That means you're supposed to stop! Didn't you see it?" The woman who should have stopped proceeded to display some colourful hand gestures and some even more colourful language to her new friend before angrily honking her own horn and driving off.

And I just watched. It was kind of like a train wreck, something truly horrifying that you can't take your eyes off. These women were about forty or fifty, my elders. Yet I couldn't believe how immaturely they acted. Their behaviour was so deeply ugly and so unclassy. Somehow I could never see Audrey Hepburn rolling down her window and flying off the handle at another woman for not stopping at a stop line in a parking lot. Then again, there are few women with true class left in our society today.

But it's not really about classiness. It's about the depravity of our society, the depravity that has held every human society in its sway since Adam and Eve's descendants.

"None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. ... There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:10-12).

And without Christ, that was us. We were those ugly, frustrated, cursing women in the parking lot, our identity wrapped in our sin. We were, as the song goes, "lost in darkest night, yet thought [we] knew the way ... [running our] hell-bound race, indifferent to the cost." But then in a mighty miracle of grace, God looked upon our helpless state and we were plucked out of the darkness by the power of the cross. We were saved from depravity, given new identities in Christ.

Yet the darkness still surrounds us - in our parking lots and workplaces and schools and neighbourhoods. We see depravity almost daily. That's part of living in a fallen world. But seeing that depravity reminds us where we were. That depravity reminds us where we are no longer. And that depravity spurns us to dissipate the darkness around us.

As Jonathan Edwards reminds us, we are sunshine to the dark world because we reflect the Sun of Righteousness. We are the good in the face of depravity.