28 November 2005

…on meanings of Christmas

'Tis the season... A needed perspective before we hit the malls from C.S. Lewis entitled, “What Christmas Means to Me”

"Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn’t go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business to have a “view” on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs. But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone’s business.
I mean of course the commercial racket. The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr. Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But he idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers. Neither of these circumstances is in itself a reason for condemning it. I condemn it on the following grounds.
1. It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to ‘keep’ it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out—physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.
2. Most of it is involuntary. The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own. It is almost a blackmail. Who has not heard the wail of despair, and indeed of resentment, when at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance was over for one more year, the unwanted gift from Mrs. Busy (whom we hardly remember) flops unwelcomed through he letter-box, and back to the dreadful shops one of us has to go?
3. Things are given as presents which no mortal every bought for himself—gaudy and useless gadgets, ‘novelties’ because no one was every fool enough to make their like before. Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?
4. The nuisance. For after all, during the racket we still have all our ordinary and necessary shopping to do, and the racket trebles the labour of it.
We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I don’t know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? If the worst comes to the worst I’d sooner give them money for nothing and write it off as a charity. For nothing? Why, better for nothing than for a nuisance."

(God in the Dock, pages 304-305.)

03 November 2005

… ‘Today’ in perspective

In the last post, we considered the question of making the best use of time. Let us now consider time in perspective; that is, in the context of eternity. In our “enlightened” and “practical” times we have largely lost the perspective of eternity. Circumstances and results are seen only in time and because of them, contentment eludes us. We always “have time” in the future, there is “never enough time” in the present (except when it “drags on forever”) and we always wonder “where the time went” in the past. Too often, we can not let go of the past, we fret of the future and as a result, live a dissatisfied, worrisome, depressed or even hateful present. Or we put all our hopes in that future time when we acquire certain things or realize our goals and objectives and “satisfaction” will be achieved. Much to our dismay, those times consistently elude us or disappoint us. Discontentment and ingratitude are among the results.

God’s Word informs the Christian on how to consider time in the context of eternity. He has determined our preappointed times (Acts 17:26) and established a time for every purpose (Ecc 3:1-17). Whatever trouble we face in time is shown to actually be a “weightless trifle” in light of the eternal certainty given by grace (2 Cor 4:17-18) and ultimately those troubles are realized to be for our good (Rom 8:28). With an eternal perspective, we can persevere in whatever Providence brings (Rom 8:25).

A Biblical worldview of our current circumstances in light of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ in the past and what, in Him, is promised for the future in eternity is what brings true contentment in the present. And gratitude—gratitude for what has been given to us in spite of us. Given for eternity. The Bible is replete with passages that show us eternity. Look them up in the present, take up and read, nourish an eternal perspective and grow in gratitude and contentment.

(First published in DeiLight December 2004)

…On redeeming the time

As those “in Christ,” we confess that we are not the owner of what we possess but the steward. That is, we recognize that we are to manage that which inherently comes from and belongs to God. Stewardship often is thought of as merely the giving of a portion of our income to the church, but that view completely misses the Biblical perspective. Stewardship accounts for, not a portion but, all…and not just all of our money! For the Christian, the responsibility and duty of Biblical stewardship encompasses all of life and all that life includes—with the understanding that the “all” has not, strictly speaking, been given but entrusted. Rightly understood, the good steward endeavors to put in service, for the owner’s benefit, all that has been entrusted to him; possessions, abilities, and time—even his or her “free” time.

Paul wrote, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Eph 5:15-16) We are to make the best use of the allocated and measured lifetime we are given on earth, in recognition of the brevity of life (Psalm 90:12). We are also to live life circumspectly—that is, accurately or precisely with great care and prudence—recognizing the reality of evil in the world around us.

This Biblical teaching calls us to consider how we spend our time—even our free time—and whether those activities demonstrate good stewardship of that time. That is where the practice and discipline of reading comes in. Spending (or redeeming) time reading good books stretches and strengthens the mind, increasing discernment and the ability to be circumspect. It is a “best-use” of the time we are entrusted with. Reading helps equip us for life and its challenges, as well as its responsibilities and duties. Let us grow in the stewardship of our “free” time and let us frequently take up and read!

(first published in DeiLight October 2004)

…on returns on investment.

For most commodities, we want to get the most for our money in quantity and quality. Ironically, for learning and education, we often want the least for our money. The degree is what we’re after and the easy route with the least work is sought—the easier courses and the easier professors. Education, intended for the cultivation of minds and critical for the survival of a free society, is reduced to only the diploma or a credential necessary for status and success. When the course or degree requirements are met, the process of learning comes to a stop. Learning—engaging and exercising the mind—is hard work, which we too often no longer see a need for. Physical fitness and diet is a priority for our culture (as evidenced by the spectrum of products successfully marketed to us), but we have a disposition to discount or ignore the care and feeding of our minds. We become mentally lazy and lose the ability to evaluate and think about things objectively and independently. As a result our ability to discern truth from error—to view and address the issues of life—through the lens of truth and wisdom is compromised. For Christians, apathy—as it relates to cultivating our thinking—is nothing less than a tragedy.

Solomon wrote that, “The heart of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” (Proverbs 18:15) Paul, writing to Christians, exhorted us to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” (Romans 12:2) Christian minds are “renewed” through the Word… the written Word. Prudence is cultivated, not by neglecting knowledge and learning, but by critical thinking engaged in life’s issues, which comes in part by reading good books along with The Good Book. So let us, not only watch our diet and exercise regularly, but also let us take up and read to get our thinking minds in shape!
(First published in DeiLight September 2004)