Jeff Dunn: The “Christian Protection Racket”

Did you hear about the Aggie protection racket?  If you don’t pay them the protection money, they won’t beat you up.

Seriously, though.  Protection racket is a term that hails from New York back in the early centuries of this country, when mob activity there and in other places was on the rise.  This meant that you would pay some organized crime figure in your neighborhood a certain amount of money to ensure that bad things did not happen to your home or business.  “Bad things” typically meant such things as a massive fireball appearing from out of nowhere in the middle of your home or business in the middle of the night.  Or the middle of the day, for that matter.

Unfortunately, it seems that certain quarters of Christianity can get very much like that when it comes to Christmas.  You’d better keep Christ in Christmas or bad things will happen.  If the cashier dares to say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, then your business will be placed on the “naughty” list and subjected to boycott from all within the influence of Focus on the Family and other such media outlets.

Here’s a thought for you, my fellow evangelicals:  Instead of boycotting businesses when the cashier says “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, why not try saying “Merry Christmas” to the cashier?  Instead of getting your panties all up in a wad when your town will not place a manger scene on the town square, why not try placing a manger scene on your own front lawn?  (Here’s a bit of irony:  Here in Georgia, we are in the heart of the Bible Belt.  Yet when I travel to south Louisiana, which is decidedly Catholic and has nothing whatsoever to do with the Bible Belt, during this time of year, I see nativity scenes in people’s front yards all over the place.  Not a lot of nativity scenes in people’s front yards here in the ATL.  Come on, people.)

Read Jeff Dunn’s thoughts on the “Christian protection racket”

 

Merry Christmas

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on
whom his favor rests.”

When the angel had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Luke 2:1-20

Advent Week 4: Losers Who Win

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on
whom his favor rests.”

When the angel had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

–Luke 2:8-20

As we prepare to wrap up this Advent season, let us take a look at it through the eyes of the shepherds.

When we read the Christmas story nowadays, it is a natural tendency to think, “How cool it would have been to be one of the shepherds.  I mean, they got to be the first to see Jesus and all.”  We have a glamourized view of the shepherds, which comes no doubt from seeing them all dressed up with cool robes and staffs in so many Christmas pageants.

But this is not correct.  You would NOT have wanted to be a shepherd.

Shepherds in first-century Israel had a pretty shitty existence.  They spent lots of time out in the fields tending to their sheep.  They were frequently gone for weeks at a stretch.  They were in almost constant contact with animal dung and other such uncleanness, and they did not have the means to wash themselves in the manner prescribed by Jewish law and custom.  Thus they were cut off from access to the Temple and other facets of Jewish religious life.  They were rough-looking characters, kind of a first century version of Hell’s Angels.  One can easily imagine them drinking and cussing as they sit around the campfire to keep warm on those cold desert nights.

The Jewish people looked down on shepherds with a vengeance.  If you were living in first-century Israel, you would NOT have wanted to be a shepherd.

And yet it was to these, the lowest of the low in first century Israel, that Jesus appeared first.

And when the shepherds had seen, they did not become instant religious celebrities.  No speaking circuit or celebrity book deals for these guys.  Instead, they went right back to where they were, right back to being shepherds in the midst of their fields, except with the awareness that they had seen something very special that would change their lives and would change the entire world.

Read Jeff Dunn’s thoughts on the shepherds here

 

The Monday Melange 12.20.10: Al Golden, Will Muschamp, Sal Alosi

–Want to know the Chicago Bears’ excuse for getting punked 36-7 by New England last week?  They were wearing the wrong cleats.

Dude.  The game was in Chicago.  These people LIVE in Chicago.  And you expect me to believe that they showed up at Soldier Field on Sunday morning and said, “Oh snap.  It’s snowing today”?

Seems more accurate to say that these people were wearing the wrong heads.

–Al Golden, formerly of Temple, is the new Miami coach.  Golden did some great things at Temple.  He took over when Temple had just been drop-kicked out of the Big East and was considering dropping football altogether, and has now had back-to-back winning seasons, a bowl appearance last year, and should have had a bowl appearance this year.  I am sure he will do great things at Miami.  But what does it say about Miami that they don’t have the cachet to bring in somebody like Jon Gruden or Jim Harbaugh or Chris Peterson?

–For those of you who are concerned about Georgia players getting arrested, here is a story about Georgia players doing something good.

–Michael Vick says he would like to own a dog again.  Sorry.  Don’t want to go there just yet.  Can we start by letting him have a copy of that painting with the poker-playing dogs and see how that goes?

–Will Muschamp is now the head coach at Florida.  With Derek Dooley at Tennessee, all we need is for Herschel Walker to take over as executive director of football operations at Georgia Tech.

This is a surprising move, considering that surely Florida has the cachet to bring in Jon Gruden, Jim Harbaugh, or Chris Peterson.  Not to say that Will Muschamp can’t be a great head coach.  He is one of the best assistants in the country, and you had to know that sooner or later, he would get his shot as a head coach.  But the last time Jeremy Foley tried to bring in a career assistant, it didn’t work out so well.

–And you thought Dave Van Halanger was bad as a strength coach.  Georgia could have done a lot worse, as you can see in this video of Sal Alosi and his nefarious doings as New York Jets strength coach:

–This has circulated all around the Interwebs and has finally wound up here at Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion:  The North Point Community Church iBand.  Don’t you wish your church had something this cool?

Aloysius, our Executive Director of Sports Information here at Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion, says, “What will they ever come up with next?  An iBear?  God, I hope not.”  Don’t worry, Aloysius.  I think it’s going to take a while for anyone to come up with that one.  Although with the creative peeps over at Apple, who knows?

Chaplain Mike: It’s a Wonderful Gospel

While we are in the season of Advent, allow me to direct your attention to a post by Chaplain Mike over at internetmonk.com in which he breaks down the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” and its connection to the Gospel.

George Bailey was the quintessential Boy Scout.  He was never afraid to do a good turn or to help someone in need.  As a boy, he jumped into icy water to save his brother from drowning.  He lost hearing in one ear as a result; this would later cost him the opportunity to enlist in WWII.  As an adolescent working at the local pharmacy, he averted a tragedy by correcting a mistake made by the pharmacist.  When his father died unexpectedly, he took over the family business.  This was intended to be a temporary arrangement until his brother could step into the role, but when things worked out so that his brother would be unable to step into the role, he took it on permanently.

As director of the family savings and loan, he was generous to a fault.  He said yes when the bank across town said no, and as a result working-class people were able to own homes who could not have otherwise done so.

But George Bailey had his own plans for life.  He dreamed of leaving the small town where he lived, and living life on a grand scale and making a grand impact upon the world.  Much as he wanted it, it never worked out to where he would be able to leave.  Though he knew that others looked up to him and counted on him, he never felt fully appreciated.

Finally it all came to a head, and George Bailey was in danger of losing everything.  An employee lost a sizeable amount of money while en route to make a deposit at the bank.  A search was made, but the money never turned up.  There was not enough money in the bank to cover this loss.  Now George Bailey faced charges of embezzlement, the loss of the family business, and the disgrace of knowing that it all happened on his watch.  In a move of desperation, he even went to Mr. Potter at the bank across town, his family’s chief and long-hated rival.  No help came there, only the mocking words that “You’re worth more dead than alive.”

This pushed George Bailey to the top of a bridge on Christmas Eve, where he very strongly contemplated suicide.  And it was here that he had his Gospel moment.

He was in over his head.  Despite all his good deeds, nothing would avail him in this moment.  He desperately needed a rescue.  He needed God to meet him.  And He did, in a most unexpected form.

Clarence, an AS2 (Angel, Second Class) who was apprenticing to be a real angel, appeared in the form of a kindly old man.  He attracted George Bailey’s attention by appealing to his good nature and longstanding habit of helping others, throwing himself into the river in front of him.

From there, Clarence guided George Bailey through a vision of what life in his town and in the world would have been like without him.  Through Clarence, he came to be reconciled with his family, coworkers, and community, who had all been alienated from him in the course of his downfall.  And his deliverance came as all the community members to whom he had meant so much chipped in what they could–a dollar here, a couple of dollars there–and the amount collected was more than enough to cover the missing deposit.

Read Chaplain Mike’s piece in which he connects “It’s a Wonderful Life” to the Gospel.  Read It’s a Wonderful Gospel

Now Playing at Life in Mordor: Chesterton and Conspiracy Theorists

As you are probably well aware by now, I am not at all afraid of a little shameless self-promotion.  In that vein I wish to share with you my latest post over at Life in Mordor, the blog of Mike Frizzell where I have the opportunity to appear regularly as a guest contributor.

With the economy in the terrible shape that it is presently in, the ground is very fertile for conspiracy theories concerning social and economic meltdown and the end of life and civilization as we know it.  These theories are very troubling because they explain all of the facts that you see around you.  But in this post I share a quote from Chesterton’s Orthodoxy which gives me comfort; though these conspiracy theories explain all of the facts they do so in a very small and petty way, and they leave out an awful lot.

Read:  Chesterton and Conspiracy Theorists

If you wish to see other posts that I have written over at Life in Mordor, look for my name in “The Fellowship” at the top of the right sidebar, click on it and you will see a listing of all my posts over there.

And if you are interested in being a guest contributor at Life in Mordor, then we would love to have you.  Click on the “Blog Here” tab at the top of the page for details.  If you have questions you can contact Mike F; his email is listed under the “Contact” tab at the top of the page.

Advent Week 3: Sons of God

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”  (Galatians 4:4-6)

No doubt you are aware of the legal/judicial implications of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross for us.  You are aware that because of our rebellion against God back in Eden, we were in a debt-debtor relationship with Him, with a debt that we could not possibly hope to pay.  Jesus stepped in and paid this debt on our behalf.

But there was much more to this than just a legal transaction.  This initiated a new manner of relationship with God as well:  we are now sons of God.  Adopted into the family of God, with all the rights and privileges of sons.

In first century Judea, in the time that Paul wrote this, adoption served a completely different purpose than what we are accustomed to nowadays.  Nowadays we think of adoption as being for babies and very young children.  But in Paul’s day, people did not adopt young children.  In the first place, infant mortality rates were excruciatingly high.  Why leave all your property and titles to someone who might not even live to adulthood?  In the second place, you never knew how a child would turn out upon growing up into adulthood.  Why take the chance of leaving property and titles to someone who might prove to be unworthy of them?

Thus, in Paul’s day people only adopted adults.  Typically a close relative would be adopted as a son, and this would only happen if the real sons had proven themselves unworthy of inheriting the father’s property and titles.

Adoption was, in effect, a way of saying, “I do not have any children who are worthy of inheriting my property and titles.  But I have found you to be worthy.  So enter into my family and enjoy the blessing of being called my son.”

Could we have expected God to do this for us?  No.  We have broken the law of God.  We cannot keep even our own laws that we set for ourselves (New Year’s resolutions are a testament to this); how can we possibly expect to keep the law that has been set for us by God?

But there it is.  We are in the family.  We are called sons of God.  We are blessed with all the privileges associated with being sons of God.

Staggering, isn’t it?

Yet this is exactly what we await with the coming of the Christmas season.

 

 

 

Les Miserables 59: The Savage in His Lair

We have looked at the character of Eponine.  Now we shall take a short look at Thenardier.

In leading us into this section of the story, Victor Hugo introduced us to the lowest depths of Parisian society, the criminal underworld.  Let us look at a quote which summarizes the essence of this underworld:

Beneath society there is, we insist, and until the day when ignorance disappears, the great cavern of evil.

This cave below everything is the enemy of all.  It is universal hatred.  This cave knows no philosophers; its dagger has never sharpened a pen.  Its blackness has no relation to the sublime blackness of handwriting.  Never have the fingers of night, clenching beneath this asphyxiating vault, turned the leaves of a book or unfolded a journal….The object of this cave is the ruin of all things.

Of all things.  Including the upper mines, which it execrates.  In its teeming horror, it does not undermine only the social order of the time; it undermines philosophy, it undermines science, law, human thought, civilization, revolution, progress.  It goes by the stark names of theft, prostitution, murder, and assassination.  It is darkness, and it desires chaos.  It is vaulted with ignorance.

Continue reading “Les Miserables 59: The Savage in His Lair”

Advent Week 2: The Thrill of Hope

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.  Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.  But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.  And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.  When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.  But the angel said to him:  “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.  He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.  He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.  Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.  And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this?  I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel answered, “I am Gabriel.  I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.  And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple.  When he came out, he could not speak to them.  They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

When his time of service was completed, he returned home.  After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.  “The Lord has done this for me,” she said.  “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”  (Luke 1:5-25)

I am having serious difficulty in my relationship with God because of a situation that I have been in for two years now.  And many of us have difficulty when we must wait four days for an answer to prayer.  Zechariah and Elizabeth are far better people than us, because their people had not heard from God in over seven hundred years, and yet they still continued to serve God faithfully. Continue reading “Advent Week 2: The Thrill of Hope”