Greetings in the Lord:
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Also, at the end of the year, we hope that if you need a tax write-off, or just feel the Lord calling you to contribute, you will consider supporting Emmaus Ministries. Emmaus is one of the very few Christian ministries actively promoting clear thinking in a way that can challenge the nonsense that is being promoted both in and out of the Church. There are, happily, a growing number of us.
We are badly in need of increased secretarial help, and are in the process of upgrading the BBS and my personal computer to pentiums, and of completing our software so that the website is a fully functioning market place for apologetics materials. That process ought to be complete by late winter or early spring of '98.
We now have an online "shopping mall", the "shelves" of which are being filled with books, tapes, albums, and videos for sale by Emmaus Ministries -- all dealing with how Christians can present the case for God in a reasonable and holy manner.
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I spent 3 days at the Separation of School and State conference in Arlington, Virginia, a few weeks ago. Getting government out of education is a very top priority for any free society. Report coming next month.
Faithfully in Christ,
America, which, apart from Israel, more than any other nation was founded consciously on Biblical principles, has become corrupted, and its Christian citizens all but paralyzed in living out their faith in the public arena.
Some Christians teach that the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased with the canonization of Scripture, that we are left only with the written word of God, that we have no significant personal relation to God by which we receive power to be victors in the spiritual warfare of this world.
That view is not true to Scripture. God did not come to earth, die on a cross, rise and ascend to heaven, and then send His Holy Spirit to leave us powerless before the forces of evil. He came to make us conquerors, and more than conquerors. The gates of hell will not prevail against us if we follow the strategy of God. And that means significant victory here and now.
Advent, a case in point, is not about the coming of a wimp, it is about the descent of the Son of God into human life to equip us to deal effectively with all the powers of evil.
Dealing with the power of evil in ourselves is only the beginning, but we Christians often act as though that were the whole of the matter. Dealing with our own sin and brokenness is just the prelude to dealing with evil and ignorance in the public arena, including government and education and the market place.
It is appalling that America has come to the point where it is illegal to behave as a Christian in our government run schools, and that the law of God is regularly trashed in public. The wimpy tones with which most Christian leaders speak out is betrayal of the Son of God. It is not politeness or compassion to speak less than the whole truth, it is betrayal of those very persons who are engaged in self-destructive and society-destructive behavior.
The Incarnation which we celebrate at Christmas was not a polite entry into human affairs to "dialogue to consensus". It was an invasion. God knew quite well that He was unwelcome and that He would be resisted by all the forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil, i.e., by us. God knew that we did not want to discuss the issues with Him and that we would find some way to abort His mission, if not at birth (attempted by Herod), then at "some more opportune time", as Satan later plotted when he failed to tempt Jesus to betray the Father.
The fact is that there is in each of us that which rebels against the Son of God intruding into our (not very well laid) plans for personal dominion. And there is in each of us that which will throw Him out of our lives and nail Him to the cross. But His graceful persistent love wins over those who are open to the truth in that deeply personal way by which reaches to the core of our being.
I would suggest that you consider carefully how you celebrate Christmas this year. Santa Claus is not Jesus Christ, and the honoring of Santa is not the honoring of the birth of Christ.
The "theology" of Santa is exactly contrary to the Gospel of Jesus. "Santa" is a corruption of "Saint", and "Claus" is a corruption of "Nicholas". St. Nicholas was a true Christian saint who became well known for giving to other people. His memory is still honored by many Christians. Santa Claus became the progressively secularized substitute for St. Nicholas as the story of St. Nicholas migrated over the centuries up from the Mediterranean through Russia, Scandinavia, down into Germany and Holland, and then across the Atlantic with the Dutch to America. Santa now promotes the consumer version of holiness -- buy and consume your way to the "feel-good" heaven. He has become an idol in a culture which has lost its way.
Those will seem like harsh words, and I recall struggling with that thought 45 years ago. When Miss Raycroft, my high school English teacher, proposed a debate as to whether one could celebrate both Christmas and Santa Claus at the same time, I waffled and said "yes". I do not believe so any more. Some choices we have to make, and this is one of them. We have allowed ourselves to be captured by the secular culture, with the result that civil government forbids us to behave as Christians in major areas of our culture today.
For many, Santa is the "grinch" who stole Christmas (see Dr. Seuss's, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas). In Romans 1:18 ff. Paul says that when we begin to suppress the truth, we fall into idol worship. And from there we fall into compulsive and addictive and self-destructive behavior - such as consumerism.
The thief was not really Santa, of course, who is only a myth. The thief is our dislike of confrontation with truth and our consequent worship of comfort. Santa is merely the personalized symbol..
Some years ago I stopped purchasing a Christmas tree and built a crèche out of Lincoln logs, with figurines for the holy family, and the usual cast of other characters. I place the presents at the crèche, a gift to the baby Jesus, and from there they are distributed to the recipients. So we all are like the wise men who bring gifts to Jesus. And Jesus is the one who blesses all of us with His presence.
On occasion I have bought a tree and put the crèche under the tree. There are many ways to make the point -- which is that Jesus, not consumerism, is the center of our lives.
You may be thought an "extremist" if you celebrate Christmas without Santa, but I suspect that the angels in heaven will heave a sigh of thanksgiving. Santa will not save your soul, he will not comfort you when lonely or afraid.
Perhaps you have noticed that "Christmas" (in skeptical quotes to distinguish Santa's version from Jesus') ends abruptly on Christmas Day. When I had my parish in East Haddam, Connecticut, we went caroling after Christmas Day, that is, during the 12-day Christmas season. The convalescent homes were like morgues. You would have thought that Jesus had died on His birthday. They were very glad to see us come and raise the dead.
The spirit of death visited because they celebrated Santa, not Jesus. Jesus' celebration, as for any birth, begins, not ends, on His birthday. The Santa celebration begins in the stores before Thanksgiving, and turns into a pumpkin promptly at midnight on Christmas Day.
Merchants, who make nearly a third of their yearly profit during the Santa season, are often afraid to offend customers by celebrating Christmas, so mammon wins out over Jesus in the hearts of most Americans. One might expect that of ignorant pagans and secularists, but for Christians, that is betrayal. And I believe God will have hard words for us when we meet Him face to face. (Actually, it is not very surprising that merchants make nearly a third of their profits during the Christmas season. After all, they begin so early that they include nearly a third of the year...)
A Christian merchant need not be offensive to non-believers, but no faithful Christian will do less than proclaim that Jesus is Lord over all things (yes, including His own birthday). If some non-believers feel offended by a Christian message in Christian owned stores, we must let that be their problem, and not make it ours.
Advent is the four week season leading up to Christmas, a time of preparation for the coming of the Christ child. I would suggest (plan for next year) that you celebrate Advent, not Santa Claus, that you have a period of spiritual house-cleaning and preparation. Perhaps use an Advent wreath, lighting one of the four candles each Sunday of Advent, or an Advent calendar. Visual helps are especially good with children.
You will have a merrier Christmas than anything
Santa can provide, and your Christmas will not die on you the day after.
The Ambridge Area school district superintendent hosted the Ambridge Ministerium meeting for December at the high school cafeteria. He has had to deal with an extremely fractious and impolite (among themselves and to the public) school board. I ran for school board two years ago and lost, but in the process got to know the superintendent. We agreed that we needed to create a forum in which people could come and discuss important issues.
Over the last 8 months, we have established a prayer network into which the town leaders feed prayer requests for their respective jurisdictions. That has been passed out monthly for congregations and prayer groups to pray about -- with an emphasis on cooperative attitudes on the school board and borough council, both notorious for their squabbling.
At that December Ministerium meeting we had the superintendent, his assistant, the high school principle and his assistant, the guidance counselor, and another teacher, plus the local rabbi along with about 10 other clergy and lay ministers. If we had thought of it in time, we would have had at least some of the other six principals in the district.
It was an extraordinary meeting. The high school principal is a praying Christian. (He and I prayed in his office the first time we met.) We had a short bible study led by the local Episcopal priest (not me). He read the psalm for next Sunday and asked if anyone wanted to share about what it meant to them. The sense of the meeting was clearly that we had to restore our Biblical heritage back into our society, or continue to see fracturing and fighting among ourselves, and more of children killing each other and kids killing their parents. (We have had all of that in the last year.) Not everybody is at the same place on where we are going, but nobody was arguing.
We had just had a school board election in which four new folks got on, not favorable to the stand the superintendent has taken (for big building programs, etc.), creating a majority contrary to his program. And the fellow who was his most contentious enemy was elected president of the board. When I heard that I thought, "Oh boy, are we in for it now!"
When the superintendent came to the ministerium meeting, he said that he and the new president had talked for an hour earlier that week before the first school board meeting, and had more communication than they had had in the whole six years the super has been here. The first meeting promised to be a Donnybrook, but the super said that, although it was tough (because the building program he wants was essentially scuttled), it was nevertheless the best meeting the board has had since he has been here. People were disagreeing, but it was done with mutual respect. He was delighted.
On Sunday the 28th we are scheduling a town Christmas carol walk down main street 11 blocks to the local park for a short concert, and then cocoa and cookies at the Episcopal Church nearby. The high school folks all said that they would announce it.
Is God at work, or what?
We are a lo-o-o-ng way from being out of the woods and in the clear with God, but a Holy Spirit wind is blowing through Ambridge. Pray for the clergy. There should have been another ten at least there (there are 29 churches in tiny little Ambridge...)
The first rule of spiritual warfare is, at any cost to ourselves, to create an arena where truth can be spoke with openness and candor and mutual respect. The forces of darkness cannot survive the light. Sometimes you create the arena by just standing up and speaking the truth in love and inviting others to join you. Is not that how God does it with us (Come, let us reason together....)? It may be costly, but in the end, truth and the Lord of truth win.
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The above I had sent out on a couple of email loops, and got back some very valid concern (based in hard experience) as to whether we would be able to have any serious and honest discussion with a school system which has had a growing history of hostility toward Biblical faith in many parts of America. The myth of "neutrality" is just that - there is no neutrality about one's relation to God. God either is sovereign of the universe or He is not. The question is not whether we are neutral, which none of us is -- nor can be. The question is whether we are gracefully partisan.
At any rate, my response to the concerns was as follows....
I got responses to my email about the situation here in Ambridge, about getting into dialogue with the school system, which is by law anti-Christ (legally against the lordship of Christ -- not even remotely neutral -- because there is no neutrality) mainly from folks who were rightly worried about the "dialogue" among Christians and non-Christians being subverted by vested interests who control the gun of civil law.
That, of course, is entirely possible. But what are the alternatives? Stop talking? Stop communication? Suppose God had thought along those lines about us in our fallen world? Supposed He has never said via Isaiah (1:18), "Come, let us reason together..."?
The two edges of the sword of the Spirit, I believe, are revelation and reason welded back to back. We need to learn to wield that sword to enforce the openness of discussion and truth-seeking. The disaster of the 20th century (the demise of Christianity) has been due more than anything else to the fact that we have allowed the forces of darkness, mostly our own ignorance and comfort-seeking, to persuade us that reason and revelation are opposed. Once you buy into that, truth will not long survive.
The first rule of spiritual warfare is not about casting out demons, etc., it is about maintaining an open and fair arena in which truth can be discussed. The forces of dark cannot survive in that light. But then the forces of dark operate on all sides, and no one has a corner on the light. Which is why we need each other. Sometimes I need to hear precisely what my worst enemy thinks of me, or of my opinion. Pain is sometimes the road to truth and health.
I do not know whether our Ambridge Forum will bring to Ambridge either truth or the unity which truth alone can supply. But I know that that is the way God approaches us, and that we are bound to work that way with each other. There are all kinds of gimmicks to watch out for, and some of us, at least, will be on the alert.
I stand opposed to many things the school superintendent is working for in public (government) education. I would like to see government get out of education, lock, stock, and barrel, and put it all back into the hands of those to whom God entrusted it -- the parents (more on this next month). But we have had good discussions, and he listens, as I try to. I will not water down my side of the issue, and I do not want him or anyone else to water down their honestly held beliefs. A truth forum is not for cowards. I do not want any belief of mine to become public policy that cannot stand the test of open public debate. And I believe that there are some others in town who feel that way also.
Please pray for the clergy, that they will be willing to risk their comfort zones and their parochial zones to get into this forum. Almost all of the top civic leaders are participating in one way or another, but less than a third of the clergy. I suspect that none of them quite knows what is ahead, or what the cost of true openness might be. We will have to let our selves be set free "from all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity...." (the Great Litany, Episcopal Book of Common Prayer).
"Pretty stiff price to pay", some might think, but who knows, maybe it is worth it. And the school board is showing signs of wanting to have honest and respectful discussion -- for the first time in the seven years I have lived here. And for the first time in the memory of the superintendent. And people in town are getting excited, beginning to come out of their give-up-itis, and to believe that something positive can be salvaged out of the Ambridge mess. So I say, thanks be to God. As G. Washington said at a crisis point in the war: "Let us raise a standard to which the true and honest can repair, the event is in the hand of God..." (or something like that.)
no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed
great nation. The so-called right to abortion as pitted mothers against their children and women against men.
It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human
relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father's role in an increasingly fatherless
society. it has portrayed the greatest of all gifts -- a child -- as a competition, an intrusion, and
an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the
independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters.
And in granting
this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and
demands from their husbands or other sexual partners. Human rights are not a privilege
conferred by government. They are every human being's entitlement by virtue of his humanity.
The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of
anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign."
("Notable & Quotable" - Wall Street Journal, 2/25/94, p. A14)
- Mother Theresa -
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