In Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” we are introduced to a person whose very presence is the anthesis of joy…Ebeneezer Scrooge. Described as a bitter, cold-hearted, mean-spirited and miserly old man — His nephew Fred comes to invite him over for Christmas dinner, and the conversation allows us to see the different perspectives of the two men regarding Christmas time…
Fred’s description of Christmas is the ideal is it not. That Christmas is supposed to effect us and open us up to the working of God and to charity towards our fellow neighbors…we are to live with hope, peace, joy, and love. Scrooge is pessimistic about this view of Christmas, and finds little need for it. He’s too busy to be bothered by it. Too important to waste time considering it even. And when asked to give it a chance, he would rather go about his life.
Christmas wishes to reorient our life circumstances and this is not easily accomplished. It didn’t come easy for God, and it doesn’t come easy for us. Take, for example, Scrooge in the Christmas Carol for a moment…what is about to happen to him that will interfere with his well structured life, and will attempt to upset his notions about everything? (three spirits of Christmas are coming to visit) Ok - so, let’s hear the words of Luke this morning and apply the principles of these words to Scrooge’s life as he is confronted by the power of Christmas.
Luke 3:7-8 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
You ever wonder how people get to the point where they can be called a “brood of vipers” from a notorious Bible character. Perhaps, the spirit of Christmas Past can provide some insight as to how this develops:
Luke 3:9-14 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
When God interferes in our world at Christmas time, he offers a new way of life that breaks the traps of the past. Let’s take another quick look at Scrooge as he is visited by the spirit of Christmas Present. The Spirit of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to view Christmas morning, a day in which he refuses to participate. Ebenezer is asked to SEE the world around him differently.
Luke 3:15-17 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The spirit of Christmases yet to come shows Scrooge a look into a potential future.
Luke 3:18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.
To appreciate the good news, we must confront the bad news. James Pope comments in his blog Knowing the Bad News Unlocks the Good News: “Understanding sin is essential to fully comprehending what the Lord has done for us. Remembering what the Lord has done for us brings gratitude and love. Again, to those who want the Church to de-emphasize sin, Jesus provides this warning: But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little (Luke 7:47).”
By showing Scrooge the story that he was trapped in, Christmas releases him to live a different life. He resolves, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will remember the lessons of the Past; I will live in the Present; I will live toward the Future. The spirits of all three will strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me that I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”
When we live in the good news of Jesus’ coming, we are free to experience deep enjoyment. At Christmas, the Lord is at Hand! Let us acknowledge Jesus’s coming to save us from our real and deep sins, and let us resolve to live in the joy of Jesus this Christmas time and all the year long — as long as God provides breath for our lungs!
The rest of Scrooge's story is one of great enjoyment and the love of life…The reason? Scrooge SEES the world differently than he did before…Experiences the world differently than he did before. He Admits his shortcomings and asks others to forgive him and behaves differently than he did before. Lord, grant us this same ability!
The Christmas Carol ends this way: “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more. And to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew. And ever afterward it was always said of Ebeneezer Scrooge that he knew how to keep Christmas, and keep it well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed...
GOD BLESS US, EVERYONE!”
An attitude that belittles a person by asserting that there is no way this person can process, understand, or empathize with others due to factors of experience and cultural background among others.
Have you ever been in a situation or conversation where you left wondering if you were crazy? You perceived that the person talking to you either saw things in a completely different way than you did, or thought that you couldn’t ever possibly understand what they have experienced and their perspective on a situation. You leave the conversation knowing it didn’t go well, but you are unclear how to make it better…how it might have gone better…or what you have to offer the other person.
And in those moments where someone makes you feel or think like you have nothing to offer them, that is when you have fallen victim to the “capacity problem” because you have ran into someone who truly thinks you indeed have nothing to offer them, no perspective worth considering, and that the way this situation gets solved or this solution works is simply by taking what they have to offer you. You may think that relationships are meant to be a “give and take,” that conversations are a dialogue, and that solutions are best when shared input is solicited…but when you run into this group, that flies out the window!
Avoid being the Faux-Boss by making sure that newer people are welcomed into whatever group you have relational capital in. Ask others to share their opinions with you and listen to them, listen without trying to correct their views or defend something that you are personally invested in knowing that listening is more important than winning. And above all, support decisions and changes made by leaders as an influential member of a group, business, or organization even if you think differently because what I have experienced over my time in leadership is that no decision is “final and everlasting.” If you want to be a person who is respected by decision-makers, then you have to be a person who respects decision-makers.
Avoid being an Xpert by considering different perspectives and choosing to research not just the articles by scholars who agree with you, but read the ones who find faults in your concepts and reasoning. When meeting with others, bring your education and experience to bear but allow others to do likewise, knowing that each person has been invited to the table for a reason. Avoid Intellect type parenting by helping children problem solve instead of telling them what to do. If you want to be a person that other folks rely on for good information and wisdom, then be quicker to listen to multiple sources and slower to respond…I think James provides us with the idea…be quick to listen and slow to speak (1:19).
Who should look out for the Clique-keeper? I think those who try to personally invest in other people or groups where it could be seen as a threat to another person’s relationships and/or a threat to the emotional needs of that person. Often, those who cannot let new folks into a closed system suffer from their own emotional needs that are being met by the group. Therefore, if you work with people, like social services or human services; or if you trying to break into a new group, church, or even blended family…you might run into the clique-keeper.
Avoid being a clique-keeper by trusting that other people, even outside the group, or new to the family, have the ability and desire to feel what you feel and empathize with you. Avoid the skepticism of the “outsider” perspective, and understand that even the outsider can provide thoughtful insights into your group, business, family or friend group. One of the greatest gifts we can give to each other as humans is the gift of hospitality, and that is down when we open up our lives to others, let them in, and allow them to fully enter our space with their stuff (emotions, insights, perceptions, etc.) If you want to feel great about the relationships you have, continue to be open to new ones while fostering the lasting ones.
It is interesting to think about our relationship with God at this point because we truly have nothing to offer the creator and sustainer of our lives, yet God does not make us feel less than nor does he treat us as useless. On the contrary, God lavishes love and mercy upon us and accepts our sacrifices and offerings, regardless of how small, as beautiful worship. In Ephesians, Paul claims that God prides Himself in us as his Masterpieces, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared for us to do. You see, it is the exact opposite of God’s design and attitude to treat people as if they have nothing to offer, no perspective to give, and to dehumanize others in this way is to oppose God and truly be ungodly in our actions towards others. Let’s make sure that everyone we meet and treat knows that they have the capacity to provide insight, love, and meaning to us and others about whom we care.
An attitude proclaiming that there is no way a person can ever change to be anything more than who they currently are.
I often wonder how it is we can talk about transformation, recovery, and personal growth in a culture perpetuating a “be the best you, you can be” mantra. Meanwhile, the church proclaims that we are to look, be, act, and grow more and more like Jesus…not our natural selves. Recovery programs start with step one, the admission that we are powerless to control ourselves, and our lives have become unmanageable. Perhaps your boss has given you a “personal growth plan,” which is a way to communicate the standards and skills you are to have if wanting to continue working or progressing in your career. Yet, how does all of this play out in a world where a person in the midst of glorious self-discovery and “authentic me” cannot be tainted by the expectations of church, recovery, or work (or family, friends, and education).
I find the word “authentic” to be one of the most overused and abused word in our culture. We talk about having authentic relationships, yet can only relate to each other through what is good; good times, good memories, and good qualities of a person. We talk about having authentic conversations, but cannot not bring up controversial issues, and so we stick to a more comfortable shallow common ground with each other while the real heart issues simmer underneath the surface of our communities and nation. I could give more examples, but a part of this conceptualization of authenticity is being “organic” which by definition means untainted and natural. So, while I like both of these words, and strive to be both authentic and organic; the culturally acceptable definitions of these terms and their rhetorical power often keep us at a distance, seeing each other as broken pieces striving to look more put-together than any of us really are. In the midst of this ongoing plot, is the dehumanization concept of the “give-up.”
One would think that the Christian Community would have a great Gospel message to proclaim to the brokenness of this current culture. The Bible is extremely clear that when a person decides that he or she can differentiate between good and evil unassisted, the consequences are the very things that the Lord God fought against and continues to fight against. The biblical concept for humanity’s efforts in being their own gods and creating their own gods is “sin.” While several biblical writers continue to address the sin problem that has come into the world through Adam, Eve and everyone else, Paul writes to the church in Rome telling them that God has continued to fight against sin through things like the Torah, but even that was tainted through the presence and power of sin. So, God sent Jesus, his son, to be the vessel in which grace could be poured out upon sin-filled humanity. Jesus, as a person who actually lived the righteousness of God, served as an example to be imitated. Paul claims that we are offered new life through Christ, free from sin and now in under a new authority—God! We show our gratefulness by striving to be a righteous and holy people. But as the “authenticity gospel” of American culture has crept into the church, Christian notions of confession, repentance, and accountability are not practiced. In their place, we have substituted dehumanizing practices, and I will try to explain them below:
A Proverb that Comes to Mind: Proverbs 28:13
People who conceal their sins will not prosper,
but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.
A Proverb that Comes to Mind: Proverbs 10:31-32
The mouth of the godly person gives wise advice,
but the tongue that deceives will be cut off.
The lips of the godly speak helpful words,
but the mouth of the wicked speaks perverse words.
A Proverb that Comes to Mind: Proverbs 27:17
As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.
The church is called together for a reason, so that we can be connected to one another. Society is the same, and we reclaim God’s intention for humanity when we seek to be connected in meaningful ways. As a close this rambling and hopefully provoking post, I am reminded of the song we sing from time to time, an addition to the traditional hymn, “Just As I Am…”
I come broken to be mended, I come wounded to be healed.
I come desperate to be rescued, I come empty to be filled.
I come guilty to be pardoned by the blood of Christ the Lamb.
And I'm welcomed with open arms, Praise God, just as I am.
We are called out of dehumanizing practices and attitudes, and into the re-humanizing grace of Jesus. Please choose to wholeheartedly participate!
You know, I really don’t want to post this. I really don’t want to admit to you that I have a dehumanization problem and I also don’t want to charge you, a reader of this blog, of having the same sinful disposition as I do. However, I can’t get it out of my head. I know that many of us have Christ and live in new life, but I am equally aware that we are still in active recovery from our sin addictions—or we had better be anyway. I can’t read, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and listen again to the words found in Romans 1 about how humanity gave their hearts over to other gods and in so doing, their worship shifted. Once the object of our worship shifts, then our treatment of God’s good creation also shifts…and this includes each other. The result of this monumental lapse in judgement is dehumanization.
Now, I know that we don’t willingly participate in the larger projects of dehumanization. Sure, I’m embarrassed by the very notion of slavery. I detest the global sex slave system that buys and sells children like they are items to purchased. I don’t like reading history books that tell the story of how Africans were thought of as less than human so that they might be treated harshly by their “owners.” I can’t even begin to understand the American pornography machine and its influence in our society. I am tired, as I have already pointed out, of watching people get shot-up by guns in the hands of persons with an attitude of vengeance steeped in dehumanization so rampant in our current American “modus operandi.”
But—we don’t participate it in, right? I mean, I surely don’t join in this sin, do I? Well, let me give you several ways in which we dehumanize others without even thinking it through, like instincts that come naturally to us but are the beginnings of larger and more serious world issues like the ones mentioned above:
While this list is not exhaustive and really has just been compiling in my mind for the last few weeks, it wasn’t all that hard for me to come up with ways in which we, me and you, have bought into systems that dehumanize those who we pass each and every day. As a minister, I have heard these statements above in a church context by those devoted to the teachings of Jesus, readers of God’s Word, and participants in the “new humanity,” along with new creation, promised in the New Testament. And maybe similar to your experience; not only have I stood on the giving end of these, but I have also been on the receiving end of these.
So, for the next few writings, I want to unpack these briefly stated notions listed above. I want to think about what it looks like to be countercultural in a culture that currently continues the ancient practice of dehumanization in innovative ways.
I have heard it said that we should seek to “be the change your want to see in the world,” and so if I want to stop slavery, end shootings, or overcome a porn-saturated culture; then it starts with restoring my heart and opening my eyes to the very things that I do, and that you do too. We must address the attitudes and ideas that start distinguishing us from them and them and them; creating a hierarchy of value. You see, I can’t pass gun laws and I can’t evaluate FBI tips. I can’t tell you exactly how I might react if I was in an active shooter situation. What I can admit is my own contribution to the larger problem, and I can seek revolutionary new ways of loving my neighbors.
Today I was listening to Christian radio after thinking about this text in Matthew regarding the “unforgivable sin” and the speaker, John McArthur, a well-known voice in Bible study said that rejection of Jesus is the unforgivable sin. That is to say, if someone rejects Christ as Savior, then his or her destiny is Hell. Now, this is representative of what his claim was, and it puzzled me and I’ll explain by having you read a passage of scripture that is JESUS’ own words in the Gospel.
Matthew 12:31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
This is puzzling to me because Jesus actually contradicts the notion that those who reject Christ cannot be forgiven…and seems to place more emphasis on a more abstract notion of “blasphemy” or rejection of the Holy Spirit over and above His own treatment. So, if you are scratching your head, then you are in good company because I think this goes against the Evangelical notion that those who believe in the Lord will be saved and those who “believeth not” will be condemned. And this is why context is so important…in any scripture study that we can do! You might notice that our text begins with the word, “Therefore” and so as Mike Cope used to preach, when we see therefore we should stop and ask, “What is that there for?” So, leading up Jesus’ teaching on the unforgivable sin was this…
Matthew 12:22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
When the Pharisees heard it they decided that this could not be the work of the Holy Spirit but the work of the prince of demons. This is a striking judgment…one that is motivated by their need for power and control, enticed by their religious superiority, walled in from any experience of the divine that was outside their theological boundaries. The question that was raised by the people who saw the miracle was asking if Jesus was the Messiah or Son of David…and the Pharisees do not speak against Jesus, but against the power, or empowering force, that makes the miracle possible. Jesus sees into their thoughts and motivations, and provides a lecture correcting their terrible logic and even worse understanding of the spiritual world. Then comes the hammer…
Jesus essentially says, “It is one thing to question who I am and to make claims about my validity…but when you question the very working of God, that being the Holy Spirit, and judge God’s action to be something else, you make an eternal mistake.” It makes you wonder who would have that type of arrogance? Who would place themselves as judge over the actions of God? Well, the Pharisees would…that’s who and that is why Jesus speaks so harshly to them. You see, the unforgivable sin is not the one time rejection of Jesus, because as long as there is breath in our lungs, we can choose to come to Christ. Speaking against Christ was not the issue here, but the issue was making oneself the judge over the Son of God’s action, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
The thing that is clear to me is that the unforgivable sin is not something that the faithless commit…because they are ignorant. I’m not suggesting they don’t sin, I’m simply suggesting that the Bible and Jesus do not argue that the lost, or those outside of Christ, act in a way that is beyond the forgiveness of God. Therefore I must also conclude that God forgives many of the sins that some of our more conservative thinkers might see as a challenge to the church's purity. So, who does? Well, whether it is this passage or the warnings in the book of Hebrews and elsewhere, it is the religious person whose righteousness is prized over the Lord God to the point that they become the judge of whether or not God is acting or working in a particular case…those are the ones most at risk of committing the unforgivable sin.
It seems that those who are empowered by the Holy Spirit and in Christ Jesus should be able to see God at work as discern it correctly. And yes, sometimes we miss it due to distraction or apathy or a myriad of other reasons. But that is not the same as a blatant condemnation of something God is doing among us that doesn’t fit our theology or our experience of religion. Let’s be cautious not to misrepresent the one who has been given as a gift to us empowering the work of God in our time, in our world.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.