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!”
Usually in a conflict in which there is disagreement with a person and some of their behaviors, We give ourselves permission to treat a person poorly because it is justified.
Disagreement happens, it is actually a natural thing that occurs in groups of all kinds. Individuals bring their experiences, talents, expertise, and weaknesses to all sorts of meetings, discussions, and gatherings. As a result, there are times when conflicting ideas arise, different directions are thrown out for consideration, or even different personalities are on display. Managing conflict is something that every relationship, community, business, and entity will have to face, but there is an easier route. There is a route that avoids new ideas, or different ones, and totally gives you the upper hand. I call it Permission, and it is an effective way to dehumanize someone with whom you have conflict, quickly gathering a group of supporters and silencing those who think differently than you. Here are four ways to dehumanize someone with Permission:
When we practice these permissions, we are so far away from the words of Jesus in Luke 6. He was teaching those who wanted to become like him through discipleship when he told them this:
27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Now, let’s understand that we cannot take this post and this scripture out of context. I would never suggest that persons are to stay in abusive situations, after all this is a series on dehumanization and to bully, abuse, and mistreat people is in essence dehumanizing them. We want to engage folks and talk through disagreements, and using disagreements as permissions to dehumanize is what we are fighting here…nothing more. We want to reconcile relationship and treat people with deep respect. When we fail to do that, which I have, then we want to offer apology and continue to participate. When we can seek to “do good to those who hate us” and when we can “do to others as we would have them do to us” then we will move away from these permissions to be dehumanizing and start re-humanizing each other in authentic (yeah, I used that word) engagement!
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.
In February, we tend to focus on relationships. Sure, Valentine’s Day is February 14th, which probably helps but there always seems to be some good resources available that allow us to reflect on love, spouses, significant others, and family relationships. I am by no means an expert on families or marriage, but a ministry colleague provided me with some articles on those topics this week and in reading through them, I really liked the following article by Dr. Eric Scalise. I am passing it on to you to prompt thought as we imagine healthy and holy families, loved one who are freed from the guilt of sin and shame and alive in Christ. My desire is to pass on a legacy worth repeating, in the life of the church and in the life of my family. I know I need three things to accomplish this: 1) God’s grace through Jesus Christ to take away my shame and sin, 2) the Holy Spirit’s transformation in my life, 3) an openness to God’s will that allows my family to experience the newness of life I have instead of the scars of past hurts I carry. So, let’s run away from these rules, and instead of ruining our families, lets build them up and edify our loved ones.
By Dr. Eric Scalise:
Every marriage and every home offers the opportunity to create meaningful relationships, to lay the groundwork for a secure and healthy self-identity and to incorporate scriptural principles that lead to a vibrant and active celebration of one’s relationship with God. In 1 Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul tells us that “love edifies” or builds up. Love helps build a marriage. Love helps build well-balanced children and a legacy that moves from one generation to the next. Yet, what about the things that tear down? In my professional and ministry experience, almost nothing is potentially more destructive within our primary relationships then when a pervading sense of shame is present. In fact, research in this area indicates that for every critical, hurtful or abusive thing someone hears about him/herself or experiences on a personal level, the average individual needs 17 positives before he or she perceives balance again. If this is the case, imagine how consumed by negativity some people are before they ever leave the home environment.
Shame communicates to others they are somehow unworthy…that they are unlovable, unwanted and in one or more ways, flawed or defective. The result is often a debilitating fear of rejection. When compounded by the fear of failure, this two-edged sword can be a damaging force in any marriage or family system. To effectively integrate biblical truth that can counter these beliefs, it is important to have a good frame of reference in how the dynamic evolves in the first place.
Murray Bowen was a major theorist who helped develop a family systems model of behavior. He and others advocate the notion that individual patterns of behavior, as well as one’s interpersonal relationships, need to be understood contextually by looking across generations. Both functional and dysfunctional relationship principles are imparted within the home environment and Bowen’s work particularly emphasizes the transfer of the “emotional” elements that impact behavior. This includes the ability to set appropriate boundaries or the lack thereof. The same could be said regarding the development of intimacy, positive attachments and feeling connected to others in a meaningful way.
One of the most comprehensive studies ever undertaken to help evaluate the consistency of this intergenerational transmission of attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, was the Dunedin study. Over one thousand children were identified at birth during a one-year period (1972-1973) in Dunedin, New Zealand and then reevaluated at ages 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 18, and 21. This research is a unique resource for the investigation of behavioral and emotional development. Researchers used the Dunedin data to find support for the concept of generational legacy. Follow up reports showed as the children in the study aged, there was consistent evidence that parental role model behaviors were being emulated and the behaviors were becoming more established and entrenched with each successive period of evaluation from birth through early adulthood. The Dunedin project further supports the notion that family of origin dynamics, how spouses interact and parenting styles have a longitudinal effect on an individual and that this effect overlaps multiple adult environments.
The following are five dysfunctional family rules that many of us probably grew up with. This does not necessarily imply they were posted on the refrigerator with a magnet, but they may resonate with you on a deeper level. Perhaps the first word of each rule offers a clue as to why they can be problematic.
Rule #1 – Don’t Talk – Those who grew up with this rule were not allowed to talk about anything significant or personal, especially in a transparent way. Let’s take, for example, an alcoholic father. Everyone knows dad is drinking. Everyone knows that dad comes home drunk and sometimes gets physical with mom or the kids, but no one talks about the drinking. It’s like having the proverbial elephant in the living room. We all see it. We all smell it and we see what it’s doing to the carpet, but we are all supposed to tip-toe around as if it was not there. And a big “no-no” is…we never tell anyone outside of the family. That would be considered treasonous. What often develops is an unhealthy fear of transparency and the keeping of secrets, which can create enormous conflicts within a marriage.
Rule #2 – Don’t Feel – Those who grew up with this rule were not allowed to express their feelings in an authentic way. Whenever they tried, the process would be shut down. Feelings were ignored, minimized, criticized or disallowed. Sooner or later, we come to believe that no one really cares how we are really doing, so we hide behind the hurt or the perceived threat of rejection and indifference. Again, this is an extremely destructive pattern that negatively impacts the development of intimacy in marital or family relationships.
Rule #3 – Don’t Touch – I have spoken with some adults who will tell me that as children, they have no memory of being hugged or told they were loved by the significant role models in their lives. They may have assumed it at some level, but the questions still persisted. Another possibility is that the touch was unhealthy or abusive. National statistics indicate that as many as one out of every three girls and one out of every five boys will experience some form of abuse before they graduate from high school. When I grew up, there was a saying that went like this, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I disagree. Long after the words are spoken or the rejection has been experienced, the emotional bruises will linger, possibly creating an unhealthy perception of intimacy. During Jesus’ ministry, whenever He dealt with the demonic, more often than not, He spoke a word. However, when He healed people, He usually touched them. Appropriate physical, emotional, relational and spiritual touch are critical to healthy development.
Rule #4 – Don’t Resolve – Those who grew up with this rule came to believe that nothing was resolvable or even allowed to be brought to closure. Emotional wounds were “picked at” again and again much like a scab, until a long-lasting or permanent scar was the end result. This can also translate into how believers may approach forgiveness and letting go of past hurts. They may wrestle with either receiving or giving forgiveness. Some are convinced there is no reason in trying to address and solve problems because it cannot or will not change the outcome.
Rule #5 – Don’t Trust – This last rule is based, in part, on the first four. If there is no permission to talk openly, if there is no genuine expression of feelings, if there are no healthy forms of touch, and if there is no ability to bring something to successful resolution, then the hurtful conclusion is that no one can really be trusted either…even God! Being too afraid to trust leads to an independent spirit; being too hurt to love leads to pride; and being too angry to listen, leads to rebellion. Honesty and trust, especially within a Christlike environment, are like a glue that helps hold a relationship together.
Whether we are husbands or wives, fathers or mothers, or provide counsel and care to people, we must find ways to counteract the negative messages that are attached to these Rules. The good news of the Gospel is that we are loved, forgiven, offered the gift of grace and of such great value in the eyes of God that we were worth dying for. This does not mean we excuse sinful behavior and poor choices or never hold people accountable, but rather, to be proactive as we have the opportunity to affirm others in the eyes of God. So many people are buried in negativity, often by their own doing. Transformation can begin by telling them, “Shame off you!”
As I continue to read the little book on the Holy Spirit by Lois Malcolm, I am challenged to think about the ongoing work of the Spirit in the life of the church, and in my personal faith, love and hope.
In a chapter entitled, “The Spirit Creates Faith” Lois explains the freedom the Spirit gives us to live the life of Christ. I want to share with you a couple quotes and allow you to simmer on them a bit.
“We do not lose our unique individual identities when we enter into Christ’s life; we do not become Christ. Rather, we become more fully ourselves. Christ’s life-giving Spirit gives us the power to deal with destructive patterns in our lives—patterns that keep us trapped in destructive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—so that we can be all that God has created us to be, so that we can, by faith, step into the possibilities God would have for us. Where destructive patterns in our lives have abounded, now grace can abound all the more!” (56)
Here’s why I like this--I get the feeling that a current trend in Christianity is that we know a lot about different personalities and then seem to prefer particular ones over others. We have expectations of how men and how women should be (and act)…and in the call to be more like Jesus, we need to be careful not to place our personality preferences on others. We are to walk in the way of Jesus Christ, but we are also to truly be more ourselves and to learn to appreciate who we are in Christ. While the destructive patterns need to cease, introverts filled with the Spirit and extroverts filled with the Spirit may both seek Jesus and do so in ways that are unique! I could go on…but my point is that in being a Christian…you don’t have to fit a “mold,” you are free to live in the Spirit’s guidance of your individual identity! That is a great thought, especially as I (or you) live out my (or your) faith prompted by the Spirit’s work!
A second thought from the book is this:
“Thus, with faith comes profound self-love. Through the Spirit’s power, we are able to love ourselves—and accept even those parts of us we are most ashamed or guilty about—precisely because God knows and loves every part of us. Indeed, it is only when we re no longer so buttressed by the incessant demands of our own fears and desires—when we can actually become an integrated rather than a divided self—that we can truly attend to what others need, that we can truly attend to their interests and not merely to our own.” (59)
Here’s why I like this--I think many people learn to hate a part of themselves, and I think some Christian circles teach this self-hate as way of dealing with sin and making sure that a believer will not return to that sin; thus returning to shame and guilt and all things evil. Yet, how wonderful is the love of God that declares “I love all of You” including the deepest and darkest places of our hearts, minds, and souls. And this love, instead of making us fearful and embarrassed, provides us with freedom from the very sin curse we participate in…and in so doing we are accepted into the family of God. I also like to think that as we are made whole by the Spirit, we join with other people who are made whole by the Spirit and then we have a group of people joining together to make the world whole by the Spirit…and that group is called the church. And it is the church in which we can attend to the needs and interests of others. The opposite of this approach is the all too familiar consumer approach to church…I will sell the good parts about myself and I will only be a part of the church if it serves my needs. This type of faith doesn’t end with “profound self love” and “attending to the needs of others.” Only the Spirit does that!
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.