Christmas or Christmyth?
I saw a post on Facebook this morning, it read:
To all my friends, please remember that Christmyth is a time for family, friends, love and presents
Oh and of course, honouring our Lord and Saviour… Money, that is.
Whilst I accept that it’s a sad reflection of our society that money is considered to be the “Lord and Saviour” in today’s world, it’s understandable that people would have this consideration. The fact is that in a world and society where currency is the currency of the realm, if you remove Jesus from the equation, what else is there?
We live in a world today that’s devoid of hope, and is it any wonder when we consider statements like this? That our “Lord and Saviour” is money?
But I digress; what about this ‘Christmyth’ concept? This is a question far deeper than the shallow surface that it portrays.
I grew up in a Christian home, and Christmas, therefore, was just a part of life. I grew up hearing of tales of the three wise men, the shepherds being spoken to by angels, King Herod trying to kill baby Jesus and of course, the virgin birth. It was all just stories and history that I took for granted, no less real than Napoleon, Julius Caesar or Joan of Arc.
The thing with just taking it for granted, though, was that when I hit a bit of a crisis in my life as a young adult, everything came crashing down around me. I didn’t know why I believed in Jesus, I didn’t know why I believed in God. It was what I had always done in my life but lacked any depth. My salvation was shallow, something on the surface because that was a part of who I’d always been.
I was therefore away from God for a very long time, but during that time I kept searching for truth. I kept searching for meaning to my existence, for a reason behind everything that happened.
I’m not going to go into the historical evidence for Jesus’ existence, but needless to say, you’re in the very small minority of historians if you want to argue that he is a myth. Jesus existed, there is no Christmyth, and it was only a matter of time, in my search, before I came to this understanding.
When I came to this understanding, I didn’t have much choice. I clearly remember standing in a church service saying to God that I know he exists, that I know Jesus exists, and I know that Jesus died and rose again to save me from the consequences of my own sin. I clearly remember saying to God that regardless of anything else, if I can’t deny those three fundamental things, then I have no other choice than to follow Him.
So what about the Christmyth? If Jesus existed, then he was born, that’s about as simple as it can be put. Yes, it’s unlikely that the date he was born is the date that we celebrate – but then, the date we celebrate the Queen’s Birthday (here in Australia) isn’t her birthday either. August 1 is considered to be every horse’s birthday, that doesn’t mean that every horse is born on August 1 each year!
There is no Christmyth. It’s a real celebration of a real person’s birth; a person who – even if you don’t want to accept that He’s the messiah and son of God – was arguably the most influential man in human history.
Across their products, Google has over 60 privacy policies – which means that those of us using the Google products need to know what information’s going where depending on which product we’re using. Gmail might have one policy, while Picasa has another, and my Android phone has a third – add in Google docs, Adsense, Blogspot and anything else you use, and suddenly things start getting very confusing.
- Reminding you of a meeting based on your location.
- Figuring out what you mean when you search a term like ‘Apple’; ‘Jaguar’ or ‘Pink.’
- Tailoring ads that you see to topics that you’re interested in.
Now the thing is that Google’s been doing this for years. The collection of information on the internet is nothing new, and it was happening well before Google became the be all and end all of searches. What Google’s doing, though, is streamlining things so that the information collected can be used as effectively as possible.
I, personally, like the analogy on Google’s site explaining it all. I go to my local café several times a week for my morning coffee, and now, the staff there greet me by name, ask if I’m having the chai or the latte today, and get to making it. I don’t have to order, I get a nice personalised service, and I’m in and out quickly.
No, Google isn’t a barista, and isn’t having a conversation with me while I look up the Wikipedia article of my current fascination, however, what they are doing is providing me with information that is relevant to me.
Fact: Nothing is free. Google provides me (and you) with a free service, but they have to make money. No money means no servers, no power, and no Google, does it not? Therefore, they have to sell advertising. It’s just going to happen. Why shouldn’t that advertising, then, be something that’s tailored to me? Personally, I’d rather see an ad for the latest cricket equipment than something for the latest in beauty therapy. Why is this a bad thing?
Fact: I use my phone to keep track of appointments, to check Facebook, to look up directions to where I’m going. I’d love for my diary to sync with my email to sync with my directions! Think of this: Someone emails me asking for a meeting next Thursday at Big Joe’s Sandwich Bar over lunch. I reply and say yes, and then save it to my Google calendar all on my desktop. At 11AM on Thursday, my phone beeps to remind me that I’m meant to be having lunch with Bill, and includes the Google Maps directions from where I am to Big Joes, including an estimate that it will take half hour to walk there. Great, I can leave a couple of minutes before noon and get there on time! Why is this a bad thing?
Fact: I choose to utilise these services. I like Gmail for its ease of use, storage and functionality; I use Google+ as a social networking tool (not as much as Facebook, but I’m on there occasionally); I use Google to look up information; I use Youtube to look up videos. I think it’s great that any relevant information shifts across these sites smoothly. In particular, the ‘Search Plus Your World’ feature in Google Search. After all, let’s look at it this way – if I’m looking for a new hairdresser, who am I going to turn to? There’s a good chance I’m going to ask my friends who their recommendations are. Same for a mechanic – I’ll ask my mates who they recommend. Now when I search online, Google is going to include in the results pages that my friends recommended or liked. Why is this a bad thing?
Seriously, people, get over it. If you’re online, your information’s going to be collected. Live by the adage that you can’t take back what you put onto the internet. This isn’t a Google thing, it’s an internet thing, so get used to it, or stop using it. Second, if you want Google to be free for you, then someone needs to pay them so that they can do that. Again, if you don’t like it, don’t use it.
And that’s the kicker. You can choose not to use Google’s services. They can’t do any of this unless you actually have an account and are signed into it.
And from me? Thanks, Google, for a smoother service that’s providing me with a better experience.
A confession: I struggle with personal debt. It’s just a fact. At one point a few years ago, I was given the opportunity to basically take out more money than I should on credit, and through a combination of poor financial management and a few personal circumstances, it got out of hand. It’s a long way from good; but it’s been a lesson – the question is whether that lesson has sunk in or not.
What I can say, though, from personal experience is that having debt that’s outside your realm of ability to pay is perhaps one of the most oppressive and difficult things I’ve ever dealt with. You have creditors and collectors calling, not only yourself, but people you know, your family and others – and it just becomes that you end up scared to pick up the phone because you’ve got no answers.
I was unemployed for over a year, on Centrelink payments, barely able to survive on the meagre amount that comes from welfare; and every time one of those calls came, I still had no answers. Here these people are calling every third or fourth day trying to squeeze blood out of the stone that is your own personal financial situation. It doesn’t get better, it just seems to get worse.
God does not want us to be in this situation. He does not want us to be suffering from debt – so much so that he actually told the Israelites that they were to regularly cancel debts owed to one another.
When you think about the society that God was creating in the Israelites, it’s a wonder why we’ve had to develop any other system of civilisation – let alone actually continue to use them. As I read Leviticus and now read Deuteronomy, I see this picture of a society where they’re encouraged to work hard, to continue to grow, where they each own their own land and possessions, but not to the detriment of the community. He makes it very clear, both in talking about the year of Jubilee, and now here, that there are limits to individual accumulation.
Every seven years, they’re told here, to cancel any debts to their brothers. Interestingly, they’re entitled to ask for payment still from a foreigner, but within the nation of Israel, they are to cancel any debts. They are also told not to get selfish when it’s getting close, and withhold assistance from someone because the seventh year is near so they probably won’t get their money back.
Basically, what God’s saying is that he will bless them; but he wants to bless them as a people, not as individuals. No one should be suffering, when the favour of God is upon them. He’s giving them a mandate that says, in their financial and material prosperity, they are to look after one another. He’s placing the family and the community above wealth.
God didn’t want to have his people living with the oppression of debt hanging over their heads. He wanted them to be free. It’s unfortunate that our society is so dominated by money today; because it means that financial freedom is basically the key to most freedoms. It’s hard to feel free in any sense, if you’re feeling trapped by your financial situation.
We may not get our financial debts cancelled, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t live in freedom though. Spiritual freedom is available right now.
Our debts for sin were cancelled when Jesus hung on the cross. He hung there, paying the price of death for each and every one of us. He was without blame, and yet he carried the price for all the world.
Why? Because he loved us. Because he didn’t want us to live with debt hanging over our heads. Because he wanted us to have freedom, and true freedom comes from one source: Grace.
Okay, so the first part of this chapter’s once more going through food rules. Don’t eat this, do eat that. I struggle with those parts. However, I did notice tonight that there’s a big list of birds – but when I was reading through it, it kind of clicked to me, these are all – I think – birds who hunt in some way. Eagles, Kites, Falcons, Hawks and so on are some of the most majestic birds, but they’re also birds of prey; and then you have vultures and ravens – both scavengers.
That was just something that stood out to me. Given the restraint a few verses later, not to eat anything that is found already dead, I think I see a pattern evolving.
But that’s just an observation.
The second part of this chapter talks about tithing.
I find it quite interesting, actually, reading this chapter. In the first section we read about the eating rules, and not to eat camel, or rabbit, or pig among other things. Then it goes on to tithing.
Now the reason I find this interesting is because of observations I’ve borne witness to in the modern church. There are a lot of rules and regulations laid down in these first five books of the bible, rules like no eating pigs, not to cut your hair in certain ways, not to wear clothing made of a mixed weave, stuff like that. In today’s modern world, it tends to be suggested that these rules were put in place for the Israelites specifically, and don’t really apply to us today.
However, particularly in modern churches, we certainly can’t say that about the tithe. I’ve sat in several congregations throughout my life, listening to someone giving an offering talk that makes you feel like you’re a sinner if you don’t put money into the bucket/bag as it comes around. God commanded us to tithe; so if you don’t tithe, then you’re cheating God.
This is why I find this chapter interesting, because in today’s world, well, we can discard half of it. We can eat what we want today. The second half, though? Certainly not. You must give your money to God by putting it in the offering.
Now, don’t misinterpret me – I am most certainly not saying that we should not tithe, and give back to God what he has given us. This isn’t because he needs it, or even because he wants it – it’s about the state of our hearts, though. It’s about giving back what we can, not for God’s sake, but for ours. A generous heart is a loving heart.
As I read this passage, though, something stood out to me.
Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. ~ Deuteronomy 14:23
The first thing that stands out here: Eat the tithe. Moses is actually telling the Israelites here to eat their tithes themselves. He adds, further down:
And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own. ~ Deuteronomy 14:27
So what he’s telling the Israelites, is to bring their tithes back to the holy place of worship – I’m assuming he’s talking about the cities marked earlier, to be inhabited by the Levites. He doesn’t say to them, though, just to drop it there and go again. He wants them to stop, eat, and share with the Levites as well. This is about communion with God, both by actually coming to the place God’s chosen as a dwelling, but also by sharing with the ones chosen to serve God full time.
Secondly, I notice that it doesn’t speak about bringing a tithe in just so that they can be blessed more and given more. I know that there are verses in other areas of the bible that say in giving out of what you have, God will bless you in return, but this one doesn’t. This verse says that they should bring the tithe to God’s dwelling place, so that they will learn to revere him.
Apart from guilt trips of God commanding us to bring a tithe; the other great offering talk subject I’ve heard in my life is the investment opportunity. Give, give, give your money to God, because in turn he will give you more in return. It’s like some sort of pyramid scheme – the more you give, the more you’ll get back.
Yes, sometimes that will happen, but God’s blessing is more than just financial.
I do not say anything here to discourage people from tithing. This is a challenge in my life that I need to be more faithful with, I will admit that. I encourage anyone who reads this to consider in prayer and communion with God, to tithe – as I encourage myself at the same time. It needs to be, though, out of the right heart. Tithing is not something that should be done under pressure, guilt, or selfishness – it is a step of partnering with God; of coming in to God’s dwelling place and sharing with him.
Back in chapter 27, there was the story of this guy, Zelophehad who died after having only daughters. The ramification of his death was that his daughters were to inherit his property and so on.
Now that the Israelites are getting closer to the Promised Land, though, they’re starting to think about the land that people are going to inherit as well.
So God lays down the law – because the lands are going to be allocated by tribe first – basically dividing Israel into states – so there needs to be an assurance that the correct land will stay in the correct tribe. Zelophehad’s daughters can marry who they like, as long as they marry from within their own clan. This is the precedent for these types of situations for the future as well.
As I read this, I got thinking about accumulation and growth of wealth. “Prosperity” as some people would call it.
I’ve already previously written an article on prosperity, but today I was reading another article on the “Prosperity Gospel” also.
What I was got to thinking as I read this chapter, was how once again, what appears on the surface and what can be taken out of the text if you look beyond the superficial don’t necessarily always give the same appearance. On the surface, it almost seems a bit childish, it’s like there’s an attitude of selfishness coming from the people – that they can’t let someone else get hold of their land.
And perhaps there is, but as I look at it from the Heavenly perspective, another point comes out. That this is an element of fairness. The tribes are each going to be given an allotment of the land that they are going into, each tribe is getting as much as they are deserving for their size, capacity, etcetera.
Implementing a law that says these girls have to marry within the clan keeps the land in their own family, it also prevents people from other clans or tribes taking advantage of them. Remembering again that this was a highly patriarchal society and therefore they were likely going to have to marry at some point.
The entire Israelite society, whether it’s something like this that keeps the land held into the same family, or the year of Jubilee – also mentioned in this passage – where any land accumulated over the past fifty years gets handed back to the original owners, debts are canceled, etcetera all seems to be aimed at building a nation equitably and fairly. Prosperity, it would seem, wasn’t meant to be an individual thing. There’s an element in the picture that we see of God’s design for the Israelite society that says he didn’t want them accumulating. There was enough land for everyone, so everyone would have their fair share.
It’s a common mentality, these days, that life is a game and ‘whoever dies with the most toys wins.’
Through this, the idea of ‘Prosperity Doctrine’ promoted heavily by televangelists in particular continues to have people treat God like a vending machine. These people promote a give to get attitude, the more money someone gives to the televangelist’s “ministry” the more money in turn, God will pour out on that person.’
Money, wealth, physical prosperity, though is all a distraction from God. In the words of Jesus, it is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
So it is worth letting go of an attitude that says we need to accumulate and collect the most toys, and instead let our focus be on God. He will provide us with as much land as we need through his inheritance in the promised land. We don’t need more than that.
So, we started Numbers with a census, and now it’s time for another one.
There’s a lot more detail in this census, which makes it great for geeks like me who get amazed and intrigued wondering just who everyone was, and how the nation all fit together and crazy things like that. Here we get the names of the clans broken down inside each tribe, rather than just a broad number of descendants of each of Jacob’s sons.
The first thing that stands out to me as I’m reading this chapter, is that the number’s actually gone down. I guess it’s to be expected; they’re wandering in the desert, but more importantly, they’ve angered God so many times, it’s probably a miracle that their numbers aren’t even less by this point than they are! Through plagues, earthquakes, fire, snakes and other things, it wouldn’t have been a great surprise if the number had been halved.
God goes on to speak about the inheritance that he has for each of them in the land of Canaan; and how it shall be divvied up by lots between them. Throughout the history of what’s been happening, I wonder whether there were some tribes who caused more grief than others. I wonder if there was reason for God to suggest that one tribe had been better behaved, therefore could have more land, or better land. Still, he makes sure that it’s divvied up evenly and fairly between those who received the inheritance.
I can’t help feeling something standing out to me now as I’m writing this, and reach the passage about the Levites.
All the male Levites a month old or more numbered 23,000. They were not counted along with the other Israelites because they received no inheritance among them.” ~ Numbers 26:62
See, there’s something that I’ve felt God laying on my heart over the past few months, and something I’ve become more comfortable with as those months have gone by. That’s the idea or concept that I might never actually own a home, I might never have the settled life that a lot of people crave; and it doesn’t worry me so much any more. I have to say I’ve struggled, at times, with the idea that some people do live off the generosity of others, and it comes down to the culture that we live in, one that says you can’t get something for nothing, I think.
Still, the best gift we ever received was for nothing.
The Levites were the ones dedicating their lives to the service of God; and in return, they gave up their rights to own property, or have an ordinary job or source of income. They lived on the generosity of the people, through what the Israelites brought to God.
Ultimately, and honestly, I believe that would be the next best freedom we can receive, after the gift of Grace through Jesus. The freedom to live totally in dedication to God; where materialism is not a driving factor.
Finally in this chapter, we see that it’s now at a point where all of the Israelites who came out of Egypt have died, save for Joshua and Caleb. It’s starting to get to the exciting point; it’s almost time to step into their promised land.
I’m not overly good at finishing things.
I’m great as an ideas person, and great at planning, managing, delegating, the actual oversight of a project. One thing that I tend to struggle with, though, is the end.
It happens even with my writing. I just find it difficult to actually get to the end of something. I remember when I was in – I think it was grade 8, we had an English project to write a short story in class. I started writing, and didn’t stop, so I took it home and kept writing that night, only to still not actually finish it!
Today, though, a few work projects have reached points where I can see that they’ll be finished very soon; and it’s a great feeling. Some of these have been going for months now, so it’s really rewarding to look at them and realise that they’re actually nearly complete.
Now I just need to do that with a book.
I struggled to understand this chapter. Most of the chapters that I’ve read through so far have given me some sort of clear message out of them, I’ve really felt an interpretation of the passages. I’m not a theologian, I haven’t gone back to the original Hebrew, translating every word literally and analysing what’s going on. All I’ve been doing – and am continuing to do – is just share what I feel God saying to me with each passage.
When I first read this chapter, though, it didn’t really seem to make sense. God talks to Moses about people making a special vow of dedication to the Lord, and then the monetary values of different people; before saying that if a person is unable to pay the value, then the priest has to evaluate the worth according to what they can afford.
So my initial reading had me thinking that what it was saying, was that a person actually had to pay to dedicate someone to the Lord. That they actually presented someone they were dedicating to the Lord, and paid as well.
Come to think of it, that really doesn’t sound logical. My brain should probably have picked it up sooner.
So what’s actually being said, is that a person who has been dedicated to the Lord can be redeemed, ie. Purchased, back into their family.
It doesn’t really explain what situations might lead to one dedicating themselves to the Lord, or what would cause the need for them to be redeemed. I guess there could be a myriad of examples, though. I’ve just had the thought that maybe a second or third son of a household dedicates himself to the Lord, when his brother or brothers both died, his father comes to pay the ransom and redeem him so that the family farm can stay in the family?
That’s just a hypothetical, but the type of image that came to mind.
My old friend, Merriam Webster states that the word Redeem has several different meanings; but they all centre around buying, or paying a price for.
To buy back: REPURCHASE
To free from captivity by payment of ransom
To release from blame or debt
To atone for
To offset the bad effect of
Remember the old song, My Redeemer Lives? Or, There is a Redeemer? Just two of many more songs which talk about Jesus as the redeemer. He paid the price, the ransom. Jesus Christ is our redeemer, the one who freed us from captivity, by paying the ransom for for sin. He released us from blame, from the debt that we should be due to pay.
A 25 year old man might have been worth 50 shekels to redeem from service of the Lord, but the price was much, much higher when it came to releasing us from our indebture to sin.
And so ends Leviticus. The coming 32 days may be the most challenging of this Bible Journey so far, perhaps even of this entire challenge. Still, I’m determined to finish.
So… Apparently I’ve actually caught and overtaken Stephen. Just noticed that today.
An extremely close friend was texting me today, and in amongst things, said she loves me. For a moment, my mind went to a reply along the lines of, “If you keep saying that, I might start to believe you.”
How much do we really believe that people love and care about us? I know that I’ve struggled with it, the thoughts of not believing that someone loves me wasn’t actually that difficult to conceive; especially in the mindset I was in at the time. I think that a lot of people actually struggle with being loved, even more than they struggle with loving others. It seems to be a human thing to actually think that we have to only receive what we deserve.
I remember being told in the past by a girl I liked, that she didn’t want to be with me because I deserved better than her. I was shocked, and totally confused. Why would that matter? Shouldn’t I be the one who gets to decide who I ‘deserve’? Since when does ‘deserving’ have anything to do with love and relationships? And even if she was right, shouldn’t it then be the case of just feeling lucky rather than saying no?
If we can’t accept love from other people, because we think we don’t deserve it; then how are we ever meant to accept God’s love in our lives?
I love the concept of the Year of Jubilee.
I really do. Just imagine how much freedom would be released throughout the world right now, if every debt was suddenly released. If all the governments of the world united together and said, “Right, in 2011 we’re having a year of jubilee. All property is to be returned to its original owner, all debt is to be cleared, and we’re just going to start over.”
Imagine the release. It really would be a year of jubilee. The entire population of the world would celebrate.
I’ve heard once before a claim that if all the money in the world was to be gathered up and distributed evenly to everyone, we would all be millionaires. However, I’ve also heard predictions that it would only take a few years for the money to be pretty much back in the same places as it was before. I’d be willing to take the chance though.
I think the point of the Year of Jubilee was, apart from the restoration of the land – both to the people and itself – was to just keep things balanced. If we actually applied some biblical economics to the world today, I think there’d be a major shift in the way the global community works. People wouldn’t be able to accumulate obscene amounts of wealth, and perhaps, if they couldn’t accumulate so much, they wouldn’t worry about it so much. Perhaps it could break the hold that money – and more importantly, greed – has over modern society.
On another topic that I just alluded to, comes the restoration of the land.
I’m no hippy, greenie or tree hugger. Not really, anyway, but I do care about the environment, about our land, about the animals and the trees and the plants that share this planet with us. I believe that when God gave us dominion over the Earth, he gave us responsibility over it as well, to manage and till the land properly; to care for it and raise it; to treat it like our own.
Again, greed took over though.
I read the first part of this chapter, about every seventh year not planting any crops and just letting the land fend for itself, and wondered just how different the world might be if we kept this particular idea also. The Earth itself doesn’t get a chance to recover from what we do to it, and instead of just letting the Earth take care of itself, humanity keeps trying to fix it. As though we know better.
God built this Earth, he built the laws of nature that surround the Earth and the universe. I think that chapter 25 of Leviticus is more than just a series of celebrations and inconsequential laws – I think this was God actually telling us how to take care of his world. How to take care of ourselves. How to live in harmony with the Earth and with each other.
God knows better than we do. We keep trying to fix things, but we don’t try to fix the problem – we keep trying to bandaid the symptom. Perhaps the solution to global warming and other problems that our planet is facing isn’t to try and fix it; but rather, to trust that God knew what he was doing. Perhaps we should just step back and try to integrate ourselves with the way God built the planet, rather than trying to integrate the planet with the way we’re building our society?
Okay, so one more short comment on politics.
I love politics, and I really have a passion towards it. I’ve given serious consideration for a few years, now, about actually entering politics as a candidate.
It could be – it’s a choice that’s sitting there in front of me. However, it’s not going to happen – at least, not in the near future.
I’ve really been considering the paths that God has laid out for me over the past week, and I think I’ve brought it up before, but the focus has really been on trusting him. I’ve lived a very material-based life, for most of my adulthood. That’s not to say that I consider myself wealthy, in fact, quite the opposite – but what I mean is that there’s been a real focus on the fact that we live in a world where money is king – you can’t really survive without it.
Yet God’s challenging me to release that attachment, and that reliance on money. Not as in giving up my job, just as in actually trusting him to provide all my needs, which he does promise. I’ve really been challenged by verses like 2 Corinthians 4:18 or Matthew 6:20. Important lessons of realising that everything here on Earth will fade away, I can’t take any of it with me when I die – so what’s really important is “investing” – so to speak – in eternity.
Well, first of all this chapter gave me deja vu. We hear the story, then we hear the servant tell the story to everyone else.
But wouldn’t it be nice if every decision in life was this easy? Find a wife simply by sitting down and asking for some water?
I’m exceptionally tired, so I don’t think I’m going to have much more to say tonight.
For all of the words in this chapter, there isn’t a great deal of story actually told. Abraham doesn’t want his son to marry a person from the place he’s come to, but he wants to bring someone from his homeland and family. It wasn’t exactly an easy mission that Abraham gave the servant, to go and find a woman who would then be the wife of his son. I guess, when you think about it, he really needed some supernatural guidance!
God always provides, though – and this comes back to what God’s been talking to me about. The servant admitted that he really wasn’t likely to find the right person for his master’s son, and asked for God’s help, and God provided.
Trust, and it will be given.
Now, it’s sleep time…