Thinking Out Loud

May 30, 2017

Birthdays, the Civic Calendar, Christian Holidays, and Jewish Feasts

“This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord. This is a law for all time.” – Exodus 12:14 NLT

Today’s my birthday. Not one ending in a zero or a five, thankfully. In the broadest span of people who call themselves Christians, there are some splinter groups who do not celebrate their birthdays or wedding anniversaries at all. A larger number of people feel that the civic holidays or ‘greeting card days’ (Veteran’s Day, 4th of July, Mother’s Day, etc.) have no place in the year of the local church. Then there are those who skip Christmas and Easter, regarding those as pagan celebrations.

With yesterday being Memorial Day in the United States, I wrote the following originally for Christianity 201. But it’s my birthday and I’m feeling lazy this morning. (Plus I don’t want you to miss yesterday’s book review.) So I started thinking about the Jewish festivals and as you can imagine, there is wealth of material available online on this topic…

First stop for the Christian is to understand our Jewish roots, and in particular the Feast Days and also, as the lower section of the chart below shows, their fulfillment in the New Testament:

Source: God’s Calendar.

In searching, I came across several articles by a group called United Church of God, which celebrates these Feasts but doesn’t do Christmas or Easter. (Jehovah’s Witnesses fall into this category as well.) I don’t know much about this group, but I found this comment challenging:

Jesus Christ celebrated seven festivals every year that most Christians today can’t even name, yet He is at the core of all of them.

But one article on another site — I won’t link to this one — asked the question, “Should you observe God’s holy days or demonic holidays?” This rather provocative approach accomplishes little. We don’t live in a theocratic society as did the Jewish people. You may not celebrate those points on the calendar, but probably the place where you work will be closed for the day. Does the modern, secular Christmas detract from the Biblical story of incarnation? Absolutely, but we can also use the day as a talking point to inform our non-churched friends and neighbors. Similarly, we can share with them why the secular symbols of Easter — eggs and rabbits — are a shadow of the story of life we find in the resurrection.

One of the arguments used by those who oppose secular holidays, and secularized Christian holidays is that it constitutes adding to the calendar God has already given. Two verses in Deuteronomy are quoted:

Don’t add anything to the word that I am commanding you, and don’t take anything away from it. Instead, keep the commands of the Lord your God that I am commanding all of you. (4:2, CEV)

Diligently do everything I command you, the way I command you: don’t add to it; don’t subtract from it. (12:14, MSG)

Again, remember these verses are from the Pentateuch. These books teach us the ways of God and God’s dealing with humankind, but they also encode a law we are no longer under.

Those from liturgical churches however do have Evangelicals at an advantage. In the Biblical panorama of the church calendar we see things which are often missed in our modern churches. It might do some good to swap out the names Christmas and Easter to look more closely at “Epiphany” or “Resurrection Sunday.”

Source: Word of Life Church, St. Joseph, Missouri

Another example: We just passed Ascension Day on Thursday. Writing on Friday at DailyEncouragement.net, Stephen and Brooksyne Weber noted:

In most of Christendom this day doesn’t have nearly the emphasis as other notable events in our Lord’s earthly life such as His birth, death, resurrection or Day of Pentecost which followed His Ascension by 10 days. I wonder how many readers even recalled that yesterday was Ascension Day prior to reading today’s message?

The old order communities of faith in our area place great emphasis on this holy day. As we traveled through that part of the county yesterday we noted that many of the stores and businesses are closed on Ascension Day with special services being held.

Many Christians express their faith in creeds and a line in the Apostle’s Creed states, “He ascended into heaven”. Other churches have formal statements of doctrine and this truth is expressed as in a statement such as “in His ascension to the right hand of the Father”.

Did you know that Thursday was Ascension Day? I know that I never gave it a moment’s thought. Yet today, Americans will both celebrate and remember the nation’s military history with Memorial Day. I don’t think that’s wrong. It’s important to remember the people who paved the way for our liberty and freedom. But I think it’s sad that, myself included, an important day on the church calendar should pass without notice…

In preparing this I realized there is a place of balance to be found here between our spiritual worship and our civic obligations; and especially between our First Testament history and our Second Testament life under grace. Verses can easily be pulled out to randomly support particular positions. With respect to the Law, I think this one is helpful:

NLT Gal 4:10 You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. 11 I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. 12 Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws.

 

 

 

 

March 21, 2017

C. S. Lewis’s Greatest Hits

C. S. Lewis certainly belongs in any list of the Top 10 Christian writers of the 20th Century, but for many his thoughts are more easily digested in sound bites rather than the reading of complete works. I was a little surprised when, with 2017’s season of Lent well underway I was offered an opportunity to review Preparing For Easter: Fifty Devotional Readings from C. S. Lewis, but I wasn’t about to turn down a chance to reconsider Lewis’ brilliance in a different format.

Really, the seasonal title of the book is unfortunate, a better one might be C. S. Lewis’s Greatest Hits, though the book is not limited to his apologetics but introduction makes clear that, “being a leading Christian defender of the faith would not be the only reason to explain Lewis’s posthumous popularity… [He] was also a pioneering explainer of the Christian life itself… Lewis’s apologetics are so powerful precisely because many find his vision of the Christian life so compelling and inspiring. It is this later role of Lewis’s, as a visionary prophet for how to follow Christ today, that this collection is concerned with.”

It’s also helpful to take the more more familiar passages; the Lewis-isms which have become soundbites, such as,

  • Aim at Heaven you will get earth ‘thrown in’: am at earth and you will get neither
  • If I find in my self a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
  • The dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.
  • I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

and read these, at least partially, in their fuller original context.

But there is also the more obscure, the sections in the various Letters… collections which I have never perused. I would have liked more of these, such as his take on pacifism — a view he describes as “recent and local” — as well as his picture of heaven:

The symbols under which heaven is presented to us are (a) a dinner party, (b) a wedding, (c) a city, and (d) a concert.

Equally helpful to me were the sections in books I had read previously but had somehow simply missed, which in these shorter, daily readings — most run four pages in a digest-sized volume — are brought into clearer focus, such as the excerpt I ran on Friday.

Not every word that Lewis wrote is gospel. Some of his ideas were his own opinions and perhaps a few were somewhat fanciful. But such is the nature of his writing. I don’t always get Song of Solomon, either, but it’s in the same volume that offers me the gospel of Luke or the epistle to the Romans.  Many passages are highly personal to Lewis, or perhaps the reader.

Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ. (194)

Included with each of the 50 readings are references to selected scripture passages which enhance the devotional experience. The volume ends with a reading for Easter Sunday. Again, to repeat what I said earlier, this really ought to be a non-seasonal product. In the meantime however, it will well serve people charged with preparing material for the central season of the Christian year, or latecomers like myself who were able to binge-read it in several sittings.


HarperOne; 2017 hardcover; 214 pages; 17.99 US; 9780062641649. Material is suitable and helpful for all Christian traditions. Compiled by Zachry Kincaid. Thanks to Nadea Mina for a review copy.

More info at CSLewis.com

 

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