Two More Paintings and Thoughts Behind Them

Gods army, christian soldiers

Army of God, by Scott Freeman, 20×30

Today I want to show you a couple of recent paintings, for a couple of reasons:
1) They’re not the sort of thing I usually do, or am known for doing, so I’m kind of curious as to what people will think of them.
2) It would be helpful to me if I could sell them as I’m waiting for responses on some large potential commissions.

From the National Day of Prayer, 2018
The first one was painted during a local National Day of Prayer event in Loveland, on May 3, 2018. I was invited by the organizers to paint during the entirety of the event, and the subject matter was left open to me.

I’ve (reluctantly) called the painting, The Army of God. I say “reluctantly” because for years I’ve been a bit uncomfortable with using war metaphor to describe the church of Jesus. I’m not uncomfortable with it because I disagree with the truth of the metaphor, I’m uncomfortable with it because of how I know it sounds to the ears of skeptics and critics of the church. Therefore, I never use war terminology with reference to the church unless I can explain that I am referring to spiritual warfare.

As followers of Jesus, our weapons, our armor, and our enemies are explicitly described as not physical in nature (Eph 6:10-18; 2 Cor 10:3-5). All of the physical terms and conditions of the former Mosaic Covenant have been fulfilled and translated into spiritual terms in the new covenant of Jesus. So there can be no justification for a Christian religious war. There can be no justification for human governments physically slaughtering their enemies in the name of Jesus. There can be no justification for human beings setting up a theocratic Christian state. Yet this all seems to be a continuing concern for secularists.

Many biblical metaphors are used to describe the church: a body, a family, an army, a bride. Those of us in the church understand them and are accustomed to using them. But I think we have an obligation to be clear to those outside of the church, especially when using the army metaphor, especially in the divisive, hysterical, irrational cultural climate in which we now find ourselves.

As a worship leader I wouldn’t even sing Onward Christian Soldiers without a disclaimer. To a Jewish or Muslim listener, for example, the first line of that song would sound like a perfect description of the Crusades, (which were biblically unjustified.)

So…having said all of that, calling this painting The Army of God underscores the point. It’s a picture of biblical, multi-ethnic community, planting and watering and praying. Jesus said that His kingdom is different from the kingdoms of the world in that His message comes, and His kingdom is spread, not by means of the sword but through the proclamation of His good news of restoration. Jesus said that gospel is like seed planted in the world.

This is a first stab at a painting I’ve been wanting to do or years. Years ago I was inspired by the story of several young Christian boys who were kidnapped by radical Islamists, and who refused to recant their faith in Jesus, even under torture. Eventually one of them escaped, minus a limb. I thought of the irony that this is the army of God; not composed of ruthless warriors but rather, courageous young boys in this case, willing to suffer harm and refusing to hate their captors, even praying for them, just as Jesus instructed.

 

parable of Jesus as sower

Sower, by Scott Freeman, 20×24″

Northern Colorado Worship and Prayer Event
The second painting has some similarities to the first and was painted at the last NOCO Worship & Prayer Night in May of 2018. These monthly events were envisioned to bring diverse church congregations together in worship. Everyone is welcome, and if you haven’t been to one, they’ll be starting up again in August. There is always live worship painting going on at these events, (usually including my lovely wife). You can stay posted at http://www.loveonfireworship.com.

This painting is a variation of an earlier oil painting of Jesus as a sower. In this smaller version His arms are outstretched in a sort of crucifix gesture. The seed is red, representing His blood, but particularly the blood of the martyrs, which has so often resulted in many coming to faith. (Since the news media so often fails to draw a distinction between murderers and martyrs, here I must clarify that a martyr is not someone who kills others for God and dies in the process. A martyr is someone who willingly suffers for God, even unto the point of death.)

A couple of weeks ago a friend asked me about the birds. In one sower parable, Jesus explains the birds this way: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil (one) comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart…” (Matt 13:19). This is the world we live in for now – goodness, redemption, and life always face spiritual opposition, even in addition to our own apathy and distractedness.

Prices
Both of these paintings are painted on canvas that I pre-textured, and both are painted with up-cycled latex paint. This not the type of painting that I have shown in galleries over the years, or, I assume, that my current gallery would be interested in. So here’s what I’d like for these unframed paintings if anyone is interested:

God’s Army, 20×30” – $300
Sower, 20×24” – $250

Since these paintings are medium size, I would like to charge shipping to the buyer as well. (I think shipping will come to around $30 in the US.) If you live in northern Colorado, (Loveland, FC, Windsor, Johnstown, -ish,) I would be happy to deliver these to you free of charge.

If you’d like to purchase one of these, contact me at scottnmollie@yahoo.com .
Thanks again for your support! I’d love to hear your feedback on these – positive or negative.

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Christian Sex, Sects, & Secular Sex

sex, incel, marriage

Well, sex is in the news again. (Surprise!) I thought I would use the occasion to articulate the purpose of sex from a biblical worldview, at least from my perspective.

It’s not as obvious as one might think. Based on comments from my atheist acquaintances I get the impression that there is probably some misunderstanding around the topic. I would assert that God’s view of sexual intercourse as defined in the Bible is unique, foreign, and “unnatural” in comparison to that of secular culture.

I should add that it’s also profound, life-enhancing, and sustainable, according to my personal research.

Promiscuous Sects
The recent news event that set me to thinking about all this was a misogynistic terrorist act in Toronto which led to the deaths of 10 victims, mostly women. This particular vehicular act of violence was perpetrated by a man who identified with something called the “incel rebellion movement.” Incel is short for “involuntary celibate.” Apparently many men in this category see themselves as low-status men who, through no fault of their own, are not stereotypically “hot.” Some are angry at the “shallowness” of women who won’t have sex with them.

These men seem to share an underlying assumption that everyone is entitled to sex.
I wonder where they got that idea?

The thing about sexual intercourse is that it involves another person’s body. It’s not something a single individual can claim a right to. The answer to involuntary celibacy cannot involve the imposing of involuntary sex on another person, at least in civilized society. That’s called rape. The incel mentality reeks of pornified thinking, though I can’t verify the connection.

Here’s a quote from Elliot Rodger, who wrote an incel manifesto shortly before going off and shooting 6 people and wounding 14 in Santa Barbara in 2014:

“…I’m 22 years old and I’m still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I’ve been to college. For 2 and a half years…and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun, and pleasure. But in those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair…I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice – a crime. Because, I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy. And yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men, instead of me, the supreme gentlemen. I will punish all of you for it. On the day of retribution I am going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB, and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck up, blond slut I see inside there…” (Elliot Rodger’s Retribution Video.)

There’s a lot wrong with this picture. All I’ll say is that, in addition to whatever else is going on here, from my perspective these guys have been jerked around by the assumptions and lies of secular culture and its shallow and self-contradictory view of sex: on one hand sex is merely recreation. Sex is not a big deal. But at the same time a life without it is practically a fate worse than death, and secular culture compels us to think about sex 24/7, literally invading our private spaces with sexual imagery.

The world would have us not take sex so personally. It’s just sex. So we should protect our emotional selves by being chill about sex. It’s just hormones and evolutionary impulses after all, so let’s take it for what it is and just enjoy it. Existentially. Hook up. What’s love got to do with it? Or marriage? “Life is short; have an affair.” We may as well use sex to sell product.

I would respectfully like to call bullshit on all of that. There is a more wholistic view.

Hey Look At Those Sexually Repressed Christians Over There
C S Lewis once pointed out a common misconception that secularists may tend to have about “Christian” sexual mores: that we think sex is innately “sinful,” or somehow unspiritual. Forgive me for not having time to look up Lewis’s actual quote, but the idea is that if something is forbidden, or has “rules” around it, this may not mean that thing is considered to be bad or evil. It may be the precise opposite.

We have laws against stealing, not because property is bad, but because property is valuable. Likewise, God prohibits sex outside of marriage, not because sex is evil but because it is a valuable and powerful gift in its intended context.

Many have pointed out that it’s unbiblical to think that the God of the Bible considers sex to be dirty, evil, or otherwise unspiritual in and of itself. The goodness of sex is explicitly stated in the Torah: in the creation story God began with an unashamed, naked man and woman in a paradise, instructed them to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth,” and pronounced the whole thing “good.”

It’s human rebellion and meddling that perverts the goodness of sex in both secular and religious cultures. We have a massive porn industry. Secularists insist on deconstructing sex, gender, marriage, and parenthood in the name of humanistic enlightenment. On the religious side we see inventions such as a celibate priesthood, which is a human innovation of religious sects, not a biblical directive.

God’s Idea of Sex
Belief in a Creator who designed human sexuality yields a very different worldview perspective from a belief that we are here by accident with no transcendent purpose, value, or authority. Following is an understanding of sex with which I believe most self-proclaimed followers of Jesus would agree:

The Bible depicts God as an eternally, innately, relational (triune) being who has always existed in love and relational unity. So loving relationship is both the starting place and the goal of our existence. As beings created in God’s image, we are wired to find fulfillment in relationship as well. We all long for connection with others. The overarching story of the Bible is the story of God restoring humanity to the possibility of loving relationship, both with Himself and with others.

Marriage was intended to be an expression of relational unity in creation; what the Bible refers to as “oneness” (Gen 1:24; Matt 19:4-6; Eph 5:28-31.) Sex within marriage is meant to be an expression of that oneness between a husband and a wife; mind, soul, spirit, and body. The unity in diversity in marriage is a profound reflection of the image of God in human experience. The apostle Paul says it is also picture of the love and unity between Christ and His church (Eph 5:31-33 .)

One can see Paul underlining these ideas in this passage:

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own…” (1 Cor 6:15-19.)

Practically, God intended sex to be a bonding expression of love within the context of an adult, lifelong, faithful, monogamous, biologically unrelated, marital relationship. This also happens to be the best context for raising children, which works out great since hetero sex is procreative.

This does not necessarily mean that Christians must be consciously meditating on being in the image of the triune God, or cranking up Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor every time they make love. This is simply the shape of reality in which followers of Jesus live and move and have their being.

The point is that sex is not a happy accident of evolution that we can make into whatever we want. We may try, but the shape of reality that God has created has a stubborn way of reasserting itself. We may find that butting heads with that reality leads to despondency . We may find sex apart from love and commitment to be ultimately lonely and unfulfilling, despite having lowered our expectations.

The Bible explicitly states that God’s desire and plan for us, His creation, is unity and loving relationship (Eph 1:9-10; Jn 17:3.) But truth is an essential part of that unity. Lies separate people. Lies about love and sex are no exception.

No, I’m Not Judging You
Someone may now be thinking, “If you think you’re going to get unmarried people to stop sleeping with each other, you are delusional.” I would agree. I wouldn’t dream of even trying. Many secularists seem to assume that people like me would like to force everyone to stop having promiscuous sex, stop being gay, stop getting divorced, stop using birth control, stop smiling, stop eating ice cream, and so on. Nope. I’m all about free will and diversity.

Hopefully my critics would be happy to know that my wife and I always taught our kids that they shouldn’t expect people who don’t claim to be followers of Jesus to behave like followers of Jesus. Instead we can confidently be who we are, and love other people where they are. There is no hatred of people implied in anything I’ve said here.

I’m simply putting an alternate view out there as something that doesn’t get said in a public forum very often. I think it might be a welcome perspective for some people.

I set out this alternative view of sex for those interested in a healthy, life-enhancing, loving alternative. My guess is that there are some reading this who feel out of step; you feel that sex means something more to you than what the world tells you it should mean. You may feel quietly defensive that you don’t want to be viewed, and don’t want to view other people, as evolved pieces of meat. If this is you, I want to affirm that you’re not alone and that you are not crazy. I think you are right. I think our Creator who loves us has wired us to know better.

I welcome your comments below. Feel free to message me privately also.

In Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr quote

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. For many, King’s assassination marked the end of the civil rights movement’s strategy of non-violence.

Some believe his assassination was the result of a conspiracy involving the United States government. King’s family eventually even filed a wrongful death suit against the government, which it (sort of) “won.”

As news of his assassination became known, riots broke out in over 100 cities across America. For many fighting for the cause of civil rights and racial equality, King’s death must’ve signaled a loss of hope that the entrenched white power structures could be reformed through peaceful means.

So…fight fire with fire. Fear with fear. It seems that violence is what works. Force gets things done.

But does it?

The human problem is the human heart. King was a remarkable leader because he understood the problem. As a follower of Jesus, King rightly saw that the solution to the human problem was the strategy of changing hearts for good. Violence never does that. Unfortunately, violence has its place in our broken world, but only when there is no hope for understanding and empathy.

I don’t believe we are at that place yet. I think understanding and empathy have barely been tried. But violence and intolerance can seem easier, faster, and more satisfying to hearts that are hurting.

Following is one of my (reluctantly) favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I believe these words are true, but they are extremely difficult to carry out. This is a hard saying. It is even difficult to read. But I think he is right. His strategy transcends conspiracies, governmental power, intolerance, and hatred:

I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, but we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.    — A Christmas Sermon for Peace on Dec 24, 1967

These words, spoken 4 months before his murder, echo the words of Jesus and the apostle Paul: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21.)

It’s a messy business living in a broken world with broken people, and we are still far from the destination that King envisioned. I believe our hope must ultimately come from outside of ourselves; from the Savior who made inward transformation possible through spiritual rebirth. Regardless of how much progress we make in this corrupt age, He promises unity and justice in the age to come. Jesus invites us to experience the realities of that future age right now, in this present age. I think Dr. King, the Baptist minister and activist, would be pleased if the occasion of his death would spur some to accept the invitation of Jesus to step into His kingdom of light.

The Kingdom of God Excites Me Every Day

kingdom of god parable

“The Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat,” oil painting by Scott Freeman

When I was a college student, I heard a teaching series at my church on the kingdom of God that changed my life. Somehow, even though I had grown up in a Bible-believing church and considered myself a lifelong student of the Bible, the topic had mostly escaped my notice. Even though Jesus spoke on this topic more than any other. Decades have passed since then and I would say that the topic of the kingdom of God continues to consume my attention and define my life, informing everything I do.

But it’s not quite accurate to say the “topic” consumes me, because the kingdom of God is much more than a mere topic of discussion. I would say it’s a reality in which we as Spirit-born believers live. In a nutshell, one could say the kingdom of God refers to the “reign of God” on earth. In practice, God has designed His kingdom so that citizens live in voluntary, relational unity with Him, living life led by His Spirit.

The Hebrew prophets spoke of this coming eternal kingdom with anticipation, but when the Messiah arrived, his implementation of the kingdom perplexed everyone. It was not until after His resurrection from death and a great deal of patient explanation that His followers understood how the kingdom had entered the world. The new covenant scriptures repeatedly refer to the mysteries of the kingdom as things that were formerly “hidden” but have now been made known to us.

We who are alive today have the remarkable opportunity to live out God’s plan for us in a way that old covenant prophets and kings longed for but could only dream about. Aspects of living life in the kingdom of God, right now, include: a new covenant with our Creator; new birth with a new access to God through Jesus; a new indwelling of the Spirit of God for everyone in the kingdom; a new relationship as sons and daughters as co-heirs with Jesus; a new relationship with Jesus as friends rather than slaves; a new life in the Spirit that fulfills and transcends a written code; and a new hope of resurrection and the ultimate fulfillment and completion of all that God has imagined for His creation.

Aspects of of life in the kingdom of God in the future include the ultimate uniting of all things, in heaven and earth, under the authority of Jesus (Eph 1:9,10.)

Several years ago I painted the above painting for my church’s foyer as an expression of the kingdom. I like the image of the sower because it is an image that Jesus chose to describe Himself in this particular kingdom parable. It says a great deal about how the kingdom has come, and how it continues to expand over the earth. Below is my description from the plaque that accompanies the painting. I hope it excites you as it does me! :

mysteries of the kingdom of GodThe kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?” He said to them, “An enemy has done this.” The servants said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he said, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned; but gather the wheat into my barn.’    Matthew 13:24-30

During the time of Jesus, Israel’s expectation was that the long-awaited kingdom of God would come as an unmistakable, apocalyptic event. God’s promised messiah would appear, judging and doing away with every source of evil and suffering, and ushering in an eternal kingdom of peace.

Upon His arrival, however, the Messiah inaugurated a different kind of kingdom – a kingdom unlike the kingdoms of this world, but also different from what the Jewish people were expecting.

In the parable of the weeds among the wheat, Jesus identified the sower as Himself. At the establishment of His kingdom the Messiah came not as a warrior, but like one planting seed. His is first and foremost a revolution of love, light, Spirit, and grace rather than one of military might.

In explaining the parable, Jesus identified the good seed as “the sons of the kingdom.” The good seed is sown in the midst this present, corrupt age, growing up right alongside “the sons of the evil one” – bearing fruit over time for the King. Contrary to the expectations of His time, the King Himself withholds judgment until the end of this age, rather than bringing all things to completion at His first appearing (v 36-40.)

But the harvest time is coming. At that time “all causes of sin and all evildoers” will be destroyed, but “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (v 41-43.)

We, the Church, are the good seed – God’s manifestation of His kingdom in this present, evil age – in the world, but not of it. Though in many corners of the world His followers suffer greatly, still the good news of His kingdom goes out. The revolution continues…”And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14.)

 

My children’s storybook, The True Story of Christmas, presents a basic telling of the biblical narrative that kids can understand.

Jesus vs Santa Claus

the reason for the season

I’ve hesitated to write about the Jesus vs Santa topic because it can be a surprisingly divisive topic in church and family cultures. However, the holiday season is upon us and I think it’s interesting and even helpful to hear differing perspectives on how parents handle the issue. I would love to hear your perspective as well.

Here’s mine.

The church cultures in which Mollie and I raised our kids have been theologically conservative, highly biblically literate, and conducive to sincere devotion in following Jesus. I got the impression over the years that our family held the minority position in those churches in that we openly practiced the Santa tradition.

For some no-Santa Christians, the idea of Christians practicing the Santa tradition can seem incomprehensible. I don’t care to sway anyone to my position, but for what it’s worth I thought I would share my reasons why my wife and I chose to follow this secular holiday tradition. Our reasons may surprise you, because they ultimately have to do with Jesus.

Following are my responses to the most common reasons I’ve heard for not observing the Santa tradition:

1) We want Jesus to be the focus of Christmas in our family
Indeed. Of course we wanted this for our family as well. However, it’s not an either/or issue. I know this because I was raised in a Christian home that kept the Santa tradition, yet I and all of my sibs love Jesus today, and none of us believes in Santa Claus anymore. I can remember as a kid that, even though my imagination excited me about Saint Nick, my parents also taught us that the real reason for Christmas was the birth of Jesus. I believed them, and it made perfect sense to me.

I definitely got the idea that Jesus and Santa Claus were somehow on the same team.

Later, as a parent, I had what I saw as a strategic reason for keeping the Santa tradition. From the time my children were small, of course they learned about the story of Jesus and His birth. However, I knew they could only understand so much, and I certainly couldn’t expect them to sit around and stare at their navels pondering Jesus all Christmas season. So we enlisted Santa Claus to help make the season of Jesus’s birth more exciting for them. We knew they would eventually drop the Santa belief as they left childhood, but we believed there would remain with them very positive feelings and fun memories that they would carry with them into adulthood. The reason behind it all would always be Jesus.

I believe this has proved to be true.

2) I’m not comfortable lying to my kids
I completely agree with this one. Our kids assumed Santa was real mostly because of songs and stories and the input of extended family members. Christmas mornings pretty much convinced them. However, as they got older and directly questioned us, we made it a point to never to lie to them.

However, I used it as a way to encourage critical thinking. I told them that I wanted them to figure it out on their own. I told them that all of their lives people would tell them things that were not true and that they needed to learn how to discover what is true. This wasn’t a very satisfying answer to them, but then it became sort of a game. They would begin to give me arguments and I would try to argue the other side. If their argument was a good one, I would say “that’s a good argument!”

More importantly, for each child I also used this moment to underscore the truth, saying something like: “I will tell you this – the story of Jesus and everything in the Bible is definitely true, and Mom and I believe it.” I wanted them to be rock solid about that.

I think there is something very healthy about a child learning to critically engage in figuring out the truth, even when it is against his or her interest to do so.

3) Christmas is a pagan holiday. Christmas trees and Santa Claus have pagan origins.
I have always thought this was a lame argument for several reasons. Primarily, regardless of what December 25 meant many hundreds of years ago, today, in America, it is not a pagan holiday. For followers of Jesus it is a remembrance and celebration of the birth of Jesus.

True, no one knows the date of Jesus’s birth. This is also irrelevant. So the church randomly picked a day to celebrate the birth of God’s Messiah. Or maybe the date is not so random, and the church picked a popular pagan holiday and redeemed it to become a holiday celebrating the true Creator. I just don’t see how that’s a bad thing. Even today many Christians attempt to do the same thing with Halloween.

Christmas is arguably not a biblically condoned holiday, but that does not make it a harmful practice. Behind this objection there seems to be a concern that all of Christendom is somehow accidentally participating is false worship because of the holiday’s origins. But worship is intentional and conscious. I have yet to see biblical support for the idea of someone accidentally worshiping Satan. I’m willing to be proven wrong on this.

4) I don’t want to encourage materialism and selfishness in my kids.
Another great reason. We didn’t want to encourage those things either. I probably don’t need to say much here though. I think we all recognize that Christmas has become very commercialized and money driven. Many people go deeper into credit card debt during the Christmas season. Not good.

I’ve heard a lot of great strategies that families use to get around this. Some don’t do gift giving at all. Some do, but make a point to give to a needy family each year as well. Some work at a shelter as a family as part of their Christmas season, serving those less fortunate than they are. Some do gift giving but limit the dollar amount that can be spent. Please feel free to share your ideas or traditions in the comment section!

But as for the topic at hand, it certainly hasn’t been my experience that observing the Santa tradition will necessarily encourage materialism and selfishness. My opinion is that the example of the parents over the long haul is foremost in encouraging or discouraging a materialistic lifestyle. In fact, ironically, Santa only exists because of the generosity of parents toward their children. When children figure out that it was mom and dad all along, this arguably encourages gratitude and models selfless giving to them.

On the positive side, there are a couple of other reasons that proved to be quite important to Mollie and me when we were determining what our family culture would be around Christmastime:

Extended family
I was raised by devoted Christian parents. Had Mollie and I refused to practice the Santa tradition on “spiritual grounds” I think it would have created an unnecessary offense against my parents and siblings. There were other things more important to us that my parents didn’t understand, like breastfeeding, homeschooling, and eating a whole food/organic diet. Creating a rift over something as fun and harmless as Santa Claus would have been just been super-annoying to my family.

To see it from my mom’s perspective: she and her 6 siblings grew up in St. Louis with an alcoholic father. As a result she grew up impoverished, and quit school after the 8th grade to start working. She told us that when they were young, she and her siblings would sometimes each receive an orange for Christmas.

So when she married my dad, I think she tried to make holidays with her own children everything she missed as a child. I have wonderful holiday memories from childhood, and I still love the Christmas season. I think my mom would’ve been hurt had I implied that I saw her efforts as harmful.

Jesus versus Santa

Christmas morning with my siblings, 1962

Joyful, Joyful
In our family, Mollie and I wanted to tip the scales in favor of making the Christian holidays transcendent and irresistible; something that our kids would look forward to all year long. Santa Claus is unnecessary. If you’re a parent and you don’t include Santa in your repertoire of holiday traditions, I fully respect your decision. However, I would encourage you to figure out ways to make the holiday season an exciting and transcendent time for your kids, so that they will grow up loving the season of Jesus’s birth. Ultimately, we all hope to see our kids continue to love the person of Jesus Himself.

For me the bottom line on Santa is: he’s a harmless, if shallow, part of American culture.
If we can figure out ways to use harmless cultural traditions to our advantage,  I think that’s a good thing.

My illustrated kids’ storybook, The True Story of Christmas, tells the story of Jesus in fidelity to the Bible, beginning with creation and the fall. Orders should be received by Dec 5 to ensure delivery by Christmas.
(Or, please email me directly me with late orders at scottnmollie@yahoo.com.)

 

 

 

You Should See This Movie…

Mike Vogel as Lee Strobel

I was pleasantly surprised recently when I went to see The Case for Christ. Grab your spouse or a friend and see it while it’s still in theaters.

As an artist who is also a follower of Jesus, I guess I’m supposed to be a movie snob, especially when it comes to “Christian movies.” I think I’m not supposed to publicly admit that I loved this movie. But I did.

The movie tells the story of atheist Lee Strobel coming to faith in Jesus. (Whoopsie. I guess I just gave away the ending. That’s part of why I didn’t have high hopes for the movie. I expected another predictable Christian film.)

But you know what? I knew how my dinnertime was going to end last night but I’m still really glad I sat down at the table.

The movie highlighted the Strobel family’s journey to faith, and the relational tension that ensued during the process. That story was believable, well-written, and well-acted. It felt like a love story to me, full of characters that I was moved to care about.

Some Things I Liked
Maybe it was just me, but the movie touched on a lot of things I’ve been thinking about lately.

I’ve been dialoguing with some atheists for several months, and the portrayal of the atheists in the film felt familiar to me. I liked that the atheist Strobel wasn’t made out to be an evil character. He deeply loved his wife and was a great dad. He had a strong moral compass and sense of justice.

I’ve been doing some reading about brain science and social psychology. I’m fascinated with how and why people change their opinions when confronted with information that challenges their worldview. (Or how they don’t, as is usually the case.) It was fascinating to watch one person’s process, knowing that it was a true story.

A big surprise was a direct reference to the “father wound” issue. I’ve been a bit obsessed with this issue for several months, and I’ve come to think that it’s widespread and profoundly important. In the near future I’ll post more on this topic specifically.

Also, an important truism for me is that biblical faith is evidential. This idea directly contradicts what “New Atheism” preaches – that faith is “belief despite the evidence.” The “New Atheists” are demonstrably wrong about what the Bible says about faith. It was nice to see a correct perspective on the screen.

Finally, on an incidental note, The Case for Christ is not a white Christian film. The story takes place in Chicago and several black characters figure prominently in the journey. We see blacks and whites working, attending church, and doing life together. This isn’t talked about; it’s just assumed, as it should be.

I don’t recall anything inappropriate for kids, but very small children might be bored with it just because it’s an adult conversation. At any rate, I say “two thumbs up”!

Speaking of kids, it you haven’t already done so, please sign up on my email list at my kids’ storybook website, RIGHT HERE!

How and Why to Not Be Postmodern

Throwing the

Recently I had coffee with one of my adult sons. I wanted to hear his insights about his spiritual development growing up. One unexpected comment came to light as he compared our family’s culture to that of a close friend’s. He observed that Mollie and I had modeled a faith that permeated all of life, and that our values reflected this. By contrast, for some people, faith is something added on, like an extra-curricular activity.

He said, “For you guys, a biblical worldview was like a pair of glasses through which you viewed everything. For my friend’s family it was more like a pair of binoculars that they would pick up now and then.”

This got me to thinking about postmodernism – the cultural state of society that distrusts the very idea of objective truth.

What is Postmodernity?
Philosopher and author Paul Copan describes postmodernity this way:

“French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard said that, simplifying to the extreme, postmodernism is suspension toward a metanarrative, which is a ‘world story’ that’s taken to be true for all people in all cultures and ends up oppressing people…”

So, postmodernity is a perfect example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Because there are many horrific examples in history of people oppressing others over strongly held beliefs – both religious and secular – postmodernity seeks to solve the problem by getting rid of the notion of truth altogether. It’s like John Lennon’s song, Imagine. Copan continues:

“…When people are so certain that they’ve got the truth and believe their system explains everything, then people who disagree with them are on the outside. They end up in Auschwitz or the Soviet gulags. So instead of metanarratives, postmodernism emphasizes mini-narratives. In other words, each person has his or her own viewpoint or story.”

Postmodernity attempts to address a very real problem in the world. It’s true that there are many metanarratives, ideologies, worldviews, and religions in the world that are coercive. But in making all truth relative, postmodernity does the world the ultimate disservice if there is, in fact, an objective Authority who has communicated a true story that includes all of us. Followers of Jesus should confidently and joyfully ignore postmodernism and instead, prove the life giving nature of the story and message of Jesus in our own lives and families.

“All Truth Claims are Wrong!”
Copan points out that the relativism that stems from a postmodern worldview is self-refuting. It simply doesn’t work as a worldview.

“…the relativist believes that relativism is true not just for him but for every person. He believes that relativism applies to the nonrelativist (‘true for you’), not just to himself (‘true for me’). The relativist finds himself in a bind if we ask him, ‘Is relativism absolutely true for everyone?’…There’s no reason to take seriously the claim that every belief is as good as every other belief, since this belief itself would be no better than any other.”

But having noted the self-contradictory nature of postmodernity, what about the problem of metanarratives being necessarily oppressive? Specifically, does the big picture presented in the Judeo-Christian scriptures necessarily marginalize those “on the outside”?

Self Righteous and Holier-Than-Thou?
I don’t buy that. The Bible specifically teaches that self-righteousness is not even possible (Ps 14; Ro 3:10-18.) Salvation is a gift from God and something none of us can claim to have earned (Ro 3:23,24; 6:23; Gal 2:15,16; 3:2-5; Eph 2:8,9; 3:7-9.)

From a biblical worldview Jesus is the only human being who could rightfully claim to be without sin, claim to be righteous in-and-of-Himself, and claim to be unerring in His knowledge of truth. Yet He was the perfect picture of love and inclusivity. His life was characterized by loving, healing , and reaching out to the marginalized: those on the fringe of respectable Jewish culture, women, lepers, the sexually unchaste, traitors, servants, children, Romans and other non-Jews, and so on. He typically did this even though it was inconvenient for Him and often got Him into trouble with His critics.

Not only His actions but also His teachings explicitly taught that following Him must mean reaching out to and welcoming the marginalized in a broken world. Several parables come to mind:
The parable of the Samaritan
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector
The parable of the prodigal son
The parable of the wedding feast and the uninvited guests
The parable of the widow’s offering
The story of the rich man and Lazarus

Rather than oppressing the marginalized, a biblical worldview acknowledges our common humanity. It roots human worth in the idea that all people bear the image of God, and yet it humbles human standing in the idea that all people “fall short of the glory of God’s ideal.” It is notable that two of the most combative personalities in the New Testament repeat the quote, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5.) Humility invalidates oppression and marginalization. A quote attributed to D T Niles rings true to me:

“A Christian witness is not like a rich man who has a lot of bread which he hands out to the poor beggars who have nothing. He is rather like one beggar who tells another beggar where he has found bread.”

A Bedtime Story
Accordingly, this all affects what we say to our children. As a young father it was my job and privilege to tuck my children in at bedtime. I would sing and pray with them each night. I remember a brief period of time when one of my boys was very troubled. He would tearfully express that he was a “bad boy.” Those are the words he used. He was probably 7 or 8 years old at the time. I was a bit taken aback by this because Mollie and I made a point of never telling our children that they were “bad,” even when correcting them.

He didn’t seem to be trying to confess a specific hidden offense that was troubling his conscience. Instead, he seemed to be expressing a recognition that there was something generally wrong within himself. I remember thinking carefully and prayerfully before answering him, because he expected an answer. Should I assure him that he wasn’t all that bad? Should I point out how favorably he compared to serial killers and drug dealers? This was my first impulse – to minimize his feelings and build up his self-esteem by pointing out all the things on the “good” side of his scale.

But a biblical worldview compelled me to say something different. Instead, I essentially agreed with him. And, holding him close in the dark, I sympathetically let him know that I was also “bad,” and so was every one else in the world; that what he was feeling was accurate. I explained that this is why God sent Jesus to us, because we all need a Savior. My son’s recognition of his own brokenness was simply the first step toward the spiritual rebirth that Jesus offers to us all. Jesus promised to give us His Spirit to live inside of us, and after that we help each other to live a new life in that Spirit.

I’m certainly not recommending that we as parents teach our children that they are pure evil. The truth is more nuanced than that. I think the Bible’s description of the fallen human heart as “inclined” toward evil is helpful (Gen 8:21.) When I think of an incline, I notice it’s possible to roll a ball up an incline, but it takes deliberate effort. A ball naturally will roll down an incline. So it is with our hearts.

There is a world of difference between telling a child that he or she is a “bad person,” and teaching a child that all human beings struggle with corrupted hearts.

Speaking the Truth in Love
I assume there are those who would say it is appalling to say such things to a child. I imagine that a time may come when a secularist government will see fit to intervene in cases where parents teach such things. But truth is that which corresponds to the way things really are. What if a child is taught that he or she is naturally good and perfect? Where does that leave the child when he or she sees within himself or herself a tendency to lie, cheat, and hurt others? I contend that it leaves the child in a truly hopeless place.

The fact of human brokenness should never be used to shame or manipulate others. But neither does a biblical worldview indulge secularist, utopian, wishful thinking about the natural goodness and perfectibility of humanity. In fact, ironically, this kind of thinking is actually dangerous when it comes to granting human beings governmental power over others. This is why we have a dystopian genre in film and literature.

I would like to hear about your experience as a child or a parent. How did you understand the state of the human heart? How was it communicated to you, and what effect did it have on you?