Tag Archives: Christmas

Consumerism, The Stumbling Block of a Generation

The post below used to be an annual re-post from the original made in 2010.  It’s still relevant and remains largely unchanged, with a few minor edits.

1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire.  You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” James 5:1-5

 

Today consumers nationwide are partaking in what has affectionately become known as “Black Friday”, a national marketing campaign in which “big business” lowers prices and quantities to increase demand, and subsequently profits, all in the name of “holiday shopping”.  Next week, many of these same buyers will move their shopping frenzy to the internet for the online equivalent known as “Cyber Monday.”  What’s alarming is the captivity which the desires of people’s hearts claim over them during these mass marketing events as buying and spending become as addictive as any drug.  How far we have come from the simple prayer of “Give us this day our daily bread” to give me this, that, and the other and make it two of everything.  As a society we have moved further and further from the purchases of necessity and the reliance upon God to fulfilling the desires of our hearts with wants, demands, abundance and the “Have it your way” mentality.

Even though I don’t participate in “Black Friday”, I can be just as guilty of this attitude.  Now I realize that many purchases during these events, and more specifically this time of year, are made with “gift-giving” in mind, so I’m not attempting to drive you to guilt simply for shopping for loved-ones, but at some point we must stop and ask, does the recipient of the gift really need what we are buying or has the entire gift-buying/giving process become a product of the consumerism mindset?

If you’re unsure, ask yourself what would happen if you purchased no gifts for anyone, but instead made them something or provided your time towards a service for them?  Would you likely be labeled a scrooge or miser perhaps?  The fact is that we buy and give out of compulsion to conform to what society says we are “supposed to do” and worry about how someone might feel if we do not comply.  This time of year is filled  with mass consumption from the gifts to Santa to trees and candy.  Many of today’s retailer’s use this commercialism for major profit, reporting sometimes as much as 1/3 of their annual earnings during the “Christmas Season.”

No doubt some will debate this point with me, likely even labeling me a “grinch”, but before you do consider this, the spirit of consumerism is no more than a cleverly devised plan of Satan through the instrument of deceitful men in order to distract the masses from God.  Think this isn’t the case?

In the 1920’s a man by the name of Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, used the propaganda methods employed during the first World War combined with the knowledge of his uncle’s ideas about human being’s behavior to show American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass produced goods to their unconscious desires.  Bernays’ strategies laid the groundwork for new political ideas to control the masses and ultimately helped transform America from a nation of producers to a nation of consumers.  This approach led to “The Century of Self” and started the “all-consuming self, which dominates our world today.”

You may be asking how this brief lesson in history on consumerism combined with consumer events such as “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” have any relevance on how Christians are to live within a biblical worldview.  Read carefully our subject passage above from James and note the destructive forces that gluttonous desires have on the hearts of men.

James states in verse 5 that those who live in “luxury and in self-indulgence” have “fattened [their] hearts in a day of slaughter” a strong condemnation against modern consumerism.  Note also the warning Jesus provides in describing those who place emphasis on treasures of the heart, 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:19-21.

Jesus is saying that what we value most in life will capture our hearts.  His admonishment is for an eternal perspective and to focus on heavenly treasure, which comes only through a relationship with Him.  Quite simply there is no Biblical basis or “liberty in Christ” that supports the overabundance of material possessions for believers here on earth.  In fact, it is to the contrary.

Puritan Thomas Manton in his excellent commentary on James offers some instructive insights to the passage from above.  Manton refers to the rich people mentioned in James 5:1 as “worldly rich people, drowned in pleasures, puffed up with pride.”  He warns that “it is hard to possess riches without sin” and says “do not covet riches so much or please yourselves in the enjoyment of them; but look at your hearts with all the more care.”  Thomas Manton reminds us of Proverbs 30:8-9, 8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches;  feed me with the food that is needful for me, 9 lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”

To James 5:5 Manton adds

“they were reluctant in giving to the poor but easily and liberally spent their money on pleasures and gratifications of the flesh.  Worldly desires, though they argue every inch with grace, easily give way to corruptions.  To live always at the full is mere wanton luxury.  God gave wealth for another purpose than to spend it on pleasures.”  Finally, he advises that with our material blessings we “1. Prize them less; when you possess them, do not let them possess you. 2. Do more good. 3. Seek God all the more earnestly for grace. When you are full, you need it much.”

Consumerism reigns supreme in this country year round reaching its apex during the Christmas season and as such has become the stumbling block to the Gospel for the majority of people born in the last 100 years.

Christian do not let the world distract you with her flashy lights, her savory ads, low prices, and next “big thing”.  It’s ok to give gifts to one another as long as it’s done so within reason, but ask yourself am I contributing to the vicious man-centered cycle of consumerism? Or am I looking for opportunities to glorify God and show the love of Christ to those whom the Lord has surrounded me with and ultimately share the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ, with someone who has not yet received that gift.  The “good news of great joy” of which the angel speaks at the time of Christ’s birth in Luke 2:10 has nothing to do with any material gifts that fade away, but instead the amazing, awesome perfect gift that is Jesus Christ and the eternal life given to all those who repent and put their trust in Him.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17

A Great Light

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Isaiah 9:2

The Scripture’s great contrast between light and darkness is here on display through the words of the prophet Isaiah concerning, in the near, hope in the midst of the Assyrian invasion, yet in the far, a future greater in hope found in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the context of Isaiah’s prophecy, which like so much of Old Testament prophecy looks toward the future and sees an amalgamation of events (often called prophetic perspective) this prophecy is set in the midst of the coming judgment on Israel as God-ordained punishment for their apostasy from God. The darkness expresses the hopelessness of the current situation, yet the language of Isaiah, “…have seen a great light” is that of the prophetic perfect, used to express the surety of a future event as though it has already happened. Commenting on this passage Calvin writes,

“He speaks of future events in the past tense, and thus brings them before the immediate view of the people, that in the destruction of the city, in their captivity, and in what appeared to be their utter destruction, they may behold the light of God. It may therefore be summed up in this manner: “Even in darkness, nay, in death itself, there is nevertheless good ground of hope; for the power of God is sufficient to restore life to his people, when they appear to be already dead.”[1]

Certainly, a restoration from the hands of Israel’s captors is in view, yet we must not limit our understanding of this prophecy to the events surrounding Israel and Assyria, particularly since this passage is referenced elsewhere.

Written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel of Matthew 4:15-16 cites this passage from Isaiah 9 in the context of Jesus beginning His earthly ministry

“12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:12-17

This further illumination by the Spirit of God, the Divine Author of Scripture, aids in our understanding of the fullness or fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah, namely that found in the person and work of Jesus Christ as the great light that offers hope in the midst of a darkened world. Turning again to Calvin we read,

“If, therefore, we wish to ascertain the true meaning of this passage, we must bring to our recollection what has been already stated, that the Prophet, when he speaks of bringing back the people from Babylon, does not look to a single age, but includes all the rest, till Christ came and brought the most complete deliverance to his people. The deliverance from Babylon was but a prelude to the restoration of the Church, and was intended to last, not for a few years only, but till Christ should come and bring true salvation, not only to their bodies, but likewise to their souls.”[2]

Christ Himself makes this connection in John 8:12 when He states,

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

In John’s Gospel, this statement is buttressed with the truths about Christ being the Light from chapter 1, verses4-5, 9 and chapter 3:19-21. Our Lord’s declaration that He is light has profound biblical meaning. Primarily, it asserts His deity bringing to mind such Old Testament declarations such as Exodus 13:21, where the pillar of fire led the way for the Israelites in the wilderness; Psalm 27:1 “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear”; Micah 7:8; Isaiah 60:20; as well as 1 John 1:5. The declaration of light is a declaration of purity and holiness, in which there is no shadow or defect (James 1:17).  Additionally, several Old Testament passages assert that God’s Word is light (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 6:23) adding to the profundity of John 1:1.

Secondarily, by stating He is light, Christ assumes the role that God had intended for Israel to occupy as a city on a hill whose light was to shine forth to the world, yet because of their disobedience failed to properly fulfill the mission of God. Therefore, God has appointed His True Servant Israel, His Son, to go forth as a light unto the nations bringing salvation to the ends of the world. Isaiah 42:6; 49:6

This advent season, may our eyes be drawn to the Light of the world. May we realize that He alone can shine forth in a world of darkness. This Light alone possesses the light of life. Walking in spiritual darkness, dead in our trespasses and sins is a hopeless and dire situation that leaves us under the wrath of God and destined for the experience of His everlasting judgment. May we look toward the light, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and see Him as our only hope. Surety in a world of darkness and a beacon for all who come to Him in repentance and faith.

 

 

[1] Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries Vol. VII Isaiah 1-32, Baker 2005, pg. 298.

[2] Calvin, pg. 299

The Logical Fallacy of Xmas or Why I hate Xmas

Every year since the inception of this blog, I’ve written a post this time of year discussing my disdain for the use of Xmas.  This is not a campaign to put “Christ” back in “Christmas”, but instead an argument against those who favor the use of Xmas, defending it on the basis of the Greek letter “X” for Christ.  It isn’t difficult to find support against this argument, why just today I saw Xmas used on Good Morning America and I hardly think they were paying homage to Christ via symbols from the Greek alphabet.  So without further ado, below you’ll find my comments from last year (2010) and the original post from (2009) on Why I Hate X-Mas. 

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This is repost from last year (2009), but I feel it will continue to be relevant for many, many years.  Just recently, Ligonier.com ministries (R.C. Sproul) published an article defending the use of Xmas.  While Dr. Sproul is a teacher that I have learned much from, I must humbly disagree with him on this assertion.  In that post, one that has been promoted by Christian leaders such as Tim Challies and Mark Driscoll, Dr. Sproul states that the “X” in Christmas is like the R in R.C. from his own name, simply an initial.  His defense is centered on the use of the first letter of the Greek word for Christos, which translated into our alphabet is the letter X. 

The article concludes with the following statement, “There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.”  Dr. Sproul is a man of logic, and as I previously mentioned one whom I respect, however this argument fails the logic test.  It assumes that everyone knows that the X in Xmas represents the Greek letter for Christ and that simply isn’t the case.  When the atheist or agnostic uses Xmas we can rest assured they are not manipulating the Greek alphabet to reflect the name of Christ. 

People need to see the name of Christ.  They need to be confronted by Him.  Children need to wonder what the meaning of Christmas is.  They need to ask, who is this Christ that we celebrate?  Simply stated the use of X as a substitute can be rationalized away to mean anything at all.  Quite frankly, I’m not impressed with linguistic substitutions.  His name is Jesus Christ, not J.C., not X.  He is King and as such deserves His name respected.

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Growing up in a Christian family, we always referred to Jesus’ birthday as Christmas.  I was taught that anything contrary to that, specifically Xmas, was an attempt to remove Christ from His proper place.  We’ve all seen shopping ads, movies, cards, etc. that say Merry Xmas or the like, instead of Christmas.  You might remember a few years ago there was a major push by the retail industry to remove Christmas altogether in favor of the more politically correct Happy Holidays, which was deemed less offensive to other religions, Islam, traditional Judaism, atheism, etc.  This isn’t a new argument, as it seems every year we hear how “Christ is being taken out of Christmas.”    

 Add to this the explosion of social media, Twitter, Facebook, etc., not to mention the texting craze, and there is an ever present usage of Xmas in order to save character space or too avoid typing out the word Christmas.  In addition to this, Christ professing believers are also becoming more prone to the use of Xmas and justify its usage based on the Greek letter Chi or “X”, the first letter of Christ in the Greek, which also corresponds to the first letter in Xmas.  In fact, some proponents for Xmas usage might even argue that this abbreviation dates back 1000 years, before there were malls, advertisements, or any attempt by the media to push for political correctness.  My problem with any usage of the word is multifaceted so allow me to elaborate. 

 Let’s observe what’s going on in today’s society.  First, there are non-believers who are attempting to actually remove the usage of Christmas because it’s not politically correct and might be determined offensive.  An example of this would be the omission of the word Christmas from the entire 2009 Macy’s Christmas catalog.  Several other recent examples include, but are not limited to, multiple firefighter departments being asked to remove Merry Christmas signs.  Next we have those, who in an attempt to be cool or slick with character usage have saved at least 3 seconds off of texting time and 5 (Christmas – Christ + X = 5, for you math majors) characters off of any Tweets, a fascinating display of efficiency.  Finally, there are those Christians who are quite simply too smart for their own good, in using Xmas because of the ancient Greek alphabet.  So I ask, how is one to determine through the usage of this word, whether it is out of suppression of the knowledge of God, as Romans 1:21 teaches, whether it is out of carelessness (or laziness), or whether the intent is to prove a more profound knowledge of Greek linguistics?  The answer is there is no difference.  Intentional or not, this is a suppression of Christ. 

This post isn’t just about keeping Christ in Christmas, it’s about professing the name Jesus all year long and proclaiming His miraculous, prophecy fulfilling birth as a symbol of hope that a Messiah was born with the sole purpose of dying for our sins, yours and mine.  The world wants to destroy as many reminders as they can about Christ, whether it is placing emphasis on commercialism and Santa during Christmas or calling it Xmas, removing In God We Trust from our currency and federal buildings, or declaring it hate speech to proselytize and attempt to convert non-believers to Christianity.  Maybe I was raised too old school and not “relevant” enough by today’s standards, but my Bible says “we preach Christcrucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (I Corinthians 1:23 ) so Christ will be a stumbling block and I know that His name causes division (Matthew 10:34-39) therefore I will all the more proudly proclaim the name of Christ not just on the day we recognize His birth, but every day of the year.  Ask yourself this the next time you’re tempted to label those decoration boxes Xmas or you want to text Merry Xmas to your friends, does it align with Colossians 3:17 ESV, “Andwhatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Merry CHRISTmas!

 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

   ”I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
   and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.1 Corinthians 1:18-25

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!  Xmas: OK? Not OK?  Disrespectful?  Or simply a misunderstood phrase?