Biblical inspiration — the belief that the Bible is God-inspired — has caused difficulties for thinking people for many years. The belief itself, that God inspired the words of scripture, is not troublesome; the problems arise when we try to explain the mechanism and meaning of inspiration. Are all the words of the Bible inspired, or only some parts? Did God ‘dictate’ the words to the writers (i.e. ‘verbal inspiration’) or did God simply lead the writers to speak on certain topics or reveal selected truths? These are big questions, and they lead to many more questions. I’ve thought about these issues, and I think all Christians should. Each of us needs to come to an understanding of inspiration which can guide us in applying scripture to our lives. Andrew Wilson, author of If God, Then What?, wrote a column for Christianity Today which offers a way of thinking about inspiration. It isn’t a complete answer to the question, but I believe it gives a valid insight. You can read the column, entitled What Scripture and Jazz Have in Common, on the Christianity Today website.

Marcus_BorgMarcus Borg, liberal theologian and New Testament scholar, died last week (January 21) at age 72. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Borg several years ago and of hearing him speak. He and I disagreed on almost everything but I found him to be a likable and genteel man. Christianity Today posted a death notice which praises Dr. Borg for his willingness to engage in dialogue with those who disagreed with him. The article is entitled Died: Marcus Borg, Liberal Jesus Scholar and Friendly Provocateur, and can be read by clicking on the title. The American Spectator published an article which spends more time dealing with Dr. Borg’s theology. It is authored by Mark Tooley, the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. The article, In Memoriam: The Death of Marcus Borg, Christian Panentheist is interesting reading. It also can be read by clicking on the title. The Huffington Post has a death notice with more personal content from friends. It can be read here. These three articles give (at least) three views of Dr. Borg, and together they give us a better understanding of him as a person and of his work. Different authors, different sets of facts, different understandings: all (and more!) are needed to form a complete picture. Just like with the Gospels and the life of Jesus: four gospels give us four different viewpoints, and therefore a fuller picture of Jesus.

I have purchased greeting cards and holy cards from the convent of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor for about thirty years. The cards are created in their scriptorium and are unlike cards from the large companies. The Sisters’ cards feature hand drawings and paintings with texts from the Bible and religious classics. Some of the cards have original photos of the convent land but I prefer the drawings due to the simplicity of line and color which they exhibit. Many of the texts are illuminated. And their prices are very low — most cards are $.50 or less. I especially like their Christmas line which includes postcards as well as greeting cards. Christmas cards are on sale now with many only $.20! This is a great time to purchase cards for 2015. Visit the web site and browse the cards. Your recipients will instantly recognize the difference between these cards and the typical holiday cards. Plus you support the good work of the Sisters.

Christianity Today recently published an opinion piece entitled, “What Forgotten Christmas Tradition Should Churches Revive?” Three people, Patricia Raybon, Larry Eskridge, and Lore Ferguson, shared their candidate traditions, and one of the three struck a chord with me. Lore Ferguson writes about the tradition of the twelve days of Christmas (like in that song kids love to sing every year).

In churches which follow a liturgical calendar, December 25 is only the first day of Christmas. On the church calendar, Christmas is a season. Technically, December 25 is not called “Christmas” (that being the name of the season) but the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. Christmas is the period from December 25 through January 5 inclusive; those are the twelve days of Christmas. January 6, the day following the season of Christmas, is Epiphany, the feast which commemorates the visit of the magi, or wise men, to Jesus, and by extension celebrates the revelation of Jesus to the gentiles. (You can read my reflection for Epiphany here.) Ms. Ferguson’s recommendation is that we should revive the celebration of Christmas as a season — give it twelve full days. One day isn’t enough for the love expressed in the incarnation or for the joy of receptive hearts. With this I totally agree. Read the rest of this entry »

The exact date of the birth of Jesus is unknown. The Bible gives very little information about the birth, and certainly does not give a date, yet for centuries Christmas has been celebrated on 25 December. How was this date chosen? Every year we hear someone state that the date was taken from pagan holidays, particularly the Roman Saturnalia festival which occurred in late December or the winter solstice celebrations of northern Europeans. The idea is that early Christians co-opted the pagan holidays to ease the transition of the people from pagan religions to Christianity. This theory is very popular and is generally taken as historical fact by people who care about why this date was chosen. However, the theory is almost certainly incorrect. Our celebration of Christmas on 25 December is probably due to a somewhat arcane theology about the passion and death of Jesus. Andrew McGowan, President and Dean of the Berkeley Divinity School, published an article which expounds the reasoning for choosing 25 December. The article, “How December 25 Became Christmas,” originally appeared in Bible Review, December 2002. It is available on the Biblical Archaeology web site as part of the Bible History Daily series. It is an interesting article and worth reading by anyone who is curious as to why this particular date was chosen.

The gospels have many passages which speak of God’s love for us and God’s desire to give us good gifts. In Matthew 7, Jesus teaches, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” God’s giving of good gifts does not spring from pity for us poor humans, or from a sense of responsibility for having created us, but from God’s love for us.

Jesus speaks of the depth and intimacy of God’s love when he tells us that “even the hairs of your head are all counted” (Matthew 10:30). Reflect on that for a moment: God loves us so much that he counts the hairs on our heads! Being in love is a universal human experience, and most of us have been deeply in love at some time in our lives. I have been in love, deeply in love, “head over heels” in love, but I have never loved so deeply that I wanted to count the hairs on the head of my beloved. Let’s be honest – if we saw someone counting the hairs on someone’s head, we would probably think that person looney. We would judge such a person to have gone “off the deep end”; he/she would be acting foolishly. And yet that is exactly how God loves us – intimately, lavishly, foolishly.

God loves us more deeply than we can comprehend, and God wants to give us good things. God wants you and me, all of us, to be joyous, deliriously happy. We also want this for ourselves. So why aren’t we all amazingly happy all the time?

The problem is in ourselves. We desire happiness, and we desire many things which we think will bring happiness. But our natural inclinations don’t bring happiness; our inborn sinful nature leads us astray. What we think we want, what we desire, and what we often work toward, are not things which will bring happiness and goodness into our lives. The Apostle Paul recognized this problem and wrote: “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:18,19). And Paul also recognized the solution to the problem: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me …? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24,25). The solution to the problem is given in God’s greatest gift to us: salvation through Jesus, God’s son.

The solution is not a magical one – believe in Jesus, and poof! your life is all good and happy! It doesn’t work like that. When Paul writes the words quoted above, he is writing as a believer in Jesus. Paul was a believer but he still had difficulty living a life which reflected God’s love. We’re born with a human nature, and believing in Jesus does not put an end to our humanity. It alters our nature but it doesn’t do away with it. Accepting God’s gift of salvation alters us by bringing us into a new relationship with God through the loving sacrifice of Jesus.

The way in which being a Christian leads to a happy life is by demonstrating a very important fact: the source of happiness is not good things but good relationships with God and our fellow humans. We want good things to make us happy, but things, not matter how good or useful they are, won’t bring lasting joy or fulfillment. What brings happiness are relationships based in God’s love and growing in that love. The life of Jesus shows us the reality and power of such relationships.

Love abides (I Corinthians 13:8,13) and relationships founded in love – true love, pure love, God’s love – last forever and bring lasting happiness. Such relationships are not easy to build or maintain. Many aspects of our human nature work against us – we are often selfish, for example. But, as Paul recognized, our relationship to God through Jesus enables us to go beyond our human nature. Through effort, with God’s help, we can build relationships founded in God’s love, relationships which reflect Jesus’ life of love and faith. When we do so, we discover happiness.

copyright 2014 by the author