Worship fully. Spend less.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

It is Christmas season. While we may lament the encroachment of a hectic, rushed season that seems to come earlier and earlier, let us not forget that it is a time to be joyous for what those who believe. If we have been made a new creation through Jesus Christ, then we are to actively seek good for those around us, for His sake. I’ve just become aware of Advent Conspiracy, which is a way of putting Ephesians 2:10 into practice during this wonderful time of year.

If we really believe that we are not to be conformed to the image of this world, then we need to rethink how we celebrate Christmas. The idea that we spend less and worship fully is something we can all do well to put into practice.

O Canada: Our neighbors to the north

My mother-in-law has a creative touch. God made these flowers, but she has tended them well!
My mother-in-law has a creative touch. God made these flowers, but she has tended them well!

Because today is Canada Day, I would like to express my appreciation for what I consider Canada’s best export — my mother-in-law, Dorothy Harmon. Her overall good will, charm and knowledge of what is “proper” (in the British sense) would have been winning qualities in themselves. But add to that her decision to move over a thousand miles south to “The States” and stay here, meet my father-in-law and later have my future wife and that says winner in my book.

Another of my favorite Canadians, Tim Challies, posted today about another reason that makes our neighbors to the north unique — they have two national anthems. Of course we know “O Canada” because it is a cool sounding, more easily sung song than ours here in the USA. But, as Tim explains, it was written in French and English and the translations go two directions. What a country! Tim, as is his wont, is thorough in explanation and gives the topic its due:

Thus we have two official national anthems, one written in French and one in English. It must be noted that the lyrics of these songs, even when translated to the same language, bear little resemblance to each other. Beyond the first two words there is little correlation in language or underlying themes. It is also interesting to note that while the songs are written in different languages, they were also written by men of different theological backgrounds. The English version is Protestant and emphasizes hard work and duty. The French version, written by a Roman Catholic, emphasizes history and national glory.

Today it is common for performances of the anthem to mix the French and English versions of the song. This leads to a rather interesting mixture of thoughts that actually makes the song seem quite militaristic.

O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
Just as your arm knows how to wield the sword,
It also knows how to bear the cross;
Your history is an epic
Of the most brilliant feats.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

In recent years the song has come under attack from various parties who claim that the anthem is either sexist or too religious. Some have suggested removing the words “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command.” Others have suggested ways of removing the references to God. So far these suggestions have met with resistance, but it is likely only a matter of time before the changes are made. After all, this is the nation that has legalized homosexual marriage and has decriminalized marijuana. We’re on the forefront of political correctness.

In How To Be A Canadian, Will and Ian Ferguson suggest that a defining characteristic of Canadians is that they do not know their own anthem. Certainly they do not loudly sing it with pride as do our American neighbours (as I noted last night when I was at the ball game—barely a person there bothered to sing along). “First lesson as a newcomer to Canada: Whatever you do, do not learn the words to ‘O Canada’! Nothing will mark you as an outsider more quickly. Canadians don’t know the words to their national anthem, and neither should you.”

And, to finish the celebration, here is the talented Andrew Osenga (not Canadian, but still pretty good because he’s American) singing the praises of Canada:

Memorial Day movies: ‘Taking Chance’ is a way to understand those who serve

Since today is Memorial Day, here is a movie you should consider seeing if you can find it. My brother, serving honorably in Iraq, recommended it and I’ll take his word on it. It’s called “Taking Chance” and stars Kevin Bacon. This is what reviewer Robert Davis said about the movie, which was nominated for the Jury Prize at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival:

Taking Chance is a very simple film about Lt. Col. Michael Strobl (Kevin Bacon) who is escorting the body of a fallen PFC named Chance Phelps to his family. In under ninety minutes, the film bears witness to the respectful procedures that the USMC follows in such situations and to the reactions of ordinary Americans who Strobl meets on this particular journey. He doesn’t know the Private, and we learn only a few details about Strobl himself, but I found the film to be one of the most moving experiences I’ve had in a theater, almost indescribably so. Bacon’s solidity and restraint bind the minimal plot together, as do the tasteful decisions made by filmmaker Ross Katz, a producer-turned-director (he produced Lost in Translation and In the Bedroom) who tells the story with remarkable efficiency, never lingering past a scene’s essential moment, never overplaying the emotion. It’s the best feature film about America’s involvement in Iraq that I’ve seen. I’m not a military guy, and I’ve never had much interest in the Marines, but after the screening I needed some time to walk around.

Memorial Day: Real American heroes remembered

From: “Gettysburg Address”, Nov. 19, 1863
— President Abraham Lincoln

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate-we can not consecrate-we can not hallow-this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

See more stories at  Real American Stories: One Nation United

Christmas message from Apollo 8: God is above all

This is a view of Earth from Apollo 8
This is a view of Earth from Apollo 8

I have heard this message in the past, but this seemed appropriate because, as this year closes, there are many who are burdened by what seems like a host of problems in this world. This message is from the crew of Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve 1968. This is late, I know, but it is something to think about: How must those three men — William Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman — have felt when they looked upon the Earth in a way that none of us had?

Jonah Goldberg, writing in National Review Online, gives some background:

Nineteen sixty-eight was one of the most tumultuous years in American, even in world, history. By Christmas Eve, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy lay dead from assassins’ bullets; King’s murder had provoked bitter riots. The Democratic Convention in Chicago was marred by protests in the streets. Over 14,000 Americans died in Vietnam that year, as the Tet Offensive turned the country increasingly against the war. A demonstration in Mexico City ended with hundreds of deaths just before the Olympics there opened. Students rioted in Paris, at Columbia University, and elsewhere. The “Prague Spring” of liberalization was crushed by Soviet tanks.

In this distinctly un-cheery season, a voice of hope spoke from, quite literally, the far side of the Moon. Apollo 8, only the second manned Apollo craft to go into space after the tragedy of the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, had launched from Florida on December 21, 1968. Its crew of William Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman became the first humans ever to enter the orbit of another heavenly body and the first to see the “dark side” of the Moon. They saw, for the first time, Earthrise as they completed Moon orbits and emerged above the near side pointed towards Earth.

In this historical, breathtaking scene, the three astronauts chose the words from Genesis to give their listeners perspective about Who controls a world seemingly spinning out of control:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

Let us never forget and let us cling with hope to a God who keeps it all in place and running.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Jesus Christ. But about Santa Claus …

Every year, my local newspaper prints an old editorial entitled, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” It was written in 1897 by an editorial writer for the New York Sun in response to a letter by an 8-year-old girl named Virginia. The little girl wondered if there really was a Santa Claus since some of her friends said he didn’t exist.

Poor little Virginia. She was asking the wrong question. Maybe her friends were pointing her to a more satisfying focus of her devotion and, rather than turning to find him, some ridiculous adult went on to ramble about how Santa will live a thousand years from now even though you couldn’t see him or prove he exists. Great. So, in the spirit of journalism, this is repeated yearly as if it somehow preserves some kind of childlike innocence.

Here’s something for all you Viriginias out there. Was there a Santa Claus? Mark Driscoll at The Resurgence looks at the man known as Saint Nicholas and the myths surrounding him. What you will find is that there is a lot of storytelling involved in the Santa story. But, on the other hand, you will find that what is known about Jesus Christ is not just hearsay but was written down by eyewitnesses and then handed down faithfully. It’s not another fairy tale, but real history. And that’s the best news. If you are going to look forward expectantly for someone this Christmas, look forward to Jesus.