Thursday, December 9, 2010

What Jesus Think About Santa Claus

The outfit is unmistakable, the mode of transportation totally unique, and the occupation…. well that is an area were opinions differ widely. For some Santa Claus is the heart of the holiday season, for others he is a welcome diversion from the mundane of everyday life, and for others he is an unwelcome distraction from the real reason to celebrate this time of year.

My childhood home was a place where the story of the jolly bearded gift giver was readily told. Some of my most vivid childhood memories surround the story of Santa. I will never forget looking out the window hoping to catch a glimpse of Saint Nick and his sleigh only to find a teen-aged neighbor looking in the window… yikes! I can still see the room full of bicycles when “Santa” brought 8 bikes to our home, one for each of the children still living at home. It seems only yesterday when I discovered the truth regarding the reality of Santa Claus and forever changed the way I looked at this childhood hero.

I have sung the carols, watched the Christmas television specials, and once wore the red hat as volunteer bell ringer for the Salvation Army. All the while I gave very little thought to the fact and fiction surrounding Santa. There seemed to be no reason to debate the validity or value of the Santa story. Parenthood finally forced me to consider my views on Saint Nick. With the traditions of Santa Claus deeply woven into the culture of society and family, it was imperative I have an answer for my children that would reflect our values and stand the test of time. What did I tell my children? First some facts :)

THE FACTS – The story of Santa Claus finds its roots in the 4th century AD in the life of Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna (modern day Turkey). Nicholas is believed to have been from a very wealthy family whose Godly parents died during an epidemic while he was quite young. Nicholas firmly embraced the faith of his parents, stayed committed to the church and eventually entered the priesthood. Nicholas showed his devotion to God in extraordinary kindness and generosity to those in need. Nicholas gave much of his family’s wealth away, with a special interest in the needs of children. Among the stories attributed to Nicholas is of him anonymously providing the dowries for a poor man with three daughters, saving them from the likelihood of slavery. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. Upon his release he attended the Council of Nicea in 325, and eventually made his way back to Myra. He faithfully served God his entire life, demonstrating true humility, steadfastness of faith, and a compassionate heart.

Nicholas died in 343 AD on December 6. His life would soon after be commemorated with the “Feast of Nicholas” held each December 6th. Over time numerous traditions became associated with these annual celebrations. On St. Nicholas' Eve, youngsters would set out food for the saint, straw for his horses and schnapps for his attendant. The next morning, obedient children awoke to find their gifts replaced with sweets and toys. With the Reformation the “Feast of Nicholas” and “Eve of Nicholas” all but disappeared from the calendar. Oddly, The Puritans contributed greatly to the secularization of Christmas, being strongly opposed to any Christmas celebration. As time passed the traditions of Christmas and the “Feast of Nicholas” morphed into our Christmas celebrations

There are certainly many other influences that have over time shaped and distorted the story of Saint Nicholas and brought us to our modern day Santa Claus. However, we would do well to tell the story of Santa’s origin and the Godly heart and determination of Santa’s namesake.

THE FIGHT - Santa has been blamed for the secularization of Christmas, and yet no historical figure other than Jesus has done more to bring attention to the celebration of Christ’s birth. Santa is often mistakenly attributed with the commercialization of Christmas gift-giving, yet even those who have no belief or tradition of Santa readily admit that the are prone to unhealthy excess in the Holiday season. Some have gone so far as to associate Santa with the satanic, yet the values demonstrated in Santa find no connection with Hell’s inhabitants. The true fight is not with Santa, it is with the distortions that have permeated the story over the years.

THE FRUIT - The challenge of looking beyond the trivial to the truth is as old as the story of Christmas itself, as King Herod could readily testify. I am convinced Charlie Brown’s best friend, Linus put it best when answering Chuck’s question of the true meaning of Christmas: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ “That’s the true meaning of Christmas Charlie Brown.”

THE FINAL WORD - I am convinced Jesus response to the question of His opinion regarding Santa Claus would be the same as Santa’s response regarding the question of his opinion of Jesus: “It is too bad that people don’t take the time to truly know him… because understanding who he really is has the potential to be life changing!”

By the way, Jodi and I explained to our children that imagination is a gift from God and the imaginary character of Santa Claus reminds us of a man who lived a long time ago whose devotion to God is worth remembering….. and modeling!

Merry Christmas!!!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ten Things I Think I Think - October 2010

1. The time is right for Steve Jobs to announce the new Apple ICar. If Apple were to make the Apple ICar it would look a lot like the latest Acura RL, that car is incredible.

2. It should be against the law for McDonalds to call it a McRib sandwich. You are not fooling us McDonalds…. But I do love the sweet tea!

3. I am so glad the midterm elections are just a few days away, and then we will be done with all of the angry advertisements. The current political climate in our nation leaves a great deal to be desired. I am hopeful that someone will actually address issues and leave the negative commentary regarding the opposing party alone.

4. If Apple announced the Apple Icar and it looked like the old AMC Pacer I would still be tempted to buy it…. As long as it wasn’t the Levis version. That car had denim interior and fake stitching in the exterior paint. It gave a whole new meaning to the word ugly.

5. There is an amazing window of opportunity for the church today to offer real answers.

6. This year we will put colored lights on the Christmas tree at the Garvin house. I don’t like them, but Jodi does. Most years she defers to my preference, this year she wins…. Don’t tell her! :)

7. Fox News uses the “Breaking News” tag way too often. If the news is over 24 hours old it is not “breaking”. I am just saying!

8. Pumpkin bars will be in Heaven. Pumpkiny goodness topped with mouthwatering icing, I can almost here the angels singing.

9. Our Missions Team at First Assembly of God Bloomington-Normal is outstanding. Hulda Buntain speaking in front of a 20 foot tall Taj Mahal, Michael McNamee joining us for a banquet with food from one of the areas top chefs, and Dwain Jones challenging us on Faith Promise Sunday. Very cool.

10. I am challenged to lead our church to a greater commitment to seek God with passion. The impact the Holy Spirit can have on us and we can have on our culture is massive.

By the way, I bet you are still thinking about the whole ICar idea. :)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Facebook Friendship

I know that facebook isn't “real” life, but i've decided just the same, never to delete a friend because they offend me. (bore me maybe) In the real world I can't just make people disappear. I either avoid them, ignore them or get used to them...hopefully i love them =)

This was a recent status update posted by one of my Facebook friends. The same day another status update stated, “ Friends, I am editing my friends list. there are so many people that I am not even sure who they are. If I delete you in error, please forgive me in advance and just request me to readd you. Thanks!”

These simple, yet profound statements beg the question, how do we define friendship in a Facebook world?

A quick glance at my profile on Facebook informs me that I currently have 1,314 friends. Among those listed are people I have known for years who are very dear to me, friends who have shared in my triumphs and tragedies. Also included are “Facebook Friends,” people I have never met who have requested to be my “friend” because of similar interests or similar friends. There are folks on my list who would rush to my aid in time of need, there are individuals classified as friends according to Facebook who likely would not recognize my name if I were to call. Do I truly have 1,314 friends? Is there a determining factor in friendship?

Friendship was so much easier to define on the schoolyard playground. A friend picked you first for kickball regardless of how good you were. A friend took care of you when your mother thought tuna fish was a good idea for a sack lunch. A friend came to your rescue when others began to call you names. The rare best friend embraced all of these qualities and more. David Lane was such a friend, so a trickle of blood flowed from the pin prick in my finger as I handed the needle taken from my mother’s sewing kit and handed it to the person I was sure to be the best friend in the world. David took the needle, pricked his finger, and as we pressed our fingers together we became “blood brothers,” a designation we knew nothing could separate…. Lifelong friends!

While I am grateful that the concept of “blood brothers” did not join me in the transition from the childhood friendships to adult relationships, there is a great deal we can learn about true friendship by revisiting our childhood connections. Lessons that stand in stark contrast to the Facebook friendship philosophy that has become all too prevalent. Here are a few thoughts:

1. Friends cannot simply remove someone from a friends list -

True friendship does not exist without forgiveness - Friendship requires that we are kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another just as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven us. It is impossible to have genuine relationship without walking through conflict. The strength of the friendship is not determined by the amount of conflict, it is determined by the health of the conflict resolution. It is all too easy to delete people from our friends list that we have no relationship with. Unfortunately, our Facebook culture has diminished our understanding of friendship to the point that we are way too comfortable deleting genuine friends from our life rather than dealing with conflict that will lead to stronger relationship. Proverbs 17:9 says, “Love forgets mistakes.” Loyalty was understood and valued on the grade school playground!

2. Friendship hurts sometimes –

“Dude, that is what you are wearing on picture day… you look so silly!” Billy Kramer made this statement as I arrived at the bus stop. A quick sprint to his house and a borrowed shirt saved me from a yearbook disaster. Faithful are the wounds of a friend!

We have to be open, honest, frank. Proverbs 24:26 rings true, “An honest answer is the sign of a true friendship.” Being candid and being connected go together. We don’t have one without the other. Genuine, healthy, deep, meaningful relationships are built on honesty not on flattery. If you’ve got somebody who’s kissing up to you, always telling you what you want to hear, they don’t really love you. They’re using you. Flattery is a sign of a manipulator, not a sign of somebody who’s genuinely your friend. Genuine friendships, genuine relationships are candid. They’ll tell you when you’ve got spinach in your teeth. They’ll tell you when you’re blowing it. They’ll tell you when you’re wasting your life, making a dumb, bad decision. Why, because healthy relationships are built on honesty. All of us have blind spots. The question that really matters is, do you have anybody in your life that loves you enough to point them out? Who cares enough to say, “You need to work on this.” Thanks again Billy!!!!!

3. Friendship requires that we are mindful of our words –

True friendship demands that we are mindful with our words, understanding the power of the pen and the power of the tongue. It is too easy to write a manipulative status update or critical comment. Friends understand the value of praising in public and correcting in private. A friend will live out Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

4. Friendship is more than words –

When someone speaks to you face-to-face the percentage of the meaning that is actually in the words, as opposed to the body language and tone of voice is 7 percent. The other 93 percent is nonverbal, according to studies. Yes the studies are real and No, I don't know how they arrived at that exact number. But we didn't need it. I mean, come on. Most of our humor is sarcasm, and sarcasm is just mismatching the words with the tone. Like my friend's "No, thank you." You don't wait for a girl to verbally tell you she likes you. It's the sparkle in her eyes, her posture, or the way she looks at you. When we're living in the land of Facebook, all that is stripped away. There's a weird side effect to it, too: absent a sense of the other person's mood, every line we read gets filtered through our own mood instead. The reason I read my friend's chili message as sarcastic was because I was in an irritable mood. In that state of mind, I was eager to be offended. And worse, if I do enough of my communicating this way, my mood never changes. After all, people keep saying nasty things to me! Of course I'm depressed! It's me against the world!

Friends, Much of who we are is a product of our friendships. “As iron sharpens iron, so one sharpens another.” I am a reflection of the 1,314+ people that I count as friends. I can not delete you from my life without deleting a part of me. I will be your friend even when it is painful. I will do my best to watch my words and make sure that I make the necessary connections with you to communicate what truly needs to be said beyond mere words. I appreciate the honesty of the two status updates I shared at the beginning of this note, but have determined that I want to adopt the first as my own…

I know that facebook isn't “real” life, but i've decided just the same, never to delete a friend because they offend me. (bore me maybe) In the real world I can't just make people disappear. I either avoid them, ignore them or get used to them...hopefully i love them =)

Have a great day friend!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sticks and Stones

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words….”

While it is true that sticks and stones may hurt, Proverbs declares the greater potential danger is found in our words: “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” Solomon speaks of the power of our speech. He reminds us that a timely word brings tremendous peace and a sense of value, while an unkind expression will often fuel a hurricane of emotional and spiritual devastation, many times leaving a shipwrecked relationship in its wake.

The realization of this truth should lead to the conclusion that as Christians we must be mindful of Paul’s exhortation to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Yet sadly, this is all too often not the case. If we were to be honest with ourselves, we would be forced to acknowledge that the critical disposition, or critical spirit is at an epidemic proportion in the church today.

The reality is that it is all too easy to drift away from the biblical command to “encourage one another and build each other up” and find ourselves walking with a critical disposition. Romans asks the question, “Why do you criticize and pass judgment upon your brother? Or why do you look down and despise your brother?” The critical disposition is a familiar trap Satan uses to rob us of our joy and cripple us relationally.

Romans declares that if we continue to walk with a critical disposition that we are worthy of death. Jesus instructed us as His followers to bless those who curse us and to extend forgiveness to those who wrong us, stating in Matthew 6:15 that if we walk in bitterness and unforgiveness that our eternal destiny is in question. It would seem wise then to take a look at the sources of the critical spirit and explore a biblical solution to this vexing problem.

One of the first questions to consider is what is a critical spirit. It can best be described as an ongoing attitude of criticism and fault finding. The fuel for the critical spirit can come from a variety of sources:

  • Lost Grace – previous experiences where we either did not receive forgiveness or have not offered forgiveness will energize the critical spirit. It is a profound truth that “hurt people, hurt people!” Many times the lack of grace in our homes growing up will nurture a critical spirit that manifests itself once we reach adulthood. (Hebrews 12:15)
  • Personal Insecurity – A natural response to feeling devalued is to draw attention to what we perceive as negatives of others. We see ourselves as unworthy, unattractive or inadequate and find that pointing out the weaknesses of others works as an anodyne to keep us from having to deal with our own pain.
  • An Unyielded Mind - The prevalent response in the world around us to the weaknesses of others is it capitalize on the opportunity to criticize, poke fun or otherwise speak negatively about the person. As Christians we are not to act that way and are instructed in Romans 12:2 to not follow the pattern of this world.
  • Immaturity – The immature believer who has not progressed in their own faith remain overly dependent upon the faith in others. The danger of becoming critical of the flaws in those around them as a defense to their own shortcomings is great.
  • Satan - The Devil specializes in capitalizing on unhealthy behavior. He constantly uses any of our weaknesses to influence a complaining or critical disposition in us.

The source of our battle with the critical spirit is many times obvious. Finding a solution can prove much more challenging. Not because the solution is difficult to find, but because of the discipline necessary for the solution to prove effective.

Dr. David H. Fink, a psychiatrist for the veterans administration, wrote an article for Coronet Magazine, entitled, “Release from Nervous Tension” in which he outlined his research into the causes of mental and emotional disturbances. From over 10,000 case studies, he discovered that there was a common trait with all his patients who suffered from severe tension. They were habitual fault-finders, constant critics of people and things around them. Those who were free from tension, were the least critical. His conclusions were that the habit of fault-finding is a prelude or mark of the nervous, or the mentally unbalanced. Those who wish to retain good emotional and mental health, should learn to free themselves from a negative and critical attitude.

We can rightly conclude that it is in our best interest to walk free from a critical spirit, recognizing the damage it does to our earthly relationships, our heavenly relationships, and our own sense of well being. Victory is found in the daily reminder that we are no longer our own, that we were bought with a price. God’s Lordship must include both our hurts and our thoughts. We have to continually push back the patterns of this world and welcome the transformation that results from allowing God to renew our mind. If you find yourself feeling victimized by the words of others, follow the biblical directive to not only forgive them, but to bless them. The freedom that is found in extending the blessing is truly amazing. If an honest examination of your own conversation and attitude reveals a tendency toward the critical spirit determine to remind yourself daily of God's directives and commit to discovering the source of your critical spirit, realizing that it does not originate in the failings of others.

Remember this, the Bible doesn’t promise peace to those who dwell on the faults of others! It says that “the Lord will keep them in perfect peace, whose minds are stayed on Him!” Let’s let the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart be found acceptable in God’s sight.

By the way… you look great today!

Saturday, September 4, 2010


The emerald green landscape of the Irish countryside and the breathtaking beauty of the "Giants Causeway" welcomed me to the land of my forefathers this past week. I visited the home of a hero of the faith in John Knox and learned of the tremendous religious conflict that has scarred this amazing region. I walked the pathways of Garvins past and took in the views of those who sacrificed much so I could enjoy the many blessings that are mine today. It was an amazing journey.

I am convinced that each one of us have an inherent affinity for the homeland of our ancestral heritage, and I was blessed with the opportunity to visit Ireland and Scotland, the land my of my family in previous generations. It is good to be home and I am navigating the issue of jet lag fairly well. Travel delays and lost luggage brought some frustration and some well needed reflection. My journey from the United States to Ireland and then Scotland was the reverse of my ancestors. My travel time to Ireland and Scotland was just under one day, their venture a significantly greater story. I wonder...

I wonder what the thoughts of William Garvin were when he voted in the General Assembly of Scotland in favor of the national covenant called the "Kings Confession" Scotland denounced the practices of the Pope and embraced the reformation of the church. I would love a window into the life of John Garvin who moved his family from Dunbarton, Scotland to Armagh, Ireland as part of King James' initiative give more Protestants land in Ireland to bring greater protestant influence to the region. It would be wonderful to know the thoughts of Rev. Samuel Garvin who brought his family to Pennsylvania in 1763 answering the call for the need of a "Covenanter" pastor. I find myself wondering aloud of the many in my family's history whose stories I may never uncover, and am so grateful for this history of my family that has been recorded. Their journey to America and the journey in their faith serves as a solid foundation on which my children can build our family heritage.

The Garvin family story is not unique. The many who have sacrificed in your family history, who sacrificed much and stood bravely in the midst of overwhelming obstacles affords you the opportunity to freely be who you are today. The question and challenge for us is what will future generations say about our journey. Will they speak of character and courage? Will they tell of sacrifice and significance? Will they discover faith and faithfulness?

My renewed commitment today is to honor my family name... not just the name Garvin, but the name of my Heavenly family:

"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:14-20

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Reflections on The End of Summer

A quick glance at today’s thermometer and one would find it hard to believe that end of Summer is soon upon us. Before we know it our neighborhood streets will once again be filled with busloads of school children, talk of Friday night football games will enter the conversations, and life will return to a sense of normalcy. If you are at all like me this time of year is always bittersweet. While I love all of the activities of summer, I welcome the routine that September brings.

I am convinced that we all have a desire for adventure, but are driven to stability and consistency. We long for something new and different, yet are profoundly creatures of habit. This seeming contradiction speaks to how God has wonderfully designed us. Created in God's likeness we have within our spiritual DNA both the desire and the ability to create. Reflecting the unchangeable nature of God's character we gravitate towards consistency. These two contrasting qualities have the capacity to provide strength as we walk in healthy relationship with Christ and endeavor to maintain the personal discipline Scripture requires. Satan, recognizing the potential tension between these two characteristics, attempts to utilize this tension to bring confusion and compromise into our journey. He endeavors to stifle our creativity or leverage it to draw us away from God. He will try to convince us that consistency offers no enjoyment and remind us of our inevitable missteps as we pursue the consistent life.

The refreshing news is that God will faithfully reveal His presence and power in both the creative and the consistent aspects of our life. God's plan for each of us reinforces His creative nature that is within each of us, the Holy Spirit brings a wonderful sense of self-control into the situation, and the grace of God is a consistent covering when we fall short in creativity or consistency.

The heat index is currently 105 degrees, I look forward to a change in the weather pattern... I wish Summer could last forever!