Santology, Part 1 – What do you focus on? (Christian HOPE)

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As a young father, my mind is racing to ensure my wife and I help create an atmosphere by where our daughter is able to focus on the spiritual meaning of Christmas, while never feeling deprived of the fun aspects of Christmas. This is part 1 of a discussion on the sacred and secular struggle many Christian households face during Christmas.  My goal isn’t to condemn secular traditions or to ban certain behavior; rather, to ensure we are thinking about the impact some of our secular traditions have on our spiritual lives.

santology-pt1-hope

Christmas is a time of BELIEF and HOPE.  If you were to ask most Christians what Christmas truly means, I would think most would give you an answer regarding Jesus and how he came to this earth as a baby.  It’s the result of amazing prophecy fulfillment, and the anchor to our spiritual hope.  The question that remains, however, is do we actually focus on the spiritual (what we believe: Jesus) and add the secular (Santa, Elf on the Shelf…etc), or do we focus on the secular and add the spiritual?

Let’s first define what we believe.  Isaiah prophesied the coming of a Saviour about 700 years before Jesus was born…

“…the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (meaning God with us).”[i]

That puts a new perspective on the first few verses of Matthew’s gospel.  The listing of generations not only proves Jesus can be traced back to Abraham, but that there were so many generations waiting for Isaiah’s words to come true.

Their HOPE was built on their BELIEF, and their BELIEF was built on the UNKNOWN. Their unknown, however, wasn’t a question of IF, rather, the unknown of WHEN and HOW.

Our belief today stems from this fulfillment of prophecy, but extends far beyond.  Jesus was born, he taught, lived on the earth and took all of our sin, pain and grief to the cross with Him.  Fortunately for us, our Christian hope even extends beyond that.  Our hope isn’t built on a man who was MARTYRED, or SELFLESS, had great LEADERSHIP, or even had great IMPACT.  Jesus, and many other spiritual leaders did all of those things.  Our hope today is built on NEW LIFE!  The reason that Christianity spread like wild fire was because Christ conquered death and rose from the grave!  The message that was being proclaimed was:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”[ii]

This is the same message for today, and our hope and belief extend to our future eternal life with God.  It’s a HOPE like no other religion – a hope of LIFE!

Our HOPE is built on our BELIEF, and our BELIEF is built on the UNKNOWN.  Just like those before us, our unknown isn’t a question of IF; rather, the unknown of WHEN and HOW.

We need to focus on our Christian HOPE.  In a world where “spiritual belief” seems to be at an all-time low, are we downplaying our unique HOPE if we allow ourselves to focus on anything else?  Are we being strategic enough to show others our Christian HOPE?  Are we trying to spiritualize the secular, so we don’t feel bad if we don’t focus on the spiritual?  Are we making more excuses as we read this?

Sometimes I think we try to navigate through the secular Christmas (ie. Santa) and try to add our spiritual Christmas (ie. Christ) so that we keep ourselves in check.  For example, we may have a manger with Santa bowing down to Jesus.  While we have good intentions, I think we may be missing the mark.  You may laugh when I say this but, “I’m not trying to get Santa saved!” It doesn’t matter if Santa, a make-believe secular Christmas character, is bowing to Jesus.  If we’re trying to get Santa saved, we’re focusing on the wrong things.  We need to focus on the available HOPE that is much bigger than anything secular Christmas could ever offer!  Paul told us:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”[iii]

Because we have a HOPE like no other, we need to live in the world, but not allow the world to shape us.  The challenge then, is to focus on God’s will for us – “what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  That doesn’t necessarily mean to stop doing everything secular; we live in a secular world and can’t avoid that.

The challenge is to live in a secular world, but shine with HOPE; with Christ at the center, not Santa.

Connect the dots.

Ever draw a connect the dots picture? There are a series of dots with numbers and if you connect each dot in sequence with a line, a picture is revealed.  Here’s the question I have for you:

If you were to connect the dots of your Christmas season (ie. Christmas activities, outings, parties, traditions, church events, family gatherings, etc…), what would your final picture look like?

The answer to that question should tell you what the focus of your Christmas is.  Whatever the answer may be, that’s the answer your household will see.

If you see CHRIST, your household will see CHRIST, and deicide whether or not to believe.  If you see SANTA, your household will see SANTA, and decide whether or not to believe.  Nothing is for certain, but the focus will always be seen.

The scary part, and we will continue with this in the rest of the series, is if we focus on Santa, our belief becomes about Santa and we actually allow him to even have some godly attributes.  This of course is dramatically different if Christ is our focus.

With that said, I don’t have all the answers as to how this is done correctly.  What I do know, is that together, with God’s help, we can live the life He has called us to live!

Your turn!  How are you strategic about your Christian HOPE during Christmas?  Do you think secular Christmas has changed in 30 years?  How does that impact your Christian HOPE?

Click here for Part 2


[i] Isaiah 7:14, ESV.

[ii] Romans 8:11, ESV.

[iii] Romans 12:2, ESV.

LOVE: What the English Language Can’t Explain

Greek Words For Love

Reading Time: 3 minutes

For many of us, the term LOVE is used in many ways.  The only way to really understand it’s meaning, is by hearing the context in which it’s used.  For example, if a husband told his wife, “I love you,” we would understand that differently than if a sister told her brother, “I love you.”  The English language offers one word (LOVE) with many meanings, and in communication, we decipher the true meaning in a particular context.

Well, not all languages are as complicated as English.  Greek offers four words for our relational LOVE and at least one for possessive LOVE.  This becomes very important when understanding Scripture and knowing what kind of love the Bible is referring to.  I would never consider myself a Greek scholar, but hopefully this gives you a better understanding of the word and it’s meaning.

1. Phileo

This is friendship love – the kind of love we have for a friend. This particular love is interesting because it’s the only love we actually choose. Generally speaking, love is a very natural thing, and in many cases, necessary to survive. While many of us have the desire and want to socialize and have friends, it’s still a choice to do so. In the Bible, we read about loving each other in unity and also the relational love between God and humanity (John 16:27). In this particular case, the follower of Christ finds friendship and relationship with the Father because we chose to follow.

2. Eros

While some will say there are exceptions, eros is normally used when referring to the passionate or sexual love between two people.  This is where the word erotic comes from.  Interestingly enough, this is the only word for love that doesn’t show up in scripture.  We can’t prove why, however, I would think we don’t see it because the Bible isn’t about this kind of love.  Yes, God intended us to be fruitful and multiply; however, the biblical story is between God and humanity.

3. Storge

Where eros is the love between a man and women and phileo is the love between friends, storge is the natural bond of love between family members.  This is the love between parents and their children, between siblings, and among social and racial groups (patriotism).  While this word doesn’t directly show up in the Bible, there is a compound version found in Romans 12:10.  It is a combination of philia and storge, giving a translation of “love one another with brotherly [and sisterly] affection,” or with a “strong natural affection.”

4. Agape

While eros, philia, and storge all have relational components, agape is much different.  It’s still a relational love; however, it’s affectionate and not attractive.  Agape is more concerned with unconditional giving than merited receiving.  Of course, this is the kind of love we experience with God, and it’s the kind of love God expects us to show each other – especially in terms of forgiveness.  We try, however, to love God with agape love with our obedience, our love for him in our worship, by accepting Christ, and by mirroring that love among one another.  A perfect example of this kind of love can be read in John 3:16, where John explains how the Father sent the Son to die for us to give us eternal life to all who except it.

Our language is so simple compared to other languages.  As a result, we need to be careful how we interpret words like LOVE so we embrace the correct meaning.  When reading Scripture, it’s important to note that agape LOVE is the end goal, while philia and storge fit into our personal relationships with one another and  eros is very important among healthy marriages, the Bible is most concerned about how God loves us with agape love.  Epithumia refers to our desire to pursue healthy or harmful passions – the former pushes us towards understanding agape better, while the latter blurs our vision altogether.