Santa Claus Is Real: Read His Story





This painting shows Saint Nicholas saving three innocents from the sword

This painting shows Saint Nicholas saving three innocents from the sword

Daddy! Daddy! Read the story. Please. “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…”

Before long he got to the part where the round and rather elfish fellow in the red suit slides down the chimney and leaves the presents. The best part for me was not the presents. It was decorating the tree and laying the fire – which never hurt Santa – and pretending to be sitting next to him while we shared the milk and cookies that were always left for him. It was the essence of family in my imagination. It was a warm and wonderful fantasy, and when my parents told me there was no Santa I just kept imagining the Christmas scene anyway. It was too wonderful to let go.

Trouble is – if you want to call it trouble – there really is a Santa. His real name is Nicholas and he lived in the city of Myra in what is now called Turkey. He was a bishop in the Catholic Church in a time when there was only one Church. He served during a time of savage persecution of Christians; he was arrested and tortured for his faith, although he did not die of it. He was one of the leaders participating in the Council of Nicea, called by Emperor Constantine after legalization of the faith, and he had a hand in composing the (still) only universal summary statement of the Faith. He was designated a saint following earthly death and hence the Santa joins the Claus in his name.

The most amazing news about Nicholas is that – amid all he suffered and labored and tended to in his life and ministry – he found great joy traveling the streets of his city and leaving coins in the shoes children placed on their window sills at the end of day. He had a special heart for sailors as well as for children, and he may even be the left-handed source of the proverb that God takes care of sailors and children. His concern for the poor was both real and poignant, yet he is remembered not just as a man of compassion, but of compassion laced with whimsy. Reminiscent of the God He served so well.

In our time we are much more attuned to a fat man in a red suit who will give us anything we ask for – and especially a new boy or girlfriend for Christmas if the seasonal movies tell us anything – than to the child of a carpenter born to die for us in a shabby manger located in a small cave in a forgotten town in Judea where all they produce are the lambs to be ceremonially killed in the capitol city. The fat man requires nothing of us but a willingness to be dazzled by fantasies like my five-year-old Christmas scene; the child wants our whole life to be given over to Him as He gives His for us. On top of that, the child insists on meeting our needs rather than our wants. The trouble is, what powers the fat man’s generosity is the child’s sacrificial reality. Nobody is more aware of that than a fat man who gave his heart and his body in gratitude for the Child.

When I was a parish priest we observed a Christmas custom in each church I led. I had long since replaced cookies and milk with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper on Christmas Eve, although God knows to this day I still love the Christmas scene I cherished when I get home from church. At the church we would have one of our members dress as Santa and enter the nave or sanctuary just as I prepared to pray over the Supper. I would catch sight of him and greet him from my station behind the altar. I would acknowledge the pleasure of seeing him, with all the work he had ahead of him this night. He would tell me he wanted to do first things first – on this night of all nights – and that meant worshipping the living Reason for the Season. He would then come forward to receive Communion with the church’s children in tow, and all of us would receive a joy-filled and much needed adjustment to our perspective.

Santa Claus is real, a servant of God and no substitute for Him. Nobody is clearer than St. Nicholas on the nature of the relationship. He is first to say, “Jim, your idea of Christmas as a child comes true only because another child was born, lived and died for you. First things first.”

James A. Wilson is the author of Living As Ambassadors of Relationships and The Holy Spirit and the End Times – available at local bookstores or by e-mailing him at
praynorthstate@charter.net





Authentic Healthcare Reform Requires Competition





Healthcare Competition

A close associate of mine got a 5% cost of living raise effective January 1. The trouble is it will not be enough to cover the hike in her medical premium – not near enough. The same story is repeating in multiple versions all over the country as the Obamacare disaster infects greater and greater multitudes. We have heard about the now six million Americans cancelled by their insurance companies because their policies no longer meet government standards – and the standard official line that these cancellations are good for their victims because they are forced to buy new policies that include pregnancy care for men and gender adjustment treatment for the 99.5% of Americans who do not want it. But this is only in the individually mandated market, where government is counting on massive purchases of unwanted insurance to pay for the treatments of those who need them.

Anticipating the delayed coming of the business mandates companies have cut back large swaths of their workers to part-time status so their employers will not be forced to buy all or part of their insurance. That means employees have less income to buy much more expensive insurance when government blithely tells them to just go to the exchanges – the ones that do not operate in the first place due to technical incompetence. And when government legislates that fewer hours will now constitute full-time, the employers simply cut hours further to get under the lowered bar.

What if we if insisted on authentic healthcare reform?

The first awakening would be to the reality that authenticity in an American context requires freedom. Even if we believed the inflated figure of thirty million Americans without health insurance – not healthcare, for free healthcare for the indigent and impoverished has been law on the books for decades – forcing the entire nation onto government-run exchanges to attempt to benefit less than 10% of us is madness. Yet Obamacare depends for its survival on forcing enough healthy people to pay for the sick that we remain solvent on their backs. A healthcare reform plan that reduces the freedom with which we have obtained healthcare in the past is not reform at all.

The second wake-up call would remind us we built the best healthcare system in history through healthy competition between competent professionals. In a free market economy incompetence is punished by failure and competence is rewarded with success. Competition is what keeps the game honest and a level playing field is the guarantor of competition. That would mean the insurance companies are not permitted to penalize people for the “sin” of having a pre-existing condition, as these things in no way harm the actuarial tables by which the companies live. It would mean companies would be denied their own protected market territory because policies would be portable from one job to another and across state lines. It would mean companies had to do business across state lines in order to stay in the game. And it would mean tort reform to reduce the crippling weight of malpractice insurance. Patients should be compensated fairly for a loss and doctors who repeatedly prove themselves incompetent or unethical should face permanent loss of their license. When government knows its sole responsibility is promoting competition it can stop tinkering with the system – from which nothing but unintended consequences ever comes.

The third heads-up would be to those who say critics offer no alternatives to Obamacare. That has always been hogwash. Congressman Tom Price, for one, offered a promising alternative at the same time Obamacare was first advanced. The Price Plan had all the advantages claimed by Obamacare – from competitive exchanges to eliminating penalties for pre-existing conditions – and none of the coercion. Unfortunately Price belonged to the party of no power (2009) in either house and his plan was never considered by the very leadership that condemned his party as “the party of No.” Is this problem too complex? To the only nation that has landed on the moon?

The Biblical Galatians declares Christ set us free for the sake of that freedom found only in Him. I bring this up only because it seems freedom has been the primary object of the abundant life He brings from the beginning. It is difficult to imagine a good gift that summarily cancels the best gift we’ve ever been given. This might be a good time to pray our way back to the drawing board – democratically and legally displacing those blocking our path – and act on the fruit of that prayer. I bring this up only because it seems not to have been tried.

James A. Wilson is the author of Living As Ambassadors of Relationships and The Holy Spirit and the End Times – available at local bookstores or by e-mailing him at
praynorthstate@charter.net

Photo Credit:  Standard Compliant





Obama Drunk With Power





Welmart EBT Card Welfare Obama White House Debt Ceiling SC

Toronto Mayor Bob Ford is an alcoholic whose addiction is ruining his career (he admits he smoked crack during “one of my drunken stupors.”)  But alcohol is not the only thing on which to get drunk.

In the case of Barack Obama, we find a whole administration drunk with power.  His attorney general first covers up an arms debacle that costs American lives, then blames a previous president, and finally just stonewalls a congressional committee.  His secretary of Health and Human Services tells American citizens she does not work for them.  His IRS leadership lies repeatedly about agency persecution of political opponents and the illegal release of confidential materials.  And the president himself lies about murder in Benghazi, spying on American citizens, his own involvement in the IRS scandal, and what Obamacare will do to citizens who already have health insurance.  If that is not enough, he routinely re-writes legislation such as his signature healthcare law in blatant defiance of the Constitution as cooly as he deliberately misquotes the Gettysburg Address to remove references to God.  This president is so drunk with power that when the House of Representatives adopts – legally – a bill doing the same things the president illegally decreed to correct his own insurance cancellation nightmare, he threatens to veto the legislation.

No good thing ever comes from drunkenness, and nothing ever will.  But the greatest damage comes from being drunk with power.

Intoxification with power – and the vindictiveness that accompanies it – spreads to lower officials and civilians as well.  Recently, fake blood was spattered on peaceful life advocates in Albuquerque, New Mexico by so-called pro-choicers.  I say “so-called” because these people have no interest in the freedom to choose in – say – an election.  AG Eric Holder has no problem with voter intimidation by gangsters in Philadelphia; at the same time, he accuses legitimate poll watchers of suppressing the vote in that same city, demonstrating his soul brotherhood with the gangsters.

A man was recently arrested for murder after shooting an armed man who broke down his door at 2 AM and charged him.  In Washington, D.C., the insurance commissioner was fired by Mayor Vincent Gray for agreeing with a proposal to ask insurance companies to restore cancelled policies; and a low level Obamacare employee named Elaine was fired for answering the questions she is charged with answering when the questioner happened to be talk show host Sean Hannity.  Right here in Redding, it turns out our own Mercy Hospital helped write the protocols for Obamacare; I learned this because my radio program was sponsored by Mercy.  When I blogged against Obamacare, Mercy summarily dropped my program with that explanation.  It is about intimidating – not debating – opponents.

The Bible has a wonderful passage addressed as Ephesians 5:18.  It instructs readers not to become drunk with spirits – including the spirit of power – but rather be filled (drunk, if you will) with the Holy Spirit.  Becoming intoxicated – filled – with God is how we come to authentic sobriety.  Confirmation occurs as people change behavior – and the fruit of it – sometimes over time, but sometimes quite rapidly.  The recently concluded 40 Days for Life campaign reports that forty-five abortion clinics have closed since 2007 as they prayed and blessed outside clinics, with appointment cancellations as high as 75% when they are praying; these drunk in the spirit types do nothing more aggressive than prayer.

The Rev. Martin Luther King led a civil rights movement for fourteen years – until his martyrdom – fueled by nothing but the Holy Spirit, according to King himself.  Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, asked how he remained at peace through seven years of trumped-up indictments on perfectly legal behavior, criminal conviction, and eventual acquittal-on-appeal of felony charges, said he went to Congress not knowing his Lord and became filled with Him while there; he had no other explanation. Like former power broker Chuck Colson, DeLay now knows real power.

The Bible also says His strength is perfected (2 Corinthians 12:9) in our weakness.  The Christians who took down autocratic governments in the Philippines and throughout Eastern Europe had no resources other than prayer and forgiveness without giving up their convictions.  I don’t say whether our present government does or doesn’t need taking down.  But like King, Colson, and DeLay, I recommend being drunk in God’s Spirit.  It is the only authentic sobriety, and the only real power.

 

James A. Wilson is the author of Living As Ambassadors of Relationships and The Holy Spirit and the End Times – available at local bookstores or by e-mailing him at praynorthstate@charter.net

 





Celebrating Advent This Year





Photo credit: biblevector (Creative Commons)

Advent – the four weeks prior to Christmas – is celebrated by Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Methodists, a large majority of the Body of Christ.  Orthodoxy – another fifth of the Body – celebrates it as The Fast of Christmas.  The season originated somewhere between the middle of the second century and the middle of the sixth.  It focuses on two realities – active anticipation of celebrating the birth of Messiah–or Christ, the Son of God, and active anticipation of Messiah’s return as King.  The name means “coming” or “anticipation,” and it operates through the scriptural lens of the life and ministry of John the Baptist.  Jesus said of John that no greater prophet had ever arisen.  Why is this important?

John’s ministry has three features that mark him as a kind of second coming of Elijah; and again, it is Jesus Himself who so identifies him.  First, he recognizes Jesus as the incarnation of God Himself when the latter comes to him seeking baptism.  He speaks as God speaks, identifying acts of compassion and mercy as the fruit of repentance and thus the road to authentic worship.   Second, he treats Jesus as family; they are cousins after all. And when God comes among us this way, He expects to be treated as He treats us.  This is what Richard Foster describes as real worship.  And finally, he says that he must decrease as Messiah increases – in other words, he both humbles and empties himself before God, which is genuine worship.  All this makes John a forerunner of Messiah – then and now.

Jesus Christ says mercy trumps sacrifice in one Bible passage, while obedience does the trumping in another.  But He speaks of trumping the kinds of sacrifice that passes through ceremonial motions simply because it is that time of year.  When we actually recognize Him in the services of Lessons and Carols, the lighting of special candles, and the absence of certain frills in our worship, we are led back to appreciate the spirit of John the Baptist.  When we take it a step further and begin sharing our food with the hungry, carrying the packs of the needy, and visiting the sick and the lonely before going home to a warm place of rest, we begin to actively refocus on God – the essence of repentance – and pragmatically anticipate the return of the King.

The world is based on an economy of sacrifice, not survival of the fittest; and this should be as visible to people of no faith as to the most faithful Christians.  The vestiges have survived the epochs since the accelerating Fall of Mankind.  Astronomers know our planet is the fruit of the sacrifice of multitudes of stars that went nova over the billions of years since our universe has lived and kicked just the right amount of heavy and light elements into this sector of our galaxy, so that a rocky and watery planet is born to enable the human race to walk and talk with God.  In the animal world, zoologists know that parents routinely sacrifice their lives for the sake of their children – as do most human parents.  Every human body is born of the sacrifice of individual and living egg and sperm, and your white blood cells sacrifice themselves in a kamikaze attack on anything that breaks into your body.  We reserve maximum admiration for the person who risks or gives his life for another.  Jesus Himself came into the world to ignite restoration of this world as it was intended by its Creator.

Our generation of the Church, however we define ourselves, is clearly a John the Baptist generation.   The dark signs Jesus identified as signaling His near return are wars and rumors of wars, men calling evil good and good evil, and hatred focused on those who name His name worldwide.  Although no one can predict when or how soon He returns, we are clearly and factually in the last act of world history from that standpoint.  As the numbers of miracles and decisions for Jesus escalate, we have to recall His apocalyptic prediction (John 14:12-14 and other places) that His return would be foretold in this way as well. Likewise, the prophetic witness is overwhelming that we need to become ready with every hour left to us – whether a week or centuries.  And, as in John’s day, so the Church practices Jesus’ commands selectively and coldly.

Candles and carols are important if they light the season.  But the spirit on John is crucial – now more than ever.  The fruit of repentance is actively awaiting the Awakening in a season and lifestyle called Advent.

 

James A. Wilson is the author of Living As Ambassadors of Relationships and The Holy Spirit and the End Times – available at local bookstores or by e-mailing him at praynorthstate@charter.net

Photo credit: biblevector (Creative Commons)

 

 





Thanksgiving Is Only The Beginning





Thanksgiving_grace_1942

Bart was a priest I knew thirty years ago, when I was still in seminary and needing a mentor. Shortly after he agreed to be in this mentoring relationship with me, he revealed that he was being tested for a disease that robbed him of muscle control. At the same time, it seemed to be scrambling his brain and messing with various other bodily functions. One of the possible diagnoses was Alzheimer’s Disease. I asked him how he was praying for himself and – by extension – how I could pray for him. He said his prayer was, “God grant me a eucharistic heart. The word is Greek for great thanksgiving. It is the name we Anglicans give the Lord’s Supper – the Holy Communion.”

Thanksgiving is not everything; it can be saccharine and sentimental if we just blandly and uncritically say thanks for everything, as though there were nothing we might beg a loving God to change in our circumstances. But if we understand – as I do – that communion with our Lord Jesus is the core and context of our acts of worship, the name begins to make sense. As I understand worship, this context begins with praising God – and thanking Him for the opportunity. It continues with hearing and commenting on His Word in Scripture – and thanking Him for the enlightenment and the marching orders He brings. We acknowledge the shape of our faith in the words of the ancient creedal summary – and thank Him for giving a dependable shape to our belief. We pray for those in need of healing, shelter, peace, and deliverance from evil – and thank Him for loving them more than we can. And we thankfully celebrate the reality of His death and resurrection for the sake of our larger life; all this as we thankfully hail his sovereignty and protection over us while standing invisibly in our midst. From inside the whole process of worship, this eucharistic heart broadens our awareness and expands our vision of opportunities in the context of this lifestyle of thanksgiving. It is not a different viewpoint so much as it is a larger, more wholistic, and eagle-eyed perspective.

I would love to say Bart was miraculously healed of his medical condition, but that did not happen. He was eventually diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and he gave thanks it was not Alzheimer’s. That was miracle enough for him, and the peace of God was quite visible all over him the last time I saw him.

When the Pilgrims celebrated their first Thanksgiving in the New World, they were starving and riddled with disease. The Native Americans who befriended them and joined their celebration were doing only marginally better. But these Pilgrims and their indigenous friends chose to believe the message of Romans 8:28, that God works all things together – ultimately – for good in those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. They asked for and received a Eucharistic heart. Such a heart enabled them to be more conscious of what gifts they were given than of what needs had not yet been answered. It gave them both joy and a reason for that joy.

A story is told of a country parson in the UK who ran out of petrol while out calling on members of his flock. He knocked on the door of a church member’s home just up the road, and the family offered him as much petrol as he could carry from the tank in their garden. They added – regretfully – that the only container they had was a chamber pot. The parson answered that he was thankful for whatever he got – being assured this was God’s gift, and God’s gift is always precisely what he needs. As he lugged the pot back to his car and began pouring the contents into the petrol tank, a motorist drove by on the other side of the road and exclaimed, “Oh, if I only had faith like that!” That faith was indeed what he needed, but not what he thought.

The faith displayed by the parson was not an unshakable conviction that God can transform human waste into motor fuel; of course He can, and of course He wasn’t. The faith was as the parson said – that whatever we receive from God is precisely what we need for God’s good purposes to unfold in our lives, when we receive it. Developing a eucharistic heart is the work of a lifetime. It is the work that – from our end – enables a life to be lived well.

May readers enjoy a Thanksgiving as memorable as it is blessed.

 

James A. Wilson is the author of Living As Ambassadors of Relationships and The Holy Spirit and the End Times – available at local bookstores or by e-mailing him at praynorthstate@charter.net