Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Strategy for Christmas

The United States is Christmas crazy. I mean that literally. You have heard the Christmas carol Twelve Days of Christmas, but the actual statistics state that the official Christmas season is five weeks long! Retailers depend on Christmas sales to make a profit for the year, and they start to decorate and promote Christmas items before Thanksgiving. Many people depend on seasonal Christmas jobs to augment their income and make ends’ meet. Tragically, there have even been Christmas shopping fights and fatalities. Our culture is Christmas crazy!

We should not have an ad hoc mentality when comes to Christmas, blindly going with the flow and taking what’s easy instead of thinking ahead and devising strategies for action and engagement with the culture. As Christians, and hopefully as thinking Christians, we should think things through and be prepared for what may even seem routine – like Christmas. If I were to ask you, “Are you ready for Christmas?” Would you immediately think of…

  • Christmas shopping
  • Christmas decorations
  • Christmas cards
  • Christmas baking
  • Christmas travel plans
  • Christmas parties

There is certainly a sense in which all of those things play into our preparedness for the Christmas event, but they should only be a part of Christmas and by no means the most important part. Instead of all the above, are you prepared to ensure that your family, friends, and co-workers understand that Jesus Christ is indeed “the reason for the season”? We need to have a strategy for Christmas, and the strategy must go beyond presents, pictures, pageants, and parties. Do you have a strategy?

Your answer may be “Why on earth would I need a strategy for Christmas?” The answer is simple. Have you ever wanted to take advantage of the Christmas holiday to have a family talk about the real meaning of Christmas or maybe to speak with a friend about the season’s reason and before you realize it you’re cleaning up wrapping paper on December 26th and thinking to yourself, “I can’t believe it’s already over?!” That is why we should think this through before it’s over. That is why we should have a Christmas strategy. It’s good to have a plan.

The answer to the “how” question is just as simple, but it’s more involved. The simple answer is that Christians should have a Biblical strategy for Christmas. (By the way, we should have a Biblical strategy for everything, but this is Christmas time so we’ll limit ourselves for the moment.) That’s the simple part of the answer, now let’s delve into the more involved aspect, and I’ll do that by asking some (more) questions.

Should we celebrate Christmas?

Perhaps your Christmas strategy is to have no Christmas at all! Many of this nation’s founding families were Puritans, and they refused to celebrate Christmas. It would be difficult to find more orthodox believers than the Puritans. While I certainly do not agree with all of their theological positions or some of their legislative policies, I would be hard-pressed to find another group of people who dearly loved the Lord and desired to honor Him. Don’t believe all the caricatures and stereotypes about the Puritans. If your only exposure to them is The Scarlet Letter then you are misinformed. If the name Puritans can only conjure up images of prudish, boorish, modern-day hypocrites and witch trials then you have been duped. There is much more to the Puritans than all of that, and much to imitate. Should canceling Christmas be one thing in which they are imitated?

The Puritans’ refusal to celebrate Christmas may be distilled down to a couple of reasons. First, they felt the holiday had fallen into abuse. Instead of being a day that was devoted to Christ and Christian celebration it had become a day of wanton partying. The day had become associated with drinking, reveling, and its focus had shifted from the Savior to only merriment, and usually corrupt merriment. Everything but Christ was emphasized, so the Puritans abandoned Christmas.

The second reason is that they considered it wrong to celebrate and emphasize Christ’s incarnation only once a year, as opposed to having that marvelous truth before our eyes throughout the year. As Christians, the Puritans argued, the glorious truth of God being made flesh so that He might die on the cross as atonement for sins should not be reserved for acclaim in only December; instead it should be commemorated year round.

I don’t think we should dismiss the Puritans’ reasoning as quickly as some may like to do, because the holiday is less of a “holy day” and more of a “time off of work so let’s have a good time day.” I agree with the Puritans on both counts. I think it is inarguable that Christmas is abused, by non-believers and believers alike. The day is used as an excuse to party, be greedy, or get charge happy. Even for those who don’t get drunk, are not greedy, and who don’t get (too) charge happy, the celebration has less to do with Christ and more to do with “the season” or the “spirit” of Christmas (and that isn’t a reference to the Holy Ghost). Christmas is seen as a time to feel good about yourself, your neighbors, family, anything and everything but Jesus Christ being made flesh. This is a theologically rich holiday, but the theology is either left out or given scant time, while Santa, snow, presents, and “Christmas spirit” are the primary focus.

This ought not to be, but while I agree with the Puritans’ reasoning I do not agree with their strategy to just call the whole thing off.

How then should we celebrate Christmas?

If we are going to celebrate this holy day, how should we do it?

#1 – We Must Celebrate Christmas with Honesty

We should start with honesty, and in so doing we should honestly admit that there is no good reason for exchanging gifts at Christmas. There is no Biblical reason why celebrating Christmas must involve a decorated tree, concerts, plays, or people traveling all across the state, country, or globe just to be together on the 25th of December.

Now, before you label me as the ultimate Grinch, let it be known that the giving of gifts, the decorating of trees, and the assembling of families, even over great distances, are all truly wonderful traditions which I thoroughly enjoy, BUT if your Christmas celebration is dependant on any or all of those things then you need a new strategy.

Honestly, what we have done as Christians is combined the celebration of Christ’s birth with an entire season of consumerism, commercialism, and just plain busyness. This is often one of the most hectic and crazy periods of the year, with families running in all different directions to make it to every concert, cantata, office party, and so on, that many people feel relieved when the 26th comes around.

This ought not to be.

#2 – We Must Distinguish Fact from Fiction

A second stoke in our strategy wheel should be the distinguishing of fact from fiction. It isn’t uncommon for people, including Christians, to know so little about Christmas, or to at least have quite a lot of fiction mixed in with the facts. Where do we arrive at the facts? From Scripture! It is a sad state of events when the story of Christ’s birth – not only the story about the baby in the manger but the Man on the cross – becomes lost in the shuffle of wise men, gifts, drummer boys, elves, Santa Claus, flying reindeer, and the rest. That must not be allowed in Christian homes or in our churches. (Getting Christ lost in the shuffle must not be allowed. This is not a screed against St. Nick, Rudolph, et al)

A lot of fiction swirls around the wise men. The fiction starts with their number. We don’t know that only three Magi came to worship Jesus, and we definitely don’t know that their names were Balthazar, Melchior, and Gaspar. We don’t know that they visited Jesus on the night of His birth. In fact, the text clearly shows that they were not there on that holy night.

Here are the Biblical facts, and those are the only ones we can and should trust. We know for sure that Magi from the east – most likely Persia, modern day Iran – came to Jerusalem in search of the newly born King of the Jews. We know that this troubled the already paranoid Herod, and that, after counseling with his religious cohort, he sent the wise men off to Bethlehem. We know that when they arrived in Bethlehem Jesus and His family were not in a stable or an inn but in a “house”, and that Matthew refers to Him as a “young child” not a babe in swaddling clothes as Luke does when he recounts the holy night of Jesus’ birth. We do know that the wise men brought costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh because that is what one does when he visits the king. He brings gifts. We know that they worshipped the Christ-child, and
that is a fact which we should emulate. We should be as aware as they were, and worship the one who was born King of the Jews, the one who was born to “save his people from their sins.”

Here is another fiction: the innkeeper was a cold-hearted miser who said “NO!” to a needy family. We don’t know anything about the innkeeper. We don’t even know if there was an innkeeper. It’s not like the owner of the Holiday Inn refused shelter to Joseph and Mary. There have been countless sermons and not a few songs about this heartless, money-grubbing, hell-bound innkeeper, who was probably the father of Barabbas (I write that sarcastically), yet all we know is that “She brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” That is all we know!

We have to separate fact from fiction.

#3 – We Must Think about the Details

It’s been said that “the devil is in the details.” Maybe he is. I am certain that God is, and I know that we should be, especially as we devise a Christmas strategy. We have to think about the details concerning gifts. I love exchanging gifts at Christmas. Buying someone an anniversary or birthday gift is nice; just as a house-warming, new-baby, or retirement gifts are fun, but those all pale in comparison to Christmas gifts. I enjoy Christmas shopping. I like to wrap gifts, place them under a tree, and watch them be opened. That is a wonderful tradition, and I believe that it is so enjoyable to exchange gifts at Christmas because of how much we’ve been given.

That does not mean that a neck-tie, gift card, or a book are comparable to God’s gift of Christ, but it does make me want to be giving; hopefully not just on the 25th of December. So I do not think it sacrilegious to exchange gifts at Christmas. I do think it is immoral to be greedy; even if you’re “greedy” on others’ behalf. Before you buy your first gift, plan out how much you should spend. Notice I said “should” and not “want.” You may be able to afford spending as much as you want, but that may be more than you should. Christmas is not like winning the lottery, so plan and shop accordingly.

#4 – We Must Celebrate Christmas Evangelistically

December should not be the only time in which you talk with your family, friends, and co-workers about Jesus Christ, but Christmas affords us a golden opportunity to speak about Christ with folks who would easily tune you out the other eleven months of the year. Without doubt Christmas is over-commercialized. No question that the big-boned, bearded gentleman from the North Pole receives the lion’s share of the press during Christmas, but it is still Christmas, not Clausmas! What a wonderful opportunity to praise God for Christ, to magnify the name of Jesus, to declare “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23). And why is God with us? As the angel told Joseph: “She shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins”.

How shall He save His people from their sins? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved…For the wages of sin [is] death; but the gift of God [is] eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (John 3:16-17; Romans 6:23). You see, it’s impossible to honestly speak about Christ’s birth without also speaking about His death. As remarkable as His birth was, His death, burial, and resurrection are just as fantastic.

Explain to people, starting with your kids if you have any, why Christmas should be celebrated, and that you celebrate the wonderful truth of the incarnation year-round!

#5 – We Must Honor and Glorify Christ

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31); that includes how we celebrate Christmas. I’ve saved this for last, because we have to follow the other strategic points if we are to glorify and honor Christ at Christmas. We must honestly celebrate this holy day. Christmas does not depend on the pageantry. All of that stuff has its place, but it is not of primary importance. We must separate fact from fiction. The Bible is our guide to truth, including truth about Christmas. We don’t need to be sappy to make Christmas special; it is already that, so let’s stick to the factual story and leave the fiction out of the celebration. Think about the details. How much should you spend, and on what should you spend it? How much time should you devote to concerts, cantatas, plays, and parties? How far should you travel, if at all? If you don’t think through the details, then you will drown in them. We must celebrate Christmas evangelistically. Don’t forsake this perfect opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. If we do all of that I believe we will honor and glorify Christ at Christmas.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Passion for Souls

1 Corinthians 9:19-22:

For though I be free from all [men], yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all [men], that I might by all means save some.

Paul's great object was not merely to instruct and to improve, but to save. Anything short of this would have disappointed him; he desired to see men renewed in heart, forgiven, sanctified, in fact saved. Have our Christian efforts been aimed at anything below this great objective? Then let us correct our ways, for what good will it be at the last great day to have taught and moralized men if they appear before God unsaved? If through life we have sought inferior objects and forgotten that men needed to be saved, then we will be held accountable.

Paul knew the ruin of man's natural state and did not try to educate him, but to save him; he saw men sinking to hell and did not talk of refining them, but of saving from the wrath to come. To accomplish their salvation, he gave himself up with untiring zeal to spreading the Gospel, to warning and beseeching men to be reconciled to God. His prayers were persistent and his labors incessant. His consuming passion, his ambition, his calling was to save souls. He became a servant to all men, working for them, feeling a woe within him if he did not preach the Gospel. He laid aside his preferences to prevent prejudice; he submitted his will in things indifferent, and if men would just receive the Gospel, he raised no questions about forms or ceremonies. The Gospel was the one all-important business with him. If he might save some, he would be content. This was the crown for which he extended himself, the sole and sufficient reward of all his labors and self-denials.

Dear reader, have you and I lived to win souls to this extent? Are we possessed with the same all-absorbing desire? If not, why not? Jesus died for sinners. Can we not live for them? Where is our tenderness? Where is our love for Christ, if we do not seek His honor in the salvation of men? Lord Jesus, saturate us through and through with an undying zeal for the souls of men.

(Spurgeon's Morning & Evening devotional as produced by Truth for Life ministries)

Monday, November 22, 2010

From Mecca to Calvary


1st collector for From Mecca to Calvary
Follow my videos on vodpod

Thabiti Anyabwile describes his journey from Mecca to Calvary, how he went from submitting to Allah to following the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He mentions "the long version" of his testimony, and you'll be able to listen to that audio file by clicking here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Faith-focused & Cross-centered

We are creatures of habit, and our habits reflect our true selves because we all build our daily lives around our priorities and passions. We make time for what we truly value, building habits and routines around the things that really matter to us. As believers we should lead lives that are faith-focused and cross-centered. A faith-focused, cross-centered life is made of faith-focused, cross-centered days. How do you apply your faith in every area of life? The answer is to preach the Gospel – the unshakable faith foundation – to yourself. Here is what matters most: You’re forgiven! You have hope! Your hope is based on Jesus’ sacrifice. Let today – and every day – be governed by this one defining truth. Here are five practical ways to do that.

1. Memorize the Gospel – Store up God’s Word in your heart (Psalm 119:11). Then, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you can pull them out and be strengthened by their truth. Not good at memorization? That’s no problem. Don’t give up. Work at it. God isn’t keeping score. It may take you longer than someone else, but it’s worth the effort. (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 2:20-21; Romans 3:23-26; 5:6-11; 8:31-34; Isaiah 53:3-6)

2. Pray the Gospel – The Gospel should be at the center of our prayer life. We may boldly approach God only because we are accepted in God’s beloved Son, through His work on the cross. Thank God for forgiveness of sins. Be thankful that because of the cross you’re reconciled to God, and have been given the Holy Spirit to dwell in you, lead you, guide you, and empower you to follow after Christ.

3. Sing the Gospel – It doesn’t matter how well or how poorly you sing, a Christian’s heart should be overflowing every day with the song of Calvary. Not all worship songs are created equal. Many are more centered on ourselves than on Christ. Sing songs that focus more on what Jesus has already done than on what we need or want God to do. Here is an example of what I mean. It's the hymn Cross of Jesus by Keith and Kristyn Getty:

Cross of Jesus cross of sorrow
Where our sinfulness was laid
Perfect love on you was broken
As the way to God was paved

Cross of love - the scar of heaven
Cross of love - that heals my soul
Let me not forget such mercy
Let me give the life I owe

O what language shall I borrow
As I praise You faithful friend
How for us You bore our suffering
In Your love which has no end

Died that I might be forgiven
By a power not my own
With His glory set before me
Cross of Jesus lead me home

Make the Gospel the sound track of your day.

4. Review the Gospel – Always remember how the Gospel has changed you. Be reminded of how marvelous God’s salvation is. Remember and be encouraged that God is faithful! (Philippians 1:6)

5. Study the Gospel – To grow in your passion for Jesus has done, increase your understanding of what He has done. The Gospel is life-changing, world-altering truth. You’ll never exhaust its depths. Read the Bible with your eyes peeled for the Gospel. Camp out in the Gospels, Colossians, Romans, and Galatians. Read books like The Discipline of Grace and The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges and What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. A faith-full life is made of faith-filled days. Keep drawing near one day at a time by memorizing, praying, singing, reviewing, and studying the Gospel.

I've read all the above in the book The Cross-Centered Life. I'd encourage you to read that book as well. The contents of this post have been particularly helpful to me.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cling to the Cross!


1st collector for Cling to the Cross!
Follow my videos on vodpod

"Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling." Praise God for the truth that for our sake God made Christ to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Consider the awesome truth of the Gospel through the words of Keith Getty's hymn The Power of the Cross:

Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

CHORUS:
This, the pow'r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Ev'ry bitter thought,
Ev'ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
"Finished!" the vict'ry cry.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

FINAL CHORUS:
This, the pow'r of the cross:
Son of God—slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.
Come to Jesus and cling to the cross.