Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Delta Force Christians - Be One

We've seen many improvements in modern day Christianity in the past twenty years, but it still seems like overall Christians in our day and age struggle with Bible knowledge, putting theory into practice, and taking effective action against problems of the times. 

Many Christians today in the west live dormant Christian lives.  They are not growing, vibrant, active Christians.  

We want to more than just luke-warm, run of the mill believers.  We want to be glowing, passionate 100% on fire for Jesus Christians!  That's what I want anyway.  I want the real thing, 100% genuine, and I want to do it.  I want to live it.

It's a stereotype to assume that "most Christians are hypocrites."  Actually I see in my life that most Christians I encounter are really trying their best to live it.  And I see a lot of good being done by people of faith in the world.  A recent example is that 80% of aid to the hurricane Harvey disaster area was from Christian organizations.  

It's often like that.  The money-grubbing prosperity gospel types, and the sex scandal pastors, they are always on the front pages making us shake our heads in dismay.  Meanwhile organizations like the Salvation Army, Compassion International, Samaritan's Purse, and a thousand other organizations are in the backdrop quietly helping people and speaking life into darkness and they never, never, never get any sort of publicity nationally unless there is a sex scandal or some sort of corruption or scandal.  It's not right, but what can ya do? 

As a Christian world we have many warriors on the frontlines of this battle between good and evil, and usually the best ones don't ever get recognized in modern news media.  Only the bad ones.  But I imagine we'll hear many names we never knew in glory who did more than we ever realized for the cause of Christ.  

Nabeel Qureshi was one, he's dead now, at the age of 34.  Another is Marilyn Hickey the "mother of Pakistan" and another that comes to mind is Amy Orr-Ewing who brought a stack of Bibles to the Taliban.  The vicar of Baghdad Canon Andrew White, and his work with the refugee Christians in Iraq also comes to mind, there are hundreds, and thousands and millions of heroes out there that never get a moments credit or attention from our corrupt, wicked, disgusting, secular news media. They might get 30 seconds on Fox News, or a few minutes on CBN, but not much more than that.  Meanwhile there is genocide against Christians in the middle east, and the media won't talk about that either because it doesn't fit their false narrative of western imperialist oppression.  But that's alright.  Because God sees them.  And they don't want credit.  They don't want glory from the world.  They want glory for God almighty.  And they've given it to him in ample supply.

My message to you today, and to myself as well, is this: Be one of them.

Be a real, powerhouse, strong, mighty, heroic Christian follower of Jesus.  Don't be a sleepy luke-warm Christian, sitting in the pew half asleep, engaging in debauchery during the week, half caught in the world, half in the spirit.  Really live it out.  Really do it!  

There are many kinds of Christians.  There are the civilians. They do very little.  Then there are the foot soldiers of the kingdom.  They do a bit of work here and there, but are poorly trained and easily picked off by the enemy in battle.  

Next there are rangers.  Rangers are veterans of the field, they're tough and they've got the bruises and scars to prove it.  They can fight, and they can survive.  But there is still somethings that they can't do.  They aren't elite.  They don't have the skills necessary, and they haven't gone far enough into their training and wisdom and the truth of the scriptures to be truly heroic, though they do a great deal of good.  

Then there are the Delta Force Christians.  These heroes are legendary.  A squad of 12 demons and their human puppets could go up against them, and they can take them all on single-handedly.  They have true communion with God almighty.  His Spirit goes with them in full force.  They transform communities just by their presence.  They radiate the power of Christ.  

They are ninjas when it comes to spiritual warfare. They're like master chief in battle with the covenant.  Be one of these heroes.  How?  I'm glad you asked.

1. Walk in Step with Jesus - Stay close to Jesus.  The enemy fears Christ.  The power of Christ is unstoppable.  And as long as you are following the will of God in Christ Jesus for you, you're unstoppable.  Your a ninja. If you walk closely with Christ and keep your eyes on Christ, the enemy will shiver.  And you'll be able to fight every battle in His strength and win through the suffering.

2. Believe with Total Certainty - Belief is power.  And the hotter and more glowing and burning is your trusting faith in God, the more power you have.  There is really no limit on this, build it, higher, higher and higher.  You'll be unstoppable.  The Spirit of God will delight in ministering through you, and on you. 

3. Know Spiritual Warfare - a good beginning to study and understand spiritual warfare is by reading C.S. Lewis' book Letters to Wormwood.  It'll help you understand how the enemy targets you and non-believers.  Understand how the enemy will attack you, and understand the power God gives you to counter-strike.

4. Wear the Armor of God daily - Don't overlook the armor of God formula.  Wear the helmet of salvation - be assured of your eternal life in Christ.  Wear the breastplate of righteousness - know that you are washed in the blood of Christ and made pure by Him alone. Put on the belt of truth and understand truth, girded up in truth, and wear the shoes of the readiness of the gospel, always be ready to share about Jesus and let the Spirit lead you to do so.  Lift up the shield of faith against the lies of the enemy that are so deadly, and strike with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  Know your Bible, know your word, and walk in step with the Spirit in applying it.  

5. Study Deeply - Discern all things.  Understand and be savvy of culture, of politics, philosophy, worldview, key issues of your day and age, and the underpinning beliefs on the people around you.  Understand what they love and what they fear, know what society is talking about, and understand and perceive how future events will unfold and understand how Christian truth applies to every situation.  This means reading books, watching presentations by leaders, listening to audiobooks, watching documentaries, and studying all things to be understanding of the times.  This step is crucial, and separates the rangers from the delta force.  Rangers fight on emotional and physical levels effectively, delta force fight on spiritual levels, philosophical levels, and understand that what they are fighting is not a person or even an idea, but a struggle between two sides in a spiritual conflict.  

If you do these things, you'll be of great use for the kingdom of God. God is real.  Heaven is real and hell is real.  We're at war and each day is a battle. We're called to knowledge, wisdom, discern, prayer, study, and spiritual warfare.  God works through us.  He calls us to do great deeds in His name.  Now is the time.  Take up your spiritual armor, and take your stand against the enemy.  Speak the truth and don't be afraid. The Lord will be with you.  

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Tension Between Spirit and Sin: The Struggle of Every Christian

I didn't come to Jesus for Jesus.  I came to Jesus, I flew to Jesus, cried out to Jesus, because I believed he could save me.  My motives weren't perfect or pure or righteous. I came because I was desperate, broken, and lost.  We come to Christ in brokenness, with the most shallow motives. Thankfully that's all it takes, honestly coming to Christ in desperate need.  

And I want to live a pure and holy life.  Oh how I want that, each day, I desperately want that.  I want to live a pure and holy life.  I want my thoughts to be pure.  But they aren't.  I want my body to be pure.  But it isn't.  And I want my entire heart's longing to be to do my God's will, to obediently follow his plan for my life.  But that hasn't been my experience either.  At least not to the extent that I desire.  I want it all, now.  

It's good to desire to live a holy life. It's a passion we've lost touch with in modern times.  We're rich in faith, but broke in obedience. We wanna do what we wanna do.  We want to go see the violent serial killer movie.  We want to gossip. We want to complain and coarsely joke. We want to flirt a bit with that coworker, with that friend on Facebook, and our girlfriend or boyfriend, our husband and wife won't even notice.  It's not a huge deal, right?  Just some innocent flirting. But we're called to a different lifestyle than all that.  And it turns out that what begins as "no big deal" soon can become a disaster of life changing proportions. 

It's important to remember the order.  We have been cleansed, changed, made clean, and had our sins abolished and removed completely by one factor: Jesus Christ, and His life, death, and resurrection.  That's all.  Paid in full, by Jesus.  Saved in full by Jesus.  We're new people because of Jesus. I add nothing to that equation but my own sin, brokenness and need.  My part one could say is repentance, but even that requires the presence of God, in Spirit and in truth.  He guides it all. It's all Him in salvation, in saving me, all Him and none of me.  It's a gift you see: A beautiful, precious gift. 

Secondary to that is that we seek to live holy lives, because of what Christ has already done for us.  If we labor because we believe that we will be justified before God because of our good deeds or because of our growth in holiness, we've become pharisees, hypocrites, trying to barter our way into heaven. It's nonsense.  And garbage.  Christ has paid it all.  And our love for God and our amazement at what he's done for us is what spurs us to live a holy and pure lifestyle each day. We're amazed afterward that Jesus has saved us, which motivates us to live in daily growth and relationship with our heavenly Father. 

Beautiful isn't it?  Yes. So we want to live a holy life because he's saved us.  So we want to set aside sin.  We puzzle through sins in our lives and fight against them one by one as the Spirit leads us. Sins, well, they are an interesting thing.  How so you ask? Well, some sins are more acceptable than others.  We all know that it's sinful to use drugs, or drink to get drunk, or smoke cigarettes, or commit adultery against your spouse, or engage in homosexual activity, or  lying, or cheating, or stealing, or any of the other more focused on sins.  We should fight against those sins, and fight hard.  

But what about the less known sins?  What about gossiping?  Maybe we notice when others do it but when we do it, do we except ourselves?  "Well, I'm just venting."  That sort of thing?  Or do we complain and murmur against those in authority over us?  Do we whisper against them?  That's not what God has for us.  That's not honoring to him.  Thankfully, he gives us the power and encouragement to do better.  And we'll love more, and feel better when we do.  It may be tough at first, but once we establish that new lifestyle, and fight for it, we'll see that in time it'll become second nature. 

Another often ignored sin is pride.  It's a prominent American sin, as they say, the celebrity pastor, with the super white teeth, I swear sometimes theres a 'ting' noise in my head when they smile.  And it's all about them.  It's all about pride, how many people I've saved, how many people we've served, how many millions of dollars raised, how many statistics stacked up to show needs met.  And pretty soon, slowly but surely, it's all about the person and God is secondary.  

Or it can be simply pride in work, pride in that job title, pride in what we do each day, or pride in our abilities, or how well we say it.  Think about that.  If everything is going well in life, and it rarely is I admit, but often when things are going so well, for so long, and people are singing our praises, pride that most dangerous of sins is beginning to seep in and take hold.  Oh Lord save us from pride.  Humble us, and crush our pride in your cleansing fire.  

Workaholism is another rather interesting sinful lifestyle.  It's well approved of in American culture.  In fact I've seen people get in little contests over it.  "I put in 13 hours yesterday."  "Oh yeah that's nothing I put in 15 hours the other day."  

Another way of putting it: martyrdom.  Sometimes we can play the martyr.  This is prominent in the Salvation Army my denomination during Christmas.  We assume that we're so important, that we always have to be there, and to just constantly die for the cause out there, putting in long, long hours because God can't do it without us.  What foolishness is that!  Don't get me wrong, there are times when we must serve for long hours, and work hard, but if it's constant, and it's always happening, there is a problem.  We're probably neglecting our wife or husband, our family, our friends, and even the people we serve.  It's madness. But hey, the world can't turn without us right?  

Be aware of the culturally approved of sins.  And fight against them, just as you'd fight against the more obvious sins like pornography, lust, greed, envy, coveting, and the like.  Fight against the hidden sins, as well as the obvious ones.  We should, become of what Christ has done for us.  He wants us to live pure lives.  So let's do it.  

I was reading a book by Charles Spurgeon, and he was indicating the need to love God for God.  And I think that's probably quite true.  But I don't think we necessarily end up in the family that way.  We come because we're lost, we're desperate, we know we need something different, and we come because Christ is the truth.  And it's actually real and true.  I think over time as Christ changes us our motives also change.  More and more we love God for God.  We love to receive love from God and we love to give love back to God.  It's a relational thing that we grow more and more into as God changes us into the likeness of Christ.

What Charles Spurgeon said later that I often come back to is the more we love God and the more we grow like Christ, the more we lament our own sinfulness.  Thats me everyday.  I lament how I fall short.  I lament how God has done so much to change my life and give me a new life and remove all my sins and give me Jesus, and my response is to lust in my mind?  My response is to be selfish and self-interested?  My response is to be crabby and rude to my friends?  We all do these things.  And we all wrestle with the "between state" we're in right now.

We're between worlds, we're between heaven and earth.  We're saved by grace through faith in Christ, yet we still struggle between the sinful nature and the Holy Spirit.  We're citizens of heaven, yet we still live in the broken Earth realm. We are clean, perfect in Christ, yet we sludge through the muck and grime of this life with all it's tantalizing allurements and minefields of stumbling blocks.  

So we find in ourselves so many tensions, tensions between holiness and sinfulness, love and apathy, Christ-like service and cold-hearted self interest, speaking truth and telling lies, feeling the presence of God and feeling utterly alone, preaching an amazing Spirit filled message then cursing out your neighbor on the way home, giving a beautiful gift of grace then judging someone and condemning them to hell.  It's crazy. It's challenging. But we don't have to pretend we're perfect.  It's OK to admit this stuff.  It helps others who struggle when we do.  

Yet we yearn inwardly for something more, we yearn inwardly to be truly as Christ is.  And that's just the gift we'll receive after we die.  The thing which we yearn for, to be truly 100% like Christ, will ultimately be fulfilled completely in the next life when we are gathered to God, to live in His presence forever in the eternal city.  We yearn for that state of eternity, for that expression of true holiness outwardly and inwardly.  And it's a beautiful hope for us.  

We lament our sinfulness because we're growing toward Jesus.  We're being conformed to the image of Christ.  We lament that we can't lament more.  We struggle that we don't struggle.  We want more of God.  We lament that we don't want more of God. We want to want more of God.  That's the tension we face in this life.  We're between worlds, we're becoming more like Christ, yet we still struggle with the sin nature.  We're of heaven, yet on Earth.  We've had our victory over the enemy through Christ Jesus, yet we continue to fight and struggle each day.  Don't be afraid when you face the tension here, the battle here, the struggles here, it's exactly how it's set up and it's what your suppose to be feeling.  Keep pushing forward and know that every Christian is fighting the same battle everyday.  

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Does God Exist? Sex Scandals, Scientific Inquiry, and the Search for True Fulfillment

“Has anyone provided proof of God’s inexistence? Not even close. Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Not even close. Have our sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? Not even close. Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought? Close enough. Has rationalism and moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral? Not close enough. Has secularism in the terrible 20th century been a force for good? Not even close, to being close. Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy in the sciences? Close enough. Does anything in the sciences or their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational? Not even in the ball park. Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? Dead on.”
― David Berlinski, The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions (By an agnostic scientist)

I was bell ringing yesterday, for the Salvation Army, at the red kettle, and a guy walked past me and said, "Who wrote the Bible?" And then he walked inside. I couldn't help but think of Pontius Pilate when he was talking to Jesus. And Pontius Pilate asked Jesus the question: "What is truth?" An amazing question, asked to Jesus himself. But Pilate didn't wait for the answer, he simply walked away. He didn't really want an answer. I could answer the question, who wrote the Bible, the answer is that God inspired many authors over thousands of years to bring the Bible together, but one must desire an answer.

Some are looking for a real answer.  Others are looking for an excuse to set aside the question.  We want what we want you see.  I'm not excluded from this.  I've fell to temptations and I'm sure I'll fall again.  Thankfully I'm also able to stand afterward.  

We want what we want.  And we don't want a God to get in the way, isn't it true?  I think it's true.  It seems true to me.  After all this world is full of so many temptations and so many pleasurable exercises.  And if a God exists, and this God is concerned with morality, then it follows that we are then morally accountable to this being.  And if we're accountable, then we'd have to act differently, and resist temptations.  But that's difficult, and it goes against our own nature, to indulge in these pleasures.  Thus it's easier to ignore and suppress this sense of God, and turn away from the question and enjoy the sensualities even if they offer only momentary pleasure. 

Naked and afraid? Yes, yes indeed.

We'd rather masturbate in a closet, or pop pills, or slam beers at the seedy pub, or take a new harlot home with us each night.  We're so afraid.  We're so dissatisfied.  I see it on their faces. They've found no lasting pleasure in those places, those twenty-something men, they look angry, lost, and perpetually dissatisfied with the boring affects of lust and evil.  So weary, and so sad. 

"We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

It brings to mind the recent string of exposed sex scandals in Hollywood, politics and the news media. Let's see here... Harvey Weinstein, Andy Signore, Roy Price (Amazon), Chris Savino (director and writer), Lockhart Steele (Vox), Robert Scoble, John Besh (TV personality), James Toback (director), Terry Richardson, Ken Baker (E! news), Mark Helprin, Kevin Spacey (actor), Kirt Webster, Andy Dick, Jeff Hoover, David Gilad, Ed Westwick, Jeffrey Tambor (actor), Louis CK, Roy Moore, Eddie Berganza, Ben Affleck, Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Glenn Thrush (New York Times journalist), Matt Lauer (NBC Reporter), Garrison Keillor, and John Conyers (List source via Steve Deace Show, CR TV). 

Very interesting, don't you think?  Many of these men are very important leaders, in government, in media, and in entertainment.  And then it's discovered what the truth is about the human heart.  The human heart hasn't changed.  The sexual revolution has consequences.  Of course we ought to look to our own conduct first.  Do we at least attempt to live up to the Christian standard?  Or do we live double lives, as many of these men did? 

All of this to ask ourselves: Do we really care if God exists?  If so, then we ought to agree to one standard: We're on a search for the truth.  Both a Christian and an atheist ought to be able to agree on that.  What we want is the real truth, nothing less, nothing more.  We have to go where the truth takes us.  And it was the famous atheist Antony Flew, who eventually realized, based on his own scientific inquiry, that if he is really following the truth wherever it goes, then he had to admit, that atheism was no longer tenable for him.  He realized science itself showed that to believe in God was reasonable.  He didn't become a Christian, but he renounced atheism.  

Let's talk about reality.  As I walking to the van this morning, to drive to St. Charles for church, in the midst of boys town, the LGBTQ neighborhood of Chicago, I stopped in my tracks as a big plump bunny rabbit stood there looking at me.  And I was amazed.  I can't help it, I really can't.  I just can't believe something like a rabbit even exists.  It's always somewhat astonishing to me, when I saw a flight of geese, or a squirrel, or a cat or dog.  These creatures are absolutely insane.  They're insanely complicated anatomically.  Their bodies store insanely complex systems that all work in conjunction to build life and sustain life.  It's madness in a part of my mind still caught in the naturalistic materialist evolutionary view I was indoctrinated into in public school and government funded college education.  Because by all appearances, from this natural worldview, it's just completely impossible for such a complex being to exist and have come together through random chance.  It's just not possible given all we've learned about the complexity of DNA, the systems of the body, and all of the unified complexity that relies on pre-built systems operating in conjunction to sustain itself.  Time and chance destroys, and breaks down systems, it doesn't build complexity.  If I passed a book into your hands, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells and I said,"This book evolved from trees and branches and time and chance adjustments over billions of years." You'd look at me flatly and reply, "Your a liar."  Which would be true.  We know a book didn't evolve.  It was written by an author, and published by a printing house.  Why then, when we see a rabbit, or even more so a thinking, feeling, speaking human being, which is a thousand times more complex than the book, came about from random chance, from an explosion from nothing, at the beginning of time, that caused planets to be formed, and life to climb from the pond scum, to think, write books, and build cities.  It's madness.  

The human eye itself, and the feathers of a peacock, caused Darwin to shutter. Because he knew within, that such incredible complexity, with the human eye's ability to focus based on distance, to see and perceive color and light, and words on the page, that the idea that such came about through random chance was absurd in the extreme. 

A day before, while I was bell ringing for my overlords at the Salvation Army, I was at a supermarket next to a small wooded area.  And I watched an owl fly across the area and land on a tree hooting as it flied.  And once again, I was entranced by the beauty and splendor of the natural world.  I felt like God was communicating with me, in His own subtle way, given the importance of the owl to my own spiritual journey. Not a massive profound moment, just a little nod in the back drop. It was an encouraging moment.  But at the same time it was frustrating to me: Why does God communicate so subtly?  Why won't he come out and show himself?  Why won't he speak more directly to me?  These are real issues, and I wrestle with them.  But I had never thought this way before.  I had never really engaged with even the possibility of God!  

But we've been indoctrinated haven't we?  We've been sold a bill of goods, evolutionary biology, materialism, and the American good life.  But what is education anyway?  Perhaps it's more of a fraud than we realize, at least in our day and age.  And not only education, but news, television, internet, and other forms of media.

"Education, the great mumbo-jumbo and fraud of the age, purports to equip us to live and is prescribed as a universal remedy for everything from juvenile delinquency to premature senility. For the most part it only serves to enlarge stupidity, inflate conceit, enhance credulity and put those subjected to it at the mercy of brain-washers with printing presses, radio and TV at their disposal." Malcolm Muggeridge, in the "Observer", 1966

I looked at that rabbit in awe this morning... and another part of my mind, indoctrinated into naturalism, was set free from the chains of the spirit of the age, and flew up with the birds, seeing the obvious and apparent truth: God made the universe, the Earth, the animals, and the human soul.

Six years ago it was hummingbirds, watching their beaks dip into the tulips and flowers cross-pollinating the plants, and numerous walks in the depths of night listening to the most beautiful human composed music and staring in awe at the stars in the night sky, the full moon, and the trees and deer prancing through the night mists... All of these things shook my worldview to the core. And I think of Jupiter the cosmic vacuum that protects the Earth from being pummeled by meteors.  The fact that life could not exist on Earth if it weren't for lightning and earthquakes.  It's so very amazing.  How many millions of balancing equations must we see before we're willing to admit the self-evident truth?  God, an intelligent free agent of incredible power designed this universe, the Earth, the natural systems, the animals, and the human race to live in it and perceive it all.   

If you're still questioning these things, read some books, read the best atheists, read the best Christians, the best scientists, and authors, don't be afraid to go anywhere.  But I think you'll find, if you use your plain reason, that this God is real, has created the universe, and has spoken through history in the words of the Bible.  I'd encourage you to engage in that journey.  View this website, do some Google searches, read some books, and watch some documentaries.  If you want some suggestions for viewing or reading check out the section titled "Must Watch / Books." 

In conclusion, we are complex beings, with complex thoughts and complex bodies that keep us going.  We have so many desires that cause us to want to flee from God and ignore God and shun God.  Why?  Because we want what we want.  But perhaps you'd come to realize that something much greater than these 2-dimensional sexual pleasures and physical pleasures and drug-induced pleasures is waiting for you.  All of these sensual pleasures leave us empty.  We need God.  It's such an annoying little phrase, but it just seems to be true.   I was the last one who wanted to embrace this fact.  But I eventually did.  

And let me tell you something:  I still wrestle with God daily.  I still struggle with complex issues like evil and suffering, and the infinite nature of God, and God in relation to time, and how there can be an infinite God with nothing before it, and what that says about the nature of the universe and the nature of God, and the nature of humanity, and how God reveals himself and why God doesn't just come out and show himself, and all these teachings in the Bible.  I still wrestle with it!  And I struggle with sin, and desiring sexual contact while being a single male in my early thirties.  It's tough!  But I'm a Christian today.  And it's OK to be a Christian and struggle with deep questions and real life struggles.  Some Christians will pretend they are perfect, but it's just not true.  We all struggle.  And I'm OK with admitting that.  So it's OK to wrestle with these issues.  Do it.  Wrestle with God.  Argue with God. Talk to God. Read his word and ask for answers.  Ask for Jesus to reveal himself to you.  Seek him. And ask the big questions. 

Do it.  Just do it.  It's worth it.  It's an incredible journey that opens up into a beautiful glowing underground cavern of mystery and beauty and intrigue and wonder.  It's worth it.  You come.  

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Christmas Season is Here: What does Christmas mean to You?

It's Christmas, it's Christmas!  Thanksgiving is over.  But I try to live a lifestyle of thanksgiving, of being thankful for the little things I have, and the big things in life. But now we move past turkey day, and into the Christmas season. I'm a big Christmas fan, and I hope you are too.  It comes around every year, doesn't it? Over and over but it seems like every year it surprises me.  I'm surprised by each season when it comes, I'm surprised by the wintry air, the fall, and so on and so forth, and I'm surprised by the advent, the coming of Christ.  

When I was a little kid I asked my mom: Why do we do this?  We were at Catholic mass watching a shadow play of the crucifixion of Jesus.  I asked Mom: Why do we crucify Jesus each year?  That's how I interpreted the event each year.  And the Catholic view is really that we do something like that, and we receive the bread and wine as the living, real body of Christ, and each year and each service we repeat that ritual to receive continuous salvation.  Today I realize that such a practice is not rooted biblically.

My family, mom, dad, sister and me would sit around the Christmas tree and pass out presents.  I loved it as a kid.  I loved the excitement.  We would leave out cookies and milk for Santa. We had a little calendar that we'd open the day each day, and eat a little piece of candy. We'd count down the days until Christmas and it would seem to crawl by so slowly!  We'd decorate the trees on our property with lights.  We'd go out together as a family, out to the tree farms, and buy a tree, cut it down, and set it up in the garage and dad would flock the tree.  We decorated the house, set up the nativity set, and hung our Christmas stockings above the fire place.  It was picturesque, sublime.  

We'd gather around the Christmas tree, dad would spill his coffee, because it was tradition, and we had one of those old massive camcorders, set up on a tripod, set to record, so we could record our family memories via videotape.  

Why do we have all these traditions?  What do they mean? Is it biblical?

There is something biblical about celebrating a season, a date and time each year to bring into recollection in our minds the importance of something we can so quickly forget: The coming of Christ.  So on Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  On Thanksgiving we thank God for all the gifts we receive from Him.  On Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Christ.  This is biblical because the Bible in fact instructs us to meet weekly together to celebrate Christ.  And in the Old Testament we see the nation of Israel celebrating yearly festivals like the festival of booths and other holy days.  Why?  To remind themselves each year of what God had done for them in the desert, and how God set them free from slavery in Egypt.  

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the Lord..." -Leviticus 23:33

"On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. " Acts 20:7a
So it's biblical to celebrate Christmas.  It's a time when we remind ourselves that God came to save us from sin.  God became a man and was born in the stable because there was no room at the inn. Interesting that the world had no room for the one who made it.

"...she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them." -Luke 2:7

Jesus came into the world.  So we dedicate the time between Thanksgiving and December 25th to celebrate the birth of Christ into the world.  

So here is my question: What does Christmas mean to you?  How does it come together in your mind?  What is your focus during this season?  

Think about it.  What traditions do you uphold?  How do you spend your time?  Do you hoist up a Christmas tree?  Do you attend church services or mass?  Do you drink and party?  Do you spend large amounts of money on gifts?  

Christmas has meant a great many things to me.  It's been a time of tedious family get togethers.  It's been a time of magic, and a time that reflects something special in my mind.  It's been a time when things seem possible that might otherwise be impossible.  Christmas time has often meant to me, that this is a time when humanity tries to be it's best.  And we see some good in people.  Fair enough, fair enough. Yet it's also a time when I saw my life begin to unravel, when I began to drink heavily, when I began to misuse cough medicine, when I would connect with strange women, and watch my family begin to fall apart and collapse.  Yet Christmas was always a special time, even as my life begin to unravel. 

It's hope, in the winter night.  It's cold, it's dark, the snow is falling, and sometimes it seems like life is dismal, dark, and dull.  Maybe it's just my SADs!  But winter to me reflects the fall of man, the collapse from summer, to fall, to winter. Yet winter in all it's beauty also offers a future hope, a silver lining in the cool snow drifts.  The beauty reminds us of the hope that springs forth in the midst of winters... which is the coming of Jesus.  

When you lose hope, all is lost, and we bring a little bit of hope, when we bring Jesus. 

I didn't know about Jesus for most of my life, but I still found Christmas to be magical.  But I thought Christmas was about Santa, and reindeer, and gifts.  But Christmas is really about Jesus.  I knew that, sort of, but I didn't understand what it meant or how it applied to my life. 

I knew Jesus as a far off historical figure of sorts.  I knew Jesus Christ was born.  I probably even doubted that. But what I didn't know about Jesus was why he came.  Why did he come?  What did he do? 

Jesus was God come to Earth.  We could stop there and reflect on the incredible nation of this statement.  God the architect of reality, time, space, matter, dimensions unknown, the designer of the human body, the brain, the systems that cause lifeforms to function, the one who made all this, from nothing, the one who is timeless, who exists beyond finite time and space... came into His own creation on a rescue mission.  And he came for you... and for me.  That's crazy.  That's incredible.  It's shocking, stunning, totally amazing!  

What exactly does it mean? The full scope of this is beyond us.  There is a great deal of mystery in this coming.  But it's clear from a practical stand point that Christ came to deal with a very serious and damning problem: The problem of sin.  Some have called this the problem of evil.  Others call it the problem of suffering.  But specifically in this equasion Jesus came to deal with the sin in us.  Essentially this "sin in us" is this lingering struggle within each of us.  It's the thing that causes us to steal from our parents, that which causes us to lie, and to act selfishly, and hurt those around us.  This sin is the issue that causes us the world to be the state that it is in right now.  Celebrities who molest children, politicians who cheat on their wives, corruption in 3rd world countries, overcrowded prisons, on and on the list goes... the problem of which, is sin.  And Jesus came to set us free from that thing within us that causes us to be self destructive and selfish.  

How does Jesus do this?  He does it by dying.  He's arrested, he's put before the judge, their is this conspiracy against him where false witnesses testify against him and the leaders try to find any way they can to get rid of this Jesus guy.  And Jesus lets it happen.  But think about it, he's God almighty, He would snap his fingers and be free. But he offers himself freely, as a sacrifice, as an atonement for sin.  He deletes sin on the cross by receiving the just penalty for sin.  Understanding the deep theological and philosophical implications of this event is secondary to the primary practical quality of this event: The fact that is applies to your own sin.  If you'll access this absolution, if you'll step into belief in Christ, and accept Christ's gift, done on the cross, to set you free from sin, then, you will be reborn.

You'd say well, that seems too simple.  It is simple, in a way.  Yet it's also so hard, because we as people are arrogant and egotistical.  We don't like to admit our own sin, and we don't like to admit our need for a savior.  Both are necessary to receive Jesus as savior.  That's a very humbling experience, to admit we're sinful and admit our need for Jesus.  But if we do, everything changes. Our whole world changes when we finally get "plugged into" the source, who is God almighty.  

So if I could go back in time and talk to my twelve year old self I'd tell Him: Jesus is a living God.  He's not dead.  He's not far away.  You need Him right now.  Your caught in a dead end consumerist lifestyles that leads nowhere.  In all your pain little Justin, only Christ can heal you.  Would I have listened?  Who knows!

But in any case, that's why Jesus came.  He came to save us.  He came to give us new life.  He came to die, and to rise from the dead three days later and declare victory over death itself.  Amazing. It's very deep and intellectual and mysterious and melancholy and spiritually and philosophically meaningful.  It's there to be searched for those who think deep, but it's also simple, simple enough to be received by a three year old child.  

In Christmas, as I think to myself about the future, I think about my hope of one day getting married and having a family.  I have neither now.  But I think about Christmas and how I would want my children to know what is behind all the Christmas celebration.  Behind it all is the birth of Jesus.  I love Christmas season.  I love the joy.  I love seeing my family.  I even love the Salvation Army kettle season and all the strife and stress of it.  It's still fundamentally good and a blessing of service from God.  I love going to nursing homes and preaching the gospel.  I love all the things we do in the army.  But most of all today, I love Jesus and the fact that God was born into human history to save us.  Hope came, and set me free five years ago.  Today my life is totally new, I was so lost, so broken, so suicidal and dark, and addicted, and today, I'm free.  I'm free at last and it's amazing.  And I have a bright future now... All thanks to a little baby who was born two thousand years ago, who was named... Jesus.  

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

-Isaiah 9:6

So this Christmas season, I'd like to encourage you: Reinvent some things in your Christmas season.  What new traditions can you establish in your family to more clearly point your family toward Jesus?  What times of prayer?  What devotionals or activities?  I decided that I would purchase a Christmas tree shaped as a cross, so that I myself and my family would always be pointed toward the victory of Christ on the cross during Christmas season.  But there are many ways we can establish a Christ-centered Christmas season.  Be creative, start in prayer, and ask the Lord to be the centerpiece of your Christmas season.  Light candles, burn incense, attend services, or just sit down and talk with your family about what it means to follow Jesus.  Because, very simply, Christmas is all about Jesus.

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the King, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. Matthew 2:1-2