Monday, December 16, 2013

Merry Christmas: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus with Family

Hello there.  I hope you're having a wonderful Sunday so far.  Can you believe it's only 10 days until Christmas?!  I was scarcely aware that it was December until about a week ago.  Though I spent the beginning of the month with a rather intense strain of the flu.  I'm pretty much recovered now though.  I'd like to do some teaching on the book of Revelation soon hopefully, but not today.  It's an extremely complicated book and often misinterpreted.  I'd hate to add more misinterpretation to the mix by approaching it casually, so perhaps I'll have to wait until I have time to really dig into for months and months before teaching it. 

Everyone seems to be in a better mood as Christmas approaches.  It's been extremely cold here in Wisconsin, right now it's about -5 F.  Being outside hurts, so it's best to remain indoors.  It's hard being cooped up inside, but the temperature rose to around 20 F so I was able to take my dog Bella to the dog park and walk a few miles.  The fall semester at Liberty University ended on the 13th of December.  The Spring semester doesn't start until January 13th so I finally have some time for personal reading.  I enjoy the text books for the classes immensely, but I have a growing stack of books that I really have been looking forward to read.  Recently I was shopping with my sister at a consignment store and found a literal treasure trove of religious books, mostly Lutheran, and I could've stood there all day going through them.  I settled on buying about twenty books, and I got some awesome ones.  The first two I've been reading are "A Grief Observed" by C.S. Lewis, on his struggle after losing his wife and "The Passion of Jesus Christ" by John Piper, which is fifty reasons for the crucifixion of Christ put together by Piper. I also listened to an audiobook by Susan Cain called "Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World that can't stop Talking."  That was a revolutionary read for me, it really gave me permission in a lot of key areas to be at peace with preferring to spend a lot of time alone, writing.

So, Christmas, wow.  What a controversy!  Thanksgiving is becoming "Turkey Day" because "thanksgiving" must sound too bible-ish.  And now people can't say "Merry Christmas" anymore, it's "Happy Holidays."  The atheist world strikes back.  It's a push and pull thing over the history of mankind.  And sometimes it's important to put out a call to the Christians across the nation to "take to mind" certain troubling trends, and kind of "call to arms" on certain issues.  But I'm not going to tell you that this is such a huge surprise that Christmas is under attack, or that it's such a disgrace that Christmas has become a consumer buying frenzy.  Because we know that, and we can expect more of the same in the future.  So this is not a "call to arms" or a "call to despair" as a sermon I once heard stated.  And it's not a call to defeat either.  "Oh it's hopeless, here it comes, its rolling over us."  No it's not that either.  I'm calling us to acceptance of those things we cannot change at this moment.

Nothing happens in God's world by mistake.  We must understand this fully.  Absolutely nothing happens by mistake on this planet.  All is under God's control.

1 Peter 4:12 (NIV) Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

I worry when Christians spend too much time dwelling on the problems.  Unfortunately we can become defeated as a result.  Put all that energy spent complaining toward being the solution to the problem.  Be the solution.  Be a shining light, telling people about Jesus Christ.  And ironically this is where we find the message for today.

On or around Christmas, December 25th this year most of us will be with family and extended family.  What a perfect time to tell them about Jesus Christ.  What a perfect time to share some good news!

Uh oh, that sounds tough though!  It could be rather unpleasant!
“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”  - C.S. Lewis
 Being a Christian is living outside the comfort zone generally.  It's pretty tough.  But as Francis Chan says, it's those moments when we take chances and get outside our comfort zone in evangelism that we see the power of the Holy Spirit working.  

Well that's all well and good, the desire to do it and wanting to do it and even trying to bring it up with the family, but what about the family and what about common objections?

Let's have a look at some of those issues.  So you start talking about the wonderful life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Instant controversy right?
That pothead cousin of yours, Andy the atheist hipster smirks and replies, "Man Christmas is just stupid.  Silly Christians, it's a pagan holiday.  Paganism got mixed into Christianity when it first started and now it's all corrupted.  The council of Nicea rewrote the Bible dude, Jesus is a fraud."

Heres how we can respond: "You know Andy that's a great point, some of the traditions of the Christmas holiday do have their roots in pagan holidays.  In 313 AD Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity for the first time in the empire, after some of the most brutal persecutions of Christians.  But most of the culture was pagan including the holidays.  Christians knew this, and also knew they had to engage the culture, become all things to all people.  So to help convert pagans, Christian activities were held on the same days as pagan ones.  Slowly but surely many were converted.  Thankfully, these rituals and holidays are entirely superficial.  Christians don't worship the holiday tree or praise the sun on sundays.  We take what was originally used for evil, paganism, and turn it to serve and honor Jesus Christ.  As far as the council of Nicea, which took place in 325 AD, the council was not called to rewrite the Bible or throw out certain books, it was mainly called to deal with a controversy in the religious body of the time called Arianism.  The canon of Bible books had been generally agreed upon by then, and was simply officially recognized at the council of Nicea.  It's also important to note that the church leaders at the council had survived the persecutions as "professors" of the faith before courts and councils of the Roman empire.  Many of them wore the marks of their devotion to the true faith."

So now Andy has his answer.  But maybe that's not the end of it.  Next jaded Uncle Jerry the former Catholic has something to say.  "You know I think organized religion has lead to more death and destruction than anything else in the world today."

"You know uncle Jerry, I just don't know exactly what people are referring to when they talk about the horrors of organized religion, at least when applied to Christianity.  Islam is scary, absolutely.  But Christianity?  Maybe the crusades carried out in response to the call of Pope Urban II.  But it's important to note that the eastern Roman empire had been invaded and conquered by the Arab Muslims.  Urban II was responding as a leader to an invasion.  Obviously though it was a mistake as Christians are to love their enemies and turn the other cheek.  But I can think of things that have lead to much more death and destruction than organized religion.  How about World War II and the nazis?  Here you have an army of atheists operating on the philosophies of the atheist writer Nietzsche.  Six million people were killed in the holocaust not by organized religion, but by organized atheism.  In the end, it's a fallacy of logic to condemn Christianity based on the actions of a few of it's followers.  Man is flawed, God is perfect."

 He'll love that.  Still there are other objections.  Aunt Edna the enthusiastic spiritualist can't get on board with the Bible.  She doesn't like the Bible because there is so much "judgment" and "condemnation" in it.  She thinks everyone should love one another and if humanity could just discover love and light and compassion and spiritual interconnectedness, everything would fall right into place.

"Auntie Edna, first thing to remember is that when we believe on Jesus Christ and are saved by his gift we no longer receive any condemnation or judgment.  Love and light is great!  But there are also hard truths to face in the world.  And the facts on the ground are clear on an empirical level: humanity when put together on a planet is not able to live in peace with love and light and compassion.  Those are wonderful principles and great morals.  Sadly, simply ignoring the problem of evil does not make it go away.  Humanity is wicked, and that's a very hard truth.  But when we receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we start to learn how to love and have compassion.  I know it's a hard truth that there is judgment and condemnation, but hun.. if right and wrong are important, and to me they are, there has to be consequences for causing trouble and hurting others.  It's easy to hide our own mistakes, addictions and failings and talk about love and light and vague spirituality.  But in the end what is the truth?  Jesus Christ is the truth of this.  And I want to live by the truth."
Then give her a Bible and offer to sit down with her and study it.  Immediately after you say this however, opinionated Uncle Ollie has something to say: "The truth?  Come on man, are you serious with all this?  It's just some old book.  The opiote for the masses.  Who knows if Jesus even really ever existed?  What does it have to do with paying my bills and taking care of my family and working my job?  Seriously, you've gotta be kidding with this religious crap."

"Religion has been used in the past to quell people and keep them under control, but not Christianity.  Maybe it has been applied in that way in some cases, but the Bible tells a very different story.  And if it were just a fantasy to explain away death, invented by the early Christians, why wouldn't they invent something better?  Like everyone goes to heaven no matter what?  But instead we're all sinners, we need a savior, this world is controlled by the enemy of God, etc.  The fact is a man named Jesus Christ existed and there is more than sufficient historical evidence for that fact.  If you want to toss that out, you'll have to toss out the rest of human history too.  I understand you're a proof and seeing is believing kind of guy Ollie.  So I'd like to recommend you take a look at some books.  One is called "The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel and the other is called "The Language of God" by Francis Collins.  There is a great documentary called Evolution vs. God I'd like you to see as well.  And Ollie I'd have to say the Bible and Jesus Christ are extremely relevant to your everyday life.  Paying bills? The Bible has plenty of financial advice.  Taking care of your family?  Raise them up in the church, and hopefully you'll see them make responsible decisions.  Working your job?  Well, as a Christian I work for what is ahead of me.  I work for eternity.  Ollie, we only have 80 or 90 years on this planet.  What about the rest of eternity?"

 The rest of eternity is a long time.  I think so anyway.  I don't want to see my family members living defeated and confused about God.  I don't want to see them die unsaved and be forever separated from God.  That thought horrifies me.  I want them with me.  This connection with God through Jesus Christ is so wonderful I just have to give it away.  I want so desperately for everyone to have it.  That's why I dropped everything I was doing with my life (which wasn't much) and got into ministry when Jesus Christ saved me from my disaster and my sins.
16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me. -Psalm 18:16-19 (NIV)

  Christmas is a wonderful time of year.  The Lord God Almighty loves us, so he sent his son into the world to save us.  When we have faith in his son, God delights in us.  And we delight in him.  Immanuel, God with us, he came and lived with us.  God came.  He saw us in the midst of our disaster.  He was not willing for us to be lost, so he came.  We're celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.  The birth of our savior, the birth by the Holy Spirit, Immanuel "God with us."  The primary purpose of the holiday is honoring our Savior, celebrating his birth.  I'm going to make my December 25th about Jesus Christ, and my happiness and gratitude at his life and ministry.  

I hope you will too.  And I hope you'll talk to your family about Jesus Christ.  You don't have to make a speech in front of the whole family, but gift a few Bibles.  Or a copy of the movie the Gospel of John.  Be creative.  Lead a prayer with the family before the meal.  Pray for them if you're just too nervous to say a word to anyone.  Anything.  Just fight for the salvation of your family.  Let it not be said we did nothing.  This is the front line of the spiritual conflict, and we can get outside ourselves, either by diving in the water or by slowly getting in.  Either way, let's get into this fight.  Let's share the gospel and see people saved as a result.
I'm sure we'll get to sit down and talk again before Christmas, but all the same, Merry Christmas and thank you so much for taking the time to stop by.  I'm honored, and humbled, may Jesus Christ be the center of your life today, forever, and always!