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God is good

All the time.

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To answer his question – I say we side with the Puritans. Christmas has nothing to do with Christ. He wasn’t born in December. Everything about the holiday, from the feast and tree, to the gifts has some root in Pagan practice. The gifts today represent the entire form of consumerism we in the West are so caught up in. We should repent of our covetousness. We should keep from all appearance of evil, and strive to keep pagan symbols – like Christmas trees, and Yule logs, and mistletoe – out of our Churches, and houses. If we want to be a pure and holy bride for Christ, shouldn’t we do this. Isn’t this such a minor consideration to make? In light of all that we are called to repent about, our lust, our idolatry, to come to the saving light of the Gospel of the Kingdom – are we really going to hold out on Christmas?

Just honestly take a look at the holiday, as a whole, and what it stands for. Does it stand for your company holiday party where there is an open bar and everyone can get drunk? Does it stand for the children to understand that “Santa” will pardon their “bad ways” and bless them will gifts anyway? Does it stand for families to play “keeping up with the Jones'” mentality? If you want to celebrate Christmas – make it different than the world.

Am I drinking the kool-aid on this one? Let me know

If You want me to (2) Just over two-thousand year…

If You want me to (2)

Just over two-thousand years ago Gabriel visited a young Jewish girl living in Palestine. Gabriel, a chief figure in God’s communication department comes to Mary with a very important message:

Luke 1:30-33 – “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the LORD God will give him the throne of his father David; and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end.”

We have all heard this account and know the details of what follows well I’m sure. However, I want to highlight the response of Mary specifically in light of these circumstances.

Mary is being greeted by a skipping Gabriel who has the privilege of giving the greatest birth announcement in history. Calling Gabriel an unexpected visitor would be a serious understatement. He brings her news that she would give birth to the one who would redeem her, her people, and the planet. God Almighty had looked upon Mary with favor. He had chosen her to give birth to the one who would restore the Davidic throne. The nation of Israel and the people of the world have long awaited this man and at the time of his coming, a simple girl in Nazareth would be a central figure in this coming to pass. She would be the mother of the Messiah.

Mary must wrestle with the words of Gabriel and her own belief in them. She must do this while also considering the ramifications of word getting around about a young maiden, previously thought to be a virgin, is now pregnant, unknown to her fiancée. Legally this can lead to death by stoning. If Joseph chooses to “put her away quietly” she could live as an outcast from her family, friends, and town.

Mary’s response to Gabriel’s words are honest and humble:

“How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

Perhaps Mary is not even hit with the information that this child she will have will be the king of the Kingdom of God and provide salvation to mankind. She may have been overwhelmed and so she wants to understand more. She is astounded that she will have a baby at all! Graciously, Gabriel gives her some insight into this supernatural event:

“Holy spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy child shall be called the Son of God.”

And Gabriel speaks then the words that finally help Mary make some sense of this message:

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Think for a moment of Mary growing up. She listened to her father and grandfather tell her the stories of Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Deborah, Hannah, or David. She had heard so often how God had worked in and with the faithful men and women before her. Now this same God was calling her to something that although she may not have understood fully, she could be sure that what God had promised He was also able to perform. God would take care of His part, Mary only needed to trust Him and obey. God would take care of the impossible. Young Mary needed to trust that with God the impossible was possible.

Just as Mary must have known how God had worked in the past to help her gain faith in the present, we too can look to Mary’s example of simple trust in God’s promises. Mary’s love for God would allow her to conquer any fear she had about what He was asking her to do. She understood that she was just the servant, God is the master.

“Behold, the bondslave of the LORD; may it be done to me according to your word.”

Is our love of God bigger than our fear of something in this life? Is our faith in God’s promise overshadowing the uncertainty of our circumstances? May we, like our sister in faith Mary, trust that God has more figured out that we will ever know. May we also hear the word of the LORD and respond to what He has promised because of our devotion and love for Him. Let us be His bondslaves and echo the words of Mary’s heart in our lives

“Almighty Father, may it be done to us according to your word.”

Luke 1:46-55 – And Mary said: “my soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; and sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.”

The Great Commission Therefore go and make discip…

The Great Commission

Therefore go and make disciples…

I think Rick Meigs hits the nail on the head regarding discipleship. If you find yourself wondering if you consider yourself a disciple, or thoughts about discipleship – read this post for a brief outline of some of the things you expect.

Obviously my biggest point of emphasis is on the lack of the Kingdom in the author’s second point. That is the entire story arc from where I sit – so to not mention it – I just can’t imagine it. It makes my head hurt not mentioning it! And you’ll see my in the comments down there trying to raise the question about the Kingdom and what part that plays in the Gospel. But overall this is well done. It requires a firm stated commitment (baptism, his 4th point), a withdrawl from the world (his first point), obedience (6), involvement in the community (5), and giving the commandment that they need to listen to their lord (8). I think an emphasis must also be placed on a personal understanding – a personal, internal struggle with coming to grips with the very words of Jesus. Not having these doctrines hand-picked for your consumption. But getting dirty learning the words of your master yourself.

Commands to Christians about the Poor Matthew 5.42…

Commands to Christians about the Poor

Matthew 5.42″Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”

How many times have I walked past a homeless person who asked for some change? This is a direct command of the Messiah in the Sermon on the Mount. If I am to name Christ as my Lord then I must do as he says (Luke 6.46). Once John Wesley was walking down the road on a snowy day and he passed by a woman who was wearing only a very thin piece of cloth. He reached into his pocket and found only a couple of pennies. Suddenly, a realization hit him as he recalled buying a painting earlier that day: the money that would have clothed this poor creature of God is adorning the wall in my house. He never made that mistake again. He made sure he had money on him to give to him who asked. Do you have extra money on you so that you can “give to him who asks of you?”

Matthew 6.3 “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”

Jesus said, WHEN you give to the poor. This is not an optional activity. This is standard operating procedure. Giving to the poor is supposed to be normal. Do you regularly give to the poor?

Matthew 25.31-46 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him; and he will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and he will put the sheep on his right, and the goats on the left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ‘For I was hungry, and you gave me {something} to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me {something} to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you, or thirsty, and give you {something} to drink? ‘And when did we see you a stranger, and invite you in, or naked, and clothe you? ‘When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, {even} the least {of them,} you did it to me.’

Then he will also say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave me {nothing} to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.’ “Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ “Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Imagine a college professor giving his students the exact questions that were going to be on the test the next day. Imagine if he gave both the questions and the answers. Wouldn’t it be bizarre if one of the students said, “I know he said these are questions and answers but I’m not sure if I really believe him. Does he really expect us to take him literally?” Jesus has already told us what he is going to say on Judgment Day. He is going to divide the people into two categories based on how they treated the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and imprisoned. I am not implying that if we do this one thing then we can “earn” our way into the kingdom but I’m sure of one thing: if we don’t do this we will be thrown into the “eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.” Do you seek out the hungry, thirsty, sick, strangers, naked, and imprisoned in order to minister to Jesus by providing for their needs?

Luke 6.20, 24 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…but woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.”

When is the last time you visited a poor Christian’s house and thought to yourself, “God must really be blessing this person, look how poor they are.” It is just the opposite. We enter a wealthy Christian’s house and they show us all of their “blessings” from God (big screen TV, Play Station 3, stylish curtains, fancy woodwork, rare paintings, etc.). How did we ever get so confused? Jesus is in the business of flipping everything upside down and we need to adjust our mindset to match his words. He said, “Blessed are the poor” that means the poor are blessed, simple as that. [Note: I am not saying that the poor who live in a constant state of covetousness are blessed. The ones who have to have the most stylish clothes, live above their means, play lotto incessantly, and have satellite hookups to watch worldly entertainment, have not “died to self” and need to repent. I am talking about followers of Christ who are poor]. Do you consider the poor blessed?

Luke 14.12-14″When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Have you ever done this? Have you ever, even once, thought to yourself, “Who should I have over for dinner tonight, hmm… the Jones are pretty poor, they can’t even afford a car, I think I’ll invite them because they can’t repay me.” Of course not, we think to ourselves, “I’d like to have the Browns over because I enjoy their company and I’ll have a good time.” Perhaps we need to make a mental change here. Will you invite over the lame, blind, crippled even if it makes you uncomfortable?

Luke 19.8-9 “Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.”

The specific thing he mentioned to Jesus was that he gave to the poor and didn’t rob anyone through collecting taxes. Jesus response was simple, ‘Today salvation has come to this house.’ He could have eaten with anyone, why did he choose Zaccheus? Isn’t it ironic that we are not as righteous as this tax collector?

Acts 6:1-3Now at this time while the disciples were increasing {in number,} a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic {Jews} against the {native} Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.} So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve
tables. “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.

The early church took care of widows as part of their daily ministry. In fact, this issue was so important to them that they searched to find seven men who were “of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” This was an important job that needed to be done right and the early church understood that taking care of the poor was crucial. Do we find our top people to take care of our poor, or is the care of the poor an afterthought?

Acts 10.3-4″About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had {just} come in and said to him, ‘Cornelius!’ And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ And he said to him, ‘Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God.'”

Why did God send Peter to Cornelius? I’m sure there were plenty of others around that needed to hear the life-saving gospel of the kingdom. However, Cornelius was “a devout man and one who feared God with all his house-hold, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually” (Acts 10.1). Nonetheless, when the angel spoke to Cornelius he mentioned his prayers and alms had ascended to God and that is why men from Joppa are coming to give you a message. Do your prayers AND alms ascend to God?

1 Corinthians 13.3 “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

Giving to the poor needs to be the expression of love not some mechanical, heartless endeavor. There is no profit in God’s eyes for grudgingly giving out of obligation. Is your giving to feed the poor done out of love?

Galatians 2.9-10And recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we {might} {go} to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. {They} only {asked} us to remember the poor–the very thing I also was eager to do.

The only thing James and the apostles were concerned with was giving to the poor. It is remarkable that taking care of the poor was such a priority for the early Church. Paul is delighted to hear this request because giving to the poor was “the very thing I also was eager to do.” Are you eager to give to the poor?

James 1.27 “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world”

Is your Christianity pure and undefiled? If so then you visit the less fortunate and you are not conformed to the world. Giving to the poor is a central part of being a disciple of Christ. May God grant us repentance in this area of our Christian walk. What excuse can I bring to the Lord of Lords on the Day of Judgment? When he says to me, “Why didn’t you care for the hungry, sick, thirsty, lame, downtrodden, widows, orphans, social outcasts, and imprisoned?” Will I say to him, “they were the lazy poor” or “they would have gotten drunk with the money” or “they would have gambled with it” or “it’s better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish” or “welfare takes care of them” or “I didn’t know.” Then he will say, “‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave me {nothing} to eat…” There are plenty of Christians in third world countries slowly starving to death. We need to get outside of our little box and really seek to do what our Lord has commanded. Do you need to repent?

Some thoughts on Christmas….. In the past month…

Some thoughts on Christmas…..

In the past months, I have been rethinking what it means to be “seperate from the world” (Romans 12:2, James 4:4, 1 John 2:15). In light of all of this, I decided to do a little homework on Christmas. Obviously Christmas has many meanings today, some are disputed even amoung belivers. Chistmas could be any of the following, according to popular religion:

~a holiday about Santa Claus
~a time when you “get all the gifts you want”
~an excuse to decorate with lights, a tree, and a wreath
~celebrate when God became a man (for the record, this is not biblical)
~birth of the Messiah, the man to one day rule the world in the Kingdom of God

Ponder these things.

There is nothing in the bible that hints to the fact that Christmas needs to be celebrated or was celebrated by early 1st century Christnans. Jesus was most lilely born in late September/early October. In some of my readings, I dug up some great quotes that historians have made concerning the orign of Christmas. Look what the experts are saying:

“The festivals of Rome are innumerable; but five of the most important may be singled out for elucidation -viz., Christmas-day, Lady-day, Easter, the nativity of St. John, and the Feast of the Assumption. Each and all of these can be proved to be Babylonian.” (The Two Babylons, by Alexander Hyslop, page 91)

“… within the Christian Church no such festival as Christmas was ever heard of till the third century, and that not till the fourth century was far advanced did it gain much observance. How, then, did the Roman Church fix on December 25th as Christmas-day? Why, thus: Long before the fourth century, and long before the Christian era itself, a festival was celebrated among the heathen, at that precise time of the year, in honour of the birth of the son of the Babylonian queen of heaven; and it may fairly be presumed that in order to conciliate the heathen, and to swell the number of the nominal adherents of Christianity, the same festival was adopted by the Roman Church, giving it only the name of Christ. This tendency on the part of the Christians to meet Paganism half-way was very early developed … Upright men strove to stem the tide, but in spite of all their efforts, the apostasy went on, till the Church, with the exception of a small remnant, was submerged under Pagan superstition. That Christmas was originally a Pagan festival, is beyond all doubt. The time of the year, the ceremonies with which it is still celebrated, prove its origin. In Egypt, the son of Isis, the Egyptian title for the queen of heaven, was born at this very time, ‘about the time of the winter solstice.'” (Ibid. page 93)

“Even where the sun was the favourite object of worship, as in Babylon itself and elsewhere, at this festival he was worshipped not merely as the orb of day, but as God incarnate. It was an essential principle of the Babylonian system, that the Sun or Baal was the one only God. When, therefore Tammuz was worshipped as God incarnate, that implied also that he was an incarnation of the Sun. In the Hindoo mythology, which is admitted to be essentially Babylonian, this comes out very distinctly. There, Surya, or the Sun, is represented as being incarnate, and born for the purpose of subduing the enemies of the gods, who, without such a birth, could not have been subdued.
“It was no mere astronomical festival, then, that the Pagans celebrated at the winter solstice. That festival at Rome was called the feast of Saturn, and the mode in which it was celebrated there, showed whence it had been derived. The feast as regulated by Caligula, lasted five days; loose reins were given to drunkenness and revelry, slaves had temporary emancipation and used all manner of freedoms with their masters. This was precisely the way in which, according to Berosus, the drunken festival of the month Thebeth, answering to our December, in other words , the festival of Bacchus, was celebrated in Babylon… The Christmas tree, now so common among us, was equally common in pagan Rome and pagan Egypt. In Egypt that tree was the palm-tree; in Rome it was the fir; the palm tree denoting the pagan Messiah, as Baal-Tamar, the fir referring to him as Baal-Berith.”
(Ibid. 96-97)

“Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the church … the first evidence of the feast is from Egypt.” (Catholic Encyclopaedia 1911 edition)

“Christmas customs are an evolution from times that long antedated the Christmas period – a descent from seasonal, pagan, religious and national practices, hedged about with legend and tradition… In the beginning many of the earth’s inhabitants were sun worshippers because the course of their lives depended on its yearly round in the heavens, and feasts were held at its return from distant wanderings. In the south of Europe, in Egypt and Persia the sun-gods were worshipped with elaborate ceremonies at the season of the winter solstice, as a fitting time to pay tribute to the god of plenty, while in Rome the Saturnalia reigned for a week…The exact day and year of Christ’s birth have never been satisfactorily settled, but when the fathers of the church in A.D. 340 chose the day of the winter solstice which was firmly fixed in the minds of the people and which was their most important festival.” (Encylopaedia Britannica article Christmas page 642)

“In a famous letter to Augustine, Pope Gregory directs the great missionary to accommodate the ceremonies of the Christian worship as much as possible to those of the heathen, that the people might not be startled at the change, and in particular the Pope advised Augustine to allow converts to kill and eat at the Christmas festival a great number of oxen to the glory of God, as they had formerly done to the Devil.” (The Story of Christmas by Michael Harrison, page 28)

“It is nevertheless almost certain that the 25th of December cannot be the nativity of the Saviour, for it is then the height of the rainy season in Judaea, and shepherds could hardly be watching their flocks by night in the plains … Not casually or arbitrarily was the festival of the nativity celebrated on the 25th of December. One of the principal causes that co-operated in fixing this period was that almost all the heathen nations regarded the winter solstice as the turning point of the year – the beginning of the renewed life and activity of the powers of nature, and of the gods who were merely the symbolic personifications of these. In more northern countries this fact must have made itself peculiarly palpable – hence the Celts and Germans, from the oldest times, celebrated the season with the greatest festivities. At the winter solstice the Norsemen held their great Yule-feast in commemoration of the fiery sun-wheel, and believed that during the twelve nights from the 25th December to the 6th January they could trace the personal movements and interferences on earth of their great deities, Odin, Beretha, etc. Many of the beliefs and usages of the old Germans, and also of the Romans, relating to this period, passed over from heathenism to Christianity, and have partly survived to the present day.” (Chambers Encyclopaedia 1908 Edition Vol.111 page 222, article Christmas)

“There is no authoritative tradition as to the day or month of Christ’s birth … The winter solstice was regarded as the birthday of the sun and at Rome a pagan festival of the nativity of ‘sol invictus’ was introduced by the Emperor Aurelian on 25th December 274. The church, unable to stamp out this popular festival, spiritualised it as the feast of the Nativity of the Sun of Righteousness. When Christianity spread northwards it encountered a similar pagan festival also held at the winter solstice – the great Yule feast of the Norsemen. Once again Christmas absorbed heathen customs. From the various sources came the Yule log, the Christmas tree introduced into England from Germany and first mentioned in 1789.” (Chambers Encyclopaedia 1970, page 538, article Christmas)

Pause a while and consider the stunning truths you have just read. Here are famous scholars and historians revealing amazing truths. Let me summarize:

That each year on the 25th December the pagans held a festival in honour of the SUN god.
And that centuries after Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem this selfsame festival of the SUN god was adopted by the Christian Church, given the name Christmas and thereafter celebrated as the birthday of the SON OF GOD!

Maybe we can have some comments on what we should do with this information. Should we, as apocalyptic Christans, get involved with the world’s holiday? Can we still spend time admiring the birth of the Messiah? Is there anything wrong with giving gifts? Should we spend hours and money buying trees, decorating our homes with lights, or hanging stockings?

Somethings to think about…

Family Values. We can learn a lot from the gospel…

Family Values.

We can learn a lot from the gospel accounts of Jesus and his thoughts on and relationship with his family. On one hand we see him calling those who “do the will of His Father” the members of his family, while on the other we see him caring for the members of his family even at his death. Jesus spoke often of the cost of discipleship including a forsaking even of ones own family. At the same time he spoke that honoring one’s mother and father was an important commandment. In Jesus’ mind one should not even tend to the tying up of family matters, but focus on the preaching of the kingdom. However, Jesus appeared to his brother after his resurrection and he became a leader of the early church.

Family can be the strongest bond that ties people together. Parents will sacrifice greatly for their children. Grown children are often devoted to the care of their elderly parents. Our brothers and sisters become our best friends and closest confidants.

But what if this unwavering allegiance gets in the way of our service of God? What if our family members do not believe? Should we justify our relatives’ sinful behavior out of our love for them? These questions are very practical and relevant for many of us. We must seek the LORD on these important matters so His wisdom can guide us and our love for them does not blind our assessment of the circumstances.

I believe Jesus’ view of family values is based on his belief in approaching of the end of age. One should not be tied down to the things of this life and thus not live in light of the Kingdom. At the same time, it is the servants and children who will be exalted during the Messianic rule and it is critical for his followers to adopt those positions now. We should honor our parents, love our brothers and sisters, and care for the widows.

For the disciple, this honor and love is understood in light of the greater apocalyptic context. One who follows Christ must forsake all for him and his Kingdom gospel, including family. The one we love with all of our heart and in all we do is our God. The one we serve is our Lord, the Messiah. God, knowing the importance of the family for our desire to belong and be connected with others for love and instruction, uses the church in this way. The church becomes the new family we identify with even when our biological families are not members. The older men are to provide leadership and good examples for the younger while the older women lead the younger to understand their role as well. The younger men and women in turn help the older and encourage and strengthen the weak.

Forsaking all to follow Christ is a great task. God has designed the church to function as a family to replace the family the disciples forsake. In turn the disciple will find a new family and community.

Mark 10:28-31- Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.”

For some interesting thoughts on a similar subject, read a current Newsweek article on “How Jewish Family Values Shaped Christianity