Photo by Chad Runge / Creation Swap

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Meaning of Christmas

Christmas is such a special and memorable time. I know most people will be out buying presents and getting ready for some festive celebration. Shelby and I decided years ago that we didn’t want to participate in the commercialization of Christmas, so we didn’t buy presents.

However, the more I think about what Jesus did on the cross and by giving His life for mine, I realize how significant His gift was to me. The thing is is that gifts are a great thing. But it’s the kind of gift that makes the difference. Shelby and I have everything we need. But to give our time to someone, to help someone who is sick or in need, or to share the greatest gift of all, which is Jesus, is far better than anything we could buy at Walmart or Target.

I am deeply grateful for Jesus and all that He has done for me. He has given me a beautiful and supportive wife who even helps me write these blogs. I often don’t give her enough credit because these blog posts are so much better because of her. And that goes for every area of my life. Thank you Shelby.

This post is actually meant for everyone. But as Christmas draws near, I think of my family and friends. I don’t know each person’s heart or where they stand with God. It’s my prayer that they all know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. But I know from the Bible that I can’t assume that.

I would like to be bold and ask each person what they believe. I’m just not as adept at speaking as I am at writing. These are questions that I so desperately want to ask everyone that I know. Do you know Jesus? How do you know Jesus? What does Christmas mean to you? Do you know for sure that you belong to Him?

I can’t stress the significance of these issues enough. Eternity apart from God is such a horrible thought that it’s like knowing someone is heading toward a cliff and knowing about it but doing nothing about it. No warning, no empathy, no nothing.

But to share God with someone is like caring enough for them to know of the joy, the love, and the blessings that I also know and experience. Since God loved me, He expects me to love Him and to love others. I often fall short of these goals.

It convicts me that I’m not as bold as I should be about my faith. But I do hope that many of my family and friends will read this. Because it’s that important to me and to Shelby. Thank you.


The Meaning of Christmas

Every year around this time it seems that this phrase, “the meaning of Christmas,” keeps popping up in conversations. You also hear, “Let’s keep Christ in Christmas." There’s little question the reason behind these phrases is due to certain people, such as atheists deeply opposed to Christianity, trying to remove God from our culture.

It’s understandable, considering the atheists point of view, why they are opposed to God. The definition of atheism, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a disbelief in the existence of deity.” It could be argued that disbelief is a belief in itself. For example, John Doe chooses to believe there is no God versus believing there is a God. The Free Dictionary says that disbelief is, “the inability or refusal to believe or to accept something as true.” Point being is that atheists, in the same vein as evolutionists, are choosing to base their argument on faith. The sad reality is that they’re betting their lives and that is going to end very badly.

What my concern is is that people are adamantly protesting taking Christ out of Christmas without understanding what Christmas means themselves. What do I mean by this? For many, my concern is that they are like those in Isaiah 29:13. Please read this very carefully.

The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
    is based on merely human rules they have been taught.

Why does this concern me? Perhaps because this rang true in my life for many years. I considered myself a Christian when I wasn’t. I had convinced myself that because I prayed for God to save me that I had essentially been saved. But there was something missing and I didn’t know it. Or maybe I did but I didn’t want to admit it.

I had stopped going to church. I continued to live my life as if it were my own. I was pursuing a sinful lifestyle and wasn’t concerned about what God thought. But I had been brought up in a family that went to church every week, was baptized as a child, confirmed as a young adult, and followed many of the traditions of Christianity.

The issue is what God says in Isaiah. I honored him with my mouth, like many do when they cry foul when someone says Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. I followed human rules such as going to church on Sunday mornings. I acknowledged that there was a God but so does the Devil and his minions. James 2:19 says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”
What was missing? What do so many people miss? The problem is that many people miss a very important truth. It’s not difficult to see. Consider the Pharisees. You may think that the Pharisees were bad people and that you’re nothing like them. Think again. The Pharisees were even more religious than you. They “were very zealous for the law of Moses,” according to Thorn Crown Journal, and they “had a great zeal for God.” The problem is that just as in Isaiah 29:13, they were also strict adherents to oral traditions. These were traditions of men, even very intelligent men.

Why were the traditions of men so wrong? In many ways, the traditions became more important than God’s Word. The Pharisees were rebuked by Jesus because they treated their traditions as having equal authority as God’s laws. Like Got Questions Ministries state, “we are not to allow our relationship with God to be reduced to a legalistic list of rules and rituals.”

So what is everyone missing? Why does it seem that there is a world with their hearts far from God, despite the fact they profess Him with their lips? Ironically, there are so many people who say “Lord, Lord,” but are going down the path to destruction and don’t even know it. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

What many people are missing and what I was missing is “surrendering.” Think about it. What good is it when a person asks God to save them and continues about his or her lifestyle without any consideration of changing? But it’s not just that, it’s also a recognition that God is King, He is Lord, and He is Sovereign over our lives. So am I saying that it takes some effort on our part to get right with God? No. Surrendering is just that…surrender. Our sin caused us to be enemies of God. Just as in war, there is a supreme power that wins. When we surrender to God’s ways and lifestyle, we surrender to the Supreme Power and His authority over our lives. Isaiah 55:9 says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

We all need to understand that we have sinned against God by living contrary to His ways. The law, otherwise known as the Mosaic laws, helps us to see what are God’s ways. Do not kill, do not steal, do not bear false witness, and so on. Have you ever told a white lie? Have you ever taken a penny that didn’t belong to you? Have you ever in your anger say that you hated someone? If you have, then you’re a lying, thieving murderer. And by God’s standard, we all have sinned against God and have come short of His glory.

Though most everyone believes that God is love, and He is, God is also just. He cannot tolerate sin or for sin to go unpunished. That would be like having a judge in court say to a lying, thieving murderer deserving of the death sentence to say, “I love you and forgive you. I’ll give you a pass. You are free to go.” Would that be a just judge? Wouldn’t every person who witnessed such a judgment realize how wrong and inequitable that is to a civilized society? How much less would that be to a just God who is the ultimate Judge over our souls?

Many of these things were not explained to me early in my life. I thought all I needed was to pray some prayer, confess Jesus in front of others, and try to live a good life. Though that is what I believed, I didn’t even do that well. Suffice it to say, I missed it by a mile. I didn’t realize that to truly belong to God, or be considered one of His children, that I needed to surrender. I needed to make him Lord of my life. Even that statement isn’t completely accurate. Got Questions Ministries helps explain that Jesus is already Lord. It’s for us to submit to His Lordship.

Why is all of this so important to understand? It’s because too many people live a life of religion. It’s just like in Memphis or throughout the Deep South. This area is commonly referred to as the Bible Belt. However, like in the days of the Pharisees, there appears to be traditions of men that are viewed with higher priority. People are judged harshly and legalism becomes a common occurrence. As a result, there are church pews filled with people going through the motions, becoming Sunday Christians, and for the rest of the week blending in with the world.

True Christians would not want to blend in with the world. The world is antagonistic against God. 1 John 2:15-17 says that we should not love the world but love God. And to love God is to do the will of God.

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

If we truly know Jesus, we would know that His desire is relationship, not religion. God doesn’t just want us to know about Him. He wants us to know Him personally. Think of your own parents. Don’t they want you to identify with them as part of the family? Don’t they want you to know them as Mom and Dad and not just know about them as some distant parental unit? Don’t they long for you to want to be with them and love them? Doesn’t God want many of the same things from His children? Hosea 6:6 says, “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.”

So what does Christmas truly mean for the Christian? Is it about being offended by those who prefer Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings to Merry Christmas? No. We should care about our neighbor and more importantly, their eternal destination. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, of course, but the miracle of the virgin birth is only the prelude to the greater event, Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross for the sins of all the world.

What Jesus did was satisfy the righteous requirements of the law and justify us before the Judge of all mankind for our sins. He took our place and bore our sins and nailed them to the cross. But while Jesus died for the sins of the world, it is still our individual responsibility to ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) We need to receive God’s gift. We need to surrender to His will.

Christmas means everything. Christmas is where Jesus humbled Himself and became like one of us. It was such a glorious event that even Linus of the cartoon strip Peanuts recognized the significance. Watch this video and see for yourself.

It is every true Christian’s prayer that all people come to know Jesus. What is the meaning of Christmas to you? I hope that for you that it means you invited Jesus into your heart and surrendered your will for His. That is the only way Christmas can be truly celebrated.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Cultural Divide

Everywhere you turn, you can get a sense of the world becoming more divided and hostile. It happens locally, nationally, and globally. Memphis is plagued by violence as demonstrated by its rank as one of the ten most dangerous U.S. cities. Even over the Thanksgiving holiday, a time when people generally stop and reflect on their blessings, Memphis still deals with violent crime as a dozen shootings are reported over the weekend.

There’s the kind of violence that occurs among civilians and then there’s the kind of violence that comes from the police force that is supposedly there to protect and serve. That’s what happened recently in New York City. In trying to arrest a man for selling illegal cigarettes, the police take him down by force where later the man was declared dead at a nearby hospital. Was the takedown by a chokehold responsible for his death? It seems unclear through some reports but it certainly could have been a contributing factor.

Then there’s the much publicized fatal shooting of a man in Ferguson, Missouri by a police officer. By some accounts, which later turned out to be false statements, the man was turning away from the police officer when he held up his hands and yelled, “Don’t shoot.” However, the officer involved was not indicted and was cleared of all charges. That hasn’t changed the overall mood of the country, however, as evidenced by several protests taking place in major cities throughout the U.S.