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nativity

 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,  and 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.

 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,  and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.   Luke 2: 1-20

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Now that we are in the midst of the ‘Christmas’ season, I’d like to share some different perspectives on the holiday.  Personally, I’ve struggled with the idea of celebrating  Christmas for a number of years and as a family we have dropped many of the ‘traditions’ that are associated with it.  For example, we no longer incorporate the Roman Catholic Advent or the worldly Santa & elves.

I wrote about this two years ago citing an A.W. Pink article that speaks of the  “cruel bondage to the prevailing custom of “Christmas”, namely that of exchanging “gifts…” and I wondered how the Lord would have us proceed.

Pilgrim, of DefCon blog, wrote a convicting post recently on how his family has decided to deal with this issue.  The post and comment thread offer much to think about.

A radical approach to December 25th: Why we won’t be celebrating Christmas this year

Judy, of the simple front porch blog, has added her thoughts, as well, sharing that she would like to preserve the joy that seems to be inherent to this time of year.

Here’s another perspective from Dave Hunt of The Berean Call:

Christmas as generally celebrated today is one of many carry-overs from Roman Catholicism that survived the Reformation. Historian Will Durant reminds us that Roman Catholicism grew out of the merger between paganism and Christianity that took place under Constantine in the early 300s. Commenting upon the resulting “Christianization” of the Roman Empire, which Reconstructionists such as Coalition on Revival (COR) director Jay Grimstead look back to fondly as a model of what they hope to achieve, Durant wrote:

Paganism survived…in the form of ancient rites and customs condoned…by an often indulgent Church….Statues of Isis and Horus were renamed Mary and Jesus…the Saturnalia [Festival of Saturn in celebration of the winter solstice] was replaced by Christmas celebration…[I]ncense, lights, flowers, processions, vestments…which had pleased the people in older [pagan] cults were domesticated and cleansed in the Ritual of the Church….

In spite of its pagan/Roman Catholic origins and crass commercialization, we can rejoice that Christmas annually brings a reminder of the Savior’s birth. Unfortunately, however, Christmas festivities generally perpetuate the confusion concerning who Jesus Christ really is, why He came, and what He accomplished. This is not surprising, considering the misunderstandings even among His own disciples at the first advent – and the far greater confusion that the Bible warns will precede His second coming. Indeed, the whole world – including millions of “Christians” – will follow and worship the Antichrist, convinced that he is the true Christ.

Christmas celebrations remind us that the same misunderstandings that prevented so many from recognizing Christ when He came to earth will prevail when He returns. The causes of confusion 1,900 years ago remain the key issues today: What is the Messiah’s true mission – and the nature of His kingdom? When, how, and by whom will the Kingdom be established – and what is its relationship to Israel and the church? Many “Christians” today are blind in the same way as those early “disciples” who turned from Christ because He didn’t meet their false messianic expectations.

Even John the Baptist became so disillusioned that he demanded of Christ, “Art thou he that should come, or look we for another?” (Mt 11:3). Such doubts seem impossible for the one whom God had sent to “prepare the way of the Lord”! Already filled with the Holy Spirit as a six-month-old embryo, John had leaped in the womb of his mother Elizabeth upon hearing the voice of the virgin Mary, who had just learned that she would give birth to the Son of God. Called and inspired of God to be the “forerunner of the Messiah,” John testified, “He that sent me to baptize…said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he…and I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (Jn 1:33-34). Confident in that supernatural revelation, John boldly declared, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29). Yet the day came when, in despair, he sent two disciples to ask Christ whether He really was the Messiah after all!

Although given supernatural revelation as to His identity, John completely misunderstood Christ’s mission. Hadn’t the prophets said that the Messiah would set up His kingdom and reign in Jerusalem? Then why was he, the herald of the Messiah, in prison! John did not understand that Christ had come to die for our sins so that both Jew and Gentile, united in one church, could go to heaven. Nor did he comprehend that there had to be a Second Coming.

So it was with the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. Amazed, they watched the One whom they thought had all power, as, seemingly powerless, He was arrested, bound, and led away. Obviously, Jesus of Nazareth couldn’t be the Messiah after all! Dreams shattered, they fled for their lives. Likewise the two on the road to Emmaus: “We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel…[but they] crucified him!” (Lk 24:19-24). His death, which we recognize today is the very heart of the gospel and without which we have no life, convinced Christ’s contemporaries that He could not possibly be the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

“If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him!” (Mt 27:40-44) was the jeering taunt of the bloodthirsty mob and the religious leaders gloating at the foot of His cross. “If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us!” echoed one of the thieves hanging beside him. Whom He came to save, from what, to what, and how, was clearly not understood at the time by anyone – not even by His closest disciples.

When Christ tried to explain that He must die for the sins of the world, Peter rebuked Him for being so “negative.” Yet Peter, only moments before, had declared by revelation from the Father that Jesus was the Christ (Mt 16:16-17). Obviously he didn’t understand the Messiah’s mission, even though he knew who He was. “Get thee behind me, Satan!” (Mt 16:22-23), Christ had retorted quickly to Peter, showing the importance He put upon correcting such a gross misunderstanding of His mission.

So it was with those in Jerusalem (Jn 2:23-25) who “believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.” They believed He was the Messiah, but they had a false view of what that meant. “Jesus did not commit himself unto them” because He knew what was in their hearts and that they would not believe the truth. We see the same error in those in John 6, who, because Christ had healed and fed them, wanted to “take him by force to make him [their] king” (Jn 6:15). There were many who called themselves His “disciples” (today they would be called “Christians”) who had a false view of the Messiah, and when He tried to explain the truth to them, would not hear it but “went back and walked no more with him” (Jn 6:66).

We learn from Christ how to handle the multitudes who want to follow Him for the wrong reasons. We must do today what He did then. Many came “forward” to tell Jesus they believed in Him and would follow Him faithfully. Contrary to today’s methods, Christ didn’t have His disciples quickly sign up such persons as “church members” before they changed their minds, and get them involved in the choir or some committee in order to keep them active in the church. “The foxes have holes and the birds have nests, but I have nowhere to lay my head” (Mt 8:20), Jesus told the eager would-be converts. “Are you certain you really want to follow me?” Such “negativism”!

“So you want to follow Me?” Christ would say. “Then let Me tell you where we’re going. I’m heading for a hill outside Jerusalem called Calvary where they’ll nail Me to a cross. So if you would be faithful to Me to the end, you might as well make up your mind: take up your cross right now, and follow Me, because that’s where we’re going!”

Today we’re far too sophisticated to present the gospel in such negative terms. We’ve studied success motivation, psychology and Dale Carnegie courses in “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and consider such new techniques to be ideal for “winning people to Christ.” So we fill the churches with multitudes who imagine that Christ’s mission is to make them feel good about themselves by building up their self-esteem, answering their selfish prayers and fulfilling their self-centered agendas.

The Reconstruction/Kingdom/Dominionists are more confused than John the Baptist, though their error is similar. They refuse to walk in the rejection of Christ, bearing the reproach of His cross, because that would be “defeatism.” They imagine that we’re in the Millennial kingdom already and are supposed to act like “King’s kids.” They think that it’s our task to establish that Kingdom through taking “dominion” over the media, educational institutions, and political leadership. The “signs and wonders” promoters imagine that they are in the process of taking dominion over all disease and even over death itself without the resurrection and return of Christ.

It’s all very positive and ecumenical. Christian lobbyists are willing to work with Moonies and Mormons and all others who are in favor of bringing traditional values back to America. And at Christmas time, once again, being able to publicly display a cross or a crèche becomes a rallying point – a very low common denominator indeed for ecumenical agreement. In defense of such folly, Christian leaders stoutly defend the correctness of working with all those “who call Jesus ‘Lord.'” Seemingly forgotten are the words of Christ:

“Many will say to me…Lord, Lord, have we not…in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me…” (Mt 7:22-23).

There are multitudes, such as Mormons and Catholics (to say nothing of many Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, et al.) who call Jesus “Lord” but are not saved.

On October 17 [1989], Paul and Jan Crouch welcomed three Catholics to their Praise the Lord program: two priests and a woman lay leader. Paul displayed his usual naïveté and incredible ignorance of theology by smoothing over any differences between Protestants and Catholics as “simply matters of semantics.” In his eager embrace of Transubstantiation, a heresy so great that thousands died at the stake rather than accept it, he declared:

“Well, we [Protestants] believe the same thing. So you see one of these things that has divided us all of these years [Transubstantiation] shouldn’t have divided us all along because we were really meaning the same thing but just saying it a little differently….I [am] eradicating the word ‘Protestant’ even out of my vocabulary….I’m not protesting anything anymore…it is…time for Catholics and non-Catholics to come together as one in the Spirit and one in the Lord.”

But Catholics have a different gospel of salvation by works and ritual through the essential mediation of that Church.

Christmas, with its emphasis upon “baby Jesus,” tends to perpetuate another serious Catholic heresy: the pernicious myth of Christ’s subservience to His mother, which Roman Catholicism has deliberately promoted for centuries. Mary certainly should be called “blessed” as the mother of our Lord – but she is not “Co-Mediatrix” and “Co-Redemptrix” as Romanism teaches. In Catholic cathedrals throughout the world, for example, one quickly notices that the paintings, statuary, and stained glass give Mary the dominant role. She is even at times shown on the cross as our Redeemer. Jesus is either a helpless babe on His mother’s breast, a small child between her knees, or a lifeless victim of the Cross in her arms. Never is she in subjection to Him, and rarely if ever is He shown in the triumph of His resurrection. She is the “Queen of Heaven,” where Jesus remains a child subject to her direction.

Typical is the beautiful thirteenth-century stained-glass window we recently observed in a church in France. At the top are the words Le Pergatoire, indicating that it is a depiction of “purgatory.” Mary and Jesus are shown on a cloud (i.e., in heaven), with the tormented souls in the flames of purgatory below them, arms extended upward in supplication. Are they crying out to Christ for help? No, they are appealing to Mary. She wears the regal crown.

And Jesus, the Lord of Glory, who triumphed over Satan at the Cross and now sits at the right hand of the Father – how is He depicted? As a child about seven years old, standing between the “Queen of Heaven’s” knees! No wonder the souls in “purgatory” do not appeal to Him for help. At the bottom of the beautiful stained-glass depiction of this abomination are the words: Mère Marie, sauvez nous! (“Mother Mary, save us!”)

Such heresy does not originate in the imaginations of the artists but in tradition and dogma not only tolerated but promoted by the Roman Catholic Church. The fear of purgatory is very real to a Catholic, and “Mary” has provided an escape for those faithful to her. She allegedly appeared to St. Simon Stock on July 16, 1251, and gave him what is known as “The Great Promise”:

“Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular [two pieces of brown cloth containing Mary’s promise on one, her picture with “Baby Jesus” on the other, worn one in front, one in back, connected over the shoulder by two strings] shall not suffer eternal fire.”

Like the Mormon’s magic underwear, the Catholic’s scapular will supposedly accomplish what the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ could not. In 1322, Pope John XXII received a further promise from “Mary” known as “The Sabbatine Privilege”:

“I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend on the Saturday after their death and whomsoever I shall find in Purgatory [who died wearing the scapular], I shall free.”

St. Simon Stock’s famous prayer ends thus: “O Sweet Heart of Mary, be our salvation!”

Christmas offers a rare opportunity to share the true gospel of Jesus Christ and to expose and correct the ecumenical and confused picture it presents annually to the world. Millions are seduced into thinking they are Christians because they have a sentimental feeling for the “baby Jesus.” Let us remember what Christ said to those who believed on Him:

“If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:31-32).

It is that truth that we are called upon to proclaim in clarity and power.

How ever you and your family choose to spend these last few weeks of the year, please remember the most important commandment that Jesus gave us is:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” …every day of the year.

Here’s the latest from the a capella group, Straight No Chaser.   Enjoy!

 

One of my favorite aspects of this time of year is the smells that fill the air.  Walking into the house while stew is cooking in the crock pot or a scented candle is burning gives me such a warm and cozy feeling! 

I have discovered a simple, inexpensive way to ‘decorate’ the air with holiday warmth.  Take an old boiler and fill it with water.  Throw in some citrus rinds, cinnamon and clove and simmer on the lowest heat for an hour or so.  Before you know it, your house will be embraced with the yummy scents of the season. 

Another fun way to add flavor to the air, is to scatter cinnamon-scented pinecones throughout your house.  I arranged a couple on the fireplace mantle; tucked a few in the foyer and filled an old wooden bowl with some and set it next to the couch.   Your family and friends will enjoy the fresh fragrance all season long.

This is a delightful way to create a welcoming place of comfort. 

“Give her the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates.”
Proverbs 31:31
 

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With the holiday season behind us, today’s blessing is to have a normal, simple Saturday.  All remnants of Christmas and New Year’s decorations have been tucked away for another year.  Old toys have been thrown out or donated making room for new ones.  And all goodies have been eaten or shared. 

Today, I look forward to chores that usually happen on a Saturday:  rooms dusted and vacuumed (although my vacuum is broken), laundry finished up for the week, and downtime for a family game, walk through the woods or a movie. 

Solomon’s wise words remind us that “to everything there is a season…”   The recent holiday season came with its ups and downs; questions about what and why we celebrate.  Solomon continues saying there “is a time for every purpose under heaven.”   (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

I have come to the conclusion that Christmas, despite its pagan origins and traditions, is a season with a ‘purpose’  that Christians can redeem by using the time to point to our God Incarnate in Christ Jesus.  Focusing on this simple truth will make next season much more enjoyable. 

May the LORD bless you with a Simple Saturday!

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My last post was on the serious side.  Here’s some Christmas humor with some serious talent mixed in.

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May the LORD bless you and your family as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

 

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As Christians we need to understand that Christmas is pagan in origin, Roman Catholic by tradition and extra-biblical at a minimum.  Not one passage of Scripture tells us to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  I am not saying we cannot or should not, there is just no scriptural mandate for it. 

For a number of years, I have struggled with how to be obedient to Christ when it concerns celebrating Christmas.  Then last weekend I read a convicting article written by Arthur Pink as part of a Grace Gems devotion. 

One particularly challenging passage in Pink’s article states,

 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). How solemn and searching! The Lord Jesus declared that “every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36). If every “idle word” is going to be taken note of, then most assuredly will be every wasted energy, every wasted dollar, every wasted hour! Should we still be on earth when the closing days of this year arrive, let writer and reader earnestly seek grace to live and act with the judgment seat of Christ before us. HIS “well done” will be ample compensation for the sneers and taunts which we may now receive from Christless souls.” (emphasis mine)

Wow!  I had to ask myself,

  • “What am I ‘wasting’ when I spend so much time, money and energy engaging in some of these ‘Christmas’ activities? 
  • Am I truly focused on Christ? 
  • Am I turning my children’s hearts to the LORD?  
  • Why do we do these things? 

Judy pointed me to some Spurgeon for another perspective.  Here’s one of his thoughts,

“We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas. First, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be sung in Latin or in English; and secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority. Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Savior’s birth, although there is no possibility of discovering when it occurred. … It was not till the middle of the third century that any part of the church celebrated the nativity of our Lord; and it was not till very long after the Western church had set the example, that the Eastern adopted it. … Probably the fact is that the “holy” days were arranged to fit in with the heathen festivals. We venture to assert, that if there be any day in the year, of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which the Savior was born, it is the twenty-fifth of December. Nevertheless since, the current of men’s thoughts is led this way just now, and I see no evil in the current itself, I shall launch the bark of our discourse upon that stream, and make use of the fact, which I shall neither justify nor condemn, by endeavoring to lead your thoughts in the same direction. Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men’s superstitions to render such a meditation improper for to-day. Regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give God thanks for the gift of His dear Son.”  
(emphasis mine)

After reading a few more of Spurgeons quotes, I turned to Scripture and while I found many passages that exhort us to holiness like;

“You shall not follow a crowd to do evil…”  (Exodus 23:2)

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And do not be  conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”  (Romans 12:1-2)(emphasis mine)

I also found Scripture that grants us freedom, like;

“One person esteems one day above another; another esteems everyday alike.  Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it…” (Romans 14:2)(emphasis mine)

So…where do I go from here? 

Prayer.

I do not have all the answers, but God does.  He will lead my family where we need to go with this issue. 

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”  (James 1:5)

Amen.

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bow_4414c2Over the last few days, I have read the writings of a number of people who remind us of the most important truth about Christmas. 

Yesterday, Judy, at The Simple Front Porch, posted a wonderful message  about fully understanding the ‘mystery of God‘  through Christ.  

Also, in my local, county paper, Pastor Rick Crookshank wrote a powerful missive explaining the true meaning of the Christmas gift, namely that Jesus is God.   He makes the point that many people, in this post-modern culture, “are more apt to have thoughts regarding the nature and mission of Jesus Christ at Christmas than at any other time of the year. ” 

Some of these ‘thoughts’ may include:

  • “forsaking greed to emulate the selfless example of gift-giving”
  • “plea for mankind to honor the spirit of peace and harmony”
  • “be thankful for our blessings and be thoughtful of others less fortunate.”

These ideas are all “good applications and worthy reminders of higher values relevant to all mankind.”   However, the pastor rightly informs us that none of these messages communicates the “salvific, life-redeeming message of Christmas.”  He continues, “the prophetic Name given for Jesus is ‘Emmanuel, God with us.’  It is precisely this truth, Jesus is God…which is the true meaning of the Christmas gift.”

“Simply put, the significance of the Father’s gift is ‘God with us’ in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus is fully God… he was born to die that we may live…a God-sized task.” 

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Lord, grant us hearts to focus on the true meaning of the Christmas gift.   Amen.

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Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 
   And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.
   Then the angel said to them,

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.
   “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
   “And this will be the sign to you:  You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

   And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

   “Glory to God in the highest,
       And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

Luke 2:8-14

 

 

 

 

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This ideas speaks deeply to my heart!  Having a simple Christmas celebration with Christ at the center is my desire for my family. 

For the past two years I have struggled with what Christmas has become for us.  Despite any effort to focus on Christ’s birth and its meaning, the world’s materialism seems to creep in and flourish. 

      Christmas trees have become so expensive!  Cut-your-own start at $50! 

             My children are worried about having enough money to buy presents!

                     The season has become more of an obligation to give gifts!

So this year we will… 

…scale back on decorating

…give more handmade gifts

 …no Advent wreaths or calendars

 …more Scripture reading about Zacharias & Elizabeth,  Joseph & Mary

 …more discussions about who Jesus is and why He had to come

 …give our time to community service

 …love our neighbors, friends and family

Now that sounds more like a God-honoring Christmas, to me!

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