Quiz – The First Christmas According To The Bible


christmas-1412789-mEvery few years I bring back this quiz which has been fairly popular. Besides, it reminds me that Christmas commemorates a real historical event. We ought not play fast and loose with the facts recorded for us in the Bible. But we are fighting an uphill battle because . . . culture.

That being said, here’s the quiz with the introduction and directions:

We know all about the first Christmas, right? I mean we hear about the details in Christmas carols and programs and sermons, see them depicted on cards and church bulletins and manger scenes. But do we know the Biblical version? Here’s a fun little quiz to find out. (Feel free to print it out and pass it along if you’re interested). Answers at the bottom.

Directions: based on what the Bible says, decide if the following statements are true or false. (Hint: for the sake of this quiz, if the Bible is silent on the matter, it should be considered false).

1. Jesus’s birth was predicted to Joseph by an angel in a dream.

2. Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus’s birth.

3. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph’s place of residence.

4. The innkeeper told Joseph there was no room in the inn

5. Jesus was born on a cold winter’s night.

6. The stable was a wooden structure.

7. There were kings from the east who visited Jesus after he was born.

8. There were three of these visitors.

9. These visitors followed a star from the East to Jerusalem in search of the Christ child.

10. The star which the visitors saw was an especially bright star.

11. The visitors arrived on camels.

12. Herod told the visitors to go to Bethlehem.

13. These visitors came to Jesus and saw Him in the manger where he had been placed after birth.

14. These visitors were joined by shepherds who came to worship Jesus.

15. The shepherds also saw the star which had guided the other visitors.

16. A host of angels appeared to the shepherds and sang praised to God.

17. In a dream God warned Mary that Jesus’s life was in danger.

18. Mary and Joseph took Jesus back to Nazareth to escape the danger.

19. Mary remained a virgin and never had any other children.

20. God can do the impossible, which makes belief in the Christmas miracles possible.

Answers alert!

– – –

Answers:
1. true – though His birth was also predicted to Mary
2. true – see Matthew 1:24-25
3. false – they were from Nazareth and only went to Bethlehem because it was required by the government
4. false – the innkeeper doesn’t make an appearance in the Biblical account
5. false – the Bible doesn’t say what kind of a night it was
6. false – the Bible doesn’t describe the stable
7. false – the eastern visitors were magi or wisemen specializing in such studies as astrology
8. false – the Bible doesn’t specify how many magi there were—only that they presented three types of gifts
9. false – they saw a star in the East and went to Jerusalem where they would expect to find a king; they then followed the star from Jerusalem to Bethlehem
10. false – the Bible never refers to the star as bright
11. false – the Bible doesn’t mention camels
12. true – after learning from the scribes where Messiah was to be born, Herod told the magi
13. false – the magi came to a house.
14. false – the magi didn’t arrive the night Jesus was born; the shepherds who were already in Judea went immediately after they heard the birth announcement
15. false – the Bible doesn’t mention that the shepherds saw the star
16. false – Scripture doesn’t say these angels sang
17. false – God warned Joseph, not Mary
18. false – they went to Egypt, not Nazareth
19. false – Mary had a number of other children, among them James who wrote the book of the Bible that bears his name.
20. true – Gabriel stated this to Mary when she asked how she being a virgin could give birth to a son (Luke 1:37)

Questions? Read Matthew 1:18-2:15; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-20. Or feel free to ask them here.

Published in: on December 2, 2016 at 7:08 pm  Comments (3)  
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The God Of The Impossible


Nativity_Scenes015Mary was astounded. How could she not be? An angel had told her she’d get pregnant, and here she was, still a virgin, staring down into the little face of her newborn son.

As if that wasn’t enough, a group of shepherds crowded into their quarters to worship her baby. Angels, they said, had told them about this child—where he’d be born and how they could find him and how they would know him.

Then there were the two in the temple when she and Joseph went to present Jesus according to the law. First was Simeon who said strange things: that her son would be a light to the Gentiles and a glory to Israel. Then in his blessing, Simeon added that he was appointed as sign to be opposed. He didn’t stop there, but added some confusing personal prophecy about a sword piercing Mary’s own soul.

Then there was the prophetess Anna who thanked God for Mary’s son and talked about him to everyone who was looking for the redemption of Israel.

All this came on the heels of her cousin Elizabeth, her barren cousin Elizabeth, getting pregnant. The angel had told Mary that would happen, too. And it was then he made the whole astounding series of events make sense: “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

The bottom line, and the only thing a person actually needs to believe in order to accept the astounding things we read about connected to that first Christmas, is that truth which Mary accepted. When the angel made his declaration about God’s greatness and power and limitless ability, Mary submitted to God—to His plans for her, His capacity to accomplish what He’d made known to her through His messenger.

She got it—that God was bigger than the laws of nature and that He was the fulfiller of prophecy. She ought not be a mother, but she was. The shepherds ought not have known about her son, but they did. Simeon and Anna ought not have declared a poor baby born to an unwed mother in a manger to be the Messiah, but they had.

Indeed, God can do the impossible.

That’s really the truth that separates people today as believers or unbelievers. If God can do the impossible, then He could take on human flesh and be born as a baby. If God can do the impossible, then He could die, once for all, the just for the unjust. If God can do the impossible, then no sin is too great for Him to forgive, no person so far from Him that He can’t reach them.

One of the worst kings in Israel’s history illustrates that point. Manasseh

erected altars for the Baals and made Asherim, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. He built altars in the house of the LORD of which the LORD had said, “My name shall be in Jerusalem forever.” For he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. He made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger. Then he put the carved image of the idol which he had made in the house of God (2 Chron. 33:3b-7a).

A hopeless case, right? Idol worship, child sacrifice, witchcraft. Evil. But God didn’t turn His back on Manasseh.

The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the LORD brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze chains and took him to Babylon. When he was in distress, he entreated the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (2 Chron. 33:10-13)

Impossible! But no. God “was entreated by him.” God forgives. God redeems. God reconciles.

The Christmas story is both the proof that God can do the impossible and the declaration that the God who is Lord of the impossible accomplishes the miraculous.

How right to praise His name.

This post is a re-print of one that first appeared here in December 2013.

Published in: on December 1, 2016 at 6:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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Solomon: The Ultimate Testimony To Man’s Success


businessmanFor years I’ve had a problem with Solomon, King of Israel, son of David. I’ve complained about his life style and even declared his book of Ecclesiastes my least favorite book of the Bible . . . until his book of Song of Solomon edged it a few years ago.

Of all the people in the Bible, I understand him the least. I mean, this guy had it all. As a newly anointed king, he had an encounter with God. As a result, he experienced God’s faithfulness and fulfilled promises, specifically riches, honor, and wisdom.

In addition his father was “a man after God’s own heart,” so Solomon had a spiritual heritage. Unlike David, Solomon never lived in a cave, never had to run for his life, never experienced a civil war or open rebellion.

Though he stockpiled horses and chariots—the military might of his day—Israel lived in peace. Other kings paid tribute to him and allied with him.

His building projects succeeded, his trading ventures brought in incredible wealth. His influence expanded.

Solomon didn’t know defeat or failure or financial ruin. He never lost his job or went bankrupt or faced foreclosure.

I’ll say again, he had it all. He was the ultimate success. Status? He had it. Fame. Yep. Money, comfortable lifestyle, bling—he had all that too.

Oh, yeah, the guy was wise. His counsel was sought after by other rulers. He apparently amazed the Queen of Sheba when she tested him by asking him questions, to the point that she said, “How blessed are your men, how blessed are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom.”

From my point of view, the guy had no excuse for what happened toward the end of his life. Solomon had it all. All. Everything people dream of. He was the ultimate testimony to human success. And here’s what he did with it:

When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab, on the mountain which is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestable idol of the sons of Ammon. Thus also he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. (1 Kings 11:4-8 – emphasis added)

So Solomon is a testimony to the truth that Mankind’s success means nothing when it comes to the eternal things of God.

In contrast, the Apostle Paul said, his weakness made room for God’s strength.

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.(2 Cor. 12:9-10)

God lays it out clearly in Jeremiah,

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer 9:23-24)

What’s of lasting value, what matters most is that we understand and know God.

Instead, we are a people who boast in our own wisdom, riches, and might. We are not boasting in our knowledge and understanding of God. We know less and less of His lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness—the things in which He delights.

In other words, we are Solomon. And we should be Paul.

This post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in December 2012.

The Election From Hell


electoralcollege2000-large-bushred-goreblueI thought it was bad when Florida was re-counting their votes for President back in 2000. For days we saw video on the news of election officials holding up ballots and trying to determine if an indentation or a puncture with a hanging chad was sufficient to indicate a vote. The networks all inappropriately called Florida for Vice President Gore while their polls were still open. There were accusations of voting rights violations and of biased state supreme court action, of “butterfly ballots” that caused confused voters to mark their ballots incorrectly, and assertions that attempts had been made to suppress military mail in ballots.

That’s the tip of the iceberg, but all of it pales in comparison to this year’s election. Not because the voting was so close but because the results were so unpalatable to many on the losing side. As time passes, things have become worse, not better. Yes, the protest marches seem to have died away, but the legal wrangling may have just begun. First the Green Party candidate demanded a recount in Wisconsin, then in two other states. Next Sec. Clinton joined in—just to make sure the process was up and up.

Mr. Trump responded—which he seems sure to do whenever he feels attacked—by accusing three states of wide voter fraud that denied him “millions” of votes. He has given no details. But others have—suggesting illegal immigrants may have voted and that people who have died also (miraculously) voted.

Some have once again taken up the call to do away with the Electoral College and go with a straight popular vote. Others say that some states voting electronically were hacked.

Above—or more accurately, below—it all are supporters of Hillary Clinton who have unfriended people on Facebook, and worse, broken relationship with actual friends and even family members. This after thousands of students (including high schoolers too young to vote) took to the streets, blocking traffic and vandalizing businesses. Sandwiched in between marches were attacks on individuals and on mosques by those using racial or religious slurs.

The point is, people don’t seem to be calming down. They seem to be intent on making the transition from President Obama’s administration to the Trump-Pence administration as rocky as it can be.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m pretty sure breaking relationship isn’t a solution.

Christians above all should work toward reconciliation, not division. Christians should openly and loudly decry verbal or physical attacks on others—which this election has seemed to unleash. We should be at the mosques and synagogues helping to paint over the slurs. We should be telling those involved in racist behavior that there is no place in America for that kind of treatment of anyone.

When I grew up, we were taught that America, imperfect though it was, was a melting pot, benefiting from the people all over the world who came here at great risk because they wanted freedom and a chance to work hard and become more.

That “American Dream” is really the reality of the Christian Church. We are believers from all over the world who are part of a family. We have freedom in Christ, and all we want is to work for His kingdom. We are rich and poor, persecuted and free, of African descent and Asian.

Christianity Today recently had an article about the flourishing of Christianity in India, for example:

Christianity Today circled India from north to south and back again for two weeks in order to witness the innovative and successful mission efforts of Indian evangelicals—this, despite rising persecution from Hindu nationalists. In fact, evangelical leaders across India agree that their biggest challenge is not restrictions on religious freedom, but training enough pastors to disciple the surge of new believers from non-Christian backgrounds. (“Incredible Indian Christianity”)

Christians here in the US most certainly can play a part in breaking the divide between the two political extremes here in our country. Ideas might be harder to overcome than ethnicity, but if we are to live as Christ did, I don’t think we have any choice but to love your “enemies”—those who persecute or abuse or disagree with us. It’s the Jesus way.

Published in: on November 29, 2016 at 6:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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Holidays and Heritage


lincoln_on_5_usd_billSome years ago I had to take care of making my traditional contribution to our family dinner on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, which first required me to dash to the store for some of the ingredients. Not only did I need to go to the grocery store, I also needed gas since I would be traveling to the other side of LA.

Happily, I had passed a station posting gas at $3.15 a gallon, a dime cheaper than my regular station and about 7 miles closer! So off I went, first to get gas, then to pick up items for my Thanksgiving dish.

Imagine my surprise when I passed the shopping area (they still call them malls, though there is nothing resembling a true mall in most SoCal shopping centers any more), and found the parking lots brimming with cars. On Thanksgiving Day?

This was duplicated at the grocery store. In fact, I haven’t seen that store so busy … ever. On Thanksgiving Day?

Add to this fact, the night before one news broadcast reported shoppers setting up tents in order to be near the front of the line for store openings on “Black Friday.” Rather than being at home for the traditional “family time,” which is what Thanksgiving has become, these shoppers preferred to increase their chance of finding a bargain.

What’s it all mean? Holidays, which nationally stopped being Holy days a long time ago, are even losing their secondary meanings—a break from the normal work day, time with family, opportunity to express thanks or give tokens of love and appreciation. More and more, these “set apart” days are becoming excuses for buying more stuff.

As if the stuff is what we need.

There used to be a phrase used for the older, affluent businessman, the gift for the man who has everything. Thing is, now that term can be adapted to say the gift for the child who has everything, and it describes the kids in most middle class families.

I realized something just recently. On our money here in the US, we have inscribed the words In God We Trust. Whoever made that decision was insightful—and probably informed by Scripture, because the Bible declares no one can serve God and riches both. (Matthew 6:24) You see, what I realized wasn’t that we had the phrase on our coins and bills but rather WHY we have it there, and not on public buildings or statues or even in churches. It is that when we have abundance, often seen in the form of cash, we can so easily trust in the abundance and not in God.

To think, several hundreds of years ago, people setting up our government foresaw the danger of trusting wealth instead of trusting God! What a remarkable heritage! For that I am truly thankful. For what we have become as a nation of users, not so much.

This post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in November 2007.

Published in: on November 28, 2016 at 4:50 pm  Comments (2)  
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The First Thanksgiving Day


old_testament012

I’ve not verified this with anyone, but I think the first recorded Thanksgiving Day occurred under King David’s rule and is found in 1 Chronicles 16. The day was a community-wide, or more accurately, a national occasion, with worship and feasting and music of every kind, including songs. One is recorded for us, so we know the focus of this thanksgiving was God.

Here are the key parts of the passage (I’m leaving the verse numbers in place so you can see what I’ve included):

old_testament0241 And they brought in the ark of God and placed it inside the tent which David had pitched for it, and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. 2 When David had finished offering the burnt offering and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD. 3 He distributed to everyone of Israel, both man and woman, to everyone a loaf of bread and a portion of meat and a raisin cake.

4 He appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, even to celebrate and to thank and praise the LORD God of Israel

7 Then on that day David first assigned Asaph [who wrote some of the psalms recorded in Scripture] and his relatives to give thanks to the LORD.

8 Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples.
9 Sing to Him, sing praises to Him;
Speak of all His wonders.
10 Glory in His holy name;
Let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad.
11 Seek the LORD and His strength;
Seek His face continually.
12 Remember His wonderful deeds which He has done,
His marvels and the judgments from His mouth,
13 O seed of Israel His servant,
Sons of Jacob, His chosen ones!
14 He is the LORD our God;
His judgments are in all the earth.
15 Remember His covenant forever,
The word which He commanded to a thousand generations,

23 Sing to the LORD, all the earth;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
24 Tell of His glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
25 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
He also is to be feared above all gods.
26 For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the LORD made the heavens.
27 Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and joy are in His place.
28 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
29 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name;
Bring an offering, and come before Him;
Worship the LORD in holy array.
30 Tremble before Him, all the earth;
Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.
31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
And let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.”
32 Let the sea roar, and all it contains;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
33 Then the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the LORD;
For He is coming to judge the earth.
34 O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
35 Then say, “Save us, O God of our salvation,
And gather us and deliver us from the nations,
To give thanks to Your holy name,
And glory in Your praise.”
36 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
From everlasting even to everlasting.
Then all the people said, “Amen,” and praised the LORD.

Now that’s Thanksgiving!

Published in: on November 24, 2016 at 9:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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‘Twas The Night Before Thanksgiving


Sunset on Fields near CityThanksgiving Eve, someone called it. And here we are: the guest list is complete, the house clean, the laundry out of the dryer and neatly folded. The grocery shopping is finally complete and the menu finalized. Everything’s ready for The Dinner. Now on to plans for Black Friday!!

So it seems to go in many households. Of course for those visiting, they have travel plans to take care of—last minute packing if it’s an overnight stay, food to prepare if it’s local. And then there’s calculating the drive time and the best route. Aren’t smart phones great for this kind of thing!?!

Amid the hustle and hurry, Thanksgiving waits.

A time set aside for us to . . . do what? Thank who?

Millions of people this week will be thanks-givers, without slowing to ponder the identity of the Thanks-Receiver. We are temporarily thankful for the turkey on Thursday that will fuel our shopping sprees on Friday. We will buy more things at the suggestion of a consumer culture that tells us we actually do not have enough. We have thus commercialized the antithesis of the meaning of the holiday and distracted ourselves from asking the big questions of life that derive from being thankful. (“A Prelude to Joy: A Thanksgiving Meditation”)

The big questions like, Who do we thank?

A number of years ago, my friend Mike Duran wrote a blog post about atheists and Thanksgiving” “Can Atheists Really Give Thanks?” He concluded by saying, “Perhaps it’s an advantage we believers have: Not only can we praise the hands that made the meal, we can praise the Hands that made the chef.”

Mike has a point. Thanksgiving is rooted in the idea that Someone has provided us with something we cannot provide for ourselves. As a child, I had no problem with Thanksgiving. I didn’t work for the food I enjoyed, so giving thanks seemed natural. But as an adult, do I still understand that I have been provided good things that I myself have not and cannot provide?

Like the air I breathe? Or the sun that warms me. My family heritage. My race.

It seems to me so much of our angst, even our racial angst, would disappear if we saw all that we have as gifts from the hand of a good and loving Father. Yes, even an inherited disease or a birth defect or learning disability.

God has the big picture in mind for each of us, not the short term. We can trust Him to do good, even if our school of hard knocks seems harder than what others are going through. David addressed our tendency to look at what others are getting, particularly others who do not love God and do not live in a way that aligns with God’s desires for us. Here’s one passage he wrote:

Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.
Trust in the LORD and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.
Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.
Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing. [Psa 37:1-8 NASB]

Envy, fretting, anger—these seem to be the antithesis of Thanksgiving whereas trusting, delighting in the Lord, committing our way to Him seem to be action points that stem from a heart of thanksgiving.

I mean, is it realistic to wait for someone who has failed you in the past, who let you down repeatedly? No! We wait for He Who has proved Himself faithful, Who provides what we need, Who deserves our praise for what He’s done and for what He has promised to do.

If we grumble and complain about what we have now and where we are in life at this moment, how can we stop on the fourth Thursday of November and say we are giving God thanks? Unless, of course, Thanksgiving Day turns us right-side around and reminds us that God has given us good things to enjoy. He is the Creator and Sustainer of our world, of our lives.

Perhaps the best thing we can do, on the night before Thanksgiving, is to prepare our hearts to give thanks to the One who truly deserves our thanks.

Published in: on November 23, 2016 at 6:07 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Argument Culture And God’s Word


wonderful-words-of-life-119318-mToday Phil Vischer and his podcast cronies hosted Dr. Ed Stetzer to discuss “What The Election Says About The Church.”

At one point the conclusion seemed to be that the Evangelical leadership understands the importance of diversity, pastors have a fifty-fifty understanding, and the people in the pew lag far behind.

Their conclusion? Either the leadership has to do a better job of leading or the people in the pew have to stop listening to the counter voices that give a message in contradiction to Jesus and His life and ministry.

Nowhere did they say, the people in the pew need to be reading their Bible everyday.

When I was a kid, we sang a couple songs that made an impact. One was, “Read Your Bible.”

I don’t remember the shrink verse, but the point is, from a very young age, I heard the need to read my Bible every day. It took years to build the habit, but the grow part of that song is very true.

As in any other relationship, when we spend time with someone else, we get to know them. Spending time with God in His word, where He reveals His person, plan, and will, makes a difference in the life of someone who wants to know God and be like Him.

The man who is preaching at my church right now (while our search for a pastor continues), Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, is doing a mini-series entitled “After The Election.” In his sermon from Romans 12 Sunday, he made a great application—well several. The one that stuck with me most was about believing what God said. In this passage at the end of the chapter, He says we are not to take revenge against someone who behaves as our enemy. Rather, God says He will act on our behalf to bring justice.

It’s up to us to believe what God says, or not.

But before we get to that point, we have to actually know what God says!

We ought not rely on what the preacher tells us during a thirty minute sermon once a week. That’s not sufficient. For one thing, unless the pastor is preaching faithfully through a text of Scripture, he’s picking and choosing topics he thinks we need to hear. There might be a lot of topics that he never addresses that we desperately need God’s instruction for.

Second, a half hour a week? What if we said we could eat for only a half hour a week? Our bodies would become steadily weaker. We need daily nourishment for our bodies, How can that not also be true for our spirit?

I am so thankful for God’s word. I’m so thankful for those who encouraged me, as a child, a young person, and as an adult, to spend time reading God’s word everyday.

Scripture, above all else, will instruct us in the way we should go, even in the argument culture. Maybe I should rephrase that: especially in the argument culture. When everything is going peachy-keen, we are less aware of our need to do things better. That’s why some athletes and coaches realize that losing a game can actually be a good thing. It sharpens your resolve and shows you where you need to be better.

genie_lamps_007The argument culture can do that for us Christians. We can see that if we are to be a light to this darkness, we have to be above the fray. We have to share the light that brightens our path. But we can’t share what we don’t have.

We need to be in the Bible everyday if it is to be a lamp to our footsteps and a light to our paths.

Published in: on November 22, 2016 at 6:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Thankfulness In The Argument Culture


Broncos linebackerI’m a dye-in-the-wool Denver Broncos fan, a political conservative, a Christian. Occasionally I visit some Broncos fan blogs and interact with others who are passionate about the Broncos. Inevitably, though, someone will say something that reminds me, not all these people who love the Broncos like I do, love God the way I do or even like Him. And probably a lot aren’t political conservatives.

Yet if we were in the stands at a Broncos game, we’d be cheering them on as loud as we could. Together. And when the opposing quarterback fails to complete a pass, we’d yell in unison with the rest of the fans, In-com-plete. That’s what you do when your team has the No Fly Zone as your secondary.

The point here is this: football fans lay aside their differences when they come together to cheer for their favorite team. The only differences that count at that moment are between those in orange and anyone wearing the opponent’s jersey.

My guess is, football fans don’t let religion or politics divide them because they don’t discuss the topics. But in the argument culture, our opinions have begun to divide us.

Things are becoming extreme in a land built on the right of free speech and freedom of religious expression. Now when people speak publicly, someone is bound to be offended and to call for a free zone.

The common approach is for someone to express their view. A commenter then tells them how stupid their ideas are. Then a third party will call the commenter a name and the commenter will cuss out both the original writer and the third party. It could go on from there, but it likely will end up with someone unfriending someone else.

Because in all likelihood, people who read blog posts or Facebook updates are doing so at sites they mostly agree with. When someone of a different viewpoint projects a new idea, it rarely sparks meaningful dialogue. Rather, the ensuing discussion is apt to be filled with vitriol and a repetition of talking points which originated somewhere else. Things like, Donald Trump is not my president. Or Hillary (her critics hardly ever use her last name and certainly not her appropriate title) is a liar. And, Black lives matter. Or, All lives matter.

Welcome to the argument culture we have created. What is substantive in the slogans we throw at each other?

Even “reputable” news outlets seem more interested in headlines that will get readers to click over to their site than they are in fairly representing the story or the people in it. Click bait. We’ve apparently proven we’re vulnerable to certain emotive words that will prompt us to action, so the “news” sites use those words with gusto.

First_Thanksgiving_in_AmericaThen along comes Thanksgiving Day.

Suddenly we’re suppose to pause, to relax, to hang out with family, to think about the things we’re thankful for.

In truth Thanksgiving calls Christians to do what we should be doing all year long. Even in an argument culture, we are called to be different. This is what Paul told the Roman Christians:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [Rom 12:14-21 NASB]

These were believers who weren’t simply at odds with others because of how they voted. No, they were living in fear for their lives. They weren’t simply being unfriended on Facebook. They were being hauled off to be part of Caesar’s massacre.

Yet Paul says, weep with those who weep. Don’t celebrate the downfall of your enemy. If he’s hungry, thirsty, serve him. Don’t take justice into your own hands. Make a difference by doing all you can to be at peace with the very people who hate you. Don’t stoop to their tactics, but conquer their vitriol with God’s gentleness.

Are these the features that mark the Church? Is this what the world knows about us?

It should be. We are new creatures in Christ, so we ought not live like everyone else.

One of the ways I want to put this passage into practice is by being thankful. You see, despite the fractured nature of our culture, we still have a great deal to thank God for.

I lost a friend this year—a woman nearly ten years my junior, so her death seems especially wrong. But I am genuinely thankful that I will see her again. It might seem cliché to some, but I can look each of my Christian friends in the eye and say, See you later, knowing that I will, either here or in life after this life in the presence of our Lord and Savior. I am so grateful for that assurance. So thankful that Jesus Christ made it possible.

Politics and hurt feelings and misunderstanding might make relationships hard at times. But death is the ultimate divider. If we think our culture is fractured, that’s nothing compared to the last line, when people stand for or against God. Now that’s a division.

The fact that I can shake hands with the man at church who has terminal cancer and say, see you later, indicates that God through Christ has conquered the divide. He is the great uniter.

An Attitude Shift


Locusts_feedingAll things are lawful. That’s what the Bible says, and that’s apparently the way many Christians are living their lives. The fact is, however, that the Apostle Paul who penned those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit didn’t stop there. He went on to say that not all things are profitable or edifying.

As part of this “not all are profitable or edifying,” I was raised to believe that some things were better left alone lest they prove to be harmful or stumbling blocks.

Alcohol was one such thing. Yes, the Bible did not prohibit drinking. In fact Jesus turned water into wine, and that makes it pretty hard to make a case against drinking alcohol. And yet there were cultural considerations–how strong was the alcohol in Biblical times and what other drinks did they have available? In addition there is the knowledge we’ve gained today about the addictive quality of alcohol and the psychological propensity of some people toward addiction.

In short, we have choices people in the first century didn’t have, bad and good, and we have an awareness that we might find alcohol more than we can handle. So is it OK to drink? Presented with such a choice about any number of things–smoking, doing drugs (easier to decide because those are illegal), sex before marriage, going to movies, dancing, gambling–my church and family challenged me to error on the side of caution.

My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, I was reminded, and a temple should be cared for, not exposed to harmful substances, whether harmful physically or emotionally or spiritually.

I suspect that kind of reasoning is foreign to today’s youth.

As I look back at the particulars of the things I was taught, I can see how some churches and some individuals turned those tenets into legalistic propositions that defined spirituality. Clearly such a misuse of cautionary behavior is wrong. And today legalism has become the great sin of the church.

But it seems to me we have tossed the baby out with the bath water (that’s really a horrible image, isn’t it?) Yes, we have unshackled our youth by teaching them that the only sin connected with alcohol is drunkenness and that sex outside of marriage is wrong but if you’re going to do it, be sure it’s safe sex, and dancing isn’t outlawed in the Bible (after all, David danced before the Lord), and on and on. But where’s the caution? Where’s the “all things may not be profitable or edifying”?

From what I can see, Christian kids are too often thrown to the locust–that is, forced to make decisions that could affect their entire lives without the cautionary wisdom that they might want to protect the temple of the Holy Spirit from harm. They’re given the facts, certainly. They know about addiction and sexually transmitted diseases and designated drivers.

But they aren’t being challenged, I don’t think, to choose what is profitable and edifying. They’re being taught how to play with fire rather than the wisdom to stay away from fire.

“All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1 Cor. 10:23).

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” 1 Cor. 6:19-20).

In the end, I chose some of the things I was taught as a young person and rejected others. What I didn’t reject was the principle that I had freedom, including freedom to choose the profitable and the edifying. I was not a slave to my lusts or to the way the world does things.

Yes, I acted like a slave at times–still do. Thank God for His mercy.

What I fear is for this generation of young people and their children who aren’t being taught that they don’t have to involve themselves with lawful things simply because they are lawful. They can choose a better way, a profitable and edifying way, that will spare them lives of heartache and missed opportunity.

God can redeem the years the locust have eaten, but I can’t help but wonder if we who should be teaching the next generation when we lie down and rise up, when we’re sitting in our houses or walking along the road are not fulfulling our responsibility. Should we not clue them in that all things may be lawful, but a whole lot of stuff isn’t profitable or edifying?

This article is a re-post of one that first appeared here in October 2013.

Published in: on November 17, 2016 at 6:31 pm  Comments (2)  
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