Cultivating the Mind

As I was preparing for our first staff meeting to kick off the youth apologetics curriculum, I saw an email from our youth pastor in my inbox. Since I am easily distracted, I popped it open real quick to see if it was anything important and I stopped in my tracks. She had received an email from the mother of a youth that rarely came to our church. The mother had sent a copy of an essay titled “I Believe”, in which the youth has laid out their current religious worldview.

I have to say up front that my first reaction was sadness. Not because of anything said; it is a well-written, very open, and honest essay. I was sad because I could feel an overwhelming confusion and fear permeating the words. The youth has convictions about their beliefs, but they have no stable foundation for them. They are balancing precariously on the edge of a precipice and can find no life-line to secure them. This is painfully apparent in their conclusion:

“To conclude, I have no idea what I think anymore but I want to one day know what i’m looking for in this life in regards to religion or lack thereof.”

Continue reading “Cultivating the Mind”


1 Peter 3:8-22

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

“ The one who desires life, to love and see good days,
Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.
“ HE must turn away from evil and do good;
HE must seek peace and pursue it.
“ For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous,
And His ears attend to their prayer,
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.

Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you— not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.


Palm Sunday

It is the Sunday prior to Passover and Jesus is leading his disciples towards Jerusalem. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding on a colt of a donkey, with people praising his name and children waving palm branches. But Luke records a little more, just a few verses, easily and often overlooked, but possibly the most significant part of this day in the life of Jesus Christ.
Let’s begin with a little reflection. about a year prior to this particular day, the tide of Jesus’ earthly ministry changed with what we know as the Bread of Life discourse. In John 6:22-71, Jesus has just fed the 5000+ Jewish followers and is trying to avoid the crowd due to the fact that they want him to become king (v15). That night, Jesus walks across the Sea of Galilee (v16-21). The next morning, the crowd that Jesus left behind has traveled after them looking for another free meal, which Jesus chastises them for and mentions a food that gives eternal life (v26-27). The crowd then asked him what they could do to obtain this food and Jesus begins trying to explain that belief in him is what is required, but they don’t get it. Jesus repeatedly and, over time, more obscurely explains that he alone is what they require for spiritual sustenance. Finally, Jesus tells them that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to gain eternal life (v53-58). Due to this grotesque and demanding price, many of his followers abandon him and Jesus falls out of favor with the masses.
Jesus spends his remaining time he has training the apostles. Most of his miracles are now directed to Gentile crowds, his teaching are all in parables. There are many times where he tell his disciples about his upcoming death and resurrection (Luke 9:21–27; Luke 9:43–45; Luke 12:49–59; Luke 18:31–34). He also has an increasing number of altercations with the religious authorities, increasing their desire to have him killed. By the time we get to Palm Sunday, Jesus is basically public enemy number one.
And the we get to Palm Sunday:
Luke 19:29-44
When He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of it.’” So those who were sent went away and found it just as He had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord has need of it.” They brought it to Jesus, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus on it. As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road. As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
So, why does Jesus ride into Jerusalem with all of this fanfare if he is so despised and so many are looking to take his life? The answer is in Luke 19:41-44. Jesus is lamenting that the Jews have ignored something important. He implies that they should have seen this day coming, but how would they have known that Jesus was going to be arriving in the city this way? Not even his disciples knew what was happening until Jesus told them.
Jesus is actually referring to a prophecy in the Old Testament that any well-respected Jew knew by heart, although many apparently misunderstood. In Daniel 9, God revealed what we call the Seventy Weeks Prophecy:
Daniel 9:24-27
“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty- two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty- two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”
To get the relevance of this passage, we first need to understand that the word “weeks” is a poor translation. In the greek, it is literally the word “sevens” and, since Daniel is already thinking in terms of years (Daniel 9:1-2), it is accepted that the prophecy is in the span of seventy “sevens” of years, or 490 years. Also, it is accepted that the decree that fits the details in verse 25 is the one that Artaxerxes gave to Nehemiah in 444 BC (Nehemiah 2:1-8). So, from the issuing of the decree to the Messiah is seven and sixty-two weeks (483 years). And after the sixty-two weeks, Messiah will be cut off (killed).
Following calculations based on the 360-day calendar used in that time, we find that 483 years (173,880 days) after the decree to rebuild (Nisan 1, 444 BC) comes to Nisan 10, AD 33… Four days prior to Jesus’ crucifixion!
This is why Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the Sabbath prior to Passover. It was predicted almost 500 years before! Also notice that the significance is not lost on everyone. The crowds quote Psalm 118:26, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord; We have blessed you from the house of the Lord”. And when the Jewish leaders are offended by the praise that is being given to Jesus, he tells them, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:39)


“The Christ of “The Passion”: What the Movie Couldn’t Show

“The Christ of “The Passion”: What the Movie Couldn’t Show
The Passion of the Christ” is an historically precise, visually stunning, and viscerally moving portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus. Yet the most important detail of Jesus’ final hours is not in the film.

What viewers do not see cannot be filmed. While three hours of darkness cloak the cross a transaction takes place that has been planned since the dawn of time.

This transaction entails a crucial fact obscured by the controversy surrounding the film: Jesus was not a victim. No one took His life from Him. Not Jews. Not Romans. He gave it willingly and purposefully. It was His choice, what He wanted. In fact, it was the reason He was born. From the beginning, as predicted in the ancient scrolls, a divine plan had been unfolding.

Though conceived by a miracle, Jesus has humble beginnings. He is born, as the prophet foretold, in Bethlehem, in a manger, among lowly people of modest circumstance. Yet there is a persistent testimony in those early days that He is no ordinary child. The statements of the angel Gabriel, Jesus’ mother Mary, Zacharias the priest, the heavenly host at His birth, Simeon and Anna in the temple, and the magi all center around one message: Jesus is the very Son of God, the promised Messiah of Israel, and the Savior of the world.

After John the Baptist begins preaching in the wilderness, Jesus quietly initiates His ministry, yet His time of obscurity is short. Jesus’ popularity accelerates and begins to eclipse that of John, who dutifully steps aside, giving Jesus the spotlight.

Soon it is impossible not to take sides. Unconventional from the outset, Jesus challenges both the practices and the prejudices of a religious establishment He openly confronts. This endears Him to the common people who flock to Him in great numbers. He speaks with authority and vigor, investing old truths with fresh, new insight. He works miracles, healing, casting out demons, even raising the dead.

Jesus quickly becomes a phenomenon, inciting curiosity and interest wherever He goes. His following grows rapidly, but knowing these loyalties run shallow He does not entrust Himself to anyone. It will not be long before the masses become disenchanted. Jesus does not yield to the agenda of any group. Instead, He speaks the truth and lets the chips fall where they may.

The party soon ends. Jesus does not just criticize the leaders; He condemns the people as a whole as wicked and sinful. After miraculously feeding thousands, He laments openly to the masses that they come to Him merely to have their stomachs filled. They do not hunger for the Bread that brings eternal life, Jesus Himself. His listeners respond with shock, disappointment, and derision. It becomes clear that following Jesus brings hardship and difficulty, not glory, power, and prosperity. The people turn away from Jesus en mass and most of His disciples depart. Though the twelve remain, one, Jesus notes, “is a devil,” portentous of a time of growing opposition that now awaits Him.

As the group of Jesus’ followers dwindles, He withdraws, spending more time in obscure areas and gentile regions while He invests Himself in training the twelve. Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, is a testimony to the Apostles’ deepening commitment to this enigmatic man. Jesus gives them a glimpse of His glory at the Transfiguration and talks plainly of His imminent death, though they do not understand.

Jesus’ conflict with the people, especially the religious leadership, intensifies. He attacks their doctrine, conduct, dress, anything indicative of shallow religious piety that hides the spiritual poverty within each of us. He leaves nothing untouched, rebuking religious self-righteousness more than anything else. He has patience with repentant sinners and those with weak faith, but He has none for religious hypocrisy. Spiritual pride hardens the heart, preventing a humble admission of guilt. It is the most pernicious obstacle to restoring an authentic relationship with the Father. Jesus’ unrelenting assault calcifies His opposition who now actively plot His death.

The circumstances ripen for disaster as Jesus’ hour of decision rapidly approaches. Calvary looms before Him; Jerusalem is now Jesus’ only objective. He knows what awaits Him. The raising of Lazarus hardens the resolve of His enemies. The Triumphal Entry creates a surge of attention, but the celebration rings hollow. In a matter of days the same people will demand His death, trading “Hosanna” for “Crucify Him.” In spite of the imminent danger to His life, Jesus stands boldly against religious hypocrisy and its root cause, unbelief.

Passion week is not only the end of Jesus’ journey, it is the final resolution of thousands of years of prophecy, promise, and expectation. The die is cast; the final act of the drama is about to be played out. Jesus’ life will soon be in the hands of those who hate Him, but it is the Father, not Jesus’ enemies, who is in control.

In a matter of hours the Messiah will be dead, but those hours tick by slowly. Some of the time Jesus spends with the ones He loves the most, those to whom He has given every waking moment for the last three years. He gathers them close to prepare them for the dark days ahead. The rest of His time is spent in agony, humiliation, and suffering.

Crucifixion is a cruel form of execution, generally reserved for slaves and rebels. Death is agonizing and slow, the result of shock, exposure and, eventually, asphyxiation. Hanging from a cross constricts the diaphragm, inhibiting breathing. The only way to get air is to release pressure on the arms by pushing up against the nails that pierce the feet, requiring continual effort that could go on for days. Exhaustion eventually overtakes the victim and he suffocates.

For Jesus, though, the pain of the cross pales in the face of a greater anguish. There is a deeper torment that cannot be seen, one no camera can capture and no words can express, more excruciating than nails pinning Jesus’ body to the timbers, more dreadful than lashes ripping flesh from His frame. It is a dark, terrible, incalculable agony, an infinite misery, as God the Father unleashes his fury upon His sinless Son as if guilty of an immeasurable evil.

Why punish the innocent One? Nailed to the top of the cross is an official notice, a certificate of debt to Caesar, a public display of Jesus’ crime: “The King of the Jews.” The cross is payment for this crime. When punishment is complete, Caesar’s court will cancel the debt with a single Greek word stamped upon the parchment’s face: tetelestai. Finished. Paid in full.

Being king of the Jews is not the crime Jesus pays for, however. Hidden to all but the Father is another certificate nailed to that cross. In the darkness that shrouds Calvary from the sixth to the ninth hour, a divine transaction is taking place; Jesus makes a trade with the Father. The crimes of all of humanity; every murder, every theft, every lustful glance; every hidden act of vice, every modest moment of pride, and every monstrous deed of evil; every crime of every man who ever lived, these Jesus takes upon Himself as if guilty of all.

At the last, it is not the cross that takes Jesus’ life. He does not die of exposure, or loss of blood, or asphyxiation. When the full payment is made, when the last of the debt melts away and the justice of God is fully satisfied, Jesus simply dismisses His spirit with a single Greek word that falls from His lips: “Tetelestai.” It is finished. The divine transaction is complete.

You see, there are actually three passions in “The Passion of the Christ.” The passionate intensity of God’s anger at us for our sins collides with the passionate intensity of God’s love for us, causing the passionate intensity of the agony of the cross to be shouldered by God Himself in human form.

The story is told of a king who, having discovered a theft in the royal treasury, decrees that the criminal be publicly flogged for this affront to the crown. When soldiers haul the thief before the king as he sits in his judgment seat, there in chains stands the frail form of the king’s own mother.

Without flinching, he orders the old woman to be bound to the whipping post in front of him. When she is secured, he stands up, lays down his imperial scepter, sets aside his jeweled crown, removes his royal robes, and enfolds the tiny old woman with his own body. Baring his back to the whip, he orders that the punishment commence. Every blow meant for the criminal lands with full force upon the bare back of the king until the last lash falls.

In like manner, in those dark hours the Father wrapped us in His Son who shields us, taking the justice we deserve. This is not an accident. It was planned. The prophet Isaiah described it 700 years earlier:

Surely our griefs He Himself bore… He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way. But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

No other man did this. No other man could. Jesus alone, the perfect Son of God, He paid the debt so that whoever trusts in Him will not perish under God’s punishment, but have life with Him fully and forever. Jesus is the Savior of the world. Without Him the world could not be saved from its overwhelming debt.

Permit me to share a final story. Harry Ironside used to tell about a young Russian soldier who, because his father was a friend of Czar Nicholas I, had been made paymaster in one of the barracks.

The young man meant well, but his character was not up to his responsibility. He took to gambling and eventually gambled away a great deal of the government’s money. In due course the young man received notice that a representative of the czar was coming to check accounts, and he knew he was in trouble.

That evening he got out the books and totaled up the funds he owed. Then he went to the safe and got out his own pitifully small amount of money. As he sat and looked at the two he was overwhelmed at the astronomical debt versus his meager funds. He was ruined.

The young soldier determined to take his life. He pulled out his revolver, placed it on the table before him, and wrote a summation of his misdeeds. At the bottom of the ledger where he had totaled up his illegal borrowings, he wrote: “A great debt! Who can pay?” He decided that at the stroke of midnight he would die.

As the evening wore on the soldier grew drowsy and eventually fell asleep. That night Czar Nicholas, as was sometimes his custom, made the rounds of the barracks. Seeing a light, he stopped, looked in, and saw the young man asleep. He recognized him immediately and, looking over his shoulder, saw the ledger and realized all that had taken place.

He was about to awaken him and put him under arrest when his eye fastened on the young man’s message: A great debt! Who can pay? Suddenly, with a surge of magnanimity, he reached over, wrote one word at the bottom of the ledger, and slipped out.

When the young man awoke, he glanced at the clock and saw that it was long after midnight. He reached for his revolver to end his life. But his eye fell upon the ledger and he saw something he had not seen before. There beneath his writing, “A great debt! Who can pay?” was written a single word: “Nicholas.”

He was dumbfounded. It was the Czar’s signature. He said to himself, “The czar must have come by when I was asleep. He has seen the book. He knows all. Still he is willing to forgive.”

The young soldier then trusted the word of the czar. The next morning a messenger came from the palace with exactly the amount needed to meet the deficit. Only the czar could pay, and the czar did pay.

We compare God’s righteousness to our own tawdry performance and we ask: “A great debt to God! Who can pay?” But then the Lord Jesus Christ steps forward and signs His name to our ledger: “Jesus Christ.”

Only Jesus can pay, and He does. He has completed the transaction. He has canceled the debt. It is finished. It only remains for us to trust in His promise.

That is something “The Passion of the Christ” does not reveal. It is something no movie could ever show.


Is Christmas Pagan?

Is Christmas Pagan?
The question of whether Christmas is pagan enters into the idea of cultural practices. Some have made the assertion that Christmas has pagan origins. Christmas does not have pagan origins, but there are winter celebrations that are pagan. There was, for example, a saturnal celebration around the time of Christmas that pagans celebrated, which was actually a temptation for Christians to participate in that had pagan content to it. So the church changed the day that they celebrated the birth of Christ. They used to celebrate it in the Spring. But the church said, “We can celebrate it any time we want. Let’s celebrate it at the same time the pagans are celebrating their pagan festival. It’ll act as a contrast to that pagan festival because our celebration is the birth of the God-man, Jesus Christ. It has Biblical content. Plus it will protect Christians from being wooed away by this other celebration to participate in what was a pagan celebration”.

It was really a wise thing that they did and the kind of thing that many missionaries do even nowadays. They take the momentum of a cultural practice–a cultural practice that may even have religious content to it, offensive religious content–and they redeem that for Christianity. They redefine what people have been doing. They reinvest it with new meaning. They capture the cultural form and they reinvest it with spiritual meaning.

By the way, there is an example of this in the Bible. Circumcision was practiced by the Egyptians before it was practiced by the Jews. It was a cultural practice which had some religious significance. God captured the practice, gave it to Abraham, reinvested it with new meaning and it became a religious rite for Abraham to worship his creator.

We think of circumcision as this really holy thing in the Old Testament associated with the covenant, which it was. But it wasn’t that way originally. By golly, it seems to me that if God can do such a thing–take a practice that had heathen content to it, save the practice, reinvest new information to it–then it certainly is okay for the church to do it.

We’ve done that many times. We’ve done that in other cultures and it served to offer a springboard for us into cultures using cultural forms and reinvesting them with new meaning. If you read Don Richardson’s books Eternity in Their Hearts or Peace Child, this is what he talks about. They captured cultural forms that had one meaning and reinvested it with a new meaning, and this became a springboard to reach into these cultures with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And we’ve done the same thing with Christmas.

Now there is nothing at all wrong with that. We’re not celebrating a pagan holiday because the pagan holiday was the saturnal and we’re not worshipping the god of Saturn, or whatever the content was. We are not doing that. If you listen to the words of the song “Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree,” the original was written with the Christmas tree being a type of Jesus Christ. You look at the words and the gospel is in the words of the Christmas tree. So this is not a Christmas tree that we’re putting in our house as an idol to some tree god, or something like that. No, this is a tree that we are using as a cultural expression that can be invested with religious meaning for the Christian.

The same thing with the giving of gifts. That may have had a pagan meaning for others who practiced the other holiday. But for us giving of gifts is appropriate because it reflects the gift that God gave us in the person of Jesus.

My point is that we have liberty in reinvesting cultural forms with spiritual meaning. We have done that with Christmas. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that at all. I think it’s good and healthy for us to do so.

I think it can be legalistic to say one should not celebrate Christmas. There are different ways the term legalism can be used. One way it’s used is to mean that we take laws that aren’t God’s laws, but are in fact man’s laws, and we make them equal with God’s laws. For example, we take a man’s law that says we shouldn’t smoke. Now the Bible doesn’t say we shouldn’t smoke, it doesn’t say you shouldn’t drink, it doesn’t say you shouldn’t go to movies. We take our rules that we apply in our church or denomination and apply it to all Christians. That’s a type of legalism. In other words, we make things wrong that the Bible doesn’t make wrong.

It appears that is what is going on with Christmas. If you celebrate the birth of Christ, then you’re doing something wrong. My point is, this view is legalistic in that it makes things that aren’t Scripturally wrong and it makes them wrong. It makes something a rule to apply to men when God didn’t give them that rule.

I think the practice of Christmas is fully legitimate even though there may have some pagan elements that were originally associated with a celebration at this time. That doesn’t make our celebration of Christmas the same as that old celebration. In fact, it’s quite different. We are celebrating the birth of Jesus.

Now, we aren’t obliged to do so. There is nothing in the Scripture that says that we ought to, but it strikes me that it is entirely appropriate. It is appropriate, but not obligatory. If you look back in the Old Testament, one of the things that God did is He arranged for the Jews to celebrate festivals that He established to remind themselves of the significance of that event by participating in these annual festivals year to year.

Even Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, wasn’t given by God in the Scriptures. It’s something that they do to recollect a deliverance, a special deliverance, that God gave them during what we call the inter-testamental period, those 400 years between Malachi and Jesus. Theirs is a festival that is commonplace now but which doesn’t have its source in a direct command in Scripture; but it does function like many of those other things that are in Scripture. It reminds people year to year of God’s faithfulness and His goodness. What we do on Christmas is focus on the birth of Jesus Christ. I don’t understand how anyone can look at the Christmas carols that we sing during this time and say that this is pagan.

Even if the word Christmas came from the Catholic Christ Mass, it doesn’t mean that now. This is a fallacy–going back to the original etymology of the word, and holding that if you say this word you are affirming that meaning instead of the meaning that you hold the word to have at the present moment. Words don’t work that way. What the word Christmas means is the day that Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. That is what it means. There is not a bit of paganism in that, and for anyone to say that 500 years ago it meant this is inconsequential. It doesn’t mean that anymore. When we say the word Christmas, we are not blaspheming. It just doesn’t mean that. It just seems to be much ado about nothing.

Should a Christian celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ? That’s really what we are talking about. Some say no. Why? Because when you celebrate the birth of the Messiah, you are doing something pagan. How does that make any sense? Should someone have a Christmas tree or stockings? That’s a separate question. But should someone celebrate the birth of Christ? How could anybody object to that. I don’t agree with the assessment of the stockings or Christmas tree either. Frankly, there are probably all kinds of things I could find in their daily life–their little habits and things that they do–that if you went back to their beginnings their foundation has all kinds of questionable ideology, but they don’t have that significance for people now.

Actually, the language thing is a real important parallel because our words change meaning as time goes on. They are tokens for a particular meaning. At one point in history a word meant a particular thing, at a later point that word means something different so you can’t say that when you use the term later on you’re referring to the earlier meaning. That doesn’t make sense.

By the same token, Christmas trees and gifts and stockings, and that kind of thing, are tokens also. Now tokens are only things that represent something else, like a bus token. A bus token represents a ticket to ride on the bus. It doesn’t have meaning or value in itself; it’s simply a token of something else. Technically, this other thing is called a type. Now it may have been that a Christmas tree was a token in the past of a pagan type. It betokened worshipping nature, for example. The Christmas tree for a Christian no longer betokens worshipping nature. It betokens worshipping Jesus.

A Christmas tree doesn’t mean anything to me. It means Christmas trees are part of Christmas. The significant point here is that my tree has no pagan content. That’s the critical issue. There is a difference between the true meaning of Christmas and the spirit of Christmas. They are entirely different things. One of them is theological, the second one is emotional.

The true meaning of Christmas has to do with Jesus Christ. It isn’t about love, it isn’t about giving, it isn’t about peace on earth, it is about Jesus Christ. The other things may be related, but it isn’t about those things.

The spirit of Christmas, in my view, has to do with the feeling you have. The feeling is a result of your past experiences with Christmas. For me, the spirit of Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus. But this is why I can say, I have a Christmas tree not because the Christmas tree reminds me of Jesus, though I could imagine for some people it does, and if you were taught early on that the Christmas tree is representative of theological truth, then that becomes a theological meaning for you. But for me a tree and ornaments are just my cultural expression that has to do with the emotional impact with Christmas, and I think that’s fine.