Identity & Perspective

What happens when one or two aspects of our Christian identity get emphasized at the expense of others? What happens when we fail to keep the four central elements (sons, saints, servants, sinners) of our identity in tension with each other? Find out here.

 

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The Nativity (Harmonized)

English: Nativity scene on the Buenos Aires Me...

(Luke 2:1-40, Matthew 1:25, 2:1-23)

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “ Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is   Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men   with whom He is pleased.”

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. Continue reading “The Nativity (Harmonized)”

1 Thessalonians 5

Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “ Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.

But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night.

But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.

But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.

We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.

 

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)

 

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.

 

Stand to Reason: Promises We Can’t Claim. Promises We Can

Time and again I see well-meaning Christians mishandling God’s word. The most common issue is when we find a promise from God that clearly would not apply to us if we read the context properly and we say that God gave us this promise.Jeremiah 29:11 is possibly the most commonly misused verse in this way. If you read the context around this verse, you will find that it is part of a letter, and that letter was written to a very specific group of people for a specific period in time. The attached articlegoes into detail on this specific verse as well as the general idea and also offers some similar promises that are for us today. (I realize this is a repeat post from a few months ago, but this particular issue is widespread and misunderstood enough to have a repeat every once in a while)