Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Why We Celebrate Christmas

This a post I wrote for my friend +Matthew Clayton and his blog series, The Christmas Series, on his blog Loving Christ With Your Mind. He asked me if I would like to contribute; I said yes, and I got stuck with the posts for Christmas Day and New Year's (yay. :P). So, here's my post for Christmas day, titled "Why We Celebrate Christmas." God bless, and happy holidays!

. . .

Here in America, Christmas is an annual thing. Stores set up their Christmas layouts; people buy Christmas trees. Some even decorate their houses or yards—illuminating them with bright lights throughout the night.
But what if I told you that not everyone celebrates Christmas? This might be hard to imagine—especially if you’ve grown up in America—but Christmas isn’t an international celebration. Some Americans don’t even celebrate.
For example, if you visited India, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, or Israel, you’ll most likely find that in these countries Christmas isn’t very widespread. Why not? Well, Christmas is supposed to celebrate the birth of Jesus and His arrival into our world. Most Indians are Hindu, and simply have no reason to celebrate Christmas. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are Muslim countries, and Israel is largely a Jewish nation. So it would make sense that most people in these countries wouldn’t celebrate Christmas.
Even here in America, not everyone celebrates. Most Muslims, Hasidic Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Sikhs don’t celebrate Christmas, as they see no reason for it or it conflicts with their faith. People of these religious groups are in the minority when compared to the large number of professed Christians in America, but it does show that Christmas isn’t a total nationwide celebration—like many assume it is.
But what if someone asked why you celebrate Christmas? Assuming that you do, how would you respond? What would you say?

I imagine most of you would answer something like, “Because it’s the day that Jesus was born and came into our world,” or “We celebrate it because Christians like us have been doing it since Jesus’ time.”
I admit, before I started researching Bible history and learning more about the Bible, I used those answers too. Something else that might surprise you is that both those statements are actually false.

Let’s say you time-traveled back to the first-century. You’re staying at Thessalonica and bump into the Apostle Paul while heading to the market. It’s three days until Christmas; you ask Paul what he’s planning to get Silas and Timothy. All you get back is a blank, confused look.
Why the look of confusion? Christmas wasn’t celebrated back then.

In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday. Almost no one celebrated Jesus’ birth—probably because no one knew when it was. It wasn’t until the fourth century when church officials, under Pope Julius I, decided to institute Jesus’ birthday as a holiday. However, there was problem. The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly when Jesus was born. (It probably wasn’t anywhere near December though. Why would shepherds be out in the middle of winter?)
In spite of this, Pope Julius I chose December 25th as the official holiday for Christ’s birthday, which was celebrated with a great feast. It’s commonly believed that the Pope did this to parallel a widely celebrated pagan holiday known as Saturnalia—the celebration of the Roman god Saturn—that began in the week of winter solstice and ended in January. Also, December 25th was the birthday of the Roman god Mithra, which the Pope probably hoped would make Christianity more “appealing” to pagans.[1]

Originally called “The Feast of Nativity,” the celebration of Christ’s birth had spread as far as Scandinavia by the eight century—four hundred years later. However, after the fall of the Roman Empire and the plunge into the European Middle Ages, the celebration of Christmas changed. Christmas went from a peaceful feast to a drunken carnival-style celebration. It stayed this way until the 1800s, when the Americans completely reinvented the holiday.[1]

The early 1800s were a time of class conflict and turmoil in America. Unemployment was high, and riots from disenchanted social classes hit their peak during the Christmas season. Around this time, authors Washington Irving and Charles Dickens reinvented Christmas in America and England. Irving’s The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon and Dickens’s A Christmas Carol shifted Christmas from a wild, carnival-style celebration; to a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday centered on family, giving, and showing kindness to others. With families becoming less rigid and more sensitive to emotional needs of their children, this new view of Christmas grew in popularity. Parents could now give their children the attention—and gifts—they desired without coming off as “gushy” or “spoiling” their children.[1]

The once dead holiday was brought back to life in America. At first, people looked towards immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches for how the holiday was to be celebrated. However, over the next hundred years, Americans added their own unique traditions to Christmas: decorating Christmas trees, giving gifts to each other, and sending holiday cards. These were all part of the new, reinvented Christmas—the same Christmas that much of the world still celebrates today.[1]

Okay, great! But was does all this have to do with why we celebrate Christmas?

A lot, actually. See, many people do or don’t celebrate Christmas because they think it was always celebrated how we see it today. But as you can see above, that notion is wrong. Why should we celebrate then? What’s the real purpose of this holiday? The answer comes from Philippians 2:6-8.

Philippians 2:6-8
Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage.[
Instead He emptied Himself
by assuming the form of a slave,
taking on the likeness of men.
And when He had come as a man
in His external form,
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.

The entire meaning and message of Christmas is summed up in those 68 words.

Many people have forgotten this. They look at the gifts and the Christmas trees, the parties and the TV specials, and they think that’s what Christmas is all about. If that’s you, then please just hear me out for one second.
Christmas isn't about any of that. The holiday isn’t about Santa Claus anymore than it’s about Saturn or Mithra. Neither does it revolve around gifts and presents, as those traditions were just added recently. What’s Christmas truly about then?  Again, it’s all in Philippians 2:6-8.

One could easily argue that today, this just isn’t the case. Christmas was been secularized, industrialized, and commercialized beyond belief. Many people are acting just as self-centered and carnal as they have all year. The holiday seems to be more focused on what’s under the Christmas tree or who has the best decorations than is on Christ.

Well, those statements are partially right. We, the Christians have let this get out of control. We need God back in our holidays. My brother likes to talk about how modern society and certain organizations practically hate it when people associate Christmas with Christ, or anything religious in general. But we need to push past this fear of opposition and let people know the truth. What’s more important, what people think or what God thinks?

Jesus is the reason for Christmas, and no one should deny that. As Christians, as witnesses for Christ; we should be the ones reminding the world of this. Please understand there’s a big difference between standing up for Christ and just being rude (respect and gentleness are two of those differences. -1Pt. 3:15 NIV). At the same time, however, we need to be bolder in standing up for our faith and our God—despite whatever opposition it might cause us to face.

Ultimately, Christmas is what you make it. I don’t know what you’ve been told, or taught, but when it’s all said and done the choice falls on your shoulders to decide what this day means to you. No one or thing can define what Christmas truly means to you personally. That’s strictly between you and God. Even if you don’t believe in Him, it’s still your choice. And when it comes to Christmas, you only have two real choices.
A)     Christ
B)      Other

I’ll be praying that you’ll make the right one. :]

 Merry Christmas and God bless!

1. Source: "Christmas."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Feeling Like a Christian

I don't always feel like a "Christian."

We have this image that Christians are supposed to be invincible.

We have this image that Christians are supposed to be perfect.

We have this image that Christians are supposed to always have the up most confidence in their God.

We have this image that Christians are supposed to be..well, unstoppable. (or at least for my point-of-view)

But the truth is, no one is like that.
No one.
And no one will be.

The only person who was perfect like that, was Jesus. And even He wept and got "emotional" at times. John 11:35 and Luke 19:41 tell how it was.

Our image of the ideal Christian is twisted. It's not about our strength; it's about our weakness. It's not about our ability; it's lack thereof. It's not about our spiritual fitness; it's about grace.

It's not about us. It's about God.

Being a Christian isn't about what you can do for God. It's about what God can do, through you. Our world should rotate around God and His will, not ourselves and our small-mindedness. Our entire purpose for being here is to be the salt and light of the earth. How can we do that on our own? If we could be the light of the world by ourselves, there wouldn't have been a reason for Jesus to come. We are the light because God shines through us. Not because we shine for God, not because of all the righteous things we do, not even because we're saved. We are light simply because of God Himself, and what He chooses to do through us.

So no, I don't always feel like a Christian. I am not enough to do all the things that God has for me to do. But He is. His grace is sufficient in me. And as long as I have that, I think I'll be just fine.

Have a great day and God bless. :]

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pray for President Obama

I know many people aren't exactly happy about President Obama winning the Election this year. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, many Christians have been riled up, angered, depressed, and discouraged by the President's reelection. I'm sure some have even said God has abandoned America all together. But we need to remember who's exactly in control.

God knows what He's doing

Yes, I believe God allowed the President to be reelected. Compared to what you've heard, that may sound like a completely foreign idea. But here me out. Look at the first verse of Romans chapter 13.
"Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." (Romans 13:1, NIV)
Paul is saying that all authorities have been established by God. All authorities, including the president of the United States.
As a nation, we've been blessed with the privilege to choose who our nation's leader will be. And as of November 6, 2012, America chose President Obama.
Whether you voted for him or not, President Obama is now the man in authority. We need to accept that. Romans 8:28 says God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. Don't you think includes the President's reelection too?

But why God would allow the President to be reelected in the first place? Many of his policies contradict the Bible.

So why would God disregard that and give him another term?

Well, God has given us free will. In this nation, we are able to choose our leaders. God isn't going to dictate who we can or can't elect.
However, God is more than able to use whoever we elect to accomplish His purposes. One person can't stop an all-knowing, all-powerful God from accomplishing His plans, no matter who they are or how much power they have.
But at the same time, unless He sees it fit, God is not going to destroy that ruler or run them out of power simply because we don't like them. God can work through, around, and in anyone and everyone--that includes the President of the United States.

To us Christians, it shouldn't matter so much as to why God allowed America bring the President back in office; what should matter is that He allowed it in the first place. We need to stop whining and complaining like little kids. You can accept President Obama as president, without agreeing with him. There has never been any president--or candidate, for that matter--who was perfect. (Yes, that includes Governor Romney.) But America has made it's choice. God has allowed that choice to become reality.
Shouldn't we be the first to trust that God has the situation under control, whether He plans to use this term to bring disaster or prosperity? Can't we trust that God knows what He's doing? Even if we don't particularly like it?

We are God's people. Sometimes that means putting up with choices that we don't necessarily like. 

Pray for the President

We need to pray for the President as well. Consider 1 Timothy 2:1-2.
"First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4, HCSB. [emphasis added])
It's our responsibility to pray for people holding positions of authority--especially for whoever it is sitting behind Oval Office.

President Obama needs God. I don't want to start a huge debate here, and while I'm not an expert on government, some of the President's policies conflict with the Bible. Instead of insulting him or gossiping about him, we can simply pray. 2 Timothy 2:3-4 tells us that it pleases God when we pray for those in authority, because He wants everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. God created President Obama too, and loves him just as excruciatingly as He loves us. That, along with the fact that he is head of our country, should be enough motivation for any Christian to get on their knees and start praying for our president.

I'm not trying to promote President Obama and his policies, or trying to trash him and what he stands for. I'm not saying he's the next Abraham Lincoln, or that he's going to drive us all down the drain. I'm just echoing what the Bible speaks. If Romney had been elected, I would have written this for him too.
What I am saying, is that we need to stop with the temper tantrums and wake up. President Obama is our president. All authority has been established by God. We need to pray for those in authority.
The Bible is not silent on government; it makes itself clear on where it stands. God has made His decision, and it's up to us to be faithful and trust Him. We may not agree with it, and it doesn't matter. When you can save all mankind by dying on a rugged cross, then maybe you can add your suggestions. But until then, I suggest you just relax, pray, and let God do His thing, leading this country where He wants it.

Have a great day and God bless. :]

A king’s heart is like streams of water in the Lord’s hand:
He directs it wherever He chooses. {Proverbs 21:1, HCSB}

Verse of the Day: 2 Corinthians 10:17-18

2 Corinthians 10:17-18 HCSB

So the one who boasts must boast in the Lord.  For it is not the one commending himself who is approved, but the one the Lord commends.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Why do Bad Things Happen?

The Bible promises that in this life we will have trials and tribulations (John 16:33). Many atheists argue that there can't be a good God when bad things happen. I'm not going to sit here and try to explain why bad things happen because it's not my job to explain God. My job is to trust God and rest on the promise that God never makes a mistake. When we go through trials we need to run to God not from God. In his time, He will turn our burdens into blessings and our tests into testimonies. The burden of sin that Jesus took on the cross was turned into to the best blessing we could ever receive; the gift of eternal life. Here are some testimonies of how God does work for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).

  Bethany Hamilton: She grew up with strong a Christian family of prayer warriors. One day while surfing, she was attacked by a shark. It ripped her arm off and she lost 60% of her blood. But God was with her, and He never left her. I'm sure she had doubts about God's plan for her life. But ultimately, she ran to God during this trial and He used her in incredible ways. She is a huge inspiration to so many people because a bad thing happened to her. If she wasn't attacked by the shark, she would probably just be another surfer and she definitely wouldn't be as close to God. God uses everything that happens in our lives, the good and the bad, for His glory. We just need to have faith and trust Him, and know that God never makes a mistake.

  Jim Elliot: Jim Elliot was a Christian who was fully committed to doing the will of God. He had an incredible zeal for the Lord and took Jesus seriously when he said to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). During college he kept his focus on God and didn't get distracted with "other things." He felt called by God to go to Ecuador to do mission work in the jungle. His girlfriend, Elisabeth, was also called to be a missionary in Ecuador. In 1953, they got married in Ecuador. Jim wasn't going to let anything stop him from reaching the uncivilized, unreachable Auca Indians. He was determined to reach them with the gospel, and he was willing to die for the sake of Christ. In January 8, 1956, Jim and four other American missionaries were speared and hacked to death by warriors of the Auca tribe. I guess we could call this a bad thing that happened. But God wasn't done. After a few years, Elisabeth went back to the Aucas and wanted to know how her husband died. Even with the language barrier, she was able to find out that on the night of Jim's death, God gave the Aucas an incredible vision. According to the Indians, angels filled the entire sky. They said it looked like a thousand flashlights. Because of this vision, many Aucas accepted Christ as Savior. God turned the burden of Jim Elliot's death into the blessing of welcoming more people into His family. Praise the Lord!

  Corrie Ten Boom: Corrie was a dutch Christian who lived during the Holocaust. Her family was encouraged to live according to God's Word. When the Ten Boom's heard about everything that was going on to kill the Jews, they jumped at the opportunity to help God's chosen people. They constructed a "hiding place" inside Corrie's room for the Jewish people. In 1944, exactly 100 years after Corrie's great-grandfather started a meeting to pray for the Jewish people, the Ten Boom family was arrested for saving the Jews. Corrie's father died only a week after he was taken to a concentration camp. Corrie and her sister Betsie went through three different concentration camps. Only a week before Corrie was "mistakenly" released, Betsie died of an illness and went to be with the Lord. During the war, Corrie lost her father, sister, brother, and nephew. Corrie's victorious message is that no matter how deep the pit, God's love is deeper still (Romans 8:38-39). She went on to be a missionary all around the world. The experience that Corrie had in prison definitely brought her closer to God. She learned that if God is all you have, then God is all you need. She led many people to Christ, and she helped former prisoners that were struggling to forgive their enemies. If the bad experience in the concentration camps never happened, then maybe souls wouldn't have been saved. Nothing is more important to God then when someone joins His family. Corrie's testimony is just another example of God using the bad things that happen in our lives for His glory.

  I don't know why bad things happen sometimes. All I know is God is perfect, and He never makes a mistake. Two things can happen when we go through trials. We can either get closer to God through it all and have a testimony to share. Or we can run away from God and go our own way. Sometimes when we go through trials, we begin to feel bad for ourselves. Self-pity is a nasty sin that Satan uses to get our focus off God, and on ourselves. It doesn't matter if we're viewing ourselves in a positive or negative way. If our focus isn't on God, then it's not where it needs to be. It's hard to trust God when we don't know what the outcome's going to be. But we need to have faith and realize that God has our best interest in mind. When we've had enough, and we just admit to God that we can't go any farther, that's when He will demonstrate His strength and power in our lives. Sometimes we don't know why God allows certain things to happen. In the Bible, Job had his faith tested and tried again and again. But he never stopped trusting God. He had faith that God was going to use everything that was happening for his glory. Even if we don't know why something is happening, we still need to have faith that God is perfect and that He never makes a mistake.

  "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." -Romans 8:18

  "Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything." -2 Corinthians 6:4-10
. . .

Hannah's got it completely right. Bad things happen, but God knows what He's doing. Just like with the people Hannah mentioned above, God can use hard times to mold us into the individuals that He created us to be.

But maybe you're thinking this doesn't apply to you. Maybe you're thinking you're not Bethany Hamilton, Jim Elliot, Corrie Ten Boom or any of the people God used to do amazing things. Maybe you're thinking that God could never have something so big in store, for someone like you

Well, that's partially right. You are yourself, and there's not much you can do about that. But that doesn't mean you're any less than the people mentioned above. And that definitely doesn't mean that God won't use you for equally awesome things. 

Hard times can be used to accomplish a specific plan God has for your life. If you read the testimonies Hannah posted again, you will see that none of their amazing stories could have happened without the first initial disaster. God uses each of our situations and circumstances in unique and different ways, and He always works it for our good. (Romans 8:28)

God does the same in your life. Even if you don't feel like this is making you stronger it, it is. Trust me. I have been in my share of bad circumstances, and it's not easy to stay positive. But things are happening: things that you can't see. God is always working around you, through you, and in you. He knows what He is doing, and knows your needs as well. He isn't going to put you in a situation that you can't handle. God is strengthening you. This season is one that God is using to grow you up as a Christian. 
Honestly, some of us may never have times when everything is perfect. There might always be some kind of trial or issue we're facing. The game changer is whether we sit around and sulk about it, or whether we accept what's happening, remembering that God is in control--and that with every moment in this trial, we are growing stronger and stronger. I don't think the issue is so much why does God let bad things happen. I think the real question is, how do we react when those bad things happen to us? 

Like Hannah said, if our vision isn't fixed on God, then we're looking in the wrong direction. Just like in when Peter was walking on the water with Jesus, and began to sink as he watched the raging wind and waves around him [Matthew 4:29-31]; we will sink if we get so caught up in our own circumstances instead of focusing on God.

How do we stay afloat then? How do we carry on through these tough times and trials?

We simply keep our focus on God. :]

Have a great day and God bless!

. . .

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,”[b] so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (Hebrews 12:7-12 NIV, emphasis added)

Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. 
(Romans 5:2-5 NLT, emphasis added)