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Is Christmas Biblical?

Christmas biblical? For the first time this year I asked myself that question. I did a google search and I was shocked by what I found. Christmas traditions are rooted in pagan practices. Rulers and missionaries took people’s pagan festivals and changed them to Christian ones.

First, early Christians did not celebrate Christ’s birth. The Encyclopedia Americana, 1956 edition, adds, “Christmas…was not observed in the first centuries of the Christian church, since the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons rather than their birth…a feast was established in memory of this event [Christ’s birth] in the fourth century. The first recorded celebration of Christ’s birth was in 336 A.D. during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine. Rather, the celebration of December 25th as a feast day can be traced back to the paganism of Babylon (Jeremiah 52:31), to elements of Egyptian worship, and to the idolatrous worship of Saturn in Roman times. “Far and wide in the realms of paganism was this birth day observed”, Rev. A. Hislop, “The Two Babylons”.

Scholars know that Jesus wasn’t born in December from the text telling of his birth. Shepherds would not be out in the fields in December near Bethlehem, it is too cold. Also calculating Elizabeth’s conception from when Zechariah would have been ministering in the temple and Mary’s conception 6 months later, would make Christ’s birth in the spring.

What else is rooted in paganism? Christmas trees for one. Many cultures considered the evergreen tree as a symbol of life. Northern Europeans put evergreen trees in their homes and the Romans put evergreen branches inside in the winter as reminder that spring was coming. According to an article in Christianity Today, “many early Christians were hostile to such practices. The second-century theologian Tertullian condemned those Christians who celebrated the winter festivals, or decorated their houses with laurel boughs in honor of the emperor.” However, during the middle ages the use of the evergreen trees as part of Christmas was accepted. Christian missionaries were taking what was part of idol worship and claiming they could convert it to Christianity because of Christ’s supremacy over all.

What I am supposed to do with these new revelations? In my search, I certainly found those who believe we are sinning and displeasing God by participating in the Christmas celebration. They even quoted scripture to back up their claims.

Is there anything biblical about Christmas that can justify my participation in the season? For one, at Christmas we tend to be more generous to those in need. Proverbs 22:9 (NASB), “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.” We know that God commends us for giving to the poor. If I look at Christmas as a time for giving, not just to my family, but to those around the world who are in desperate need, then I believe God would be pleased.

Is there anything wrong with celebrating the birth of Christ? Even though it was unbelievers who commemorated the day of their birth, remembering the miraculous birth of our Savior is beneficial. God did not command that we make Christ’s birth a feast. But to worship Jesus by remembering the details around his birth is encouraging to our faith. Having a special service at church to remember God’s fulfillment of his prophecies concerning Jesus’ birth is appropriate.

Is it wrong to get involved in all the other things of Christmas, like decorations, presents, cookie baking, Christmas work parties, Santa Claus, etc.? Only the individual Christian can make that call. For me, I will trust that God is more interested in my heart attitude toward Christmas than what I do. I think I can enjoy time with family and friends making memories around Christmas traditions. I will know that Christmas is not something that God has ordained. But, I don’t think God necessarily hates Christmas either, if celebrated with the right attitude and understanding.

I will use this time as a reminder of all that God has done by sending his son as a baby. I will worship him by giving to those less fortunate than myself. I will be grateful and extend his grace and kindness to others during this crazy busy time of the year when patience is at an all-time low. And I will try not to get caught up in the frenzy. What will you do about Christmas?

Topical blogs

Free Slaves

“It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil.” (I Peter 2:15,16) That is an oxymoron, free but slaves. What does Peter mean you are free, but God’s slaves? How can we be both?

What does scripture say we are free from? We are free from sin’s power over us. Paul instructs the Romans about our freedom from sin’s control in Romans 6:5-6, “Since we have been united with him in death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.”

Paul goes on to say that we are slaves to righteousness in Romans 6:18, “Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.” We are free to not sin and obligated to God to live righteously because of our union with Christ.

The problem comes when I forget that I am free from sin’s power and give into it once again. I forget what Christ has done for me. I forget I can say no and resist the temptation. Instead, I give into sin without even a hesitation. When I forget to be grateful, my motivation to live in a manner that glorifies God is missing.

I have observed those who have totally forgotten their freedom and have let sin master them. They live in shame and fear and defeat. They cannot seem to conquer their demons. They claim Christ, yet don’t experience his freedom.

I desire for them to understand their freedom and live according to it. I pray that God will open their eyes to the truth of their freedom, so they can be more than conquerors. I long for them to experience the joy of their salvation once again. I long for them to grow spiritually and learn to love and trust God.

All I can do is to remind them of the truth, like Paul did, and pray for them. It can be a very sad and discouraging journey to watch those you care about live in defeat. But there is always hope! Jesus, through the Holy Spirit is more than capable of working in their hearts.

I pray that Jesus will constantly remind me of my freedom, so I can pledge to enslave myself to righteous living. Being a slave of God is joyful, burdens are lifted, gratitude is overflowing. I love that I am a free slave.

Do you need to remember you are a free slave? Ask Jesus to remind you. Pray for those you see living in prison to their sins for Christ to set them free.

 

 

Topical blogs

What do you want for Christmas?

Black Friday is now history and Cyber Monday is today. The official Christmas shopping season has begun once again. It is that time of year when, “What do you want for Christmas?” is heard all over the place. That question forces me to come up with things I want. Even if I have been content with what I have, I quickly find things I want. It isn’t even about need either, it’s about want; I never really need anything.

According to the rest of the world, I am rich. I have more stuff and income than most of the rest of the world. I am not the richest by any means, but I have plenty. However, money and material possessions are not the only wealth I hold. I am, we are as Christians, extravagantly rich in spiritual blessings. I wrote about it in my last blog.

God showed me a link between focusing on my spiritual wealth and giving generously through Paul’s words to the Corinthians. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV) Obviously, Paul isn’t talking about material wealth here, but spiritual. However, he reminded them of their riches in Christ, and urged them to give to others generously.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 ESV) Jesus started his famous Sermon on the Mount with that proclamation. If I recognize that I am spiritually poor, he will grant me the kingdom of heaven and I will become spiritually rich. If I don’t understand that I am spiritually bankrupt, then I will not see a need for Christ in my life. I will stay spiritually empty, seeking to be rich through what this world has to offer, money and stuff. If I understand I am spiritually rich, then I am prompted to give generously to others because I understand I am complete. I don’t need stuff to make me valuable.

I must admit that over the last several years, my church has really helped me change my focus at Christmas. I have come to realize just how much we spend at Christmas on our wants when there are those around the world who have dire needs. Both my husband and I have cut back spending so much on each other in order to give to others. But it has felt like a sacrifice.

This Christmas I’m asking Jesus to help me meditate on my spiritual wealth, so that giving to others doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, but a privilege. I want to be bursting with generosity and joy because I get how wealthy I truly am both materially and spiritually. Things will never make me more valuable or truly satisfy me. God has already blessed me with unfathomable value and blessings. Now what am I going to do in response?

Join me in remembering our great wealth and ask Jesus how he wants you to give to those in need this Christmas.

 

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Giving Thanks

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am busy getting ready to host our family for that famous meal. I make special recipes that I don’t make any other time of the year. Most of us have a set menu for our Thanksgiving meal that can’t be changed; like turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie!

It is also a time for remembering all that we have to be grateful for. Our family always goes around the table to say what we are thankful for before we dig in. Family is the overwhelming response at our table. I am so grateful for my family! I miss those who can’t be with us.

But recently I have come across some verses that remind me of other things I have to be so grateful for. Because of Christ, I am blessed beyond all measure. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ Jesus with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 1:3a ESV) God doesn’t give me some blessings, he gives me every spiritual blessing. Later in Ephesians, Paul tells them God gave them the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that he will give us our inheritance he promised. Paul also says in Ephesians 2:6 that we are seated in the heavenly realms with Christ. It is really mind boggling what God has given us in Christ.

Paul also reminds the Corinthians of the same thing. “I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. Through him, God has enriched your church in every way-with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 1:4-7 NLT)

I have, you have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Not only can we be thankful for family, our country, but the gifts that God has showered on us. God generously gives to us even though we do not deserve it. We can’t do anything to earn his gifts. We are blessed beyond all measure in Christ Jesus our Lord. As my family goes around the table this Thanksgiving, I will give thanks and praise to God for all his spiritual blessing. How about you?

Scripture blogs

Psalm 42:5,8 Dealing with Discouragement

“Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again- my Savior and my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you… But each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.” (Psalm 42:5,8)

The Psalmist had every reason to be discouraged. His faith was being attacked by his enemies, he was suffering physically, and he was not in Jerusalem where he longed to worship God.

There are many reasons for discouragement today. Hatred is surfacing everywhere. Politically, our nation seems split between party lines and each party is unwilling to work with the other to accomplish anything. There are health issues, money issues, relationship conflicts, work stress and unfulfilled desires and dreams. The list goes on and on. We each have our own circumstances that drain our positive outlook on life.

In my last blog, I related that focusing on God’s promises for my future really helps me. But there are other ways to fight discouragement. The Psalmist tells us how he takes courage. The Psalmist described his miseries and why he was discouraged, but he also remembered what he needed to do in response. He focused on God and his unfailing love. He chose to put his hope in God. He remembered God and his character. He sang his songs in the night, songs of praise.

My biggest take away from this Psalm? I have a choice. I can focus on the depressing stuff or I can focus on God and his character. I can focus on God’s promises. I can focus on my new Identity in Christ.

Shifting my mind to God and the truth is not easy. It is a battle! My mind habitually zeros in on all that is wrong. I begin to feel sorry for myself. I am robbed of joy. As my thoughts continue down that road, I experience depressing feelings that tempt me to quit……to quit believing God’s character because he doesn’t change my circumstances. I stop trying to do anything except make myself feel better. I become self-focused.

What we think about is so important, not because it make us feel better, but because in doing so we are fighting the powers of darkness. Discouragement is one of Satan’s biggest tools to weaken our faith. If he can discourage us enough, we might give up the good fight. This renders us harmless in the battle, and Satan scores a victory.

I don’t know about you, but I do not want Satan to win in my life. I want to fight him with everything I have. And fortunately, I have the Holy Spirit living in me to equip me for battle. When I am blue, I have to remember. When I am blue, I must choose to pray for help to change my focus. I need to pray for a passage or verse to give me hope.

When I have hope despite my unpleasant circumstances, I win against Satan. I am a witness for Christ. I am a light in the darkness. I bring God to glory. Let’s fight the battle together and choose to remember God, his character, and his promises when life presents us with discouraging situations. Let’s remember what the gospel has done for us

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Heaven on Earth

I confess, I was grumbling and complaining last evening, mostly in my mind. But it left me feeling grumpy and blue. Why? Because I was looking at my circumstances. I was counting all the health issues I have going on right now- seven. I was complaining because in my opinion there are so many people around me that aren’t putting God first in their lives. They are making choices contrary to his will. People who I love deeply and want the best for them. I was discouraged because I don’t feel like my writing is going anywhere. I just wanted to give up, no more blogging.

I knew exactly what my problem was, I was focusing on the wrong stuff. But I allowed myself to wallow for a while in my misery and disappointment with life. Let’s face it, no one ever has a perfect set of circumstances. There are always challenging relationships, trials and difficulties which are a part of everyone’s life. Life is hard a lot of time. Life can be exciting, joyful, fulfilling, satisfying and rewarding too, but it isn’t often enough. At least, that is how I felt last night.

I don’t mean to sound like a pessimist. I just know life never quite turns out how I planned or dreamed it to be. God enlightened me this morning about my problem. I am impatient. I want heaven on earth now! I want life to be perfect. I don’t want life to be disappointing and hard. Every time I place my expectation on this life to be like heaven, I get discouraged. Why do I do that to myself? I need to remember that heaven is coming someday but it is not now.

Jesus warned us about life here on earth. “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT) He did not tell his disciples that once they believed in him, his Father would make life comfortable and easy for them. He told them they could have peace despite their circumstances. He told them to take heart, cheer up! He had overcome, he had won the victory over Satan. He wanted them to remember that Satan was already defeated, but he was still going to wreak havoc for a time.

I have to be patient for God’s plan to be fulfilled in his timing. When Satan is finally thrown into the lake of fire, God will create a new heaven and new earth. Literally, heaven will be on earth! The two become one and it will be far greater and better than I could ever plan. Even if all my plans and dreams came true in this life, it would pale in comparison to what God has in store. I can rejoice and have peace, knowing that I get to participate in the new heaven and new earth! I need to keep my focus on that stuff. Join me in focusing on the eternal promises we have, not on life’s imperfections. Then we can experience his peace and his joy, instead of feeling grumpy and blue.

Scripture blogs

Masterpiece

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT) This verse has become one of my favorites. God considers me his masterpiece. Not just a work of art you would see at an art fair, but a precious work that is worthy to be shone in the greatest museum. I think of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci which is enclosed in a glass case at the Louvre Museum in Paris. This painting is protected from anyone touching it or sunlight or temperature variations. It is highly valuable, said to be priceless.

That is how God looks at me. I am priceless to him. I am valuable to the creator of the Universe because he made me. “You made all the delicate inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous- how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.” (Psalm 139:13-15 NLT) David understood God was forming him in his mother’s womb. It wasn’t genes making the decisions about who he would be, but God’s handiwork through genes.

God not only created me physically, but he recreated me spiritually when I placed my faith in Christ. I am a new creation according to II Corinthian 5:17. He made me alive spiritually so I could do good things. Before Christ, I couldn’t do any good things. I could only live by my flesh to satisfy its desires.

I’m not saying before Christ I could never be kind or generous or forgiving, but I was doing it for the wrong reason. I wanted to feel good about myself, not to bring glory to God. Before Christ, I sought my significance in other things, not from how God looked at me. So, is that truly good in God’s eyes? If my motivation was to seek my significance in what I did, leaving God out of the picture then in God’s economy it isn’t all that good. But when I seek to do good things because I understand who I am – I am complete and I am righteous. Then I am motivated for the right reasons and I bring glory to God.

God has created specific good things for me to do personally. He designed me for a particular purpose. He gave me my personality, my talents, my spiritual gifts, my looks, etc. to fulfill his master plan he designed for me long ago. What an adventure to follow God and discover the good things he has planned for me to do!

I don’t have to do great things for God to impress him. He is already enthralled with me. I am to discover those good things he has for me to do. As I follow him, he will guide me and show me. Maybe his plan is for me to write a book (only time will tell) or just drive a friend to a job interview. One is not more important than another in his eyes. God is delighted with both because he is watching me fulfill his plan. All good things are equal in his sight.

So, I try to remember who I am in Christ daily so I do not seek my significance from other things. I take great delight knowing that God views me as his masterpiece. I try to listen to his voice to guide me throughout my day to fulfill the good things his has for me to do. Remember you also are his masterpiece, not a mediocre work of art or even a piece of junk. You are priceless!