“Train Up A Child” – Focusing On Christ During Christmas

christmas-cross

I love Christmas! I love the smells and the sounds. I love being with family. I love the overall “cheery” attitude that most people have during this season (outside of the Black Thursday/Friday “I will trample you for this toy or electronic gadget” mindset).

Our society is growing more secular by the day. Things that were once held as sacred have become commonplace and ordinary. Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, has been hijacked and commercialized along with other religious holidays (Thanksgiving and Easter come to mind).

As Christians, we must guard against blindly following the culture. My greatest concern for our children is that story of Santa Clause is the antithesis of the story of Jesus Christ and his gospel. Before I offer my reasoning on this, let me say that I grew up believing in Santa Clause. I do not think I was scarred nor deceived. I do not believe my parents were wrong in allowing this to happen. But, our family does approach it in a different way.

We do not go out of our way to destroy the concept of Santa Clause in the minds of our two girls (age 3 & 5). They still watch TV shows that talk about Santa Clause. They color pictures of him. But we do try to help our girls understand why people celebrate him while also putting it into perspective as we celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. I’m not telling you that you have to do what we do but this is what we do. Let me offer a couple of reasons why:

1. We have a biblical responsibility to disciple our children. Parents are called to train their children in the ways of the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4). We take this very seriously because we recognize that we will have to give an account for our faithfulness in this area. We seek to take every opportunity to point our girls to Christ. The culture (movies, TV shows, books, other well meaning people) bombards them with tons of things during the Christmas season and we must diligently direct their attention to Christ. This is one of the reasons I wrote a Christmas Devotional for families to use during the month of December. The time I have with my girls is short and I want to make every day (and holiday) count for the cause of Jesus Christ and his gospel.

2. The popular/secular story of Santa Clause is the antithesis of the story of Jesus Christ and the gospel. If you think deeply about the story of Santa Clause you will begin to see that this is true. Santa is portrayed as an all-knowing, all-present being who is watching kids throughout the year to see whether they have been good or bad. The reality is that these things (all-knowing and all-present) are reserved for God alone. I don’t want my kids to mix this up. Our culture also portrays the idea that Santa only gives presents to kids who are good throughout the year. Basically, children earn their presents by good behavior. The message of the gospel is the opposite. We do not earn salvation by our good works but by the grace of God. I really don’t want my kids to mix this up!

**Every Christian family has to make a decision concerning how they will approach the culture in which we live – a culture that grows increasingly hostile to the Christ of Christmas. Seek the Lord diligently and ask him how you should lead your family this time of year. You may come up with a different approach, which is completely fine. I just thought it would be helpful to offer our perspective!

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Why Do We Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Have you ever wondered why we celebrate Thanksgiving? Here is the original proclamation given by President George Washington which began the first official Thanksgiving celebration in the United States:

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

Here are some important things to note:

1. President George Washington believed it was the duty of every nation “to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.

2. Congress requested President Washington “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

3. Thanksgiving day is “to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

4. On this day of Thanksgiving we should “unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed.

So, as you celebrate Thanksgiving, be sure to honor the wishes of our first President. Spend time thanking God for his providential care and his blessings. Also, spend time in prayer asking God for his continued protection, blessings, forgiveness, and guidance.

God, give us more men and women in positions of authority throughout our country with this type of perspective!

Gun Control & Believers

In light of the great tragedies involving gun violence, I believe it is essential for believers to take an honest and biblical look at the issue of gun control. This is a heated debate and one that will not be settled any time soon, at least to the satisfaction of all involved in the discussion. The gross mischaracterizations present in the current debate are unfortunate. Regardless of what you hear on the evening news, observe on Facebook pages and read in Twitter feeds, President Obama is not attempting to disarm American citizens in order to set up a military state (think Hitler) and the NRA is not in support of passing out guns like candy on the street corner. Here are some things we as believers need to keep in mind in this discussion:

1. We should champion life. We should never mindlessly bypass the tragedies that have occurred simply to jump into the debate concerning gun control. It should break our hearts that human beings created in God’s image have been senselessly murdered. We should grieve along with the families and long for the day that sin is done away with once and for all. If we want to fight, we should fight for life.

2. Murder happened long before guns were around. Genesis 4 details the first murder that occurred on this planet. It was a senseless murder. It was one committed out of pride and rage. It was sin. In fact, God’s words to Cain emphasized this: “The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it’” (Genesis 4:6-7). Our primary problem is not a gun control problem but a sin problem. This world needs Jesus. If we want to fight, we should fight to make Jesus known.

3. Requiring stringent background checks makes sense. As believers, we of all people should desire good to prevail and evil to be defeated. In Luke 12:48, Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” I have no problem with requiring much from one to whom we are giving much (ie. a weapon that could be used for evil purposes). In fact, I think this makes perfect sense. If we want to fight, we should fight and pray for wisdom for our lawmakers as they seek to enact laws that will promote good and discourage evil.

4. The 2nd Amendment is good but we must put it into context. Here is what the 2nd Amendment says: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” I want to be brief on this point but I also want to admit that I recognize that this amendment has been dissected and debated for years. When our Constitution was written and the Bill of Rights adopted, our founding fathers recognized the need for each state to have a well-armed militia (after all they were about to enter into battle with the British Empire). At this point in history, we have no need for militias since local, state and the federal governments offer protection through our armed forces and police officers. I do see the need to have personal protection but to imply that a person’s arsenal would stand any chance against the government’s resources would be beyond absurd! The ultimate goal of the 2nd Amendment was peace; freedom from the tyranny of the British Empire. The same should be true today. If we want to fight, we should fight for peace.

Rest Is Good

We live in a culture obsessed with productivity and accomplishment. Take a quick break from reading and type the word “productivity” into a Google search. There are hundreds of thousands of articles detailing how readers can be more productive, manage time more efficiently and set better goals. In fact, there are numerous websites devoted solely to these topics. By no means am I saying that these websites are bad or unhelpful, but we must be careful!

I struggle to balance my desire to be more productive with my desperate need for rest. I’m confident that I am not alone! We all hear stories of people who supposedly can sleep 5 hours each night and function at full capacity the next day. We hear about the productivity level of certain people and, inevitably, we feel inadequate. We read blogs of people, who claim to sleep little, exercise constantly, complete once-in-a-lifetime projects daily, read hundreds of books each year, and have a happy family life. Really?!?

Where does rest fit into the picture? How do we understand our desperate need for rest in light of our culture’s obsession with productivity?

Here are some things I was reminded of recently concerning rest:

1. We are created with limitations. One thing is crystal clear (and my wife would echo this statement), I struggle to function on less that 7 hours of sleep. Studies show that most people need between 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Our need for sleep reminds us that we are created with limitations. Our limitations point to the fact that we are mortal. They also remind us of our desperate need for God, who is not limited in any capacity.

2. God rested and tells us to rest. After God spent six days creating, he rested. God did not need to rest. He was not tired or overworked. He rested to show us our desperate need for rest. God, our maker, created us with a need: rest. Rest temporarily in this life and ultimate rest forever (eternal life).

3. There is a time for rest and a time to work. We should not live in a constant season of rest. This would be called laziness! There is a time to work and a time to rest. The questions we must ask are, “Am I working when I need to be working and resting when I need to be resting?” “Am I out of balance?” “Am I living as if I am God and I have no limitations?”

My Post 2012 Election Thoughts

I am a self-identified political junky. Every year I read 10-12 books about Presidential history and even majored in History in college (with an emphasis on American history). I get geeky every election and yesterday was no different! Here are my post election thoughts:

1. President Obama’s win was decisive. Even though Republicans touted the idea that Romney would win decisively (Morris and Rove claimed he would receive at least 300 electoral votes) the opposite proved to be reality. I do not believe you will see the President back down from anything over the next four years – he is not facing re-election and he has nothing to lose. I doubt we will see the gridlock in Washington improve because both the President and the Democratically controlled Senate believe they have political capital to spend in the same way the Republican controlled House of Representatives believes they received a mandate from voters (John Boehner claimed this in his speech).

2. The demographics of our nation are changing. The Democratic machine produced results last night that very few Republicans expected (Dems +6/7). They secured the Latino vote by 79% causing Republicans to gain a lower percentage than in 2008. This was huge and if Republicans ever expect to make a run at the White House in the future, this will have to change. Democrats also carried the votes of women and young people in this election. States that were once considered essentially secure for Republicans (North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida) are now toss-ups and, if we are honest, leaning to the Democrats. The overall demographic shift in our nation will have to be a concern for Republicans in the coming years if they expect to see different results.

3. This was the election of social issues. The voters of three states legalized same sex marriage last night (Maine, Maryland, and Washington). I do not believe this was a fluke. Proponents of same-sex marriage have been hard at work in the last number of years and the President coming out in support of same-sex marriage helped push this issue along. We are heading to a Supreme Court ruling on the issue of same-sex marriage now that we have several states on each side of the issue. Obama will likely appoint at least one Supreme Court justice in his second term (maybe more), which could drastically change the face of the court for years to come. We are following in the footsteps of Europe on social issues and in the next 25 years we will be considered a secular society (if we are not already). This has tremendous implications for the evangelical church in America. If young people continue to trend the way they are on social issues, the church will be the minority voice on social issues (pro-life, traditional marriage, etc.) in the near future. The days of the Moral Majority are behind us and we must adapt as we minister in a increasingly secular society. This is not to say that we abandon biblical values and principals but we should not assume that the people we are seeking to reach with the gospel hold these same biblical values and principals.

4. President Obama is a phenomenal communicator. His acceptance speech last night was superb. He demonstrated, probably for the first time since the last election (2008), the charisma and swagger that made him such a popular candidate. While I may not buy in to everything that he said, he said it in a very compelling way.

5. The “George W. Bush effect” is still in play for a number of voters. Obama ran on the fact that his predecessor’s policies caused the stagnate economy as well as the growing national debt. Regardless of the validity of this assumption, I believe many voters remain disillusioned by the Bush years and think it was impossible for Obama to do anything to right the ship within his first term.

6. God was not surprised and He will not be deterred. While the results of the election may have caught many Republicans off guard, God was not surprised. Regardless of the results, He will also not be deterred. All of history is moving in one direction – toward the forever reign of Jesus Christ. No social issue, political party, or politician can deter His plan. This plan, to save people from every tribe, tongue, and nation was set in motion before the foundation of the world. The church’s mission has not changed even though the culture in which we seek to fulfill that mission may be changing dramatically. We are called to love God and love people; to share the love of God as demonstrated by His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross with all people. The victory is secure and there is no doubt that King Jesus will reign!