Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Christmas Wish

Christmas is one of the most amazing seasons of the year.  For the businessman, the success or failure of the year rides mightily upon the shoulders of customers during these weeks preceding Christmas.  For children, the anxieties of the almost "eternal wait" for Christmas often become apparent in abnormal behavior; after all, a person can only be "good" for so long.  For moms and dads, it is the anticipation of having all the kids coming home; it will be a celebration of family as remembered in the past. 

Christmas is also the time when busyness seems to dominate our calendars.  There are the Sunday school programs at the local church.  Then throw in a couple of nights of concerts at school.  Perhaps there is a party or two at work.  There are cards to address, letters to write, gifts to purchase and then wrap, cookies to bake, a tree to decorate.  Whew! I got tired just writing down that list!  Now, all of the above are good and I would certainly not want to eliminate any one Christmas tradition. 

But what I do find missing today is an overwhelming sense of the mystery that is Christmas.  It is that mystery that we know as the Incarnation.  Allow me to share some brief thoughts from the first chapter of John's Gospel.  John begins with words that are so easy to read, yet are so difficult to fully comprehend.  John writes, "In the beginning was the Word..."  Okay, let's stop right there.  I may have a difficult time understanding about when the beginning actually began, but I certainly do understand the concept of there being a person there at the beginning.  And that person was the Word.  Okay, I get that.  The Word was at the beginning. 

But, let's continue: "...and the Word was with God."   Okay, let's stop again.  I get this as well.  So, at the very beginning there was the Word and there was God.  So, not just one person present at the beginning, but actually there were two.  Okay, nothing too out-of-the-ordinary so far. 

But, here is where the mystery of Christmas begins to take shape.  John writes, "...and the Word was God."  Hold it right there!  Let's back up and read that again.  Let me see if I get this right: In the beginning there was the Word and there was God - two persons, but the Word actually was God.  So, there was two but only one!  Yes, that is exactly what John was saying.  Sort of tough for a finite mind like mine to get my arms around. 

But, John is not finished quite yet.  Let's jump down to verse 14.  "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we perceived His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth."  John says that the Word, which he has already identified as being not only with God, but in actuality was God, became flesh.  In other words, God took upon Himself flesh, that is, a human body, and entered into the human race here on earth.  God became one of us!  If that doesn't constitute a mystery, then I am not sure exactly what does. 

That baby, born to Mary and laid in a manger in a cave in Bethlehem, was the infinite, holy, eternal, omnipotent Creator of the universe.  That baby was God!  Friends, just sit down right now for a few moments and ponder the reality of that truth.  That scene at the manger was the intersection of the divine and the human, of the heavenly with the earthly.  It was God Himself stepping onto the stage of this world with the purpose of reclaiming that which was His own. 

A few years ago, Mark Lowry wrote a song which, I think, truly captures the mystery of the Incarnation in a profound way.  It has become one of my favorite Christmas songs and I share those words with you as my Christmas gift and challenge.

"Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.

"Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?
Mary, did you know...

"The blind will see.  The deaf will hear.  The dead will live again.
The lame will leap.  The dumb will speak the praises of The Lamb.

"Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will one day rule the nation?
Did you know that your Baby Boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
The sleeping Child you're holding is the Great, I AM."

I want to wish you all the joys of this Christmas Season as you celebrate the mystery of "the Word becoming flesh." 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Star Wars Christmas? Really Now!

This coming Friday one of the most anticipated movies of all time will be released.  Lines have already been formed to get tickets. Nearly every commercial market has capitalized on this movie's characters in order to increase holiday sales.  Of course I am speaking of the new Star Wars movie titled, "The Force Awakens."  Many believe this movie will shatter all box office records and become an instant classic.  To be perfectly honest, I am not a Star Wars fan, so definitely will not be standing in any line on Friday.

But what grabbed my attention was an article published at the World Net Daily website.  I was intrigued by the title: "'Star Wars' nativity scenes? In churches?"  You can read the article, which was written by Joseph Farah, at  Mary has been replaced by Princess Leia; Joseph by Hans Solo; the Magi are now Storm Troopers.  I guess R2D2 and C3PO have replaced the ox and the donkey.

At Liquid Church, in Morristown, NJ, it's being hailed as the "Cosmic Christmas" - a three-week series centering around Star Wars theme.  It comes complete with a Living Nativity featuring the Star Wars characters.  Tim Lucas, the lead pastor and founder of Liquid Church says, "There are no rules that says church needs to be dry and boring.  One of our core values at Liquid is that 'church is fun.'  It's OK to laugh and celebrate together while talking about Christmas.  If that means having 'Star Wars' characters in costume and dancing storm troopers, I'm all for it."

There you have it: Come to the manger and have your picture taken with Hans Solo or one of the Storm Troopers.  Star Wars will attract people to your church this Christmas.  Perhaps they will discover that the Force is truly with them. 

What is being communicated with these Star Wars nativities?  I believe it is that the real Christmas Story has become so old and boring that no one is attracted by it anymore.  What is there to get excited about?  People today want excitement.  People today want creativity.  People today want something that is different.  So, let's cast the Nativity Story in a different way.  People will then want to come and then we can share the message with them.

But what message is being shared?  Where is Jesus within this newly told story?  How does He fit in?  And, if Jesus is not present, then what story do we really have to tell?

Here is the danger, as I see it.  First, the world is trying very hard to eliminate the Nativity Story from the Christmas Season.  The public display of the Nativity is almost never seen any longer.  In many cases, even the name "Christmas" cannot be used in public spaces.  Second, the Church is trying to rewrite the Nativity Story in order to attract crowds.  But in doing so, the true message that the first Nativity Scene related is watered-down and becomes ineffective in seeing lives changed.

This Saturday and Sunday evening, our Church - Buffalo Covenant Church - will celebrating the Christmas Story with its annual Living Nativity.  No there won't be any light-sabers or Jedi.  But there will be some simple shepherds, along with their flocks.  There will be some wise men and even a camel or two.  And, center stage will be Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus.  That is as it should be.  Last year over a thousand people came and went through our recreation of Bethlehem.  You see, Christmas is not about "the Force being with us."  No, it is about God becoming man - the Incarnation. 

If you are in the vicinity of Buffalo, MN, I would invite you to stop by our Living Nativity.  The hours are 5:00-7:00 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday evenings.  After your trip through Bethlehem and you are filled with the awe and wonder that truly is Christmas, you are invited to share in some cookies and hot chocolate. 

For some people, excitement will come with "the Force being with them."  I don't know about you, but I am thrilled and blessed to know that "God is with us - Emmanuel!"

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why Does the Nativity Cause Some People to Show Fear?

Well it is the Christmas Season so you would expect the Freedom From Religion Foundation to get its shackles riled up about something.  And they certainly do not disappoint us with their strange reasoning.  The following article was written by Todd Starnes who writes for Fox News.  You can find the article at:  "A federal judge has banished Baby Jesus and the Three Wise Men from an Indiana high school's Christmas musical.  U.S. District Court Judge Jon DeGuillo, appointed to the bench by President Obama, issued an injunction against Concord Community Schools on Dec. 2.  The court order forbids students from presenting a live Nativity scene during the Concord High School's Christmas Spectacular.  The judge said that portion of the show is overtly religious in nature. 

"The kids in Elkhart have been staging a Christmas Spectacular since 1970.  The show is modeled after the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.  'The living nativity scene impermissibly conveys an endorsement of religion and thus runs afoul of the Establishment Clause,' the judge wrote in his ruling.  There's a reason the Living Nativity is 'overtly religious' your Honor.  It's because Christmas is about the birth of Jesus.  The Freedom from Religion Foundation and the ACLU of Indiana had filed a lawsuit on behalf of a family whose child is in the production. ... 'Holiday celebrations that proselytize students are inappropriate in public schools,' ACLU attorney Heather Weaver said in a prepared statement.  The father and his child were offended by the inclusion of the nativity as well as Bible readings.  Weaver said the ruling 'makes clear and ensures that all students and families, regardless of faith or belief, will feel welcome at Concord High's winter concert.'  The school had already tried to accommodate the disgruntled father and child by removing the Bible readings - but apparently that wasn't good enough.  They alleged in court papers that the inclusion of the nativity sent a message 'that Christians are favored by the school while non-Christians such as themselves are outsiders.'  Judge DeGuillo determined the live nativity 'conveys solemnity and reverence, as if the audience is being asked to venerate the nativity, not simply acknowledge or appreciate its place in the winter holiday season.' ... Supt. John Trout issued a statement saying they are 'disappointed' but will comply with the judge's anti-Christian order."

So, there you have it - The Christmas Story - the real Christmas Story - is outlawed once again.  What are the people represented by the Freedom From Religion Foundation so afraid of?  What is there about the Nativity scene that causes them to break out in a "cold sweat?"  What is it about the story of a little baby born in a manger in Bethlehem so many years ago that causes them to have anxiety and panic attacks?  I think I know.  They are afraid of the Truth that is lying there in that manger of hay.  They are afraid of what that Child represents.  For, you see, Jesus was born in order to redeem a sinful mankind.  And it is that little three-letter word "s-i-n" that they do not like, for they are of the persuasion that all men are created inherently good.  But God declares that we are all born inherently evil and lost unless someone redeems us.  And that is exactly what the message of Christmas is all about: The coming of the Redeemer, the One who was born so that He could die as the ransom for many. 

You see, when you gaze into that nativity scene and you see that little baby lying there, you actually realize how sinful you truly are and how desperately you need a savior.  So, remove the Nativity scene and those guilt feelings just might go away and I can go about thinking that I am okay. 

Do we need a Nativity scene to remind us? Of course not!  But its very presence just might awaken one soul to his/her own need.  What the folks at Freedom From Religion Foundation have failed to realize: If there had not been that first Nativity scene in Bethlehem, then no one would be getting excited about Christmas.  Take Christ out of Christmas and what do have you left?  Absolutely nothing!  No Santa Claus!  No gifts exchanged!  No Christmas tree or Christmas cards!  No business madness! 

Before I close I want to share with you one more article of a group of people who are trying to correct some insane thinking.  You can find it at:  It was written by Bo Unruh.  Perhaps the people living in California are beginning to wake up to the idiotic behavior that has been espoused by judicial decrees regarding transgender and public restrooms.  An initiative has been started under the name "Personal Privacy Protection Act" that would provide that a men's room is just for men; that a women's room is just for women.  Part of this provision states, "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a person shall use facilities in accordance with their biological sex in all government buildings."  Furthermore, the provision defines "biological sex" as "the biological condition of being male or female as determined at or near the time of birth or through medical examination."  I strongly encourage you to read this article. 

The world continues its crazy pace toward the coming of the King.  Wouldn't it be great if Jesus would come this Christmas?  What a Christmas that would be!  Sorry the folks at Freedom From Religion Foundation would miss out!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Support for Freedom of Speech Coming Forth

One of the foundational principles upon which our nation was created is well expressed in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  That amendment says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."  The rights expressed with this amendment articulate those beliefs that have really made our nation different from all other nations.  Included in that First Amendment is the "freedom speech."  This necessarily means the opportunity for the free exchange of ideas. 

Dialogues and debates have been part of the American landscape almost since the very beginning.  Debates were a crucial occurrence during those days in Philadelphia when, first the decision was made to declare an independence from Great Britain, and then the Constitution was drafted that would guide that newly independent nation.  From reports I have read, the debate and exchange of ideas was often a heated one.  But it was through those debates that the strength of the Constitution was created. 

And throughout the history of our nation, one of the bastions for the exchange of ideas - an arena for debate - have been the campuses of our colleges and universities.  How can there be any type of intellectual growth in the absence of dialogue?  How can beliefs be tested without entering into the crucible of debate?  Yet today there are voices on many college and university campuses that would not just stifle debate and dialogue but would eliminate both all together.  There would be only one voice that would be heard.  There would be only one idea that would be accepted. 

I want to share with you two articles that came to my attention this past week.  The first is a news-blog from the President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University.  You can find this blog at:  The blog was written by Dr. Everett Piper.  "This past week, I actually had a student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt 'victimized' by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13.  It appears that this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love.  In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable. 

"I'm not making this up.  Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic.  Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims.  Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them 'feel bad' about themselves, is a 'hater,' a 'bigot,' an 'oppressor,' and a 'victimizer.'

"I have a message for this young man and all other who care to listen.  That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience.  An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad.  It is supposed to make you feel guilty.  The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins - not coddle you in your selfishness.  The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization.  So here's my advice:

"If you want the chaplain to tell you you're a victim rather than tell you that you need virtue, this may not be the university you're looking for.  If you want to complain about a sermon that makes you feel less than loving for not showing love, this might be the wrong place.  If you're more interested in playing the 'hater' card than you are in confessing your own hate; if you want to arrogantly lecture, rather than humbly learn; if you don't want to feel guilt in your soul when you are guilty of sin; if you want to be enabled rather than confronted, there are many universities across the land (in Missouri and elsewhere) that will give you exactly what you want, but Oklahoma Wesleyan isn't one of them.

"At OKWU, we teach you to be selfless rather than self-centered.  We are more interested in you practicing personal forgiveness than political revenge.  We want you to model interpersonal reconciliation rather than foment personal conflict.  We believe the content of your character is more important than the color of your skin.  We don't believe that you have been victimized every time you feel guilty and we don't issue 'trigger warnings' before altar calls.

"Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a 'safe place,' but rather, a place to learn: to learn that life isn't about you, but about others; that the bad feeling you have while listening to a sermon is called guilt; that the way to address it is to repent of everything that's wrong with you rather than blame others for everything that's wrong with them.  This is a place where you will quickly learn that you need to grow up.  This is not a day care.  This is a university!"

Wow!  May those like Dr. Piper increase in number! 

A second, longer, article was posted on the website of The Patriot Post.  It was written by Arnold Ahlert.  You can find this article at:  The article is too long to quote in its entirety here, but I want to just share a couple of opening paragraphs.  "If one likes ideologically inspired faux indignation, Washington Post writer Karen Attiah is hard to top.  'A fascinating, uncomfortable and purifying wave is sweeping through America's college campuses,' she writes, characterizing the protests at various universities as 'agitating for racial justice.'  And what does such purification entail?  At Princeton, students are demanding the removal of President Woodrow Wilson's name from campus due to his racist legacy.  All well and good, but genuine purification demands the casting of a far wider net.  If these students are to be true to their grievance-mongering school, the Democrat Party itself must be eliminated from the national ethos.

"No doubt our Millennial Marauders, who voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in the last two elections, would find such a prospect inconceivable.  Yet as University of Richmond associate history professor Eric S. Yellin reminds us, the lessons we learn from these outbursts 'must not be about the actions of singular bad men only.'  Instead, he continues, 'They must force us to consider the broad and often quotidian effects of the inequality that pervades many of our national institutions."

The article then carefully documents how the Democratic party has historically been the party of racists.  The article is well foot-noted. 

Friends, as I shared last week, Jesus was not adverse to debate or to the exchange of ideas.  Did He persuade everyone who heard Him to become His follower?  Absolutely not!  But some did and their lives were changed forever.  As one studies the history of the Early Church, many of those names that we most cherish - Clement, Ignatius, Athanasius, and Augustine, just to name a few - were skilled in the arena of dialogue.  They understood the value and power of the spoken word to speak to hearts. 

If the trend that is now gaining strength on our college and university campuses continues, then I can only conclude that we are close to the coming of the Antichrist, who, the Bible tells us, will be the master of "thought control."  Yes, he will tell everyone exactly how they are to think.  There will be no free exchange of ideas, no debate, no dialogue. 

Are you ready for the trumpet to sound?