Both Challenge and Rejoicing Came through the Manger

Is this a hate crime?

Is this a hate crime?

I am old enough to remember the early broadcasts by CBS of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS’ which began in 1965.  It has been a beloved part of our culture for the past 50 years.  In the special’s climatic scene Linus relieves Charlie Brown of his anxiety over the over-commercialization of Christmas by reciting a passage from the Gospel of Luke, reminding him of the true meaning of Christmas: Luke 2:10–15   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;  (11)  for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  (12)  “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  (13)  And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,  (14)  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  (15)  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.”

This past week students from W.R. Castle Elementary School in Johnson County, Kentucky were forbidden from using Linus’ speech in their production of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS.  School Principal Jeff Cochran censored Linus’s lines from the production even though there was protest by parents and students in favor of it.  To get around the censure, the characters paused during the scene while the audience went ahead a recited the passage themselves.  Did it do any good or was it just an archaic battle in the perceived “war on Christmas?” Is it really worth the effort in stirring up controversy? Christians vary in their opinion.

Maybe those trying to remove the traditional Christian perspective of Christmas understand the provocative danger of the message of Christ more than some Christians. Herod did and had all the babies killed two years old and under trying to stop what God was bringing in the earth through Jesus (Mt 2:16).

Danger in the Manger

When Jesus was born the shepherds and wise men came to see Him.  The thing that compelled them to come wasn’t just to see a cute baby.  When they came they brought gifts and fell down and worshiped.  This awesome thing had been announced to them by angels.

Peace to those receiving Him

Peace to those receiving Him

The part of the passage, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men” makes most Christmas cards because who would have a problem with that?  The second part “with whom He is pleased” usually doesn’t,  yet it defines something that is part of the issue.  Other translations render it in a similar way:  NEB “on earth His peace for men on whom His favor rest.”  Living “and peace on earth for all those pleasing Him.

The pleasing of God and the favor/peace that rest on people has to do with their posture towards Jesus.

Luke goes on to mention the account of Simeon seeing Jesus and blessing Him and His parents.   He makes statements that reveals the dividing line reguarding the peace He brings in Jesus.

Luke 2:25-35  And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon…. (33)  And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him.  (34)  And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed–  (35)  and a sword will pierce even your own soul–to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

This definitely doesn’t make the Christmas Cards.  Simeon prophesied that there is something about Jesus coming that illicit s opposition and a sword that pierces souls.    I remember hearing a message years ago titled, “Danger in the Manger.”  We don’t often think about the coming of Jesus in that way.  We don’t see the manger as a dangerous place, only a harmless place.

Jesus coming wasn’t just about God sending a cute baby into the world.  God was sending His only solution to the problem of sin and His judgment that is upon all mankind.  His coming into the earth will bring reconciliation, peace, and favor to those who receive His only solution, Jesus.  For those who don’t it will ensure separation and opposition.

Jesus understood His radical nature and spoke about it clearly. Luke 12:51-53, Matthew 10:34-37  “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  (35)  “For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW;  (36)  and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.  (37) “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  

There is an element of division that comes as Jesus is revealed in the earth.  Not everyone wants to receive God’s only solution in the way He desires.  That is why the angels included the phrase, “peace on earth for all who are pleasing Him.”  Pleasing God is in the posture of receiving eagerly His only solution to the problem of sin and judgment that separates people from God.  For others who trust themselves, their own logic, or who don’t want “any god” to get in their way, Jesus is a “sign to be opposed.”  Instead of peace they will receive a sword that separates.  To them He is the stone of stumbling, the rock of offense, but for those who believe in and receive Him there is not disappointment only peace and rejoicing at His wonder birth!


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Two Essentials for Maturity

God's Creation Order of Maturity

God’s Creation Order of Maturity

I have recently been writing on the issue of consumer Christianity and how it undermines God’s calling upon His people.  In the same way companies tend to market products to the younger generations to take advantage of their impulsiveness, consumer Christianity tends to connect with and promote spiritual immaturity.

Consider a conversation between two moms.  “Our little Johnny has been a great baby!  God has really blessed us with such a wonderful boy!  We are a little concerned however about his progress in potty training.  He just can’t seem to get interested in going on the big boy potty.  Buying diapers is getting a little old and it seems that he should have gotten the potty thing down by now.  We don‘t want to push him you know, just let him develop at his own pace, but he is a little behind his peers.  You had any experience with this in your own family?”

This fictitious story probably sounds normal until you find out that Johnny is 14 years old. Something is wrong, both in the natural realm as well as the spiritual realm, when people don’t mature.  It is in the creation order for both animals and people to grow up.  If they don’t something is wrong.

I have seen a variety of examples regarding maturity over the past 38 years of serving Jesus that are troubling.   On one hand I have seen people come around the things of God for years but make little progress in spiritual maturity.  The same childish perspectives and reactions they had many years ago they still have today.

I have seen other examples of people digressing from real maturity to immaturity.   I have seen former church leaders backslide from being responsible spiritual adults, caring for and serving God’s people, regress to Spiritual adolescents consumed with self interest. They live for pleasure and entertainment and avoid taking any responsibility to care for others.  They remain aloof from any sacrifice or serving others.  By their words they say “I’m okay with Jesus” but by their lives they speak “I’m just not interested in being around or serving His people.” They deny the very clear calling of Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15  For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;  (15)  and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

1 John 3:16  We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

While this is disappointing is good to remember that the early church dealt faced similar challenges.  Paul was not very politically correct in the way he wrote about them in his letters (remember they were read publicly).

It's Spiritually Ridiculous To Remain a Baby

It’s Spiritually Ridiculous To Remain a Baby

1 Corinthians 3:1-3 MSG But for right now, friends, I’m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealings with each other and with God. You’re acting like infants in relation to Christ, capable of nothing much more than nursing at the breast. Well, then, I’ll nurse you since you don’t seem capable of anything more. As long as you grab for what makes you feel good or makes you look important, are you really much different than a babe at the breast, content only when everything’s going your way? 

 Hebrews 5:11-14  About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  (12)  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,  (13)  for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  (14)  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Maturity is not automatic it is intentional!  Just because one has years being around the things of God is no guarantee they are maturing.  This is why we have such strong exhortations like Paul’s, “let us press on to maturity” (Heb 6:1).

There are two things that we must consistently engage in to continue to mature and not backslide.

  1. A real walk with Jesus in which we connect with Him face to face.  2 Corinthians 3:16-18 MSG Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face!… Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.  I have found that when I speak with God face to face, not just me speaking at Him but Him asking me questions like “why do you feel this way…act this way, etc., I really am able to grow up through repentance and encouragement.
  2.  Serving His people and others.  This is the test and process for maturity.  Just like young couple matures into parenthood as they begin to lay down their lives for a child, so God’s people have maturity worked into them when they take His responsibility to serve others.                                                                                                                           Philippians 2:3-5 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; (4) do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (5) Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.                                           Galatians 5:13-14 My friends, you were chosen to be free. So don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want. Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love. (14) All that the Law says can be summed up in the command to love others as much as you love yourself.                                                                                           1 John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

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Living Above Consumer Christianity

Iwarfare.1up.qxdThe Apostle Paul had an interesting desire for every Christian (even those he had not met) that he both prayed for, and labored (struggled) to see come to pass.  He wanted everyone joined together in real life among God’s family so they will grow and mature into all He desires.

Colossians 2:1-3  For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face,  (2)  that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together (to join or put together in one) in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,  (3)  in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

In Paul’s heart this wasn’t optional but at the center of God’s design for every Christian. Why was Paul so emphatic about this?  It was the “mystery” Christ revealed to him and he spent his life laboring to see it come to pass for everyone.

Ephesians 2:13-22 …(19)…you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  (20)  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,  (21)  in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  (22)  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

 Ephesians 3:3-14… (6)  This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus …to me grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,  (9)  and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,  (10)  so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known…(11)  This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord… (14)  For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,  from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.

 Consumerism works against it

Western consumerism tends to directly work against this aspect of God’s design.  I Consumer Christianity 1remember a marketing campaign for multiple services that a church put forth in advertising it’s three services, “Because Christians should have choices.”  I have seen other churches over the years launch marketing campaigns for their openings with letters, phone calls, and post cards appealing to this same consumerist nature. These things can be good in getting the word out about a new church.  The problem comes with the subtle but often clear message, we will give you what you may want.  One church offered, “energetic music with fresh hot Starbucks coffee waiting for you at the front door!”

God’s purpose through Christ isn’t about Christians as consumers getting what they want.  It is about God’s design and getting what we need that should reign supreme.  If people live as consumer Christians they will attempt to turn the God of mercy into a god who lives at their mercy.  His only aim will be to satisfy their personal desires.

There are three key values in western consumerism that can bleed over into the culture of God’s people.  Most retail outlets fighting for market shares are aware of these and utilize them to sell more stuff.

  1. Individual freedom of choice reigns supreme. Anything that seems to work against wants and choices is evil.
  2. The customer is boss.  Things are seen as good or bad based on how it satisfies the customer.
  3. We must continue to stir up wants that become needs so consuming will continue. In the business world it is about the continued creation of, and altering of new products then advertising the need for them.

Often the idea of “church shopping” is based on a consumerist mindset.  While there is a need when relocating to a new town to find the place God wants you to be a consumer mindset isn’t always the best motivation.  I remember reading a story about a Bible college instructor informing a Latin American graduate student about the idea of “church shopping.”  The student’s reaction was one of surprise, shock, and disbelief. “What about loyalty and tradition?”  He was identifying other things that should come to bear besides what’s in the best interest of the individual.

Consumerism Meets Family

consumerReal challenges come when the consumerist mindset meets God’s idea of family among His house.  We have seen how our culture deals with it in natural family.  You simply disconnect, shop for a new one, or do without it.  There are countless children, husbands, and wives who have felt the pain of this in their natural families.

That same consumerist mindset leads to family breakdowns in the church.  This is why many stay weak and self oriented (which is the opposite of maturity). When challenge to our convenience and immaturity come in the context of real family life many yield to consumerist mindsets.  Family is both a great blessing as well as a challenge to our immature self interest.

I once heard a leader commenting on Biblical ideas regarding maturing in God’s family from passages like Acts 2:41-47, 4:32-37, and  Psalms 92:12-14  The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.  (13)  Planted (to root or plant) in the house of the LORD, They will flourish in the courts of our God.  (14)  They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green,

“We share our hearts with one another. We share our stuff with one another.  We take responsibility for one another. We stay, embrace the pain of challenge, and grow up with one another.  People who stay grow, people who run with consumerist mindsets repeat the same relational dysfunctions with other people and other churches down the line.”

We must always keep God’s design for His family before us to challenge immaturity and help us grow.

 2 Corinthians 5:14-15  For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;  (15)  and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

1 John 3:16  We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.



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Consumers or Consumed

Mc churchHeb 12:25-29 See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking…. 29  for our God is a consuming fire.

I remember a quote I read from Tommy Tenney in the book “God’s Favorite House”:   To be honest, I hope you live with so much holy frustration that you can’t sleep tonight. I pray that a gnawing hunger for the presence of God rises up in your heart with devastating results. I want you to be ‘ruined’ for everything except His purposes.

When Jesus  walked on this earth was so consumed with the Father that “zeal for His house” caused Him to take action, sometimes edgy action, like driving people out of God’s Temple.   Why couldn’t He just “chill out” and let things take their course.  He couldn’t because He was consumed.

Joh 2:15-17  And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple…17  His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.” (Psa 69:9).

This as one of the aims that God had in mind with Jesus’ sacrifice.  Jesus death was to produce His people (His Church) in the earth who would not be apathetic consumers of Christian products, but marked by zeal for His purposes

Tit 2:14  who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

2 Corinthians 5:15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

Is Jesus aiming to build a church of consumers or a church that is consumed?   When something is consumed by natural fire the matter isn’t destroyed, the atoms are rearranged and used in another form. That is what should happen when we give our lives to God and He is the consuming fire in us.

Living in a culture that works against being consumed

In the 1950s two brothers were running a car-hop restaurant in San Bernardino
CA.  They considered how to cut cost in running that type of restaurant.  They experimented with a simplified menu, streamlined the food preparation process, focused on more inexpensive food, and got rid of the servers on roller skates.  The McDonald brothers became successful.

A salesman Ray Kroc, who sold milk-shake mixers wondered why McDonald’s restaurant had purchased eight mixers as opposed to the normal one or two most customers purchased.   He quickly saw the potential to take what he was seeing nationwide.  He bought the rights to the franchise and we all know the rest of the story.  Many others copied the fast-food model in various forms and the fast-food industry that now feeds about 25 percent of America each day.  The world can eat three meals a day with speed, service, and somewhat appealing taste.  The additional creation of the drive thru-window now makes the quick eating process part of the driving experience.

Both of these things have served to help usher in an age that is characterized by an extremely fast paced life and people have become consumers of  efficiency, production, and convenience.

Consumer  Church

Many people treat God and His church in the same way you treat the fast food industry.  God is like the voice that comes through the speaker at the drive-thru.  Instead of a relational way of life in which we walk with God or sit in His presence we simply “drive-thru” and make our request as conveniently as possible.

Christians are often content to “drive thru” when they have a pressing need (financial, emotional, or physical problems) hoping for a quick fix from the variety on the menu. God is reduced to one who meets needs and offers products. Church leaders become franchise employees who better get the order right or the complaints will flow.  Even the Bible becomes a menu to provide quick answers for problems or desires.  I actually heard one famous church leader echo, “it is not about God, it is about what God can do for you” (Yuk!!!).

In the consumer driven fast food church, leaders find themselves under pressure to meet the “needs” of people who are looking for a drive-thru spiritual experience. People are spiritual consumers looking for the quickest solution at the lowest price (commitment).  If one church doesn’t have it you can always find another drive-thru franchise down the need being met

In the fast food church people want a quick religion to improve their life.  The “whats in it for me” approach causes low cost, prepackaged works with limited time commitment and non intrusive programs to be the norm.

Have you noticed in the fast food industry almost every restaurant now has a budget or dollar menu (which my cheapskate personality really likes).  The consumer church has followed suit by seeking to attract customers by offering a full menu of seeker friendly low cost programs that will cause a line of customers.  Like the fast food industry however, what is convenient isn’t always what is healthy.

In Western societies, churches have shifted their focus from serving “to the Glory of God” to how God serves us and meets our needs. Jesus Christ has been packaged as a choice in the spiritual food court used to meet the private needs of individuals. The result is a debased, compromised, sterilized Christianity, which misrepresents the Gospel.  The church is no longer known for what the early church was, being consumed with following Jesus.

What would a visitor conclude

Think what a visitor from another planet might conclude if he was sent to investigate what Christianity is all about.  Suppose he listened to the “preaching” from the pulpit and the interactions of God’s people with Him in the typical  “prayer request” time.  He might hear messages like “God wants to fulfill your dreams because you are the apple of His eye.” He would probably hear prayer request like, “Pray for my second cousin Bill, he lost his dog and is heart broken.  Pray that he be comforted and find his dog.  Pray for me that I have the will power to lose some of those winter pounds so I can fit into my bathing suit for the cruise God helped me win in the drawing at work.  Pray that God would get the devil off my back, he has really been harassing me.  Pray that my daughter does well with her grades so she can get that scholarship to the school she really wants to attend.   Pray that my uncle Bob will feel better.  Pray that I find my favorite shoes I misplaced so I have something to match my new outfit.”   You get the idea.

What would the visitor from another planet conclude God’s purpose is all about?   Probably that God exist to follow His people around and be at their beckoned call to give them the kind of life they want.  In short, Consumer Christianity.



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