The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Crisp air, crowded malls, and credit cards a-flying can mean only one thing: the holiday season is upon us! In fact, Christmas is a mere 1 week away. My, how time has flown since the last bout of bustling buyers scrambled for trinkets and travel arrangements! Yep – it’s definitely time again to ponder the ‘reason for the season’ and, indeed, the season itself.

Read the Q&A titled, “Holy Days: Christmas” from my book Finding Answers to Stuff Churches Don’t Discuss (available in 2015) and you’ll learn some little-discussed facts about Christmas. For instance, Jesus’ birth took place in a warmer time of year when the animals were grazing. And the actual number of wise men is anybody’s guess. Read the Gospel accounts closely and you’ll also notice that Jesus would’ve been about 2 years old and not a newborn baby when the wise men finally arrived with their gifts. Simultaneous with that ah-ha moment may be the sudden realization that the gifts were necessary to see Joseph, Mary, and Jesus through a 2-year exile in Egypt.

If you’re like me, you’re asking yourself, “How, then, did Christmas come into being and assume current traditions?” Most likely, a well-meaning fourth-century Church established the holiday to acknowledge Jesus’ birthday but coincide with pagan recognition of the winter solstice on December 25th. Why? Perhaps it was to attract those pagans to the Christian faith. Look around and you’ll see we do the same even today through churchgoer actions, speech, and approaches to entertainment and worship as we attempt to attract new consumers by modeling what they like. But, we can go down that rabbit hole another time.

You may be getting the idea that I’m not a proponent of Christmas. The truth is that I think the holiday is fine when recognized for what it actually is: a time of feasting, family and indebtedness with little actual regard for our Christ. Let’s change that – even if only for a fleeting moment – by imagining together what a Christ-centered Christmas could look like.

I see clothes and food for the less-fortunate, without indebtedness, delivered by children and their parents. After all, this is how our Christ said we’ll be judged in the last days. And we’d sing songs about redemption, forgiveness, and expectation of amazing things to come – not about Frosty, Santa, chestnuts, or elves.  We’d share stories about Jesus from the Gospels and imagine what His life was like. There’d be feasting and drinking (in moderation, of course).  Our Christ gave the greatest gift of all to us: the choice of eternal life. We’d celebrate it as the gift that ‘keeps on giving’, adoring the gift-giver all the while.

But, Christmas reality along with its gaiety and materialism are upon us. Are those your real reasons for the season? If so, dare to be different and give the Christ this Christmas!

Donuts and Electric Guitars?

We know from the Old Testament that Israelites praised God with instruments and voices (e.g. 1Chronicles 15:16) as the whole earth will one day (Psalm 66:3-4). And, according to Paul, the first-century Church also sang songs together in praise and worship (e.g. Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).

There are two ways to handle music in church: listen to the music and enjoy it, which may make us feel good but does nothing for anyone else. Or . . . we can actively participate in singing and playing as instructed by the Bible. This outward expression is a great way to adore, honor, and revere our God and Christ! After all, true love (agape in the Greek) is actionable and the kind of love we’re meant to have for God and our fellow humans.

There’s some concern these days around the use of multimedia and the replaying of Christian entertainment during church services as a form of praise and worship. Whether there’s reason for concern depends on the intent of the performers and hearers.

Are the sessions prideful regurgitations of Christian top-40 music meant to evoke the same kinds of emotions you’d find in a bar over weepy love songs or among lighter-waving teens in a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert 35 years ago? Or, is the music truly a vehicle for outward-bound praise of our Lord and savior?  Only the performers and listeners know for sure.

As a praise and worship lead guitarist for roughly 34 years, I can honestly say I’ve seen it go both ways, although the trend seems to be moving away from a participatory worship to more of an appeal to the senses (in my experience and opinion).

Just remember that obedience to God’s commandments is the greatest form of true worship – assigning ‘worth’ or ‘value’ to our God. According to the Bible, this is what God desires over religious activities, and Jesus said this is how we prove we’re His. No amount of donuts in the foyer, weepy worship band music, electric guitar solos, or church programs will save us from God’s wrath to come. However, obedience out of faith will.

Keep an eye out for “Finding Answers to Stuff Churches Don’t Discuss!” scheduled for a mid-2015 publication. There, you’ll find roughly 60 topics related to daily life (such as sex, religion, finances, tattooing, and everything in between!) along with practical application of God’s guidance for navigating those difficult waters!

And, for a very comprehensive and detailed study of the very important topic of God’s judgment to come and being rescued from it, feel free to read my 2011 guide titled, “Finding the End of the World” available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from in paper and e-book formats. In the guide, you’ll find roughly 500 pages of building blocks to help you do your own complete and unbiased study based on Scripture and history!