Tag Archives: Christmas

Just Who Did Jesus Tick off, Anyway??

Politics and religion often polarize us. Recently, I’ve heard some people say Jesus was very political and enraged his culture. I disagree. Had He done that, He would’ve kept the unsaved—the ‘unholy’—from the Kingdom of God just as the Pharisees had. A holy war against the unreligious would’ve placed the Kingdom so far out of reach and unattractive (as is often the case today) that it would’ve been unattainable to those who needed to enter. But, in reality, the political background of the Pharisees just didn’t seem to matter to Jesus (nothing in the Bible suggests that it did). The only thing that He ‘raged’ against was the religious nature of some of the Pharisees—a force that kept people from the Kingdom of God. Let’s look at a few examples.

Jesus explained that the Pharisees in their religiosity kept people from His Father’s Kingdom:  But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people … (Matthew 23:13). Considering that Jesus came to introduce the Kingdom to humankind, this makes sense.

Jesus also overturned the money changers’ tables during Passover at the beginning and end of His ministry (John 2:13-22 & Mark 11:15-19). Why? They had commercialized the things of God—not unlike what we often see today in our consumeristic Christianity.

He also verbally attacked Pharisaical attitudes and behaviors in Matthew chapter 23 by pointing out their hypocritical nature (1-4). He calls them “blind guides” (23:16) and a “Brood of vipers” (23:33). Finally, He asks them, “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (23:33). As I mentioned earlier, He challenged the forces that restricted access to His Father’s Kingdom while tending to teach the non-religious sinners patiently. Perhaps the religious Pharisees were unteachable whereas the nonreligious were.

Just to be clear: we must stand firm when confronting the immoralities of the day. But we must do it gently and lovingly as a witness to the unbelieving world. So, what’s my point, then? Don’t use Jesus as a fall guy for violent or subversive rhetoric, speech, or behavior. Instead, have compassion on the lost, don’t wage holy wars against the unholy, and focus on reforming unhealthy religious behavior starting with ourselves. Only then will we be godly models others will trust and listen to and mimic as we shine the light of Christ and shape cultures.

Next week, I’ll share with you the life and times of John Bar Zebedee – John ‘the Revelator,’ who was the only apostle not to be martyred as he honored Christ’s charge to care for Mary, fostered the church in Ephesus, and warned of things to come.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Christmas: The Untold Story

Christmas is full of traditions, including the story depicting Jesus’ birth. Some renderings sport sheep, camels, and donkeys with costume-clad humans for effect. The event makes us feel good, and it can be a great time of fun and family. But is there more to the story – perhaps stuff behind the scenes that would make it more meaningful if known? Let’s see.

First, the Son of God, born a son of man, participated in our universe’s creation (John 1:1-4).

Second, this Son of God had to become human for a reason: restore the relationship between Creator and creation by paying the penalty for the first humans’ rebellion, and crushing evil (e.g., Genesis 3:15).

But paying the price required someone who could live sin-free. God began to send clues about this coming perfect Savior through various prophets like Isaiah:

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. —Isaiah 7:14.

This Prince would be born in about 4 BC and eventually crucified as shown to the prophet Daniel 500 years before Jesus came to earth (Daniel 9:25-26). His birth brings God’s peace to those with whom He is pleased (Luke 2:14) but prompted the wrath of a man, Herod (Matthew 2:1-12). For Jesus’ safety, an angel told Joseph and Mary to escape to Egypt until Herod’s death (Matthew 2:13-15). But how would the journey be possible? After all, travel and daily life required resources, then just as they do now. Allow me to introduce the wise men.

To fully appreciate their contribution, we must go back to Persia 500 years earlier when Daniel had earned great respect and treasure. He was also well-trained in Babylonian arts, including astronomy. He knew when Jesus would be born and would’ve been familiar with Micah’s prophecy about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). 

So, Daniel, the Jew who spent his life in Persia, had treasure, knew how to chart star movements, and knew where Jesus would be born as well as the rough time frame. Therefore, we should not be surprised that Persian magi knew that Jesus would be the King of the Jews and of the alignment of the stars at the time and place of His birth. Daniel’s great wealth was likely the resource that funded Jesus’ trip to Egypt until Herod’s death. Our great God is indeed the master orchestrator who crafts all things according to His good pleasure!

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. —Romans 8:28.

Are you interested in making a fresh start physically, emotionally, or spiritually? Perhaps in keeping personal goals? Join me next week when we’ll explore New Beginnings.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

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!

What do Christmas and the End of the World Have in Common?

It’s hard to imagine a connection between Christmas and the end of our world as we know it, but a relationship exists. Strip away all the festivities, lights, and mountains of credit card slips and the association may become clearer.

 Birth. Death. Resurrection. Forgiveness. Judgment. These are the clues important to understanding how Christmas is linked to the last of our days on earth. Let’s examine each of these keywords as we paint a picture of the “Yuletide Apocalypse”.

The original intent of Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ. Jesus, the enabler of salvation, had to come to earth, take human form, and then physically die as a sacrifice for humanity. (His birth and life were foretold hundreds of years beforehand by prophets such as Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Micah, and Daniel.)  If Jesus hadn’t been born, we’d have no hope of salvation or anticipation of His return to rescue followers of Jesus the Christ (Messiah or Savior) from God’s judgment. We shouldn’t be surprised that early Christians wanted to celebrate the event.

After a brief life of about 30 years, Jesus had to die in order to be resurrected, which in turn provided hope for His return and our salvation. (This too was prophesied between the 8th and 6th centuries BC.) Suffering and death led to a promised resurrection that freed Jesus’ spirit from His earthly body and allowed his return to heaven. There’d be no salvation without His birth, life, death, or resurrection.

Now, because of the Christ’s birth and subsequent sacrifice, we can be forgiven when we behave contrary to God’s ways if we truly turn from rebellion and follow Jesus. We’re also compelled to forgive others who treat us inappropriately (again, based on God’s standards). However, those of us who don’t forgive others won’t receive forgiveness from God. No forgiveness, no salvation.

So, without Jesus’ birth, life, subsequent death, resurrection, and God’s forgiveness, we’d have no choice but to experience end-days judgment and potential punishment. The birth we celebrate at Christmas paved the way for forgiveness for everyone and the freedom to choose spiritual life and a stay from end-times judgment. So, celebrate the birth that gives life this season, and forgive to be forgiven!

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 4 weeks 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 2014) 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. As a result, they weren’t near a manger kept in the lower part of a typical Jewish home where the animals would’ve been housed during the colder months. 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. 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 is: a time of feasting, family, and indebtedness with little actual regard for our Christ. Let’s change that – even if for only 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.