Originally published December 22, 2015
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”13 And suddenly there was 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 those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The Christmas story just wouldn’t be the same without the shepherds, would it? Just a bunch of blue collar guys out doing their jobs one night, when God stepped in and gave them a story they’d be telling for the rest of their lives. We don’t know their names or how many of them there were, but they’re more than just pieces of our nativity sets. They’re a picture of the gospel.
Called Out of Darkness Into Light
The shepherds had no idea God would reveal His Son to them that night. They were just going about their lives, day in and day out, oblivious, until God intervened and brought them the good news of Christ. In a similar way, the Bible says that we walk through life day after day, dead in our trespasses and sins, until that glorious moment when God draws us to Himself, opens our eyes to the gospel, and makes us alive in Christ.
The Clean for the Unclean
The nature of the job put shepherds frequently in contact with the remains of dead animals and insects, rendering them often, if not nearly perpetually, ceremonially unclean according to Mosaic law. While unclean, they were separated from fellowship with God. They were not allowed to enter the temple to worship until they had offered a lamb to atone for their sin. And God chose these unclean men – guilty under the law – to be the first to meet His perfectly clean and spotless Lamb who would offer Himself to make the final atoning sacrifice for their sin, and ours. Through Christ, we are no longer separated from God by our sin and guilt.
Given, Not Earned
Because the shepherds had no way of knowing Christ would suddenly be revealed to them, there was nothing they could do to prepare for His coming or make themselves worthy of Him. God met them right where they were – dirty, smelly, and lower class – and brought them to Christ. Not because they were good people or had earned this honor with commendable deeds, but for God’s own reasons and His own glory.
There’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation either. None of us are righteous, all of our so called “good deeds” are like filthy rags, and it’s impossible for us to please God in any way before coming to faith in Christ. Jesus meets us right where we are – dirty, smelly, and in the middle of our sin – and saves us. Not because we’re worthy, but for God’s own reasons and His own glory.
Faithful Messengers for God’s Glory
The angel knew God personally and faithfully declared His word to the shepherds for God’s glory. Those of us who know Christ must faithfully proclaim the gospel, from the word of God, to others. Proclaiming the good news of Christ brings glory to God.
Hear, Believe, Respond
When the shepherds heard the message of Christ, they immediately believed it and responded by coming to Him. In the same way, when we hear the good news of the gospel, Christ calls us to repent of our sin, believe unto salvation, and follow Him.
Once the shepherds had met Christ face to face, they couldn’t keep it to themselves. With great joy, they went out and told others about Him. Some must have believed them. Others, perhaps not. But the news they spread made an impact on everyone who heard it. If only we would share the good news of Christ far and wide as the shepherds did! Some will believe. Some won’t. But God’s word always impacts people and accomplishes His purposes.
O Worship the King
How could the shepherds help but worship, praising and glorifying God, for all they had seen and heard and all God had done for them? And how can we, after all we have seen and heard from God’s word, and all He has done for us, help but worship, praise, and glorify our King?
Just a crew of rag tag shepherds tending the sheep that would be sacrificed in the temple. But not for long. A new Shepherd had been born. The Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
This article was originally published at satisfaction through christ.
Originally published December 11, 2015
Christmas songs. Everybody’s got a favorite or two, or ten! I’ve given you my list of the ten worst. Now, in no particular order (mostly), and according to nothing other than my own preferences, here are my nominations for the ten best Christmas songs ever.
(Note: I do not necessarily endorse all of the songwriters or performers listed below, the churches/organizations they represent, any other songs they may have written or performed, or their theology. If you decide to follow any of these people or groups, check out their theology first to make sure it’s biblical.)
1. Hark the Herald Angels Sing– Ok, so this one is in a particular order. It’s my favorite because of the awesome gospel theology wrapped in ribbons of beautiful wording. Just a few of my favorite phrases:
God and sinners reconciled
Veiled in flesh the godhead see, hail th’ incarnate deity
Mild, He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth
2. It’s About the Cross– This is my favorite “non-carol” Christmas song. The beginning of the story is wonderful and great, but it’s the ending that can save you and that’s why we celebrate. The incarnation of Christ has always been about the cross and the resurrection. I highly recommend the artists, Go Fish.
3. Handel’s Messiah– Yes, I know it’s way more than one song, but, having performed it several times, I can honestly say I love the whole thing. Much of it is Scripture (verbatim) set to some of the best music ever written for a choir. Phenomenal.
4. Glorious Impossible– One of the more recent Christmas songs out there, it’s chock full of allusions to Scripture and the gospel. I think the Gaither Vocal Band does a really nice job on it.
5. Angels We Have Heard on High– It adequately handles the Christmas narrative, but I have to admit, I love this song for the chorus. It has a beautiful, intricately-woven, nearly ethereal sounding harmonic structure, and a simple, yet profound message: “Glory to God in the highest.”
6. Jesus, What a Wonderful Child– Sometimes a great song is packed with good theology, and sometimes a great song expresses one simple idea. Jesus, What a Wonderful Child is one of the latter. If you’ve read the title, you’ve got the main idea. Plus, it’s just a lot of fun!
7. Sweet Little Jesus Boy– I love how this song captures the idea that when Jesus came the first time, “we didn’t know who You were.” And nobody does it like Mahalia Jackson.
8. Christmas Offering– This song draws the parallel between the offerings of the wise men and our offering of worship, the gift our King most desires.
9. Christ is Born– I know, I know, it’s twangy and most people don’t like Southern Gospel music. That’s OK, I do. And you’ve gotta love a Christmas song that starts out with the Fall of Man.
10. Rejoice With Exceeding Great Joy– This is another one that made the list because of the music. The lyrics are a simple retelling of the journey of the magi, but the music just takes you right out to the desert and plops you down on a camel’s back.
What’s your pick for best Christmas song of all time?
10 Commandments, 10 Commandments Bible Study, 5th Commandment, Bible Study, Decalogue, Exodus, first table of the law, God's Law, Honor your father and mother, Honor your parents, Ladies Bible Study, Moses, Obedience, Obedience to parents, Obey your parents, On Line Bible Study, Parenting, Ten Commandments, Ten Commandments Bible Study, Two tables of the law, Women's Bible Study
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”
Exodus 21:15, 17
“Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.”
“Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.”
“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
And [Jesus] said to [the scribes and Pharisees], “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come 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 person’s enemies will be those of his own household.37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Questions to Consider:
1. Keeping in mind the context of the Ten Commandments passage (God was setting Israel apart as His own special people and establishing them as a nation.), why would it have been important for Israelites to honor their parents? In a practical sense, how would honoring one’s parents have promoted law and order and contributed to the stability of this tribal and patriarchal society? In a spiritual sense, how would honoring one’s parents have been a reminder and picture of honoring God as Father? How might the honoring of their parents have been a witness to the pagan nations surrounding Israel?
2. What does the second half (“that your days…”) of Exodus 20:12 mean? Which land is this verse referring to? Why would Israel’s “days be long” in this land if they honored their parents (hint: consider your answers from question 1).
3. Examine the Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 21 passages. How do these passages describe the types of disobedience that are punishable by death? (15, 17, 20) How do these passages demonstrate the seriousness with which God views honoring one’s parents? Do you notice that these are some of the “thou shalt nots” of honoring parents compared with Exodus 20:12’s “thou shalt”? How do these passages point to the seriousness of, and eternal consequences for, dishonoring God the Father?
4. Compare the Ephesians and Colossians passages with Exodus 20:12. Is there a difference between “honoring” and “obeying” one’s parents? Do adult children still have to obey their parents? What about considering their wisdom and experience if parents strongly advise for or against something? Compare the reason Exodus 20:12 gives for honoring parents (“that…”) with the reasons Ephesians and Colossians give for obeying parents (“for…”). How do these reasons demonstrate that obedience to God is both for our good and for His glory?
5. The Exodus, Deuteronomy, Ephesians, Colossians, and Mark passages generally assume that both the parents and the child are God’s people/believers (OT- Israel, NT- church/believers). It should be easier for believing children to honor believing parents since the mindset of all should be to honor God, but what about honoring and obeying parents who are not believers? What about parents who are abusive or instruct a child to do something sinful? How could a believing child honoring and obeying unbelieving parents be a witness to them?
6. What lesson is Jesus trying to get across to the Pharisees in the Mark passage? (13) How does He use the fifth Commandment as an illustration of this point? Though it’s not the main point of this passage, what can you infer about Jesus’ thoughts about honoring one’s parents?
7. What do the Luke and Matthew passages say about the believer’s relationship with her parents? The Mark passage makes clear that Jesus wants us to honor our parents, but the Luke and Matthew passages say that believers will “hate” and be “against” their parents. Is this a contradiction, or are these passages addressing two different issues? How can Matthew 10:37 help us understand Luke 14:26? How do the Luke and Matthew passages emphasize the preeminence and priority of Christ in our lives and our affections?
8. Can you think of any Bible characters who were good examples of honoring their parents? How?
Write your parents (or someone who is like a parent to you) a “letter of honor” this week, thanking them for the ways that they have blessed, encouraged, raised, and provided for you.
Or, think of another way to proactively honor your parents in a way that would be especially helpful or meaningful to them.
For me, part of the reason Christmas is the “most wonderful time of the year” is the music. There are the old favorites as well as some great new songs that have come out over the years. Unfortunately, there are some stinkers out there, too. Everybody has her own taste, so the songs that give you the Christmas crazies are probably different from the ones that get on my nerves, but, here, in no particular order, are my ten picks for the worst Christmas songs of all time.
1. The Christmas Shoes– Hi, we’re going to write a song that’s a blatant attempt at emotional manipulation, and then if you say you don’t like it, people will think you’re heartless. Merry Christmas.
2. Last Christmas– Really? We have to listen to co-dependent whining about a break up in a Christmas song? And from Wham?
3. Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer– This has such a catchy tune. It’s too bad the family in this song belongs on Jerry Springer.
4. Same Old Lang Syne– This is my pick for the absolute worst “Christmas” song (it really has nothing to do with Christmas) of all time. The only good thing I can say about this is, at least the people in the song didn’t actually have an affair. It’s bleak, it’s immoral, it’s depressing, and it’s the same four bars of melody over. and. over. and. over.
5. Must Have Been Old Santa Claus– “Happy ho, ho, ho to you.” Four million times. Kill me. Kill me now.
6. Baby, It’s Cold Outside– Because nothing says “Merry Christmas” like attempted date rape by a drink drugging lech.
7. Santa Baby– They could have named this song “Sugar Daddy” or “Implied Sexual Favors in Exchange for Obscenely Expensive Gifts.” Same thing.
8. Mistletoe– I’m just going to make a rule right here, right now: no Christmas songs that force middle-aged people to go to Urban Dictionary to understand the lyrics. My kids had to explain to me what “shawty” means. Apparently, it’s similar to a “bae.”
9. Do They Know It’s Christmas?– Stop having Christmasy fun RIGHT NOW. Just STOP IT. Don’t you know there are people starving in Africa, you soulless oaf? And, seriously, who puts the word “doom” in a Christmas song?
10. Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas Canon– It pains me to list this one because I love TSO, I love children’s choirs, I love Pachelbel’s Canon in D, and I love the idea of trying to Christmas it up. But I would rather eat a ten year old fruitcake than listen to this.
What do you think is the worst Christmas song of all time?
Christmas always comes with some drama. Ripped from the pages of Facebook, here’s the epic saga of my tree decorating of 2013…
Plugged in every strand of lights to make sure they were working before putting them on tree. Plugged in every individual strand of lights to make sure they were working after putting each on tree. Decorated tree. Plugged in tree. Everything fine for about 15 minutes. Entire tree goes out.
Went searching for problem strand. Determined it was one of two strands at bottom of tree. Figured out which one it was. Carefully disentangled said strand from branches and ornaments. Discovered kids had hung ornaments on light strand. Discovered that 10 year old, despite a lifetime of instruction, is still hanging multiple ornaments on a single branch like so many bunches of ripe cherries. Discovered it is much easier to take lights off a tree when there are no ornaments on it. Discovered a 44 year old spinal column ain’t what it used to be.
Plugged new strand of lights into end of previous working strand. No worky. Prayed. Contemplated tree with no lights on bottom branches. Imagined offspring in years of therapy due to improperly lit tree. Prayed again. Considered that this was probably the stupidest prayer God had ever heard. Replugged a different way. Worky. Restrung working strand of lights. Yay. Tree is now completely lit.
Stepped back and discovered side of tree -heretofore unnoticed- looked like a giant had taken a bite out of it (disproportionately short branches). Decided to rotate tree so “bald spot” would be in back. 20 degrees- bald spot still visible. 45 degrees- bald spot still visible. Tree protests being moved by dropping two large jingle bells on my head. 90 degrees- bald spot in back, but now all front ornaments are in back and back ornaments are in front. Also, all breakable ornaments are now dangling precariously over bare tile floor in back instead of over padded tree skirt in front. Some appear ready to commit ornament suicide any moment.
Redecorate approximately 40% of tree. Discover angel topper now at right face instead of facing front. Climb on hearth to rotate angel. Tree drops more jingle bells. Due to rotation, tree is now too close to couch. Perform origami on spinal column again and attempt to slide tree closer to fireplace. Foot of tree stand gets hung up on edge of a tile. Tree sways but stays in tact. Operation “Outsmart Christmas Tree” complete. Merry Christmas to me :0)
Tree shopping and decorating
My husband says the angel looks like it’s
about to launch into orbit!
Oh no, not again!
Christmas craziness is upon us, but the good news is that means a few precious days of rest are right around the corner for most of us. Consequently, my blogging schedule is going to be a little different for the next few weeks, and I have a few other “light housekeeping” items to address as well…
Next week’s (19th-23rd) content will be mostly favorite Christmas-themed articles from years gone by. For those of you who are participating in The Ten, no guarantees, but I’m going to do my absolute best to get a new lesson up on Wednesday (21st). After next week, I’ll be taking at least two weeks (possibly three) off, though a few pre-scheduled articles may pop up here and there during that time.
For the most part, I have not been able to get to e-mails and social media private messages since around Thanksgiving. I sincerely apologize that many of you have been waiting so long for a response. I haven’t forgotten about you and, while there have been two or three messages I’ve deleted because they didn’t fit my comment parameters, if your message was in compliance with those parameters, I still have it and will get to it just as soon as I can.
We have a lot of folks down here in south Louisiana who are still suffering from the devastating 1000 year flood we had back in August. Many will not be back in their own homes for Christmas. A few flood victims are still living in tents on their property with no electricity, running water, or sewage because they don’t have the money to repair their homes. Many churches are also in the process of rebuilding. I know it’s last minute, but if you or your church would like to send a Christmas offering to help, or would like to put a team of folks together to come down and work, please let me know. I personally know some trustworthy, godly people who are coordinating relief efforts that I could put you in touch with.
Finally, if this blog has been a blessing to you and you’d like to bless my family back, click on the “Financial Support” tab at the top of this page. As always, please make sure you’re meeting your own family’s needs, and giving to your own church, first.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
It happened in 2011, and it’s happening again this year in good old 2016. Christmas Day falls on a Sunday- and the spiritual lumps of coal are being lobbed all over the internet: If you’re a Christian who’s even thinking about taking the day off from church attendance or your church has decided to cancel services that day…well, you’ve firmly ensconced yourself on God’s “naughty” list.
So I’m innocently cruising around on social media, podcasts, and the blogosphere recently when what to my wondering eyes should appear, aspersions galore from those I hold dear. Seriously, scads of doctrinally sound Christians I love and respect have said things like, “Church attendance on Christmas will separate the wheat from the chaff,” and, “If your church is canceling services (or even modifying the regular Sunday schedule) on Christmas, it’s time to find a new church.”
Did I read that right? Are theologically-grounded Christians really questioning people’s salvation and the spiritual health of churches based solely on a once-every-five-to-eleven-years Christmas Day worship service?
I honestly don’t think I’m biblically out of bounds when I say that’s absurd and judgmental and it needs to stop. Like, yesterday.
Yes, probably a lot of the churches who are canceling services on Christmas are theologically wonky, but that’s because, statistically speaking, the majority of churches out there, period, are theologically wonky. Too many people are post hoc ergo propter hoc–ing this situation. Just because there are bad churches that are canceling services doesn’t mean every church that cancels services is a bad church. What about the rural church of 20 members (that hasn’t had a visitor since the last century) who have all informed the pastor they’ll be out of town for Christmas? Is he supposed to show up and preach to an empty room? What about churches who have moved their services to Christmas Eve so members can spend time with family on Christmas without missing weekly worship? Is there a passage of Scripture I’m not familiar with that prohibits a church from doing this every once in a blue moon?
Yes, there are doctrinally unsound churches out there, but they’re doctrinally unsound because they consistently teach unsound doctrine as measured by applicable Scripture, not because they cancel a worship service or shift their normal schedule around for Christmas- an issue nowhere mentioned in Scripture.
As for judging people’s salvation (or love for Christ, love for the church, commitment, spiritual maturity, etc.) based on whether or not they attend church on Christmas- if you’re going to question a Christian’s salvation for skipping church that day, are you ready to pronounce a pagan saved if he shows up for services on Christmas Sunday?
Of course not. Because that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
The people who are using Christmas Day church attendance as a spiritual barometer would be the first to tell you – and rightly so – that going to church won’t save you. Neither will missing one service (or a dozen) “unsave” you. Salvation is determined only by whether or not you’ve repented of your sin and placed your faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ to redeem you. And sanctification (spiritual growth) is a lifelong process – a trajectory – of becoming more and more Christlike through the years. Church attendance on Christmas isn’t a make or break for your salvation or sanctification.
Earlier this week in The Ten, we studied the fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” We discovered that, while God’s intention for the Israelites was simply to abstain from working at their jobs, housework, and commerce in order to rest and worship Him, the Pharisees later came along and added all kinds of micro-managing rules defining “work.” So by the time Jesus came on the scene, things like picking (“harvesting,” according to the Pharisees) and eating grain as you walked along, and performing miracles of healing were considered “work”- thus breaking the Sabbath. But these were man-made laws, not God’s law. It was oppressive and robbed people of the joy of worship God intended His people to bask in each week. “The Sabbath was made for man,” Jesus said, “Not man for the Sabbath.”
I can’t help but wonder if these “Real Christians will be at church on Christmas Day,” pronouncements aren’t similar. God has made no law for Christians that we must be at church on Christmas Day – or any other particular day – or we’re sinning. And, as for the churches who once every several years cancel services or shift their Sunday service to Christmas Eve, God has made no law that churches must meet on Sunday every single week or they’re in sin. What God has said for New Testament Christians is:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
“Not neglecting to meet together.” Reminiscent of the paucity of Old Testament explanations of what constituted Sabbath work, God doesn’t give a definition of this phrase or quantify it with a specific number of allowable and acceptable missed Sundays per year. It is left to the conscience of each individual Christian and the agreement of each local body of believers (but I can scarcely believe that a person who is at church every week unless Providentially hindered and opts to skip the Christmas service is “neglecting” to meet with the body by any stretch of the word). But when we by-pass issues of individual conscience and church agreement, make a law where no law exists in Scripture, and judge people’s relationships with God based on our own man-made law, are we not doing exactly what the Pharisees did?
What’s of far more concern than where your body is on Sunday, December 25, is where your heart is the other 364 days of the year. Do you love the body of Christ? Are you committed to serving the Lord and your brothers and sisters all year long at the church you’re a member of? Do you faithfully attend worship each week? Then deciding to spend Christmas Sunday at home with your family (especially if you’ve already attended the Christmas Eve service the night before) is not an indication that you’re backsliding or somehow “less” of a Christian than those decrying your absence.
But what if you answered “no” to those questions? What if you skip church as many or more Sundays as you attend because you just don’t feel like going, or you signed your kid up for a soccer team that plays on Sundays, or there’s a ball game on TV, or you’d rather go shopping, or you go out of town on pleasure trips a lot of weekends? What if your general attitude toward church is, “Meh, I’ll go when I feel like it and have nothing better to do.”?
That is much more problematic than skipping church the years Christmas falls on a Sunday. That’s an indicator that you need to examine your heart to discover whether or not you’re in the faith. To love Christ is to love His bride, the church. People who are genuinely regenerated love the church. As a general rule, they want to be at church worshiping, serving, learning, growing, and fellowshipping with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Why, between 2011 and 2016 haven’t I seen and heard these same folks who are judging Christians about Christmas church attendance speaking out equally as boldly, and in the same numbers, about people being sporadic in their attendance and uncommitted to the body the remaining Sundays of those years? As Christians, we celebrate Christ’s incarnation every Sunday, not just when Christmas falls on a Sunday. Are those other Sundays somehow less important?
One day, out of the thousands that comprise your life span, is inconsequential. The Bible does not say that simply staying home from church on Sunday, December 25, is a sin. What’s important is pursuing Christ, hungering for holiness, and loving and serving the church every day, not just when Christmas Sunday rolls around.
It’s that time of year again. Time for love and good cheer. Peace on earth. Joy to the world.
Over the last several years, there’s been a sometimes quiet and respectful, sometimes loud and obnoxious battle raging between conservative Christians and merchants over whether said merchants use the term “Merry Christmas” or the more general “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” in their advertising and in greeting customers at their stores.
I don’t know about you, but it’s driving me bananas.
Would I prefer for everybody to say “Merry Christmas”? Sure. But on my list of things to have an aneurysm about, it falls somewhere between my dentist telling me I should floss more and deciding where to get the dog a pedicure. I just really don’t care that much. And I’m wondering, in the grand scheme of things that should be pressing upon Christians’ hearts, should something this minor even register on the scale of issues that upset us?
What Do We Expect?
Speaking strictly numerically and statistically, genuine Christians– not just people who say they’re Christians and/or go to church, but people who have actually been regenerated by the blood of Christ –are a very small minority. Despite what you may hear to the contrary, the United States is not a Christian nation. It may have been founded on Biblically inspiried principles, but in practical societal terms today, this is a nation mostly made up of lost people.
This means that it’s a safe bet that the majority of the people at the helms of these corporations are lost. And guess what? Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and lost people gotta act like lost people (Romans 8:7). What this means is that their decision whether to use “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” has nothing to do with Jesus or respecting the “true meaning of Christmas”. Their decision is going to be based on what’s going to make the corporation the most money. If saying “Merry Christmas” will get more customers in the door, that’s what they’ll do. It doesn’t mean they’re honoring Christ, it mean’s they’re pandering to Christians.
When we exert pressure on these corporations to say “Merry Christmas”, what real change are we effecting? Are we not just creating more people who honor God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him (Isaiah 29:13)? Are we not sending them the subtle message that external behavior, rather than a reborn spirit, is what counts? One day, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). One day. But that day is not today. We can’t force change in people’s hearts by coercing them into saying “Merry Christmas”. And, to God, a change of heart is the only thing that matters.
Where Should Our Passions Lie?
I used to belong to a Christian “social issues” organization. In many ways, it’s a great organization. I got frequent e-mails from them regarding which social issues various corporations were investing their profits in, where politicians stood on the issues, and lots of other helpful information and resources.
But every autumn they would begin their annual “Merry Christmas” campaign. They have buttons you can order that urge people to say “Merry Christmas”. They have leaflets and stickers and videos you can order for your church to promote saying “Merry Christmas”. They publish a “Naughty and Nice” list of merchants who use “Merry Christmas” (nice) or some other wording (naughty), so you’ll know which stores to shop and which to boycott.
And it made me stop and think– how many man hours go into that campaign every year? How much money does the organization invest in it? How much money do churches and individuals spend on their materials? Is investing that much time and money in promoting “Merry Christmas” good stewardship?
We have brothers and sisters all over this planet who would give anything to own a copy of the Bible. There are crisis pregnancy centers that operate on a shoestring trying to help women and their babies. There are missionaries who live in poverty in third world nations taking the Gospel to those who have never heard it. There are people starving. There are children who have been kidnapped by human traffickers.
And “Merry Christmas” is what we want to get all worked up about?
What’s more upsetting to us, the fact that someone says “Happy Holidays” or the fact that the person who said it might die and spend an eternity in hell? Where do our passions truly lie? Are we passionate about the same things God is passionate about?
This Christmas, can we just focus on what’s important? We have a God who loves every person so deeply and so violently, and whose mercy and grace are so unfathomable, that He came here personally to redeem us.
And there are people all around us who don’t know that.
And they desperately need us to love them enough to tell them that in Jesus there’s hope. A way out of their sin. A way to get clean. A secure eternity. Peace.
God and sinners, reconciled. Oh, what a Merry Christmas!
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“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
“You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.14 You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”
At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
(And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27- This verse is included in Mark’s account of the grain story.)
9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself.12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.”13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Questions to Consider:
1. Examine the two Exodus passages. What was the purpose of the Sabbath for humans? (15) What did God mean by “labor” and “work”? (9-10, 14-15) What was the penalty for breaking the Sabbath? (14-15) What two things was the Sabbath to remind Israel of? (11,17; 13) How would remembering these two things lead the people to worship and honor God? Which word do verses 8, 11, and 14 use to characterize the Sabbath day itself? How would having a holy day of rest and worship, a reminder of God as Creator and that Israel was specially set apart by God, be a witness to the one true God to the pagan nations surrounding Israel?
2. Study the Matthew and Luke passages. Jesus was frequently called on the carpet by the Pharisees for “working” on the Sabbath. Most of the Old Testament verses regarding the Sabbath don’t specify what constitutes “work,” but a few do. The Pharisees had made many additional and burdensome rules about what constituted “work”- you could only walk a certain number of steps, you couldn’t drag a chair across a dirt floor (it would create a furrow, and that was plowing), etc. Considering the verses linked above and the Exodus passages, was Jesus really “working” on the Sabbath in the Matthew and Luke passages? Whose rules was Jesus breaking- man’s or God’s? What did Jesus say it was lawful to do on the Sabbath? (Matt. 12:12)
3. Review the purposes of the Sabbath in question 1. What did Jesus mean when He said the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath? (Mark 2:27) How might this idea relate to overextending yourself with church activities? How busy are your Sundays?
4. In the Matthew and Luke passages, Jesus gives two examples of how the Pharisees care for their animals on the Sabbath. What are those examples? What message was He trying to get across to them? Would you say the Pharisees cared more for rule-keeping or people? How might Jesus’ “breaking” of the Sabbath in such a public way have been a threat to the Pharisees power and position?
5. What does the Colossians passage tell us about the Old Testament feasts and the Sabbath? (17) If Christ is the fulfillment of these foreshadowings, must Christians still observe the Jewish Sabbath?
6. Which day of the week was the Old Testament Sabbath? (Ex. 31:15) Why? (Ex. 20:11) Which day of the week do Christians worship on? Why? Compare and contrast the Sabbath pointing to God as Creator and Christians’ Sunday worship pointing to Christ as Savior.
7. What components should characterize Christian worship, according to the Acts and Hebrews passages? What can we glean from God’s Old Testament instructions about the Sabbath about things like rest, worship, and holiness that still apply to our Christian worship today?
What does “not neglecting to meet together” mean? Why does God say it is important that we regularly meet together? What is the heart attitude of a “non-neglector”?
a) I love my church family, worship, serving, and being taught God’s word. Why would I want to miss all that?
b) I like church. I’ll go if nothing more important pops up. I’m there about half the time.
c) Church is OK. I go when I wake up on time and feel like it. That’s about once a month or so.
d) You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian, so I don’t really need it. Maybe on Christmas and Easter, but that’s about it.
Which of these most closely matches your heart attitude about attending church? Is your attitude about faithful church attendance pleasing to God?
If you were to keep a calendar of your church attendance, what would it look like? Are you at church each week unless Providentially hindered (emergencies, illness, etc.)?
- If you know your attendance could be better in God’s eyes, repent and commit to being at church every week. What are some practical, proactive steps you could take (setting an earlier alarm, laying your clothes out Saturday night, etc.) to set yourself up for success?
- If you are already faithful in your church attendance, are there any areas of service at your church that you could fill?
- Are you faithful in your church attendance, and overextending yourself in serving? Consider the importance God placed on the Sabbath being a day of rest. Do you need to cut back on the number of church activities you’re committed to?