Ring Those Bells

When I was growing up you would hear Church bells on Sundays – from both protestant and Roman Catholic (English and French Catholic) churches. They would ring off and on from early Sunday morning well into the evening. I am sure for those who were not believers and wished to sleep in on Sundays they were not a pleasant experience. But for church goers it was a soothing and reassuring sound.

At Christmas time the sound of the bells – much louder and crisper due to the snow and the cold – would remind us of the birth of the Saviour and, as everyone walked in the freshly fallen snow to the local churches for Christmas Eve midnight services, it was a time to greet your neighbors and friends and celebrate and rejoice at the birth of the Savior. Stores were closed early, families gathered for the celebrations, all preparations for the big meal were accomplished ahead of time, tree was up, gifts were wrapped … the night and the next morning were set aside for families to gather to worship and thank God the Father for the gift of His Son, the Savior. The reading of John’s Gospel, chapter one, was always a highlight as were the carols that were sung with great gusto by everyone. Even the local cities and towns had Christmas trees in the town square and often pumped Christmas music into the downtown shopping district.

Today, in most cities, the bells are silent. Noise by-laws prevent them from being rung. In many churches the midnight Christmas Eve service has been eliminated or replaced with something much earlier in the day – again without the bells ringing. There are more people in the stores doing last minute shopping than there are in the churches. Family gatherings still happen but they are most often centered around the gifts and the over-eating with little if any thought or reference to the Savior. There are exceptions, of course. Christmas concerts are now Winter Festivals, the mention of Jesus in public celebrations is very rare and no longer socially acceptable, and Christmas carols have been replaced with festive seasonal songs from many nations and cultural backgrounds – all without the mention of Jesus.

The country has changed. Family traditions have changed. Churches have changed. The laws have changed as has the culture in which we, as believers, now celebrate the birth of the Savior. However, most believers have also been swayed by the changes in our society and are now celebrating the season in a manner much too much like their non-Christian friends and neighbors. The “Christian” elements are being eliminated or played down, the corporate worship at such a special time is being neglected or eliminated unless you are in a main-stream denominational church (and even then it is fading), and the family events, gifts, and food are becoming the center of the celebrations and the focus of the extra few days off. I, for one, think it is sad. Maybe it is just my age showing through.

This, of course, means that it is now, more than ever, up to the believer to ring the bells – to let others know about Jesus. As the “reason for the season” disappears ever so steadily from the mainstream of our culture it is being left to the individual believers to declare Jesus at this special time that once celebrated His birth so openly. Like the believers in the days of the Roman Empire we need to continue to worship Him while others worship their gods – especially the god of mammon. We need to be sure and steadfast in what we believe and how we should, as believers, express our beliefs. Otherwise, we will slowly but certainly slide into the cultural ways and disappear as a voice for the Savior today.

The Christmas Merry-Go-Round

Christmas morning is 10 days away and the shopping malls are full of people who are “Christmas shopping.” Is it really “Christmas shopping?” Or is the Christmas season simply an excuse to go shopping and purchase things for themselves and others? Are all these shoppers (the news say the malls are fairly active – I personally avoid all shopping at this time of year so cannot verify their reports) really believers in the Lord Jesus Christ? Or, are they simply hypocrites who are taking advantage of the birth of Christ and using it as an excuse to worhip mammon – another god – and calling it “Christ-mas” shopping?

The original Christmas celebrations by the first believers were placed on December 25th because they could then celebrate the birth of Jesus more safely as the Roman Empire was somewhat preoccupied with the celebration of their sun god at the same time. Bible experts tell us that Jesus was more likely born in February than December. But, we wanted to “fit in” and celebrate safely so we moved it to the 25th of December. However, the Christians celebrated in a totally different manner than those who were worshippers of other gods.

Today one wonders! It seems that Christians and non-Christians are doing the exactly the same things. Let’s see – adding extra events to an already very busy schedule and complaining about the inconvenience – but going to these ‘Christmas’ events with a smile on their face. Hypocrites? Spending money on things they don’t need and others really don’t need so as to meet societal expectations for this time of year. Adding debt to an already overbearing debt load and dreading the arrival of credit card statements in the early new year. Eating too much (glutony) and drinking too much (drunkenness) and talking about others before, during and after the gatherings (parties) attended (gossip). Yup! Seems like everyone … Christian and non-Christian… celebrate the season in very similar ways.

But there is one major difference. Want to know what it is? The believer spends less time reading their Bible and praying – maintaining or growing their personal relationship with the Lord whose birth is being celebrated – than they do at other times of the year. Believers spend less time with other believers. Believers miss more church at this time of year than at other times – for family events, because they are simply too tired, because it is simply ANOTHER event and the timetable is already packed beyond being manageable…. Believers often simply lose the focus of the season and the real purpose of the celebration.

Yes, I see it every year. Believers losing ground spiritually (not to mention materially, financially, and relationally) in the midst of a season that should cause us to pause, get off the daily merry-go-round, and spend more time focused on the Lord and the amazing purpose of His birth and life.

Maybe this year it will be different – I know it will be (and already is) in my life.

The Prince of Peace

Title of the article: “Civilized Violence”

“Despite the huge advancements achieved for civilization, the 20th Century was also the bloodiest in history. It is estimated that 86 million people died in wars between 1900 and 1989. That translates into 2,500 people every day, or 100 people every hour. In addition, government-sponsored genocide killed approximately 120 million people in the 20th Century. The majority of those people, about 80 million, were killed in Communist China and the Soviet Union. The evidence suggests the recent advances in science and education have not transformed the human soul. We are not becoming less barbaric; we are simply becoming more efficient at it.” Ron Sider

Christmas is coming! It is the time that Christians around the world welcome and celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. The prophet Isaiah states: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) However, apparently there is less peace now than ever before in the history of humankind.

But, the next verse states: “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end … ” This peace is apparently not physcial peace as in the end of wars but inner peace as in no longer being enemies of God and thus being at war with our Maker. Of course, this only comes from being born again and having your sins forgiven so as to have peace with God and then receiving “the peace that is greater than all our understanding” which Jesus promised – so the peace of God. Thus Isaiah the prophet’s prophetic word has and is coming to pass as there are more and more born again thus true believers on the planet today than at any other time in history and the numbers grow daily.

When we, as believers, experience peace with God and the peace of God because we have met and are walking with the Prince of Peace – we enter immediately into a task or mandate that has been placed upon our lives. As true believers in Jesus we are chosen, called and equipped to “be witnesses” for Jesus every day and everywhere that we go. We are called to tell others about the Prince of Peace. The Great Commission is the natural and supernatural overflow of having met the Prince of Peace; we want everyone to experience what we have experienced and to live in peace as we now do. This should be the norm for believers – because of who we are in Christ and our love for Him we will want everyone to have what we have and know whom we know.

Yet, the average believer does not witness nor will 95%+ of believers ever win someone to the Lord in their lifetime. There is a disconnect obviously. Makes one wonder what has gone wrong…

Are we calling people believers when they really are not (false conversions)?
Are we not in love with Jesus? He said – “If you love Me, you will obey Me”
Are we not following Him? He said – “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of people.”
Are we really not believing that people without Jesus go directly to Hell when they die?
Are we buying the predominant believe today – Jesus is only one of many ways to Heaven?
Are we thinking, as many do, that a loving God would not send people to Hell?
Are we afraid of what people will think about us if we talk about our faith?
Are we short of care and compassion and simply don’t care if people go to Hell?

I honestly don’t know. But here is what I do know…

There is no greater adventure you can become involved in than soul winning
There is nothing that causes a believer to grow faster than sharing one’s faith
There is a release of miracles, signs and wonders available to those who witness
There is a new dynamic to one’s spiritual life when we tell others about Jesus
There is a release of supernatural boldness when you step out and try to evangelize
There is a supernatural peace that settles on you when you “go into all the world…”
There is new meaning and fresh life daily when you obey the Great Commission
There is increased peace when you walk with and obey the Prince of Peace
There is a sense of fellowship with Jesus not felt or experienced otherwise
There is a making and remaking of you – who you are – when you follow the Disciple Maker

Folks, it is time to become serious about reaching the world for Jesus one person at a time. You do your part and I will do mine and together we will, one day, see every knee bow and every tongue confess (declare) that Jesus is Lord!

Christmas “Spending”

These statistics are several years old but they make my point…
Every day Americans buy:
3,972,603 movie tickets
1,683,835 songs and albums from online resources
568,764 Titleist golf balls
443,650 large french fries at Burger King
160,968 bottles of Absolut Vodka
7,500 Samsung LCD TVs

As I travel to other nations in Eastern Europe I see that they are wanting to be like the United States and Canada. They dress like we do in North America (jeans and a t-short and hoddies); they are beginning to eat differently looking more and more like a normal North American meal; they listen to the same music, buy flat-screen televisions; have steros systems; drive cars made by Ford and other North American car giants… the list is endless. As freedom and democracy spreads – AS THE CHRISTIAN GOSPEL AND THE CHURCH SPREADS – we are taking our culture with it and people are buying into our apparent values and spending patterns. They think that to live like we do they will be happy. Sad!

Christmas is coming. A good time to look at what we value and how we are planning to “spend” our Christmas. Are we buying and going into debt like others who are not believers do? Are we spending money we do not have to buy things that are not needed so as to impress those we love or work with? Have we lost the reason for the gifts? Have the gifts become the focus and not the ultimate Giver – Jesus – who gave His life so we could live and have life and have it more abundantly? Are our priorities all out of line? What is it that is truly important at this time of the year?

Christmas is all about the heart and not the wallet. Christmas is about the heart of God which loves and gave His Son as the gift. Christmas is about Jesus, who is totally God, becoming man and dwelling among us. Christmas is about grace and truth being seen in their fullness in the life and ministry of Jesus. Christmas is about welcoming the Prince of Peace so that we can have peace with God (sins forgiven) and the peace of God (for guidance and direction – see Colossians 1:13). Christmas is about giving and not receiving – and giving to others who will probably not say “thank you” and might not even recognize that you were the giver. Christmas is about “going into the world” as Jesus came into the world to do what Jesus did – “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Christians should celebrate Christmas in a manner that is different than the non-Christian… celebrating in such a way that our different set of values and beliefs actually become visible for all to see.

So, what is it that makes your Christmas celebrations “Christian” and different than those who are not believers? Or are we, like Eastern Europe, simply buying in to the “success syndrome” of material belongings and wealth?