Ever since Johnny Carson, “The Tonight Show” has been a staple of late night television. Our grandparents invited Carson into their homes, our parents invited Leno, and now we welcome Jimmy Fallon every evening to commentate, interview and entertain.
Fallon has taken over “The Tonight Show” and is cranking out viral videos every week. Whether he is tag-teaming with Justin Timberlake, impersonating Neil Young or lip syncing with a celebrity guest, one thing is clear: people love being on and watching “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon.
Why is Fallon so appealing? What makes his show a joy to watch? Why is he a great host? I think Fallon’s success can be traced to three key practices: He doesn’t take himself seriously, he puts the spotlight on others and he speaks through culture. I believe Christians can actually learn from Fallon’s example as they attempt to demonstrate the love of Christ. Here’s how:
Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
Fallon is not afraid to acknowledge his faults. He is quick to laugh at his quirks and cheerfully accepts teasing from his guests. Like all great hosts, Fallon demonstrates that people are attracted to those who are humble.
As believers, we are free to take the gospel seriously without necessarily placing ourselves in the same category. James 4:6 reminds the believer, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” We don’t have to present ourselves as perfect. In a culture where pride is pervasively praised, Fallon shows us that humility can be hilarious, endearing and attractive.
Give the Spotlight Away
I don’t know if Fallon has ever read Romans 12:10, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor,” but his show is a great example of how to consistently give the spotlight away. For example, most late night shows have a house band; Fallon has The Roots, one of the most celebrated and sophisticated hip-hop groups of the last decade. On most late night shows, the band plays background music and gets the occasional nod from the host. Instead of following this model, Fallon has made The Roots a huge part of his show, offering sketches, punch lines and applause breaks to the band.
Whether at work, home, church or the golf course, we generally want the attention to be on us. We want people to see and celebrate our needs, our gifts, our property and our persons. It has been said that people rarely care how interesting you are, but always care how interested you are. How interested are you in the lives and gifts of those around you? Fallon shows us that making others the focus is not only wise, but enjoyable.
Learn How to Speak Through Culture
Fallon has learned how to listen to culture and make us laugh by using words, analogies and stories that are familiar to our 21st-century ears. Every time Fallon, a musical guest and The Roots collaborate to do one of their infamous songs using classroom instruments, we all share, tweet and like the video because it does three things: It makes us feel nostalgic for elementary school choir, it connects that nostalgia with a current pop hit we can’t get out of our head and it does these things while making us laugh.
Even the Apostle Paul saw value in using the cultural works of the day to speak to the hearts and minds of his audience. When Paul preaches from the Areopagus, he references an idol to an unknown god and quotes a pagan poet to draw Athenian minds to the superiority of the one true God over the false works of metal and wood they called gods (Acts 17:22-34). Believers should feel free, though not obligated, to use various cultural works (i.e. movies, songs, books, etc.) to point back to Christ. Everything that is Truth will be rooted in the One who gives all good gifts (Jas. 1:17).
So, the next time you tune in to watch “The Tonight Show,” consider these questions: Do I take myself too seriously? Do I outdo those around me in showing honor? Have I learned how to speak through culture by using words, analogies and stories that will make sense? We as Christians have the opportunity to communicate a message that is far more captivating than that of any guest on “The Tonight Show.” The question is, will we be known for communicating this story in a captivating way?
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For months the movie Noah has come under immense amounts of scrutiny from local churches around America, due to it’s lack of Biblical accuracy. Pastors and church critics have even gone to the extreme of announcing to their congregations from the pulpit that this isn’t a movie that they should be watching, or letting their children watch.
The only question that has been running through my mind during this time is; What in the world are you doing? Don’t you realize that we have been waiting for this opportunity?
Evangelism is hard
The harsh truth is that the majority of Christians in North America are very ineffective at reaching people with the message of Jesus.
Non-Chrisitians aren’t interested in the Bible, they don’t want to know what it says. Every time I bring something up in conversation, they switch off or change the subject. It’s too hard for me to push past that barrier, I don’t want them to get mad at me.
These are just some of the excuses that Christians are using today, and if I am honest, they are extremely valid. The truth is that non-Christians aren’t typically interested in the Bible. Therefore, trying to break through that barrier is extremely difficult. It can be exhausting at times, so I can definitely relate!
However, I want you to think for a second… what would be the perfect evangelism scenario for a Christian? What would make your job as a Christian a lot easier? Think about it… It would be if the non-believer approached you, right? It would be if they brought up the stories in the Bible, it would be if they gave you an opportunity to talk about it with them.
Christians, don’t you see that we have been given a unique window, a very rare opportunity? We have a secular world making movies about the Book that we claim to love and follow. We have non-believers breaking down their own walls and giving us free opportunities to bring up the Bible and venture into conversation about faith, Jesus and Christianity with them.
But all we can do is theologically pick it apart, call it heretical, and miss every opportunity to give them Jesus. Opportunities that they are freely giving us.
I struggle to understand how any Christian can validate waisting time to theologically pick apart this movie. Why are we placing a level of expectation concerning Biblical accuracy on Hollywood? Let me say this plainly, they are not out to be Biblically accurate, they are out to make money, and they did, over $44m on opening night.
Why are you placing Christian expectations and standards on non-Christians?
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it is wise to protect and shepherd the Christians in our lives so that they know what is true and what has been embellished, concerning movies like this. But do we really need to be taking it to the extend that we are?
Wouldn’t it’ make more sense to stop waisting time pointing out everything that is wrong with this movie, ultimately rejecting it, and instead use that time to recognize what elements in this movie can be redeemed? This movie clearly communicates the doctrine of sin and it’s offenses to a holy God, human depravity & the Wrath of God. Even these three elements alone, offer bridges over water we would normally have to try and swim across.
Don’t miss it
Don’t you see that we have been given an incredibly unique opportunity, one that past generations were not. But instead of taking advantage of it, the non-Christian world gets to sit back and watch us emotionally vomit our hateful, judgmental opinions on them. They get to watch us completely reject the free pass that they are giving us.
I am suggesting that before we cast judgement so quickly, we prayerfully discern the opportunities we have been given in the middle of a fallen and sinful world.
Are you rejecting something that could actually be redeemed for the glory of God?
If you’ve ever experienced disunity in a church, you know how upsetting it can be. Not many of us enjoy conflict in general, so the thought of conflict within the body of believers is particularly uncomfortable. But conflict happens, just as it does in any committed relationship. Christians are exhorted to be known by their unity even in their diversity, but does that mean we never raise a concern? How can we know if an issue is worth fighting for? Is there ever a time to break unity for the sake of integrity?
Every member of the body of believers possesses a set of beliefs that can be divided into three categories: essentials, convictions and preferences. Understanding how these relate to unity can help us know whether to speak up or to remain silent, whether to break fellowship or to stay put.
Essentials, Convictions and Preferences
An essential is any truth which, if denied or misrepresented, nullifies the gospel. Examples of essentials would be belief in the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the virgin birth or the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Essentials do not require a seminary degree to understand. They are plainly revealed in Scripture and accessible to believers of all maturity levels. Essentials are what you find in the historic creeds of the church. They define orthodox belief.
A conviction is any deeply held belief which, if believed in error will not nullify the gospel, but can harm spiritual growth. Examples of convictions would be views on baptism, the role of women in the church, eschatology, or the functioning of the charismatic gifts. Some convictions are more deeply held than others, depending on the church, and unlike essentials, not all convictions must carry the same weight. Some convictions, if held in error, have greater potential to harm than others. Disagreements surrounding convictions usually have to do with how we interpret Scripture.
A preference is something I care about, but that is a matter of personal choice. I can readily acknowledge that there is more than one possible right answer while still feeling strongly that my answer is the best one. Examples of preferences would be whether I prefer contemporary worship or traditional worship, casual dress or dressy clothes, smoke machines or stained glass. Disagreements surrounding preferences usually have to do with how we apply Scripture.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
So, how can we judge whether an issue merits division? Think in these terms:
- Essentials are worth dying for.
- Convictions are worth debating.
- Preferences are worth discussing.
Unity must be broken if an essential is compromised or denied. If your church suddenly decides that Jesus is merely a man and not also God, you need to pack your bags.
Unity may be broken if a conviction is violated but must not necessarily be. It could be possible, for example, to remain a faithful member of a congregation that affirms believer’s baptism while still holding to belief in infant baptism.
Unity should not be broken if a preference is not shared. To leave your church because you dislike the worship style (assuming the worship style is not anything sacrilegious) or disagree with its ministry model is to hold in light esteem the beauty of having shared essentials and convictions. This doesn’t mean that preferences are unimportant. They are. And we should be able to dialogue about them with charity. They just aren’t deal-breakers.
Stay If at All Possible
Unfortunately, we often sacrifice unity on the slipshod altar of our preferences. Many a church split has happened over whether God loves the organ more than the electric guitar.
The book of Acts celebrates unity, and it stands as an exhortation to the Church throughout the ages to work hard to prize it. Never has such a diverse assembly of believers been reconciled to one another as in the days of the early church. Acts records the uniting of Jew and Gentile under one God, and the debates and discussions necessary to join these two groups as members of one body. It details the differences in ministry philosophy between Peter and Paul, two men united in the goal of spreading the gospel but divided as to how it should be done. Acts shows us that the tension of the interplay of essentials, convictions and preferences is a natural part of church life, and that unity is worth fighting for. But unity does not mean unanimity.
To be a member of a body of believers who affirm every essential and many of my convictions is a rare gift. I need not require that every conviction be held in unity, and I need not require that any preference be held in unity. A marriage is more likely to be easy and enjoyable when a couple shares the same convictions and preferences. So is church membership. It isn’t wrong to long for that kind of harmony, but it is wrong to break or withhold relationship over the lack of it. As with all relationships, our list of preferences should receive due consideration before we commit but far less consideration after.
The way we express our concerns matters, too. Just as no spouse benefits from being nagged or attacked about a conviction or preference by the other spouse, no church benefits from a nagging or attacking member. Far better for the member to hold a respectful debate or dialogue with someone in leadership than to complain publicly or privately to other members of the body. One approach demonstrates a love of unity. The other does not.
As we each soberly evaluate our essentials, convictions and preferences, we are well served to remember the watchword of the Lutheran theologian Meledenius: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” May we meditate on the beauty of a church seeking unity in diversity, whose crowning virtue is love.
Essentials and Non-Essentials in a Nutshell – C. Michael Patton
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Two days ago one of the most prestigious music award ceremonies took place, The Grammys. As you probably know by now, it has been coined as the most controversial to date.
If you don’t know what happened, here is a link to bring you up to speed, click here.
In my opinion, the spectacle that was “The Grammys” this year, was definitely troubling for the average Christian. In fact, I have found that as I look back over the last several years, that these sort of ceremonies are becoming more and more controversial (Britney and Madonna’s kiss, Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction & not to mention Miley Cyrus’ twerking endeavor).
However, what I have also found as I thought over these events, perhaps troubled me more. That Christians are getting increasingly worse at responding to what happens. I have noticed that Christians are responding in one of two ways now.
This would be where the Christian is very vocal about their discontent. Often times that comes in the form of obnoxiously exploding over social media about the demise, and liberalization of the world. This explode is then usually met with a large response from other Christians that they associate themselves with, agreeing and thanking them for their obnoxiousness.
I personally find this response to be ineffective when considering Matthew 28. How can you intentionally reach and make disciples of a world that you are openly insulting and ungraciously pursuing?
This would be the response that I have a tendency to fall into at times. The response where the Christian observes what has just taken place and then says something like, well this is just a sign that Jesus is coming back soon, and then goes on with the rest of their day without thinking twice about trying to biblically respond.
Usually the passive intolerant is easily frustrated by the active intolerant, and the active intolerant is increasingly convinced that the passive intolerant isn’t even saved. How can you just sit back and watch what happened and not say something? What about Romans 12:1-2?
As I think about both camps, I am struck with the sobering reality that they both actually produce the same outcome – an increasing distance from a world that needs Jesus, a world that needs the Gospel.
So, I am writing this blog not to give you a revolutionary answer as to what your response should be (there are too many Christian bloggers trying to do that). But rather to confess to you, that as these spectacles worsen, I am scratching my head for an effective way to respond to them with the Gospel. I understand what both Matthew 28 & Romans 12 say, and I know that it can’t be one or the other, it has to be both and… but how?
I think Christians would be better equipped; they would have a stronger, more effective, testimony and outreach; and God would get more glory if they stopped being actively or passively intolerant – and starting an honest discussion with each other about ways that they can be reaching an ever changing culture for Jesus.
Perhaps the world would see that dialogue and be amazed at the love they have for one another (John 13:35) and concern they have for reaching the world that needs Jesus… just a thought.
So here’s the question I would like to encourage you to have an open discussion about:
How should we & how can we, as Christians
actively & effective respond to the Grammy world with Jesus?
My hope is that this discussion would strengthening Jesus’ church by better equipping them to reach the world for Him. What have you found works for you?
Here are the top 5 most watched sermon by you in 2013, we are hoping that these are something that bless you once again. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to provide this free resource for everyone.
This Sunday we are testing out something new and exciting.
Up until now, if you weren’t able to make it to church because you were under the weather, you could head to wilsonfbc.com/live and listen to a live streamed audio feed of the sermon, which quite honestly, isn’t a bad option for a small church. However the Elders were made more aware that we have some members in our church family that find it difficult to venture out on a Sunday morning in the middle of a Buffalo winter, and so we wanted to provide a better alternative to a simple audio stream.
Obviously the natural step up from audio streaming is video streaming, however to do it well (offering a professional production, the way that mega-churches do it today), you’re talking a few thousand dollars worth of an investment. Which is honestly a great idea, but there is just one problem, we aren’t a mega-church and we can’t afford the large investment.
After several months researching possible cheaper alternative and having no luck, the Lord gifted us with the great idea that we are proud to call PewView. We have purchased a HD 1080p webcam from amazon.com (for $70) and we plan to stream that signal through Google Hangouts every Sunday. Naturally with the video signal coming from a webcam and not our Canon XF100, we don’t have the same versatility that the Canon offers. However, what it will do is provide a High Definition picture that will make you feel like you are watching the sermon from a pew in the church, hence the name PewView.
We will keep the accessibility of this resource just as easy as the audio stream. All you will need to do is visit wilsonfbc.com/live around 10am on any giving Sunday and you should be ready to watch.
PLEASE NOTE This will not replace the weekly edited sermons that our creative team have ready for viewing by Tuesday, they are still dedicated to that process too.
Our hope is that this would not replace your commitment to the local church body. Our prayer is that you still see the biblical significance of being actively plugged into the life of the local church body. Jesus didn’t just save us from hell, he also adopted us into his family, one that we are called to actively be a part of. We are very grateful that this is a resource that that Lord has allowed us to offer, but we can’t stress enough the importance of remaining part of the body too.
We are praying that PewView is a resource that you will enjoy, and perhaps a system that other small churches can adopt too.
Today is the day that we launch our exciting new initiative for Christians and the non-churched, we’re calling it Confused Church.
One of the main frustrations for people not daring to darken the door of a church, or for plateauing Christians in our generation, is that they have questions that were never answered. Often times the non-churched will approach a Christian they know and love with their questions, in search of hope, love & answers, but only to be received by a nervous unappealing response because the Christians themselves are too embarrassed to acknowledge that they don’t know the answer either.
As a church we believe that our responsibility is two-fold. First, we are called to help equip Christians successfully reach a world with the Good News of Jesus, the Gospel. Second, it is also our calling to lead by example and extend the same grace that we received from Jesus, to the rest of the world. We are called to be accessible and ready to help them along life’s terrain, no matter how tough/rough it can be sometimes. Life can deal some pretty daunting blows, and Christianity can be pretty confusing, especially if you open up the bible in the Old Testament.
We want to make sure that you understand it’s never stupid to ask any questions about Jesus, the Bible or Christianity, in fact it’s important that you do, because a question unasked will always remain a question and all unanswered questions do is lead to frustration and defeat. We don’t believe that it is God’s intent for the world’s greatest news.
That is why we are introducing Confused Church. We hope that this page will provide a comfortable, risk free environment to ask the questions that you have always had about Christianity.
How will we answer the questions?
We plan to take the questions that you ask between now and March and compile them into a 20 weeks series that we are also titling, Confused Church (launching April 27 – the Sunday after Easter).
I know that we live in a world of instant results and ideally you would like a timely response in the space of a couple of seconds, however we want to make sure you understand that each question asked will be dealt with a great amount of respect and prayer and it would be unwise of us to rush a response back to you. So we would ask for your patience in the process and obviously extend a huge invitation to you and anyone you might know to ask those burning questions and then attend the 20 week series.
Goal for the future
It is our goal that in the future we would be able to provide more concrete and speedy responses to the continued questions that I know are going to fall on your doorstep as you journey through life, but that comes with a larger team than we currently have at Wilson FBC.
So it is our desire and prayer to, one day, have a team of Pastors, theologians, godly men and godly women all with a passion to equip the church and un-churched with real, raw, applicable answers & blogs to life’s tough questions.
We prayer that the people of Western NY would never feel that Jesus is unapproachable, because his church was.
There’s a reason Jesus tells us to come to him like children. Trust is at the heart of how children experience Christmas. Here are five ways we can learn this from our children.
One Christmas, quite a few years ago, my then 3-year-old daughter was into staging plays about the nativity. “I be Mary, mama, you be Jofess,” she would instruct, and off we would go through the house on a wintry morning on our own journey to Bethlehem.
One day, wanting to gauge her understanding of the whole story, I asked, “But where’s Jesus?” Seemingly surprised that I didn’t know, she pointed to a spot right next to me and stated confidently in her tiny voice, “He’s right there!”
And I had a moment. It was as if I suddenly realized he had been travelling around the house with us all along. It was so palpable, I had a sudden urge to turn to the space beside me and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there!” The presence of Jesus standing next to me felt very real that day, through my daughter’s believing eyes.
With the trusting confidence of beloved children we learn to surrender ourselves to a loving Father and believe that what he says is true and good.
Jesus wants us to learn from kids
There’s a reason Jesus tells us to come to him like children. In their simple faith, kids have not yet learned to doubt the truth. Become like children, humble yourselves, and you will inherit the kingdom, Jesus tells the disciples (Matt. 18:1–4). Bring the children to me, says Jesus, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as them, and I want to pray for them (Matt. 19:13–15).
We too can learn to trust him, even though we do not see him. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pet. 1:8–9).
There’s a reason Jesus tells us to come to him like children.
With the trusting confidence of beloved children we learn to surrender ourselves to a loving Father and believe that what he says is true and good, that he is for us, and as Emmanuel, he is God with us. We are not alone.
Though we cannot see him standing next to us, we trust in his presence and in the knowledge that he will not leave us. Trust is at the heart of how children experience Christmas. Here are five ways we can learn this from our children.
1. Expectant anticipation is good
As I talked with my teenage son, I learned what was meaningful to him about our Advent celebrations when he was a little guy. He told me the time we took to prepare slowly over days of lighting candles and reading stories allowed him to enjoy anticipating Christmas. He never doubted that Christmas would come, because every preparation we made indicated that it was, indeed, on its way.
When it did come, we took the time to open gifts slowly, savoring each one and allowing others their turn to increase the enjoyment of everyone. As we teach our kids to wait to open the presents they see under the tree, we learn to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).
2. We can trust our Father
Things are not always as they seem. As parents, we have perspective our children don’t, because we see the big picture. They become anxious when an activity is over, when the treats are gone, or when it’s time to go home from the party. Many a meltdown is the result of their limited knowledge.
We know that the desires of their hearts will be met again, many times, and we are confident in our ability to provide it again for their delight. There is so much more to be seen that they do not see.
As we teach our kids to wait to open the presents they see under the tree, we learn to walk by faith and not by sight.
Romans 8:24–25 says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Likewise, we can trust that what God says will come to pass, and anticipate the perfect working of his will with patience.
We are often the instruments that cultivate this good fruit of the Spirit in the lives of our children. Don’t freak out! Like a loving parent, God is faithful to reassure us that he will also meet our needs and desires in the best possible way.
3. It’s good to desire good gifts
Now that they’re older, I have to ask my kids for their Christmas lists every year. When they were little they needed no prompting and proclaimed their desires with confidence.
I’ve saved some of those carefully printed lists from the days of asking for doll accessories, computer games, cars, and candy. Who doesn’t want to see their children’s eyes grow wide as they finally get to unwrap what you’ve been up to for their good?
God’s generosity is overwhelming, unexpected, undeserved, and simply to be enjoyed and trusted as an outpouring of abundant love.
Our desire to give good gifts to our children, simply for the pleasure of watching their joyful response, is one of the ways we image God. Jesus said, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9–11).
Did you know that your generous Father delights in hearing you ask, and longs to fulfill the desires he has given you? (Psalm 37:4)
4. You can never have too much of a good thing
This may seem counterintuitive, and no one knows it better than a kid at Christmas, even if they have a tummy ache. However, applied as a spiritual principle, it’s true. God’s resources are unlimited and never-ending. It’s not a promise of material wealth, but of everything we truly need.
Our desire to give good gifts to our children, simply for the pleasure of watching their joyful response, is one of the ways we image God.
Ephesians 1:3 tells us that God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. How do we convey this generosity to our kids? One of our favorite family traditions in recent years is a trip to downtown Seattle to see the Christmas sights, do some shopping, and watch a movie. The first year, unable to decide which movie to see, we decided to see both. It was great fun to see the shock on our kids’ faces when Dad agreed to underwrite not one but two movies on the same evening! Now we look forward to repeating the experience yearly.
Similarly, there are times when God’s generosity is overwhelming, unexpected, undeserved, and simply to be enjoyed and trusted as an outpouring of abundant love.
5. Celebration is life-giving
Kids love a good party. A healthy child’s desire for celebration reminds us that we need to take time to recognize our benefits. There is much about life on this earth that is commonplace and oriented around laborious effort, but we can easily lose our joy if we focus only on toil. Any parent who has tried to convince their child to complete their chores in a timely way knows this is true.
We build moments of celebration into our lives to nurture a sense of wonder and create opportunity for gratitude. Christmastime gives us the best reason of all for celebration—God’s lavish gift of Jesus, born to live and die to save us, is the reason that we celebrate by giving gifts to each other.
We rejoice in knowing that the one whose birth we honor is here: God with us, always, until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). The assurance of his constant presence affirms our trust even when (especially when!) we don’t remember he’s right there, next to us.
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Even as our culture drifts away from Christendom, Christmas is still the most likely time of the year for non-Christians to consider matters of faith. Here are a few tips to help you step out of your comfort zone and talk to non-Christians in your world about Jesus.
It was a Christmas Eve service in 1992, and I had been recruited to play the role of one of the young shepherd boys. With typical 90s flair, the night retold the birth of Jesus with skits, carols, praise banners, and awkwardness. Yet the gospel was preached and many who had been invited by friends responded by turning to Jesus and receiving the gift of God’s grace.
Why is any of this important?
Well, because one of the people who responded to the gospel that night was my dad.
Christmas comes with more opportunities to give people the gift of the gospel than any other time of the year.
You’re probably aware that Christmas is that magical time of the year when lights are up, stores are full, and millions celebrate the angel’s declaration of “peace on earth” by stressing out over the perfect gift or their frustrating family members.
But what you may not be aware of is that Christmas is also the most likely time of the year for non-Christians to consider matters of faith. From the carols that are sung to the nativity scenes that are set up, over the next few weeks Jesus is placed front and center in our cultural eye more than at any other time of the year. Like my dad, many people are more open to Jesus during the Christmas season.
While it is certainly true (and curious) that there are those in our culture who consider it an offensive social taboo to talk about Jesus during his birthday celebration, the bottom line for Christians is that Christmas comes with more opportunities to give people the gift of the gospel than any other time of the year.
As we prepare to celebrate the incarnation of Christ into the world, here are a few tips to help you step out of your comfort zone and talk to non-Christians in your world about Jesus.
1. Don’t hate on Santa, use him
Whether you like it or not, Santa Claus is a part of the cultural landscape of December. And he’s likely not going anywhere. Apart from a few troubling stalker tendencies (“He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake”!?), he seems like a pretty nice fellow who genuinely wants little boys and girls to try their best to be good. If they behave, they’ll have earned themselves a place on the nice list and be showered with presents instead of punished with coal.
Santa is not the enemy. Santa is an opportunity.
Come to think of it, Santa would have been right at home with the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Santa, like the Pharisees, has a fondness for rule-keeping, good behavior, and rewarding high performers.
However, the message of “try harder, do better” is not good news, and it’s not Christianity. It’s a depressing cultural distortion known as moralism, and is about as liberating as being chained to a treadmill and instructed to run to China. No matter how hard you try, you seem to find yourself in the same place—just more tired and cynical.
But instead of seeing Santa as an opponent to be protested or a myth to naively endorse, Christians should see him as one of our greatest opportunities to astonish people with the gospel. Santa is not the enemy. Santa is an opportunity.
Christian, you don’t need to blow Santa up. Just contrast him with Jesus.
The gospel shows us that the true gift-giver is Jesus.
The gospel is a beautiful scandal that turns the Santa story on its head. InEphesians 2:8, Paul reminds us that the unfathomable joy of salvation is the undeserved gift of God.
Santa says, “Earn it.” Jesus says, “Receive it.”
Santa says, “If you’re good, you’ll get my love.” Jesus says, “Only my love can make you good.”
Santa makes a list and warns, “I’ll be checking it twice.” Jesus fulfilled the list and declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
You don’t need to blow Santa up. Just contrast him with Jesus.
The gospel is an explosion of hope that brilliantly outshines the dull moralism of Santa.
The good news we get to celebrate at Christmas is that Jesus came into the world to detach our hope from our futile attempts to “be good,” and to attach it to himself. By living the life we couldn’t live and dying the death we deserve to die, Jesus gives sinners on the naughty list (if you’re human, you qualify) the gift of God’s love. That’s news worth telling someone over the next few weeks.
2. Redeem religion
While Christendom may be dead, it has left in its wake some quasi-religious cultural traditions. For many non-Christians, attending some sort of church service during the holiday season is as much a part of their family tradition as chopping down a Christmas tree. It allows them to check off the “God” box (at least until Easter). This kind of thinking is nothing more than dead religion that is devoid of the life-altering power of the gospel. But it does come with one redeemable caveat: the opportunity for people to encounter the life-altering power of the gospel.
The gospel is an explosion of hope that brilliantly outshines the dull moralism of Santa.
That friend or family member of yours who doesn’t know Jesus is far more likely to attend a Christmas Eve or Christmas service with you than any other time of the year. Thom Rainer, president of Lifeway Research, has pointed out that “if there is a given day where more unchurched non-Christians are likely to attend church, it would be on Christmas Eve.” Another study by Lifeway shows that 47% of households will attend a Christmas Eve or Christmas service as a part of their celebrations.
So go ahead and invite them!
This year, we have scheduled our Christmas Eve services around the local Christmas parade that takes place a block from our church. Snowflake Lane is one of our city’s favorite traditions, with performances, lights, and Christmas carols. By choosing to schedule our services before and after the parade, we provide an opportunity for our church members to “double up” and invite loved ones to a local celebration plus a Christmas Eve gathering with a gospel presentation.
3. Remember the King’s promise
To many believers, the thought of evangelism can make them feel more uncomfortable than a hammer at a Miley Cyrus video shoot. Christ’s command to leave our comfort zone and be his witnesses often leaves us feeling like Peter stepping out of the boat into the waters of the impossible (Matt. 14:26–33).
Don’t get me wrong; I totally get it. The fear is real. It’s just misplaced. We all experience those moments on mission where we seem to be sinking like Peter under the chaos of the storm. But that is only because we have taken our eyes off the one who rules the weather (Mark 4:41).
We will be as bold for Jesus as we are aware that he is with us.
The key to living out the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19) is in the verses that surround it. In verse 18, Jesus reminds us that he is the King and possesses all authority. He may have humbled himself to a manger, but now Christ reigns once again from his throne. Then in verse 20, King Jesus makes a game-changing promise: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Here lies our courage! Christ’s promise is what fuels his command. We will be as bold for Jesus as we are aware that he is with us. As John Newton once counseled a fearful Christian, “When you cannot see your way, be satisfied that [Christ] is your leader.”
The most important four words you can remember this Christmas season as you step out and give the gift of the gospel are the same four words that Jesus gave to put steel in the backbone of those who loved him: “I am with you.” They are the very words that God has spoken to breathe courage into his people again and again (Josh. 1:9; Isa. 41:9; Jer. 1:8).
Think about it. If the Author loves you completely and is with you continually, why should you fear the other characters in the story?
Freely we have received. This Christmas, let’s freely give.
How can we reflect God’s generosity toward our family, our church, and our world at Christmas?
As a dad at Christmas time, I want to reflect God the Father’s heart to my family, my church, and the world. And his heart is generous! Very generous. My favorite Christmas verse is “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God gave. And during the Christmas season, we celebrate the greatest gift ever: Jesus.
Generosity to my family
God the Father gave us something he valued most and we needed most: his beloved Son, Jesus. Christmas is the advent of God entering our world in human form on a rescue mission. During Christmas, I want to mirror God’s gracious heart for his family as I spend time with mine. I want to give my wife and daughters generous gifts. This doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive gifts, but I do want my gifts to be costly. I don’t wish to skimp or be cheap—the Father didn’t and isn’t. I want my family to receive from me the gift they want the most.
During the Christmas season, we celebrate the greatest gift ever: Jesus.
Generosity to my church
As a pastor, I understand how important year-end financial gifts can be to the church. Offerings given during the month of December make up a disproportionate amount of monthly funds during the year. I enjoy doubling my average monthly gift each December, and when possible, I like giving even more than double. Giving to the church is an act of worship. And worshiping Jesus through sacrificial and costly gifts seems to be a fundamental part of the biblical nativity narrative (Matt. 2:1–12). It’s the very best kind of historical re-enactment.
Generosity to the world
While the arrival of Jesus literally did change the world, I realize there isn’t anything I can do at Christmas that would have such far-reaching results. But I enjoy being generous to the point I want others to experience it too. I like to help others feel that same buzz that comes from giving good gifts. So each Christmas season, I set some money aside for spontaneous giving.
During Christmas, I want to mirror God’s gracious heart for his family as I spend time with mine.
Some years this looks like giving cash to the parents of a needy family secretively so they can go big on Christmas Day with their kids. Other years it may look like partnering with solid charitable organizations like Angel Tree or Operation Christmas Child. I have a discretionary amount to give to help people to give who wouldn’t be able to otherwise. In this sense, those who are poor can give generously as if they were rich. And that to me is one of the big ideas about the good news of Christmas: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
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The whole Christmas season celebrates God with us. Because God is with us and for us, we are not alone. And neither should our neighbors be, as we have great opportunities during this season to connect with them.
Recently my family and I moved. With moving comes all the obligatory tasks of packing boxes, finding moving trucks, and bribing friends to help you with copious amounts of pizza.
What else comes with moving? A new set of neighbors. People who God knew I was going to live by and who I have been called to know and love.
We can often get lost in the question, Who is my neighbor? Our lives are filled with different places where we connect and relate to other people. These are the places where we shop, work, and live. Jesus taught us that no matter if it’s at work, the gym, the play area at the mall, or right next door, a person in need is your neighbor (Luke 10:25–37).
A joyful season—for some
I grew up in Las Vegas, a city where many people go to spend their Christmas alone. Often it is a place to numb their depression about being alone during a time of year when connecting with family and friends is so important.
The truth is that you don’t have to be in Vegas to find people who are alone during the Christmas season. Many of us have neighbors or co-workers who have a deep sense of dread rather than joy about the Christmas season. Their disdain for Christmas is not rooted in an ideological culture-war, but rather in an emotional pain—they have little to celebrate or few loved ones to celebrate with.
Jesus taught us that no matter if it’s at work, the gym, the mall, or right next door, a person in need is your neighbor.
The Christmas season is amazing. We get to remember and rejoice that Jesus loves us enough that he would not stay far off at a distance, unfamiliar with human life, but rather he became a human to experience all that we experience. He would be a God who is able to empathize with all our struggles and joys (Heb. 4:15).
The whole Christmas season celebrates Jesus as Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Matt. 1:22–23). This changes everything for us. Because God is with us and for us, we are not alone. And neither should our neighbors be, as we have great opportunities during this season to connect with them.
We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Here are some ways we can express Jesus’ love to our neighbors this Christmas season:
1. Love listens
Throughout the Old Testament, God constantly heard the needs and cries of his people. All around us are people with needs during this holiday season, but because we are so busy we often don’t take notice. Take the time to really listen to the needs of your co-workers, friends, and neighbors. Be proactive in finding out if they have somewhere to go. In the midst of all the great Christmas festivities, don’t miss the needs of people around you.
2. Love draws near
When God heard the cries of his people, he didn’t stay removed and wish the world well. Instead he drew near: he came down to earth and took up residence with us. He wasn’t content to just give us distant instruction, but rather close, transforming connection.
Because God is with us and for us, we are not alone. And neither should our neighbors be.
Take a step to draw near to your neighbors this week and include them in your holiday parties, family traditions, and church worship services. This is the time of year where people are usually more open to connecting, conversing, and church. Take advantage of that.
3. Love takes the first step
Here is where it counts. Jesus did not wait for the world to embrace him or roll out the red carpet. Even to this day much of the world stands in opposition to him. Yet Jesus chose to engage and take the first step because he loves first (John 3:16).
Because we are loved by Jesus, we are called to take the first step toward our neighbors. We can’t wait until we just bump into them at the mailbox or while taking out the trash. Let’s go over and knock on their door. For many of us, this could be a life-changing decision. Maybe we have lived next to someone for years and still don’t even know their name. This year, invite them to come over to that ugly sweater Christmas party and drink too much eggnog. Or tell them to come hang out for that inevitable white elephant gift exchange with your community group.
4. Love is inconvenient
Jesus wasn’t in need of more friends or relationships. He had perfect fellowship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Yet Jesus chose to move toward us at great expense. Becoming human, he experienced loss, betrayal, and even death. It is a major understatement to say that Jesus was willing to be inconvenienced to reach us. Jesus’ love motivates us to endure the inconvenience of disrupting our plans to reach out to our neighbors and invite them into community.
5. Love endures
After the Christmas season has passed and the tree is back in the box or out in the dumpster, let’s not put these new relationships away. Rather, we should endure in loving our neighbors and seeking to draw them into community with us and Jesus. This is exactly what Jesus has done with us, showing us patient love that does not give up (1 Cor. 13).
This is the time of year where people are usually more open to connecting, conversing, and church. Take advantage of that.
So yes, go nuts in filling up your schedule with great holiday activities and events. Have a blast in making memories with your family that will last a lifetime. Just look around and see who you can bring along with you. Draw near to those who are alone and don’t forget them during this significant time of year.
Jesus draws near to the broken-hearted and those who feel alone. When you were alone in your sin, Jesus came looking for you so that you would never be alone. Because this is the love that saved us, we can love like this as well.
So reach out. Extend joy to your neighbor and be generous about loving and connecting with others. That is the whole point of Christmas.
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No one fast to rule them all
Once you have your purpose, plan out your fast. People have been fasting for thousands of years in all different ways.
Once you know your purposes for fasting (the ultimate purpose and immediate purposes), consider your health. Consult your doctor, and if it’s time for a checkup, get in there. Fasting can aggravate medical conditions and you don’t want to find that out the hard way. A few reasons you may not be able to fast safely include a myriad of health concerns from anemia to anorexia to heart disease to pregnancy to nursing—there are many legitimate reasons to not fast.
If fasting from food is not a reality for you, pray about what God wants you to do. He knows your limitations and won’t be disappointed. If you are unable to fast, you might consider partaking in another form of spiritual discipline, abstaining from technology, entertainment, music, a hobby—the list is endless, but the important part is your motive! Use the time you would normally spend eating/snowboarding/facebooking/whatever, and spend it with Jesus.
Thousands of years of fasting could teach us something
Dr. Bill Bright has a very thorough article on fasting that presents and expands on many of the ideas in this article.
There isn’t one particular formula for fasting. It’s a personal decision. How you fast, how long you fast, and what you fast from are all individual choices, none of which are as important as your reason for fasting. God doesn’t command everyone to go 40 days without food. Ask him what he would have you do and start slowly. Avoid jumping into an extended fast without building up to it first.
In the Bible, we find several types of fasts. The partial fast is illustrated by Daniel, who abstained from the best foods and chose to eat vegetables and drink water instead. You could opt for similar plan.
An absolute fast means not eating or drinking anything at all. Paul fasted absolutely for three days. Moses did the same for 40 days, but following suit would be so extreme that you should not copy Moses unless you are absolutely sure God has called you to do so. Don’t worry! If God wants you to do something this extreme, he knows how to make it so clear to you that there is no room for uncertainty.
The most common fast involves not eating any sort of food, but drinking plenty of water and juice. Ideally, juice your own fruits and vegetables or drink 100% juice. Beware of caffeine and sugar, as they will have stronger effects without any solid food in your system.
Ultimately, pray, pick the one that seems best, and think about your motives. God won’t be impressed if your fast is more difficult. He’s already fully pleased with you because of Jesus, so fast in whichever way you choose and praise God that you don’t have to earn his favor through misery!
It’s tempting to have your own personal Mardi Gras, eating every one of your favorite foods just before starting your fast. While culturally popular, this makes fasting more difficult. It’s better to wean yourself off of food slowly. So plan ahead, as this will mean changing your diet during the days leading up to your fast.
Look at your schedule and plan realistically. Fasting during holidays is not only difficult because of all the special foods you will be around; it can also be a huge bummer to those around you. They want to enjoy a feast with you and celebrate—not easy over the sound of your growling stomach or your sad expression. Avoid this. There is a time to fast and a holiday probably isn’t it.
Also consider the point of fasting: spending time with Jesus. If you’re running a million errands in the lead-up to Christmas or a birthday or another special event, you won’t have the time to sit and commune with God in isolation. Remember, the point of fasting isn’t just to be hungry; it’s to take the time you would normally spend eating and use it to focus on God.
Breakfast vs. breaking your fast
When your fast ends, it’s very important to reintroduce food slowly. Avoid the six-course dinner or the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. Your body will have responded and adjusted to life without food fairly quickly. Suddenly shoveling in normal food will not end well. Start simply, with plain vegetables or broth. Take your time and eat small quantities. Just like you led into the fast slowly, come out of it slowly.
Eye on the prize
Fasting isn’t a burden or a requirement for belonging to God. It’s a gift that helps you to know and run alongside your heavenly father. Going without food is a reminder that cuts straight to one of our most basic needs.
If you’ve never fasted before, be courageous, give it a go, and expect great things. Fasting is an act of faith, and faith pleases God.
Fasting during the Living for a Legacy campaign
During the Living for a Legacy campaign, we are asking people to be praying everyday for 40 days. We will conclude the 40 days with five days of fasting, beginning at sundown on January 5, calling the people of Mars Hill Church, including our Extended Family, to abstain from food or use one of the alternative fasts. We will then, as a gathered family at each of our locations, celebrate by breaking our fasts on the evening of Friday, January 10. We would encourage you, if you do not attend a local Mars Hill church, to also have a celebratory meal of thanksgiving and rejoicing.
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With Christmas fast approaching, I’m sure a lot of people (me included) can feel that pull of stress and exhaustion.
It is like sitting at the top of a stress slide, scooting forward inch by inch. We know what is coming, and we might already be worried about how we will land in the bark chips at the bottom. While Christmas may always be busy, here are a few simple things to think about that have helped me control some of the stress.
1. Traditions are tools
Traditions are tools that we use to make culture, to make memories, and to make childhoods. Traditions are not a base that we have to tag or we can’t count the run. Failure to make the gingerbread house does not make your Christmas a sham, for example.
If we were craftsmen, we would not mark our success by how many of our tools we touched. Instead, we’d look at the product. The point of gingerbread houses, cookies, homemade stockings, Christmas pajamas, hot chocolate, presents, shopping, caroling, lights, and every joyful tradition you can think of is joy. If you are failing to get that result, that’s a heart issue that using more tools will not help.
Joy is not something that you can manufacture through traditions—it is something you can shape with traditions.
But the joy itself cannot come from festive moments, new gifts, or tasty treats. The joy can only come from our salvation and our hearts resting in that. After that, joy is expressed in our physical world through our traditions, through what means we have at hand.
If your Christmas is not joyful, get things right with God. The joy of our salvation is the substance of celebrating. Traditions are simply a human response to great joy. Love your traditions because of why we have them, but never love them apart from our deepest joy in Jesus.
2. Know when to not let go
You can reduce stress tremendously by tightening up on the normal things rather than loosening up.
Tighten up your standards on yourself first, and then your children. Do not use the holidays to have a self-indulgent spiritual slump. When you feel rushed, it is easy to give yourself leeway that you shouldn’t.
Baking a lot of cookies is not an excuse to snap at your children. “Needing” to run errands is not an excuse to ignore your small child’s temper tantrum and just buckle them up napless and mad to go peeling off to the mall. Do not get into a cycle of bribing with treats instead of blessing with them. This is a time to follow through. Be clear, be calm, and be consistent. This will not decrease your workload, but it will sweeten it considerably! It is also a great gift to your children, helping them to celebrate such a precious time from a place of security and peace.
3. Size it up or sit it out
If you are finding it impossible to do the things that you think you need to do while maintaining joy in your home, you need to lower the standard. Years ago, we went to a wedding where one of the bridesmaids no longer fit into her dress and wore it down the aisle unzipped in the back. That’s not what you want to be.
Fancy traditions, fun shopping expeditions, huge parties, or insanely perfect gift-buying are all beautiful things to do, but not if you no longer are able to fit them into your family’s life. There comes a time to either size it up or sit it out. Be reasonable about what you can accomplish, and do what you can joyfully.
4. Prepare your children for disappointment
Anticipating opening presents is such a fun thing for kids, that it’s easy to forget that Christmas is full of temptations too. It is a good idea to talk to your kids about what to expect. With our kids, my husband and I talk about envy and thankfulness. We talk about people less fortunate and people more fortunate. We try to have our children be aware that Christmas morning is hugely joyful, and that we all need to discipline our hearts and stay in grateful fellowship.
We have used the illustration of running with our kids: Look in front of you, look at the way you are running, and be thankful. Whenever you start to look at what other people are getting, or what other people are doing, you are likely to run into something, and it will probably be a big envy tree.
This certainly applies to grown-ups too. Do not spend a lot of time or energy examining the motives of celebrations of others. Christmas celebrations are a response to our salvation. Look at your own feet and at your own work. The fact that people out there are just talking about Santa, holidays, and Xmas, and being all greedy and ugly and commercial about it really doesn’t matter. The power of a joyful, thankful, God-honoring celebration is not changed because some people do not know God and are trying to mimic it. Psalm 37:1 sums this up nicely: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!”
Do not spend your time getting wound up over the sins of others. Do not tie yourself into knots over unbelieving family members or friends who are doing things wrong. Take responsibility for yourself, and leave their hearts to God.
5. Get your head in the game
With so much happening all the time, it is easy to slip into a pattern of virtual life. When we view our phones and computers as relaxation, we can start turning to them when we feel stressed. Live in your home with your family. Don’t spend all your time looking at other people’s ideas—have some of your own!
Try leaving your phone on the counter all day and skip Facebook. Spend your downtime actually down and not hopping all over the virtual world. You are needed in the real world, so be there.
6. It’s all about Jesus
And lastly, the best way of all to keep from getting grumpy and wound up and stressed out about Christmas is to remember what we are doing in the first place.
We are celebrating that God dwelled among us, that he sent his Son to redeem us. This is not a big burden; this is about the absence of a burden. We are not obligated to party. The excitement, the joy, the laughter, the lights, the food, and the presents: this is all part of the glory of having been forgiven. We are free to do this, and we are free to do this with light hearts. Because, “To us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isa. 9:6).
That child wasn’t just born to be a neat story from a long time ago—he was born so that the world might be born anew in him.
This is not just the birthday of our Savior, but one big collective birthday celebration for all who have been born in him. Don’t let a little anxiety or a big to-do list separate you from the joy of that salvation.
It isn’t that we shouldn’t be stressed because Christmas doesn’t really matter anyways; our stress is simply pointless. Christmas is so much bigger than our little efforts to mark it. It is so far beyond us, that we should take comfort in knowing that our celebrations—our paper plates of cookies, our singing of glorious carols, our joyful gifting to others—can only scratch the surface of a joy that is so big, so vibrant, and so deep that it changed the world.
The love of the Father for his perfect Son is so great that we have been caught up in it. Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas, indeed.
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Fasting is an awesome gift. And like all awesome gifts, it can be misconstrued in a way that leaves us bitterly disappointed. Now that we know what fasting is and why we fast, let’s consider what it is not.
God doesn’t owe you
Fasting is not a manipulation tactic or a way to earn points with God. Fasting doesn’t make you more holy or acceptable to God. Christ Jesus alone has made us holy. Instead, by practicing a fast and other spiritual disciplines, we are asking for grace just like we did when we prayed for salvation. We didn’t save ourselves. We received God’s gift to us. So in fasting, we don’t transform ourselves; we receive the grace that transforms us (1 Pet. 1:13–14).
This isn’t to impress your mom
Fasting is not an endurance test and, like anything else, can be done in pride forthe praise of men. Self-righteousness is a signpost on the road to hell. That’s the reason we must clarify our purpose for fasting—to avoid ego-tripping. Jesus warned us not to make our fasting a public service announcement in order to get attention. If you’re tempted to look at your contrite spirituality and get smug about fasting, remember that even the ability to fast is yours by grace alone and without Jesus you couldn’t even do that much.
Not an end in itself
Fasting is not some religious formality to check off the list. Some believers, out of a feeling of duty, will participate in the 40 days of Lent by giving up something easy, but their sacrifice becomes a mere annoyance which they are glad to drop by the time Easter Sunday comes. Without a purpose beyond “It’s Lent,” a religious approach to fasting falls far, far short of the awesomeness God wove into the fabric of fasting.
It doesn’t impress God
Fasting doesn’t force God to be more attentive or give us quicker answers. We don’t tell God, “We’re fasting now. That’s our part; now you do your part” (Isa. 58). No matter what we do, God will perform all his holy will. So fasting isn’t our effort to twist God’s arm. It’s our response of pressing into him like it says in Joel: “rend your hearts and not your garments.” Fasting is one way that we express our surrender and honest petition before God.
Finally, be careful to differentiate between aligning your heart with God (what fasting does) and getting closer to God (what fasting does not). Jesus alone brings you, spotless, into God’s presence. If you belong to Jesus, fasting basically makes you more aware of where you already are.
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