Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

The debate about whether or not Christians should celebrate Christmas has been raging for centuries. There are equally sincere and committed Christians on both sides of the issue, each with multiple reasons why or why not Christmas should be celebrated.

It’s Really Paganism In A Different Skin

One argument against Christmas is that the traditions surrounding the holiday have origins in paganism. I spent a lot of time searching for reliable information on this topic but found it quite difficult because the origins of many of our traditions are so obscure that sources often contradict one another. Traditions like bells, candles, holly, and yuletide decorations are mentioned in the histories of pagan worship, but the use of these items in your home certainly doesn’t indicate a return to paganism.

While there are definitely pagan roots to some traditions, there are many more traditions associated with the true meaning of Christmas. Bells are played to ring out the great news, candles are lit to remind us that Christ is the Light of the world, a star is placed on the top of a Christmas tree to remember the Star of Bethlehem, and gifts are exchanged to remind us of the gifts of the Magi to Jesus, the greatest gift of God to mankind.

Even still, one of the reasons given to not celebrate the season does seem to carry weight. It seems that the day we currently celebrate the birth of Christ is connected to a pagan festival known as Saturnalia. Keep in mind that often, in these types of arguments, supposed facts are thrown around without establishing the truth behind a claim made.

Such is the case with the argument used to support pagan roots with Easter. The argument against the celebration of Easter is that the word Easter itself, and as a consequence the celebration of that holiday, comes from the worship of the goddess Ishtar. The problem however is that there is no evidence to support that claim, they are just two words that sound similar and so has entered into a kind of ‘Christian urban legend’ as though it was a piece of factual history even though it is not. But in the case of Christmas, the claim that Christmas is connected to the pagan festival Saturnalia, is actually true – but not for the reasons most would think.

The Smoking Gun – Saturnalia

Given the connection, there are some who claim that the ancient celebration of Saturnalia is the smoking gun that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Christmas is pagan.

Brief history lesson: The Saturnalia holiday was a week-long Roman festival to honour the god Saturn, starting on December 17, it fell within what we now call the Christmas season. For most of history, debauchery seemed to dominate celebrations of the holiday; in fact, the word Saturnalia became synonymous with immorality and carousing.

Still, though the Christian understanding of Christmas is not about immorality and carousing, some Saturnalia customs do come across as hedonistic perversions of Christmas traditions to the modern eye. For instance, singing from house to house naked (glad we don’t do that one in Canada), feasting excessively, eating baked goods shaped like people, and exchanging bawdy gifts. The truth is that in reality, there’s good historical evidence suggesting that these events were actually reformed, absorbed, and transformed over time as a result of Christmas’ popularity overtaking that of Saturnalia, not Saturnalia customs influencing the Christmas celebrations.

I found it interesting as I did my research, that the early Christian’s motive for celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 was the same that inspires modern Christians and churches to hold “Fall Festivals” or “Bible Costume Parties” on October 31. In other words, to provide a spiritually positive alternative to what is perceived as a pagan celebration. Back then, over time as the Roman Empire ‘Christianized’, customs associated with Saturnalia were ‘cleaned up’ and absorbed into the celebration of Christmas.

And it wasn’t just Saturnalia – another Roman holiday, Sol Invictus, was also gradually absorbed by Christmas. Sol Invictus (“Invincible Sun”) celebrated, on December 25, the renewing of the Sun King and was linked to the winter solstice.

It’s no secret then that the date, traditions, and long-term history of Christmas are connected to the pagan holidays of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus. Yet, like a modern Canadian family celebrating a harvest festival and dressing up like a bible character or great reformer of the past on October 31, it’s the people celebrating who decide what the celebration means. Early Christians chose December 25 as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus and that decision of theirs continues to this day. So, though Christmas and Saturnalia may be historical neighbours with indirect connections, they are not the same holiday, never were, and of course never will be.

Since We Don’t See December 25th In The Bible, We Shouldn’t Celebrate Christmas On That Day 

Furthering the debate are those who point to the fact that the Bible doesn’t give us the date of Christ’s birth – which is certainly true. December 25th may not be even close to the time Jesus was born, and arguments on both sides are legion, some relating to climate in Israel, the practices of shepherds in winter, and the dates of Roman census-taking. While none of these points are without a certain amount of conjecture, the fact remains that the Bible doesn’t tell us when Jesus was born. Some see this as proof positive that God didn’t want us to celebrate the birth, while others see the Bible’s silence on the issue as tacit approval.

Christmas Has Become A Worldly Celebration, So We Should Avoid It As A ‘Set Apart’ People

Finally, some say that because the world celebrates Christmas – though it is becoming more and more politically correct to refer to it as “the holidays”- Christians should avoid it. But let me point out that’s the same argument made by cults that deny Jesus altogether, as well as cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses who deny his deity. I personally see the occasion of Christmas as an opportunity to proclaim Christ as “the reason for the season” among the nations, including those trapped in cults.

Ultimately, there’s no legitimate scriptural reason not to celebrate Christmas, while at the same time, no biblical mandate to celebrate it. So, in the end, whether or not to celebrate Christmas really comes down to a personal decision. Whatever you decide to do regarding Christmas, your (or my) views should not be used as a club to beat down or denigrate those with opposing views, nor should either view be used as a badge of honour inducing pride over celebrating or not celebrating. As in all things, we seek wisdom from God who gives it liberally to all who ask (James 1:5) and accept one another in Christian love and grace, regardless of our views.

The Church & Gender Dysphoria

Gender dysphoria (or gender Identity disorder) is fast becoming an accepted standard in our world and is quickly being eliminated as a classifed disorder at all. An individual may now identify as ‘male’, ‘female’ or ‘other’ on many, if not all government forms today. Transgenderism currently finds protection within the law of the land… at least north of the American/Canadian border.

In Canada, Bill C-16, was recently introduced that updates the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression. It also extends hate speech laws to include the two terms, making it a hate crime to target someone for being transgender.

Jordan Peterson, Canadian clinical psychologist, cultural critic, and professor of physiology at the University of Toronto, jumped all over it, “I will never use words I hate,” Peterson wrote, “like the trendy and artificially constructed words ‘zhe’ and ‘zher.’ These words are at the vanguard of a post-modern, radical leftist ideology that I detest, and which is, in my professional opinion, frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines that killed at least 100 million people in the 20th century.”

Some applaud Jordan Peterson, while others decry his position. Lines have been drawn, opinions shared, accusations made and unkind words are being thrown left and right. For myself, no matter my personal opinion about the ‘gender’ issue, I am first and foremost a believer in treating people with a value and respect that I’d hope to receive for myself. We shouldn’t need a law to force us to respect other people.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that this blurring of the gender lines is sin and a problem. I do believe that it is certainly sin and needs to be called for what it is. It is controlling the hearts and minds of people, damaging society along with the individuals who are caught in the lie that says their self-worth is found in their sexuality or sexual identity. It’s not! Self-worth can only be found in Jesus Christ. And one of the ways we discover our self-worth and true identities through Jesus is in the celebration of the sexes as God created them, male and female.

However, this never gives a Christian licence to demean someone who might struggle with sexual identity or identifies other than their birth gender. In fact, as disciples of Jesus Christ, our churches should be the safest place to talk about, and struggle with gender dysphoria. Yet too often, our churches have been anything but safe – and that’s something that Christians, including me, need to repent about. The Bible challenges churches to reflect and represent Jesus by reaching out to transgender and gender dysphoric neighbours with loving grace-filled hope.

I’m not sure that the average church is living out that challenge though. Having said that I believe most churches would like to. So, the question begs to be asked; To live like that, what would we need to be more like? If we lived like that what would we look like?

We must be a caring people

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10

If a self-identified transgender individual walked into your church, would this person be greeted? How about invited for lunch? How about invited back next Sunday? Our response to those who identify as transgender must be absolute and sincere, “You are welcome here. You are loved.”

That’s because we believe that all people matter to God. As a result, we must seek to intentionally engage all people with an effort to move them toward God, while relating to them where they are at in every stage of life and spiritual journey. The mission of every Christian is to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ within their circle of influence. This needs to be characterized by genuine friendships; actively doing good deeds; sharing a personal witness; & dependence upon prayer and the Holy Spirit’s convicting /drawing work.

Sadly though, too often our churches give the impression that the Son of Man came to seek and save the squeaky clean, not the lost. To combat this requires us to be transparent about our own struggles and failings. The antidote to this impression is to embrace the compassion that Jesus extends to each of us – and in turn extend it to others. We need to live lives that habitually repent often, forgive freely and extend grace continuously.

 We must be a listening people

As the bringers of light to a dark world and as representatives of Jesus who declared himself as the way, the truth and the life, we must boldly stand for truth and declare the way. That must never change. However,  I wonder if, in our fervour we too often believe we can just declare the truth to the world and think that our job is done. “Good job boys… that’ll tell em.”

We work hard to make sure we have our truth or theology and apologetics down pat and then act as though we can simply give the ‘right’ answer, or the so called ‘Sunday school response’ to all the cultural problems being faced, believing then that the ‘issue’ will be cleared up, much like a home remedy for a spiritual head cold. But the problem is that many aren’t looking for head answers because they’re crying out to us from the heart. God made us with both heads and hearts that come with real thoughts, real feelings, and real desires.

I wonder if we sometimes forget that it is real people living in our neighbourhoods, interacting in our work spaces, sitting in our gatherings, and having real struggles. What do they hear in our conversations? Do they hear people trying to understand them or do they hear the dismissiveness of someone who has never really stopped to consider how they feel? Of anyone on this earth, we should be known for being the ones who seek to understand their heart. This takes work, because sometimes, instead of coming up with the ‘answers’ we should spend more time being silent while honestly listening. In order to sincerely affect someone, we need to first listen to their heart.

 We must be a gracious people

“But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” – 1 Timothy 1:16 

To truly understand mercy is to understand that I am an unworthy recipient of God’s mercy, and that but for the grace of God I would be not only a sinner but a condemned sinner. In consequence, I must endeavor to reflect in my dealings with others something of the mercy God has shown me.

Grace is an essential part of God’s character and is closely related to his benevolence, love, and mercy. Grace can be variously defined as “God’s favour toward the unworthy” or “God’s benevolence on the undeserving.” In his grace, God is willing to forgive us and bless us abundantly, in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve to be treated so well or dealt with so generously. As the recipients of God’s grace, Christians are to be gracious to others.

If our churches are marked by one thing, let it be grace – the grace that always welcomes, always goes the extra mile, always forgives, and is extended continuously. We were meant to be a place of grace – a place where everyone, no matter background or struggles, finds homes open and family offered, a place where people are listened to and loved rather than stereotyped and lectured. If you’re a disciple of Jesus Christ, God is calling you to that ministry.

Why We Should Talk About Hell

A while back I read Rob Bell’s book ‘Love Wins’ and it caused me to re-think a lot about how I view hell, even causing me to have some concerns about what I had been taught all my life. That fallback position to go back to ‘what I’ve always been taught’ isn’t the best standard to judge the legitimacy of an idea, though, like comfort food, can be a good starting point. I will admit that I even had some doubt about what I believe. What is hell? What is its purpose? Is it a place? Is it forever? Should we fear it? Does it cause people to turn away from God? Does it make it hard if not impossible for us to share the love of Christ with someone else? Is it a problem for Christianity?

I think that the whole idea of hell is one of Christianity’s most offensive doctrines. Peter Kreeft writes: “Of all the doctrines in Christianity, Hell is probably the most difficult to defend, the most burdensome to believe and the first to be abandoned.”

 Many are repulsed, sickened and appalled by the idea of an eternal place of punishment, especially if someone suggests that includes themselves, friends & family. “Hitler maybe, but not my grandmother.”

Because of these angsts, many Christians will avoid the topic of Hell altogether. We don’t hear it talked about from the pulpit in may churches anymore and it isn’t usually a part of the conversation around a shared meal. We don’t want to rock the boat maybe or we think that Hell isn’t a required subject when sharing the gospel.

I propose however, that we need to talk about Hell more than we do. I believe that it is integral to the Gospel message and is doing the church a disservice when we hide it away as though it is the crazy uncle we’re embarrassed to talk about.

So, I did what I always do when faced with a spiritual and / or theological question. No, I didn’t ask Siri or head to the theological depths of Wikipedia, I went to God’s word… and even more specifically the Word made flesh. If we want to answer the question of hell, then we need to look at Jesus and what he had to say on the subject.

He’s a great place to start for a few reasons. The first is that people in the West think Jesus is a pretty good guy so if you want to help others understand a particular subject it helps if you can ‘name drop’ someone they like. Oprah likes him, at least the non-confrontational Jesus, and Deepak Chopra has even written books about Jesus as a great mystic and guru of Eastern religion.

In our culture we find that Jesus isn’t painted with the same brush as that angry, vengeful, cranky God of the Old Testament who hadn’t matured out of his confusing puberty years yet. But when God finally grew up and entered his college years in the New Testament, he reemerged as the party guy named Jesus. Good times! Parties in Cana, lots of talk about love and compassion and grace, and of course helpful spiritual sound bites. Selfies all round!

The problem with this view though is that it’s not true, which is another reason why I find it helpful to go to Jesus. We get most of our understanding of hell, not from the Old Testament, but from Jesus own words. When you start reading the Gospels, you find that Jesus speaks about hell more than anyone else. About 13% of his teachings and half of his parables are about hell, judgment, punishment, and the wrath of God.

Jesus talked about hell and it follows that we should too. First though, how do we reconcile a Jesus of grace & mercy & love with a Jesus’ of wrath, punishment & hell?

I think that number one, we need to see that interwoven with the love of God is his mercy that requires justice. If a judge pardons an unrepentant child abuser without any good reason, we wouldn’t applaud his mercy and see it as an act of love, particularly when we consider the rights of the victim (and the safety of potential future victims). Mercy without justice is reckless and dangerous. True justice requires adequate payment for the crime or crimes committed.

“When a person goes through rape or child abuse, she needs to know that there is a God of such holiness and beauty that his reign can tolerate no evil.” – Tim Keller

Even if someone got off because of a loophole in the justice system, we’d call it “Injustice!” Why? Because we have something within us that tells us that injustice is wrong. It’s a universal belief that we know it has to be paid for.

If God is truly just, then there is punishment for offenses committed.

Yet, many people will demand God show them mercy while still refusing to love that very same God. “I will not follow you and obey your commands –  but don’t send me to hell.” However, the facts are that God’s mercy & love are inseparable.

The other concern I needed to address after reading Rob Bell’s book was the idea that hell was symbolic as opposed to a real cavernous abode of fire and brimstone… so I went back to the Word of God to see what is revealed there.

Some people get confused and will deduce that hell can’t be a physical place because of how it is described. For example, when scripture describes hell, it speaks about “eternal fire” “unquenchable fire”. But it also says that hell is a place of utter darkness.

So, what is it?

It’s all the above. It is fire, darkness and a real place hung in real time. Yet, because of our culture, we often imagine the fire and darkness as literal flames and literal inky blackness. Instead we need to understand the language was used to help us understand the magnitude of the place.

For example, when the bible speaks about a God of unquenchable fire, we don’t imagine him being a big ball of literal fire. Rather we understand that it’s giving us a picture of his holiness.

Likewise, when we read that God has blinded the eyes of the unbeliever in John 12:10, we don’t expect to see a bunch of unsaved people on the roads driving around with dark glasses on because they’re literally blind all of a sudden. We know that it’s speaking of their spiritual condition.

At the same time, in Luke 16, Jesus speaks about heaven and hell as being real places with hell as a place of separation from the presence of God. Yet it wasn’t utter darkness in a physical sense since the Rich man could see Lazarus (albeit through sweaty eyes). However, think about the following; Since God is the source of all spiritual light, and all joy and all wisdom and all love or good thing of any sort, and since we were originally created for God’s immediate presence, it is then only before him will we thrive, flourish, and achieve our highest potential.

So, if we were to lose his presence totally, that’d be the deepest darkness of the soul. Without his light, we can only expect the loss of our capability for giving or receiving love or joy and finding any kind of satisfaction.

Add to that the picture of fire which speaks to its nature as a degenerater, something that deteriorates to ash everything it touches. Even in this life we can see the kind of soul deterioration that self-centeredness creates.

We know how selfishness and self-absorption leads to piercing bitterness, nauseating envy, paralyzing anxiety, paranoid thoughts, and the mental denials and distortions that accompany them.

We see this process in a small way in addictions such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, and pornography. First there is the degeneration, because as time goes on you need more and more of the addictive substance to get an equal kick, which leads to less and less satisfaction.

And then add the bitter darkness that isolation brings we had talked about in the Rich man’s situation, as increasingly you blame others and the surrounding environment or circumstances in order to justify your behaviour.

With that in mind ask the question:

“What if when we die we don’t end, but spiritually our life extends into eternity?”

With that picture in your mind’s eye you can see that Hell is the fire or the deterioration of a soul by living a self-absorbed, self-centred, angst driven, anxiety filled, blame shifting life – going on & on forever.

“Yeah, but I’m not all that bad. I haven’t murdered somebody, I’m not a drug addict, I don’t look at porn – often. I only get mad at ‘stupid’ drivers, God will be fair and let me into heaven.”

Jesus didn’t say the greatest commandment is to not murder, or to not commit adultery, though he did say that if you had anger in your heart you’ve committed murder, or if you’ve ever lusted after someone other than your spouse you’ve committed adultery.

But what Jesus did say was that the greatest commandment was, “to love God with all your heart soul and mind.” There is no greater evidence of the inability of man to obey God’s law than this one commandment. No human being with a fallen nature can possibly love God with all his heart, soul, and strength 24 hours a day. It’s humanly impossible.

Even without considering the sins we commit daily, we are all condemned by our inability to fulfill this one commandment. Further to that, the Bible declares that everyone sins, and that all sin is ultimately against God.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23

“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” – Psalm 51:4

Those verses are sobering enough, but then also understand that those who go to Hell aren’t going to be suddenly sinless and perfect. Those who go into eternity without Christ will be confirmed in their decision to not follow him while on earth.

Jesus said that there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” in Hell. The gnashing of teeth isn’t a picture of someone who is in sorrow and repentance but rather a picture of a continued defiance toward God.

In Hell there will be no repentance.

So, unless you surrender your life to God in this lifetime, you will not only be living in disobedience to God for 70, 80, 90, or 100 years, you will be in disobedience before him for eternity – which requires an eternal penalty.

Why did Jesus speak about hell more than anyone else in the Bible? Because he wanted us to see what he was going to endure on the cross on our behalf so that we might choose heaven – so that we might choose God.

On the cross, Jesus’s sacrifice was scarcely describable: this bloodied, disfigured remnant of a man was given a cross that was perhaps recycled, likely covered in the blood, feces, and urine of other men who had used it previously. Hanging there in immense pain, he slowly suffocated to death. All the while knowing he could end the suffering, but choosing not to for our benefit.

But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was the separation from the Father that Jesus felt, a separation that was like hell itself. “My God, my God,” he cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” – Matthew 27:46

An eternity without God is hell.

Without the cleansing of sin that he provides, and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit who lives in the hearts of the redeemed, loving God to any degree is impossible.

But, when we receive the free gift of salvation offered by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are cleansed from sin and receive the Spirit of holiness to do the impossible. That being, a transformation of our hearts and minds to love God as we have been commanded to do, and as a result heaven becomes our home. This is great news!

That is why we talk about hell, because it allows us to talk about Jesus and his sacrifice… it allows us to make Jesus known, it brings clarity to the Gospel message about why Jesus died, and it lets us brag up our Saviour in order to bring him all the glory he deserves.

How Might We Influence Current Culture?

If you visit the front page of the Westboro Baptist Church’s website, you will be bombarded with all kinds of hateful messages. ‘God hates fags’ to ‘Thank God for 2 more dead soldiers’. I don’t know about you but it makes me sick looking at the hate being displayed towards those they should be loving. Most of us are well aware of their protests and many have seen the photos of them holding up signs proclaiming disgust for the sinner along with a glee of their impending doom. They come across as hateful, self-righteous and hypocritical to a watching world. Most of us would agree that their methods are way off target, and in fact are making enemies of those they claim to be reaching with Christ’s love instead of building relationships. I think it’s safe to say that they are doing more harm than good.

But I wonder about how the ‘rest’ of us come across to a hurting world? An issue comes up that gets our Christian community all worked up, and we go on the warpath, protesting on social media, demanding boycotts of this movie, that book, or some political figure. I have been guilty myself of ‘protesting’ on social media in the past and found myself acting like a jerk, building walls instead of bridges. Are we justified in our ‘methodology’ often acting like jerks while we decry ‘Westboro’s’ practices? Whatever our position is (on anything), if we can’t communicate it in love, we’re nothing more than a clanging cymbal and our message is worthless. (1 Corinthians 13).

I am not saying that we don’t warn other Christian brothers and sisters by shining the light of God’s word on the dangers in the culture, especially dangers that might hurt our children or the little ones (new believers) within our care. I am not even saying that we should never prayerfully ‘protest’ and or ‘boycott’ as we sense the Holy Spirit’s prodding, such as when the medical system is brutally murdering unborn children, when assisted suicide is becoming mainstream, when paedophilia is being championed as normal by some in the psychiatry world. The gospel tells us that God is concerned for the relief of poverty, hunger, and injustice. Obviously, there are times when we can’t remain silent and we have to step up and make some noise.

But here’s a news flash… our culture doesn’t care what we think about the evil creeping into our world. In fact, the culture is already evil, has been for a long time, ever since a couple named Adam & Eve. Honestly, what do we think the world thinks when we stamp our feet and tell them we’re upset with them for not acting like Christians? Think about that for a moment. Here’s the point – they aren’t Christians. That being the case, why do we expect them to act like Christ?

The thing is that we are called to be influencers in our culture. The question however is just how do we live and act to be those witnesses we have been called to be? If we truly believe that we must be influencers in our culture, as I do, allow me to share five ways that I believe will make a difference.

1) Intentionally become involved in the lives of those we live with

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14

Since Jesus stepped into our culture and journeyed beside us, working to renew us, I believe that it be-hooves all Disciples of Christ to commit to becoming a part of the lives of individuals who make up the culture around us to see them transformed to live for Jesus.

That means then that we must be a part of the shaping of, engaging in & participating with culture to see it renewed. We’re not called to be taken out of the world but to use the things God has given human culture in order to bring glory to him: things such as music, movies, artistic expression, technology, etc. It is our privilege to redeem it to his glory – personal and cultural renewal through the gospel of Jesus.

More specifically, I believe that the local church needs to be equipped to be an outpouring of our relationship with Christ in our communities by identifying the needs of the community and then using the gifts at our disposal to meet those needs. This can only truly be done as relationships are created with the surrounding community otherwise all we become is a program machine instead of a place where mission meets needs.

2) Sacrificially love the neighbour we come in contact with

In the book of Jeremiah, we read about how the Israelite nation had been destroyed by the Babylonian empire, and were now relocated to that great city of Babylon. How should they react to this strange new foreign world and culture? What was their attitude supposed to be now that they were living there as a part of it?

Possibly they could just keep to themselves, stick their heads in the sand and have nothing whatsoever to do with it. Maybe they could just make lots of noise to point out their case whenever something they didn’t agree with came into view. They could have, but God said something to them that spoke to a unique way.

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:7

God was saying that they were to put their energies and their focus into making Babylon a great city (culture) to live in. We’re not talking about a prosperity gospel thing or a social gospel thing, rather we’re talking about a societal welfare through loving others thing. In other words, his approach for them is to serve their neighbours – even though their language is different and have different morals and they don’t believe what they believe.

God wants them to pray for the city and people, which really means to love them. Love them, pray for them, and look for ways to help them become a prosperous, peaceful city, to become the greatest place to live. God’s campaign platform was “Make Babylon Great Again!”. In other words, God was calling them to a totally different approach than what we might have expected.

3) Humbly serve the people in our sphere of influence

Jesus was the perfect model for gaining influence through humble service and unconditional love. How did he respond to his enemies? He didn’t call down legions of angels to fight them, instead he died for their sins, and even as he was dying what did he do? He prayed for them!

Jesus must be more than just a good example for us, he needs to be the ‘heart beat’ in how we actual live out our faith. In other words, if that is his fallback position, that needs to be our starting point too. “If at the very heart of your worldview is a man dying for his enemies, then the way you’re going to win influence in society is through service rather than power and control.”[i]

Jesus certainly got upset at the religious elite for hypocrisy and selfish nonjudgmental-ism, but we never see him getting ‘upset’ at sinners for acting like sinners. The religious leaders saw the average person (sinner) as losers. Jesus on the other hand viewed them as ‘lost’. He cared deeply about them with an unfathomable depth of compassion. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10 When we view people as ‘losers’ there is always contempt, however when we see them as Jesus sees them, as ‘lost’, there is compassion.

The average person in first century Israel saw their religious leaders as unapproachable, judgemental and contemptuous. On the flip side, many of the same people saw Jesus as completely approachable, and as someone who genuinely cared about them.

What about us? We say everyone is welcome in our churches, but do we really believe that? If a transgender person walked into your church service this Sunday, would you genuinely reach out and show hospitality (maybe invite them for lunch) and display sincere love? Remember that a transgender man or woman is a real person trying to discover who they really are, and they, as we, can only find our identity in Christ. Do you have compassion like Jesus enough to commit to walk with them through that journey?

Here’s the thing, people will only trust us when they see that we’re not only out for ourselves, but out for them too with a sincerity in our compassion. It’s when they begin to recognise the attractiveness of our sacrificial love, that we’ll have real influence.

 4) Actively live out the gospel to reach the culture

I came across something I read in a book by Martyn Lloyd-Jones that speaks to the church being the church…

“I am certain that the world outside is not going to pay much attention to all the organized efforts of the Christian church. The one thing she will pay attention to is a body of people filled with the spirit of rejoicing… If you really do feel what you say about the daily evidence in the newspapers of the moral rot that is setting in in this country, if you feel that we are facing ruin economically and industrially, because people are worshippers and lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of god, if you really believe that and mean it and feel it, then it will be your duty to become a person such as is depicted here, because this is the only thing that is going to persuade men.  They say, ‘Oh we know your teaching and preaching, we have had it all before,’ but when they see it in operation they will listen because they are miserable and unhappy.  When they see this quality, they will begin to pay real attention.”[ii]

The truth is that outside of the Holy Spirit’s convicting work, the greatest and best invitation to the gospel is a community of disciples living out the active and breathing gospel to the world. Christians who live under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in obedience to Christ, instead of making demands on a world who simply doesn’t understand or agree with those demands, will inevitably influence the world for good.

5) Shine brighter in contrast to the darkness of the age

Jesus said about us, “You are the light of the world” – Matthew 5:14. What does light do? Wherever there is even the least bit of light, darkness disappears. You can be in the darkest place imaginable and just a tiny light has the power to drive away all that black, oppressive darkness. That’s what we do. The presence of a Christian in the world is supposed to be like a light in the darkness, not only in the sense that the truth of God’s Word shining a light into the darkness of humanity’s heart, or as a beam of hope into a despairing soul, but also in the sense that our good deeds can’t help but be seen.

A flashlight can be like a glorious light in the darkness of a mining tunnel, but that same flashlight in the middle of the brightest day and it would be hardly visible. Here’s my question, where do lights shine the brightest? The answer of course is in the darkest of places. So, I wonder, for the witness of Christ to be truly effective, would it not then make sense that the world be dark?

“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.” – Acts 4:29

I find it interesting that the early church asked for boldness and not for the tribulations they were facing to be taken away. I wonder what would happen to our world if we prayed that we shine brighter rather than asking for the dark days to disappear? After all there is nothing like meeting a Christian who is reflecting the light of Jesus. That person is a thing of beauty in a dull world. That is how Jesus lived and this is what every one of us needs to aim to be like.

Finally…

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” – Philippians 2:14-15

Let’s strive to be just like stars that don’t draw attention to the individual pinpoint of light, but rather draw their ‘oohs’ & ‘ahhs’ because of the expansive majesty of the night sky. We aren’t to draw attention to ourselves but instead put all the focus onto the majesty of Jesus, while we influence our ‘Babylon’ by praying for it, serving with everything we’ve got and by being so sacrificially loving that the people around us, who don’t believe what we believe, may soon come to a place where they can’t imagine this world without us.

[i] Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, (Dutton Redeemer, New York, NY 2011) pg. 149

[ii] Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable (Harold Shaw Pub, Wheaton, IL, 1984) pgs. 102-103

When The Darkness Overwhelms

Guest post from Quina Aragon   originally posted NOVEMBER 8, 2017

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Disheartening conversations. Division within the body of Christ. Fear for my husband’s safety as he drives. Family members facing heart-wrenching trials. Friends suffering physically, emotionally, spiritually. Strained relationships. And those are just my more immediate concerns.

There’s the global persecution of Christians, terrorism, natural disasters, mass shootings, and more. Oh yeah, and my own struggles with idolatry, apathy, and distrust of God’s goodness.

Has anyone else felt like the darkness—both within and without—might just consume you lately?

TRUE LIGHT

Last year I studied the Gospel of John in my Bible Study Fellowship group. One of the themes is light versus darkness.

In John 1, Jesus is referred to as “the true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). He is “the light [that] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Yet when the true light came into the world, the world didn’t recognize him, nor his own people receive him.

Why did the majority of people reject Jesus? John tells us: “the light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19).

People may have loved the darkness, but the darkness couldn’t overcome the light. Jesus didn’t come in vain. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Surrounded by the darkness of this world, Jesus transformed children of darkness into children of light. He promised that “whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

DARK NIGHT, DARK DAY

Fast forward to the night before his death. After Jesus washes Judas’s feet and shares a meal with him, Judas leaves to betray Jesus for the price of a slave. “So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night” (John 13:30).

A dark night indeed.

On the same night Jesus is betrayed with a kiss, the rest of his friends abandon him (Matt. 26:56). Fully aware his friends were about to fail him, Jesus offers them words of comfort: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Overcome the world? Really? The next day, Jesus was nailed to a cross, consumed by physical and spiritual darkness (Matt. 27:45-46).

But it is there—in midday darkness, suffering the greatest injustice of all time—that Jesus was actually defeating the darkness of this world (Mark 15:33-34Acts 2:36Is. 53:3-10). This is why he could call the cross—the very tool used to shame and punish criminals—his glory (John 13:31-32Heb. 12:2).

Jesus bore our darkness in his body and faced the wrath of God on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21Romans 5:9Is. 53:10). On that third day he rose in victory over our sin, death, Satan—all the darkness (Col. 2:13-15). Jesus overcame the darkness.

IN THE LIGHT, WE OVERCOME

What does this mean for us here and now? In his epistle, the apostle John tells us: “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5). This means that if you’re in Christ, you’re in the light—the very light who overcame all of the world’s darkness.

Because Jesus overcame all that darkness for us, we too will overcome the world and all its darkness. 

Right now we face trials of all kinds: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, the sword (Rom. 8:35). “As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’” (Rom. 8:36) Yet because we are in the light himself, we know that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).

We pray now for deliverance, protection, healing, and all kinds of help. Amazingly, we often see God answer with a resounding, “Yes!” to our persistent prayers. But we don’t get to say what God knows is best for us here and now. Sometimes he says, “No,” and in his providence the cancer stays, the slander persists, the violence attacks.

We look to him, we cry out to him, and we trust in him—even as the darkness closes in. Whether on this side of eternity or the other, he will make right every wrong (Is 61:112 Cor. 4:17). No darkness can thwart the amazing plan of God to bring us safely into his kingdom, be it through many tribulations (2 Tim. 4:18Acts 14:22).

Because of Jesus, we can and will overcome the darkness, both within and without. In him, life will swallow up death (1 Cor. 15:51-57). In him, light will consume the darkness (Rev. 21:23-25). We may feel overwhelmed by the darkness, but it will never consume us.

The light is our hope, and he is risen. So we will rise.

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.” (Rev. 21:23-25)

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Quina Aragon is a wife, mother, and artist who enjoys copyediting, creating spoken-word videos, and writing for her personal blog and The Witness. She lives in Tampa, Florida, and is a member of Living Faith Bible Fellowship.

Are We Taking Our Responsibilities Seriously As Members Of God’s Family?

When my children were much younger I understood that at least once a year I would suffer the agony of a required family duty, a responsibility that brought no joy and in fact brought with it much pain and suffering. But I did it willingly, putting on my nice persona, pasting a grin on my face even though in reality I would be aching on the inside, my energy completely sapped from my bones, all before it even began. But I did it because it was my responsibility as a valued member of the Savage family. So what was this much dreaded chore? It was the annual elementary school Christmas concert.

Each year I’d find myself sitting in front of a bunch of kids I didn’t know for what seemed like agonising hours, listening to many failed attempts at singing, much poor acting, and long minutes of waiting for the grade eight class who looked after the sound equipment and lights, to catch up to the performance.

The funny thing is that I would actually book off a good portion of my day on purpose for this agonising feast of the senses. The reason I showed up and endured was for the sake of my kid (and because my wife told me I needed to be there). The thing is that once I was there, I was definitely going to make sure that I was ready for my child to walk out on that stage, because I’d been waiting, counting down all the other performances until my child was finally, gratefully next.

I knew that near the end of the performance, and it always seems to be at the end (why can’t my kid ever be first?), when they would be up there in all his or her glory. And when that moment finally arrived I knew that the room would light up, and I would be so proud of my child, because in my eyes at least, my kid was proclaiming to the world that they were an amazing member of the Savage clan and I’d always tell them, “Well done!” – every single time. 

In the end I knew that my responsibility as a suffering dad would prove to be worth it because each time I would leave feeling privileged to have experienced the concert my child had been a part of.

My children learned very early on that they were loved unconditionally as my kids. This allowed them to grow up confident of their place within the family circle. But there were moments (such as times of complaining regarding a chore or two) where I’d remind them that though they were privileged to be a part of the ‘Savage’ family, they also had responsibilities.

The responsibilities for them certainly included chores around the house, but it also meant representing the ‘Savage’ name well outside the walls of the home. Why? Because their actions ultimately reflected who their parents were to the rest of humanity.

A child tells us a lot about the parent, isn’t that right? As you observe the behaviour of a child you learn a lot about the discipline (or lack of it) at home. In many ways the child ‘broadcasts’ the parent and makes the parent known to the rest of the world. 

As members of God’s family, we enjoy a position in the universe that is without equal. But with the privileges we enjoy we need to ‘own’ our responsibility and recognise who we are representing. Jesus said that we are to, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

Jesus put it like this, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Why should we do all this? … “So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:43-45

That is why we have to do things that might not be easy or natural – even radical, such as loving the other members of our family – our brothers and sisters – who might not be easy to get along with, even loving those considered to be enemies. And being members of God’s family also means that we need to own the responsibilities of serving others without thought of return, esteeming others better than self, loving the other members of the body of Christ like nobody’s business even if they aren’t lovable, and dying to self because that’s just what we do. And why? All this so that we may be like our heavenly father, and so that we may proclaim the family name, so that the family name becomes really really famous.

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The next time you are uncertain about your responsibility in any given situation as a member of the family of God, ask – Is this the sort of thing worthy of my Father’s name? Is it consistent with the family to which I’m a part of? Is this honouring our family name and more importantly is it honouring our father who has stamped his name on us and who we’re representing here in the world?

Whenever we step out onto the world stage, whether that be on our way to work, at Starbucks getting our grande non-fat americano misto, heading to church to worship with others, or serving our neighbour next door or on the other side of the world, remember that our heavenly father is there waiting for us to step out to shine our lights before this dark dark world, in order to proclaim to that world that we are responsible members of God’s clan, pointing people to his son Jesus and in the end hearing from our heavenly father, “Well done!”

“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” – Matthew 25:23