Is There A Grey Area? [UPDATED]

How We Find Our Way To Jesus

Ever wonder about the process of becoming a Christian?  If asked, many Christians would say, “By repeating the ‘sinner’s prayer.'1” They may even quote Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” With a simple conclusion of confessing and believing through a prayer to God.

Question: Is this process of finding Jesus the same for everyone or perhaps unique to each individual? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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References   [ + ]

Selflessness: What the Easter Bunny Can’t Do

Easter marks the celebration of something big.  For some, that “big” celebration is receiving and eating chocolate from a rather unique bunny.  For others, it’s a time for family to share in the extended weekend of a meal or two – Good Friday fish and Sunday turkey, to be precise. But for Christians, Easter changed everything.  The bunny might be able to lay chocolate, and family and friends might bring everyone closer for a few days, but Jesus undeservingly embraced our sin, died for us on a cross, and overcame death.  Jesus gave us a second chance.

Easter selflessness

We all know we’re not perfect – I don’t have to convince you of that.  We may, however, need to look closer at what Jesus taught, how Jesus led by example, and why a bunny doesn’t come close to giving us what Jesus can.

Jesus’ message of selflessness

At Bethel, we are working through a sermon series based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew’s gospel.  As John Stott pointed out, Jesus didn’t simply preach this one sermon; rather, this is a summary of what Jesus taught over and over again.1 One of Jesus’ main messages is a message of selflessness.  Decreasing our personal power over our own lives, and increasing God’s leadership over us by serving and loving others.

In a culture where everyone has the “right” to live for themselves, this message of selflessness is often lost in the noise.  In fact, I’ve heard Christians and pastors speak of “putting ourselves first”, and “loving ourselves first”.  While this may be a true psychological and sociological idea, it couldn’t be a more false Christological one.  According to Jesus, His followers are to grow close to Him, by acting selflessly (as outlined in the Beatitudes) so that the world may see Jesus through their lives.2  This doesn’t equate to being a pushover, but it does equate to engaging in counter-cultural norms.

How Jesus led by example

In Matthew 5, Jesus gives special mention to how we are to respond to those who take away our “rights” and treat us poorly or with disrespect.  It’s clear that everyone deserves to be treated well, but for the sake of the gospel, we should be willing to lay aside our “rights” so the kingdom can grow.  Jesus said:

39…if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”3

Among these cultural examples, we have to ask, “what is the principle Jesus is trying to teach us?” D. A. Carson penned this well:

“What Jesus is saying in these verses, more than anything else, is that his followers have no rights.  They do not have the right to retaliate and wreck their vengeance (5:39), they do not have the right to their possessions (5:40), nor to their time and money (5:41f).  Even their legal rights may sometimes be abandoned (5:40)…personal self-sacrifice displaces personal retaliation; for this is the way [Jesus] himself went, the way of the cross.”4

Jesus calls his disciples to be selfless by himself living out the most selfless act possible – giving up his own life for everyone else.  Jesus was wrongfully accused (27:187f), insulted and struck (27:30), striped of his clothes (27:35), and paid the ultimate price for humanity’s freedom (27:45f).

So when Jesus told us to “…deny [ourselves] and take up [our] cross and follow [Him].  For whoever would save [their] life will lose it, but whoever loses [their] life for my sake will find it,” (16:24f) Jesus is clearly defining the significance of Easter and the impact of selflessness on those who follow Him.

What the Easter bunny can’t do

I love eating chocolate.  In fact, it was just the other day when my wife called me a chocoholic.  It’s not my fault I believe every meal should end in chocolate.  But I digress… 🙂

The problem with the Easter bunny isn’t so much that chocolate is involved, as it is about how Easter is being commercialized and marketed just like every other event in our calendar.  Easter should be about Jesus’ selfless action and our selfless response.  

The most the Easter bunny can offer is chocolate, and the chocolate isn’t even free.  Americans spend about $2.1 billion on Easter candy, and all American Easter-related spending (including gifts, clothes, and flowers) equal about $14.6 billion every year.5  That’s a lot of consumerism for an event based on selflessness.  While it’s not even close to the 2015 Christmas retail sales of $630.5 billion,6 the fact that it only costs $30 billion to globally provide clean drinking water, to those in need, should get us thinking.7  Where is our focus?

Easter is about witnessing the selflessness of Jesus and responding to that free gift of grace – something the Easter bunny can’t offer.

Our response can be displayed in many ways.  For example, we can:

  1. Refocus our spending habits;
  2. Help a local organization (like a Church) reach those in need;
  3. Willingly give something up to help others;
  4. Care for those who have wronged us or persecuted us; and most importantly,
  5. Take a moment to be thankful for a God who selflessly loves us so much and accept His grace.

We may question God’s existence or God’s love because 10 percent of the world still doesn’t have clean water.  But the fact is, God doesn’t owe us a better world; because of the cross, we owe it to God to selflessly serve.

God doesn’t owe us a better world; because of the cross, we owe it to God to selflessly serve. Click To Tweet

In a world where our “religious rights” are under attack, we need to live out the meaning of Easter like never before.  Jesus isn’t calling us to “retaliate,” rather to serve selflessly – that’s the way of the gospel.

Your turn…

The Easter bunny can’t help us.  Those things can be fun and I’m not purposing we do away with them entirely, but they shouldn’t trump our desire to serve Jesus and others.  The ball is in our court.  We can’t point fingers.  The only person we can change, is ourselves. So…

How will we celebrate Easter?

Will we choose to embrace selflessness or commercialization?

What will we convey to our kids as most important?

Feel free to share how you have focused on the selflessness of Easter.

References   [ + ]

Santology, Part 1 – What do you focus on? (Christian HOPE)

As a young father, my mind is racing to ensure my wife and I help create an atmosphere by where our daughter is able to focus on the spiritual meaning of Christmas, while never feeling deprived of the fun aspects of Christmas. This is part 1 of a discussion on the sacred and secular struggle many Christian households face during Christmas.  My goal isn’t to condemn secular traditions or to ban certain behavior; rather, to ensure we are thinking about the impact some of our secular traditions have on our spiritual lives.

santology-pt1-hope

Christmas is a time of BELIEF and HOPE.  If you were to ask most Christians what Christmas truly means, I would think most would give you an answer regarding Jesus and how he came to this earth as a baby.  It’s the result of amazing prophecy fulfillment, and the anchor to our spiritual hope.  The question that remains, however, is do we actually focus on the spiritual (what we believe: Jesus) and add the secular (Santa, Elf on the Shelf…etc), or do we focus on the secular and add the spiritual?

Let’s first define what we believe.  Isaiah prophesied the coming of a Saviour about 700 years before Jesus was born…

“…the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (meaning God with us).”[i]

That puts a new perspective on the first few verses of Matthew’s gospel.  The listing of generations not only proves Jesus can be traced back to Abraham, but that there were so many generations waiting for Isaiah’s words to come true.

Their HOPE was built on their BELIEF, and their BELIEF was built on the UNKNOWN. Their unknown, however, wasn’t a question of IF, rather, the unknown of WHEN and HOW.

Our belief today stems from this fulfillment of prophecy, but extends far beyond.  Jesus was born, he taught, lived on the earth and took all of our sin, pain and grief to the cross with Him.  Fortunately for us, our Christian hope even extends beyond that.  Our hope isn’t built on a man who was MARTYRED, or SELFLESS, had great LEADERSHIP, or even had great IMPACT.  Jesus, and many other spiritual leaders did all of those things.  Our hope today is built on NEW LIFE!  The reason that Christianity spread like wild fire was because Christ conquered death and rose from the grave!  The message that was being proclaimed was:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”[ii]

This is the same message for today, and our hope and belief extend to our future eternal life with God.  It’s a HOPE like no other religion – a hope of LIFE!

Our HOPE is built on our BELIEF, and our BELIEF is built on the UNKNOWN.  Just like those before us, our unknown isn’t a question of IF; rather, the unknown of WHEN and HOW.

We need to focus on our Christian HOPE.  In a world where “spiritual belief” seems to be at an all-time low, are we downplaying our unique HOPE if we allow ourselves to focus on anything else?  Are we being strategic enough to show others our Christian HOPE?  Are we trying to spiritualize the secular, so we don’t feel bad if we don’t focus on the spiritual?  Are we making more excuses as we read this?

Sometimes I think we try to navigate through the secular Christmas (ie. Santa) and try to add our spiritual Christmas (ie. Christ) so that we keep ourselves in check.  For example, we may have a manger with Santa bowing down to Jesus.  While we have good intentions, I think we may be missing the mark.  You may laugh when I say this but, “I’m not trying to get Santa saved!” It doesn’t matter if Santa, a make-believe secular Christmas character, is bowing to Jesus.  If we’re trying to get Santa saved, we’re focusing on the wrong things.  We need to focus on the available HOPE that is much bigger than anything secular Christmas could ever offer!  Paul told us:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”[iii]

Because we have a HOPE like no other, we need to live in the world, but not allow the world to shape us.  The challenge then, is to focus on God’s will for us – “what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  That doesn’t necessarily mean to stop doing everything secular; we live in a secular world and can’t avoid that.

The challenge is to live in a secular world, but shine with HOPE; with Christ at the center, not Santa.

Connect the dots.

Ever draw a connect the dots picture? There are a series of dots with numbers and if you connect each dot in sequence with a line, a picture is revealed.  Here’s the question I have for you:

If you were to connect the dots of your Christmas season (ie. Christmas activities, outings, parties, traditions, church events, family gatherings, etc…), what would your final picture look like?

The answer to that question should tell you what the focus of your Christmas is.  Whatever the answer may be, that’s the answer your household will see.

If you see CHRIST, your household will see CHRIST, and deicide whether or not to believe.  If you see SANTA, your household will see SANTA, and decide whether or not to believe.  Nothing is for certain, but the focus will always be seen.

The scary part, and we will continue with this in the rest of the series, is if we focus on Santa, our belief becomes about Santa and we actually allow him to even have some godly attributes.  This of course is dramatically different if Christ is our focus.

With that said, I don’t have all the answers as to how this is done correctly.  What I do know, is that together, with God’s help, we can live the life He has called us to live!

Your turn!  How are you strategic about your Christian HOPE during Christmas?  Do you think secular Christmas has changed in 30 years?  How does that impact your Christian HOPE?

Click here for Part 2


[i] Isaiah 7:14, ESV.

[ii] Romans 8:11, ESV.

[iii] Romans 12:2, ESV.

A Christ-like Christmas

I’ve heard a number of Christians recently voice their concerns regarding the value of Christ in Christmas.  It really got me thinking to what a Christ-like Christmas should look like.  Some of the common concerns sound like, “We can’t take Christ out of Christmas;” or, “The church is turning Christmas into a secular celebration.”

I think we need to face these concerns; however, we need to see Christmas for what it is – a time to remember that God is with us and for us.

Christ in Christmas

We’ve all seen the “X”.  Many Christians are a little taken back, when I don’t mind seeing “X-mas” used around town.  I never dream, however, that this is a means of removing Christ.   In fact, it reminds me of the Greek word for Christ – Christos.  It begins with the Greek letter “X” (Chi), which looks just like our English letter “X”.  Put the two together, and really, you have an original picture of Christ in Christmas.

Not sure people understand when they use it? Next time you see “X-mas,” instead of condemning them, explain that the Greek word for Christ, starts with X.  It might actually open the door to a great conversation.

Secular Activities Have Some Value

We all give gifts.  It’s true, many people go to the extreme with gift-giving every year.  In fact, statistics point to credit card debt as one of the leading contributors to bankruptcy, and yet, society tells us to spend, spend, and spend.[i]

Just because we give gifts, however, doesn’t mean we are devaluing the true meaning of Christmas.  As Christians, we should be giving people. Whether that means recognizing family members and friends during the holidays, or giving something special to someone who needs hope, peace, joy, or love this Christmas.  It doesn’t have to be much to make a difference, but giving with the right heart and need in mind can be life changing.

This Christmas…

let’s celebrate a Christ-like Christmas – remembering God is with us to bring hope, peace, joy, and love!

 



[i] http://www.bankruptcy-canada.ca