The “Pagan Christmas” Witch Hunt

Christmas Pagan.001As a Christian Pastor, I take my privilege very seriously!  I stand on the truth, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free.”  And, I would never lead the people in my charge into paganism…or embracing it in any form.

With that in mind, I have been very troubled for the past several years over the celebration of Christmas in my church.  Some may be surprised at this statement, but it’s been an inner turmoil for me….UNTIL NOW!

I’ve read and prayed and read some more.  The internet is replete with strong denunciations of true Christians celebrating Christmas.  My heart has cried out, “What do I do?”  You see, this isn’t simply a matter of intellectual doctrinal dispute or opinion for me.  If it’s observance is anathema to my Heavenly Father is as true as myriads of Anti-Christmas proclaimers declare, then I and the people I am leading are in great danger from the wrath of God in this life, and maybe even hell-fire in the ages to come.

However, with sincere heart I’ve continued to seek His Wisdom on this most important issue!

I’ve come to the position that many sincere worshipers of God are drawing fear-laden, freedom-binding conclusions based on the same spirit as the “witch hunt” mentality.

I will list a few reasons I’ve come to that conclusion here.  But, if you’d like a more in depth examination, I’m posting a link at the end of this post.

Why I Believe You Can Celebrate “Christmas” With Your Church And Family And Not Be Afraid You Are Embracing Paganism:

Here are only a few of the reasons I have come to my conclusion and hope you will have the freedom to do so, as well (In no particular order of importance):

  1. I’m not afraid of the word, “Pagan,” from what it originally meant.  I do NOT embrace doctrines that are common to current “religious” expressions of paganism. (And btw there are as many slices of paganism as there are Christian denominations).
    In it’s earliest usage (the time all anti-Christmas folks refer to), anyone was a “pagan” who was folk-sy, outdoor-sy, and uneducated.  A common contemporary term that is very similar is “red neck.”Another term that has often been used in the same breath is “heretic.”  A heretic was an still is someone who has taken a basic truth to an extreme, and beyond a truthful biblical conclusion.  However, it is also used by many who stand on opposite sides of what they consider to be basic biblical conclusion.  Who’s the heretic?  Well, the one who is on the other side of the line I’ve drawn, of course! <—- (Sarcasm, in case you missed it.)I identify with many Charismatic or Pentecostal beliefs regarding the current practice of God’s gifts.  A very influential religious leader has assigned me to hell-flames.  I have no doubt this leader is a sincere follower of Christ, but he has openly stated that Charismatics and Pentecostals are not true Christians.

    I’ve also been labeled “New Age” because I believe that dreams can still be interpreted, among other things that are contemporary operations of the Holy Spirit’s gifts.  Do I believe the core teaching of “New Age?”  NO.  ABSOLUTELY NOT!  (But, the why is for another article.

    The point is that it’s easy to throw around terms like “new age,” “gnostic,” “mysticism,” and “heretic.”  They illicit strong reactions amongst sincere people.  But, the term easily applied does not mean that well informed truth is being told.   Saying something is so, doesn’t make it so!   And just because it’s found on the internet doesn’t make it so, either! (Internet buyer beware!

  2.  I Believe that “Sunday School” is a good thing for children.  Your church may call it something different like, “Children’s Church,” et al, but the point is the same.One of the common arguments against Christmas is that it isn’t found in the Scriptures.  Well, guess what?  Neither is Sunday School.  It originally came into existence when some churches wanted to educate poor children who were working on the farms and unable to attend school.  These churches taught basic education as well as took the opportunity to also teach the Scriptures.Yet, I have not found one article condemning Sunday School using the “not in Scripture” argument.  Oh, and btw…to be consistent…they should because, you see, Sunday is the title given to that day of the week to honor the Roman Sun God.  In fact all the days of the week are names that honor different “deities.”  Inconsistency Alert!

3. There is a huge amount of speculation to the majority of the claims that are made
about medieval times. 
I’m not denying that some pretty immoral, non God-honoring stuff
went on in that era.  However, much of the “it’s pagan” argument is based on stuff that can’t
be anything but speculation and outright error.  (You can read much greater researched
detail in the link below)

4.  I admire the early church for declaring thier honor to the true Son of God by openly
going “counter culture”
to a major day of cultural debauchery as a worship of the
birthday of their “sun god.” 
I think that probably took good old fashioned guts!  Then
again, I prefer to look at positive potential rather than seeing the “evil” in everything.
Everything that I consider “pagan heresy.”

This is a time when I am honoring the birth of Jesus.  I know it’s not the real date.  I am aware of all the cries and screams that it’s pagan.  It’s not to me, and nobody has proven to me that God is angry.  In fact, I think there’s a better chance of Him being angry with those who have made countless people fearful for celebrating the Christmas season.  I’m focused on making Jesus the reason for the season for my friends, family, and myself!  I hope you will, too!

For The In Depth Discussion,  “Christmas is Not Pagan” Click Here

Blessed Christmas To You!

Gary

 

 

 

A Key To Unlocking Christmas Peace

ChristmasPeaceGod’s peace is a quality of life.  An important part of the “Christmas” message is that peace is pursuing you.

That leaves yours and my part to be letting His peace catch us.

The story of Jesus birth was accompanied by a message from heaven,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)

The Key Is A Two Letter Word

Very often the “big things” are the “little things.”  In this case it’s the two letter word, “on.”  The angels announced, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace…”

Every place this word is used in the New Testament, it’s always contained within an action.  It is not stationary or passive.  In Luke 2:14 it indicates action from heaven toward the mankind.

Peace is pursuing you right now!  Stop and let it catch you!

More Little Things Of Peace

The Prince of Peace (The Pursuer) was born into the earth as a baby (a little thing).  As we allow peace to catch us, we begin recognizing it in the little things.  These little things will expand.  It’s like the mustard seed.  There is no end in the increase of God’s Kingdom…(in your life).

We begin experiencing and enjoying His Peace as we open our eyes to appreciate the little pieces of peace.  When Elijah was praying for the rain to begin, it began as a cloud the size of a man’s hand.  It then grew to a huge rain storm.

Prayer:  “Jesus, you are my Prince of Peace.  May Your Spirit open the eyes of my heart to see the tiny seeds of peace that are pursuing me.”

Peace (moving toward you from heaven) to you, my friend.  Right here.  Right now.  In this moment.

While you’re here, enjoy this peaceful video:

The First Step To Winning Anything

GIANTSThis post is not about football.  It is simply a good image to introduce the first step to winning over any obstacle in life.

Just one reference:  The issues of life never allow anyone to freely, unhindered, walk over the goal line of victory.  It just doesn’t happen.

Tough stuff happens…sometimes tragic stuff.

Remember these basic realities:

1.  Whether or not the “goal line” resistance is made up of little aggravations or seemingly immovable objects, you can be the irresistible force.

2.  Winning starts with a three word command to yourself – each and every time – as you take a deep breath.  And that command is…

Deal With It!

Let me clarify that I am emphasizing these words to mean, “I’m headed for the goal line and I’m not going to be stopped. So, I’m going to deal with it!”

Do God’s Best!

I didn’t say, “Do your best.”  That’s the default that can spell disaster.  Anytime we attempt to reach into the strength of our own abilities, we are reaching into a shallow pool.

Many of the obstacles we face are pretty intimidating.  In all likelihood they resemble Goliath against David.  But, the outcome can be the same victory as David notched on his belt if handled the way David handled Goliath.  He said, “You come to me with all of your natural strengths and abilities [my paraphrase] but I come to you in the name of the Lord God of Israel.”

A.  Reach into the power that is at work within you.  Speak His Word to yourself and your obstacle.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” (Ephesians 3:20)

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

Quick Tip:  Strengthens me in Greek means, “Who has infused His strength within me.”

B.  Remember the victories (little and big) He has previously given you

Too many times we remember, but our “remembering” is rehashing all of our pain, sorrow, and seeming defeat.  All that does is re-enforce the present obstacle.

C.  Ask God for wisdom

James tells us in the first chapter that if we ask Him for wisdom, He will give it.  So, ask with confidence and then expect “hunches” to “poke” you.  Sometimes we get big, game changing wisdom.  Normally, for me, it’s a lot of little things I act on that come together.

D.  Act On It!

Sometimes the “hunch” will seem so insignificant that you could easily dismiss it.  At times it’s something that you’ll respond to by saying, “Oh, that’s stupid.  That won’t make any difference.”

Many times, for me, it’s following through with the things I didn’t think would make any difference that caused the first crack to show in the obstacle.

Too many times we “deal with it” by getting fearful, or further discouraged.  If you’re pretty discouraged and tired right now, I encourage you to “deal with it” like King David did in 1 Samuel 30:6 (Read the whole story for even greater impact)

“David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the LORD his God.”

Remember…hard stuff happens.  And, it’s going to keep happening as long as you draw breath on this earth.  So, choose to take a “Deal with it” attitude.  God’s strength, God’s wisdom, and God’s creativity will take you across the goal line with a smile on your face.

If this has helped, I’d love to hear even a brief comment from you or an example from your life.  Your stories encourage us!

Gary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Secret

MangerWe know about Jesus being born in a manger.  That’s literally true.  However, there’s a secret about the manger. (Secret = Unaware of)

There are many wonderful, powerful truths we can learn from metaphors.   They are significant because they help us picture a reality in a more clear and solid way.

One of the very powerful things that “the manger” signifies is “your and my heart”

Here’s the significance that takes on a new life for me.  And, I hope you’ll spend some time this month thinking about this for yourself.

The ultimate reality is the fact that Jesus “incarnated” (took on the form of flesh) for a purpose:

  1. To give His life FOR the world (in 33 years of example and ultimate sacrifice for our sin)
  2. To give His life TO you and me, individually, to navigate daily life in a far better way.

Jesus giving His life for me is crucial lest nothing else matters in the long run.  However, Jesus giving His life to me means I have the privilege of counting on Him to live His life in me and through me! 

Life Is Impossible Without The Input Of An Ability Much Greater Than Yours.  So, You And I Are Wise If We Stop Attempting To “Go It Alone!”

So many Christians waste so much time with the struggles of attempting to use their own abilities to climb impossible mountains (and one’s they mistakenly think are possible) than no human is equipped to climb.

[btw...that means the Lion's share of everything you and I face everyday]

Oh, yes.  At times we can do a passing job at some of the the “little things” of life with natural effort and talent.  But, in the end that adds up to a mediocre existence….not LIFE.

He is able to do exceeding, abundantly beyond whatever we ask or even imagine according to the power that is at work within us. Eph. 3:22  HIS LIFE IS THAT POWER WITHIN US.

Upgrade To First Class

You can upgrade to first class, and the ticket’s already been paid! 

Jesus came into the plain, simple, rough manger of your heart.  He gave Himself to you!  His desire is that you allow the abundance of His life operate in you and for you starting this season of celebration.

It Starts With A Seed

The life of Jesus in flesh started as a baby.  From there he increased in stature and favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).

Jesus Is The Word and His Scriptures Are “Word Seed”

Start your day (daily) this way:

Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” “Lord, I consider myself dead to sin and alive to Your life that is in me. I ask You to take over.”

When that, or something like that, becomes the intentional prayer declaration (that you even remind yourself of throughout the day), the seed will grow.

I believe there is no greater delight in the heart of God than to see His children depending on Jesus to daily do what He promised.  Abundant Life.   The promise of abundant life in John 10:10 is not “stuff.”  There may be “stuff” that results, but if we want to experience abundant life, then we must recognize that it is His Life that gave to us and wants to live in an through us.

Be conscious about it.  Be purposeful and intentional.  Plant and nurture the seeds and let Him do His thing.

Gary

 

 

The Secret of Bethlehem’s Stable

Street ManI saw this picture and my heart jumped.  This was the thought.  “If you see this picture with the eyes of your heart, you’ll see the secret of Bethlehem’s stable.”

It’s a secret that has the power to change anyone’s life.

Let it fill the screen of your mind.

Say, “Into thee I see”  Hear, “Into thee I see.”

The man is a metaphor.  Perhaps, as you look into his eyes, they will become His eyes.

It’s Not About Feeling Guilty

Jesus is the reason for the season, and my story today is not about guilt, but touches on a truth that I’ve been discovering for myself.  A reality that is making this Christmas season more real and satisfying than ever before.

It’s not about producing feelings of guilt, or pity.  It’s not about ridiculing the commercialism of our age, nor the removal of family traditions, as such.

It is about taking another look at God’s Story that will bring immediate, as well as, long term positive results…for others and for you.  You see…

This man represents more than a great ministry opportunity. He’s a person that Jesus reminds us at this time of year for whom he came to this world (physically and spiritually).

He is Bethlehem’s Stable.

Especially at this season of the year, we are presented with opportunities to involve ourselves, individually and as a community of faith to minister to those in greater need than ourselves.  And, that’s a good thing!  Our gifts will help, but not have the same impact as deeper and more practical “everyday” participation.

A Greater Truth

A  greater, more resounding truth is this.  Loving the poor means making room for them in “my” life. Loving those who are poor means that I stop thinking about ministry to the poor, but open myself up to being ministered to by those who are poor.  By ministering with those who are poor. Not only as part of a “team” of people (which is good in itself) but on other levels that are more personal.

Sometimes Inconvenient

One of the things that brings more impatience and irritation into our lives is being inconvenienced.”  But, allowing this kind of inconvenience has the potential of doing a much better job of cleansing from self-indulgence that anything else I know.

Self-indulgence (in the name of Godly prosperity) never brings heart level satisfaction.  Letting our hearts beat in rhythm with His heartbeat bears the fruit of the kind of peace that saturates.

Once I start making relationships with the poor that are friendships, I was only mentally agreeing with a Christian sounding effort of charity, but that’s what it actually factually was.  And then…realizing relationship means more than ministry to….but includes opening myself to ministry from these my friends…I was still operating in a half-baked belief system.

I Don’t Put Up With Them

I no longer “put up with” the less fortunate than myself, I am learning to love them as I love myself.  I’m discovering the reality of, “love thy neighbor as yourself” on a much richer level.

Okay, You Caught Me.  It’s Partially Self-Centered

I found out the the sweetest sound in all the world is the heartbeat of Jesus.  It envelopes me with peace, and joy.  And, I discovered I can hear His heartbeat best when…

I am ever deepening my relationship with the poor as I minister God’s love to them, and affectionately invite them to minister His love to me…in all sorts of interesting ways.

My hope is that we will let this season be a fresh experience.  That this season will be a time of fresh life choices that begin….as a babe in a manger, that will continue to grow into an ever-increasing purpose and stature throughout the rest of our lives.

Ever Seeking A Great Vision of God’s Purpose,

Gary

Wide Eyed With Wonder

Wide EyedThe desire and delight of the Lord is for you and I to be “Wide Eyed With Wonder”

That is an experience that He desires that we maintain throughout our “adulthood.”

The Kingdom of God, says Jesus, is made up of those that are like children. 

Your children, or grandchildren are great imitators.  It’s not to late to give them something great to imitate.  It’s not too late to be surprised by the delights of God’s Presence.

It’s not too late to be filled with your own child-like wonder.

What the devil doesn’t want you to know:

It’s child-like wonder that is the heart of “The fear of the Lord.”   There’s nothing like  “eye popping wonder” that will saturate a person like you and I with the deepest kind of awe and respect.

Discover the beauty, peace, joy, and love of wonder

Make the choice right now to tell the Lord you want to be a child again.  Accept no excuses from your “adult self” that tries to insist on the wisdom of being “all grown up.”

Wide eyed wonder is a gift that is yours in the redemption of Christ.  He wants you to begin unwrapping it, today.  

So. be like the child in the photo above.  Open your eyes wide (I mean literally).  Lift your hands up toward heaven.  Say, “Yes, Please.”  Then expect the Holy Spirit to begin a fresh stirring in you.

It may scare you a little at first

It may scare you a little at first because you probably aren’t used to having happy stirrings within.  But, just go with it.

Whenever something contrary happens that tries to make you squint-y eyed with stress, open your eyes wide with confidence in His desires and delights for you.

The first step:  You believing it…which includes true belief…which means acting on it even while it doesn’t feel real.

Yes, Lord.  Yes, Lord.  Yes, yes, Lord!

Gary

 

How Do I Find My Calling?

CallingHow do I know the will of God for my life?  What’s my calling…my purpose?  What are my gifts?

These are all questions that have intense interest for a multitude of people – young and old.

These are questions that have a great deal of focus both with young and old alike.

The question is also the invention of Western Culture. 

Now, I’m not saying that there is no value in taking a gifts survey.  It may confirm what you are good at, and what conditions help you function best.  But, to be honest with you, I have never…I mean not ever witnessed much – if anything – change in a person’s approach to life and spirituality after they’ve taken one – two – three – or, more of them.

That may be a bit of an exaggeration on my part.   Perhaps it’s not a fair judgement.  I’m just saying what I’ve honesty – over time – observed.

Our culture is one of “the specialist.”  Has it made us (really) any better?  I’ll let people with higher pay grades than I argue that.  But, I suspect – when all is said and done – focusing on the discovery of a person’s “giftings” often only makes them more self centered.  Tough words, but true.

Your Assignment and your Calling are not the same thing.

Our “Calling” is captured in the words of the Greatest Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
(Mark 12:30)  He then added that equally, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

It’s interesting to me that He immediately used an extreme example by telling the story of the Good Samaritan.  The Good Half-breed.  The Jewish outcast, God-forsaken, lower-than-life.

When you wonder about who God considers to be your “neighbor,” think about someone that you want to have absolutely nothing to do with.  Be honest about it.  

We want to squirm on that one and play word games, but Jesus gives us as much wiggle room as the thickness of a gnat’s whisker.

The Assignment:  The immediate task given by our Master.  The length of time required for that task may be an hour, or most of a life-time.  Regardless, it is never, ever to be “owned.”

In my 40 years of ministry life and observation…

The majority of the people are not really all that sure about their gifts.  Even after numerous tests, they are still “seeking.”

A “word” I believe the Holy Spirit put on my heart:

A person may become sure of their special gifts, (which usually includes the question of the D word “Destiny.”)  and still never fulfill their “Call” while a person may never be sure of their gifts and yet successfully fulfill their primary calling (as described above.)

If you are unsure.  Be at rest.  I don’t believe God cares that much about how “sure” you are and how many gift surveys you take.  I do believe, however, that He cares about your
pursuit of loving Him with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.  As well as loving your neighbor as yourself
.

Western Culture and it’s specific practices and “rights” are not the same as the Culture of God’s Kingdom.  It may be a very good thing to not look at them as the same.

Focused Concern About What Our Gifts Are May Sound Godly, But It’s Really The Pursuit Of Self Seeking.  Our Purpose and Destiny Is To Be Lovers.  Of God and Each Other (including the outcast).  That’s Enough On One Plate For Any Man Or Woman.

Gary

 

 

 

 

The Powerful Choice We Can All Make

We'll Never Give Up

Today is about choices.  One of the most powerful decisions you can make for today, for this moment, is “I’m not giving up…I’ll never give up!”

Photographer Tom Stoddard took this award winning photo (courtesy of Getty Images) in 1993.  It was captured on a city street in the suburb of Dobrinja, Sarajevo in the presence of streets lined with enemy soldiers.  The woman is dressed for work and with her countenance is saying, “We’ll never give up.”

You may be surrounded with images of defeat.  Fix your eyes on this true-life photo.  Let it sink into and permeate your own heart and mind.  Make it your story.  Your choice.  Put your choice on your face, in your dress, in your actions, and in your speech.

Philippians 4:19. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  The Greek language states it this way, “who has infused His strength within me.”

Gary

Why Little Is Bigger Than Big

quote-little-things-bigIt’s wonderful when God gives us the gift of something BIG happening.  The rather strange thing about that, though, is it has not been the BIG GOD THINGS that has made my heart grow fonder in my ever-growing relationship with Him.

The picture here says, “Never get tired of doing little things for others.  Sometimes those little things occupy the biggest part of their hearts.”

That is a truth that comes from the very heart of God regarding relationships with others as well as His relationship with you.

Thinking back over the years, I can remember the first time that thought occurred to me.  It was in Chicago in the middle of a snow storm.  I was on my way to work at W.M.B.I. radio.  The thought in my mind was, “I’m not looking forward to walking through the snow.”

Perhaps I could have “exercised my faith” and spoke to the storm – like Jesus – and watch the snow cease.  I would have given credit to God for the great miracle!  Instead, as I approached the entrance, I saw a parking spot right in front. 

The thought that occurred to me was, “How cool is that!  My heavenly Father takes care of all the little stuff for me.”  I felt warm, and loved.

The big miracle would have been awesome.  I would have been further convinced of His power.  The “little act” (which was probably a miracle in itself if you know Chicago parking) demonstrated His intimate, practical, caring heart for me.

Look for the little things.  That’s actually what our hearts crave.  Give to others the same, and acknowledge their little things for you.

Here’s a “little thing” short (2:23) video of something God did for me that has further deepened my relationship with him.  Check it out.  It demonstrates a reality you can realize for yourself.

This May Be Killing Prayer For You

Krisenmanagement-lPrayer is something everyone knows is “the right thing”…”the righteous thing.”  However, there’s a lot of guilt surrounding that knowledge.  Guilty feelings about anything are never helpful.

So let’s look quickly and simply reveal the “elephant in the room.”  Let’s expose why so many people intuitively know the right thing about pray, but seldom or consistently put an “ing” on the end of the word, prayer.

What’s it all about Alfie?

Okay, that dates me.  That’s the title song of a movie that’s nearly 50 years old.  So, let’s ask a more audience inclusive question.

Why Don’t I Seem To be Able to Put an “ing” On the End of Prayer?

Perhaps it’s because you are trying to use your fork as a soup spoon.   (Whuhhh??)
Yes, maybe you keep attempting to utilize prayer in a way that it wasn’t designed to function.

If you are using PRAYER primarily for CRISIS MANAGEMENT, then it’s a prescription for failure.

Crisis Management Praying is Normally “the Norm” for Most People

A good ratio for prayer as “crisis management” is no more than ten percent.  Here are the some of the reasons:

  1. More than 10% C.M. keeps us consciously need focused.
    Frankly, a mind that is constantly need focused isn’t a peaceful mind.  And most people try to avoid a “conflicted” atmosphere.  Can you see how that would position praying as something we might actually be avoiding?
  2. More than 10% C.M. distracts us from God’s primary prayer purpose.
    The primary purpose for prayer can be summed up with these two ideas:
  • Developing Friendship with God
  • Developing Partnership with God

Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends.”  A friend (in the biblical description of the word) includes both the ideas of intimate relationship, and common goals.

We talk to our close friends about needs in our lives, and even things that each can help each other with.  But, if our relationship with our close friends is constantly consumed with “bailing each other out,” then that relationship begins to feel “needy.”  It eventually separates rather than further bonds.

Magic Suggestion: 

  • Talk to the Lord every day for the next 7 days for a minimum of 2 minutes.
  • Do not talk to Him about your needs.  None of them!
  • Tell Him the things you are the most thankful for
  • Brag on Him.  Be as specific as possible
  • Do it again for another week
  • When a pressing need arises, simply thank Him, in a few words that you are grateful that He supplies all of our needs, and then move on.

This is a “money back” guarantee.  It will begin having a positive affect on your overall peace, joy, love, etc.   The curious thing to me is that solutions to issues you didn’t even talk to Him about begin “popping up.”

Jesus is cool that way!  Btw…it will take some work and dedication to change your approach because we are soooo used to prayer and praying being primarily a Crisis Management Tool,
and that is never what God had in mind.

Final Thought:

When trying to deepen your relationship with the Lord, know this.  The things you most need to learn, you already know.  What things do you already know about developing a great natural friendship?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.  Leave a comment and we will all benefit. 

Gary