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Was the Grinch a Christian? Exposing the Real Grumps of Christmas

How the Grinch Stole Christmas - Cindy Lou WhoOne of my favorite holiday movies is How the Grinch Stole Christmas, especially the new Jim Carrey version. Dr. Seuss invented a character that became so wildly popular, he’s now a cliche (i.e. “Don’t be such a grinch!”). Anyone who puts a damper on the holidays falls into the grinch category.

As a Pastor, I’m immersed (often beyond my own comfort level) in what I’ve come to think of as the Christian subculture. This is the realm in which Christian believers live. We have our own music, our own bookstores, and our own schools. None of this is bad. I read “Christian” books, listen to “Christian” music, and send my kiddo’s to a “Christian” school. The problem comes when we begin to assume that, based on America’s Judeo-Christian heritage, our Christian subculture is actually THE one and only acceptable culture for all.

Somewhere around the Thanksgiving holiday, I start getting emails from alarmed Christian citizens who are outraged at the all out assault on our faith that consists of such brutal persecution tactics as forcing us to be greeted with a friendly “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” rather than our traditional, more Christocentric “Merry Christmas.” These friendly folks who dare to leave the name of the Savior out of their otherwise friendly greetings are… grinches, as are the retailers who refuse to advance their commercial and materialistic “sales” using the name of Christ, or the lawyers who file for injunctions against public displays of internally-lit plastic statues of the biblical nativity characters.

This bunch of grinches has the gaul to assert that even those who don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, sent as the Savior of the world, should not be expected to use His name in spite of their unbelief. After all, 99% of Americans are true, born again believers… right? (Hint: Nobody agrees on the actual percentage because of disagreements over the theological grounds for the label “Christian”, but 99% is waaaayyy off.)

But are we, in our rather demanding viewpoints in our Christian subculture, the actual grinches in this story?

This past weekend, my family picked a movie off of Netflix none of us had ever heard of before: Christmas With a Capital “C”. The acting wasn’t necessarily the greatest, but the storyline was at least slightly unpredictable. And there was a memorable line uttered that resonated with my own feelings about our Christian activism. The city council in the setting of a small Alaskan town was struggling with their response to an injunction against the display of a nativity on city property. Many of the believers in town were outraged that their long-held tradition had been challenged by a liberal, interloping lawyer. But one participant at the table gave voice to a different value… “Maybe we Christians should spend less time demanding our own rights and traditions and more time serving people in the name of Christ.”

I know I’m going against the grain here, as a Christian, but I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. I don’t want stores to feel they have to plaster the name of Christ over every holiday bargain. I don’t want us so focused on defending the display of our nativity scenes (which never, by the way, depict the nativity biblically anyway) that we ultimately shout at our Muslim, Jewish, atheistic, and other non-Christian neighbors to get their noses out of our business and be on their way.

I am a Christian. I believe Jesus Christ is the virgin born, sinless Son of God, sent to die on the cross for our sins, who rose again and is returning someday to establish a reign of peace and justice for all of eternity. He is the One and only Savior of the world, the One and only “way” to the Father (see John 14:6), and the One and only Redeemer who can possibly atone for the sins of mankind against our Creator.

And as His follower, sent to love people outside the faith, I’m going to make room in my Christmas celebration for my Muslim neighbors, my atheist neighbors, my Jewish neighbors, my Hindu neighbors, and anybody else who doesn’t share my traditions.

I’m not arguing that we should in any way compromise our beliefs about Jesus. I simply think that our belief in the biblical Jesus demands that we refuse to become the grinches in the story of our culture. Which is the better way to influence the very people whom Jesus died to save? To take our angry demands to court and the editorial sections, shouting in the faces of our enemies? Or to walk as the Savior Himself might have, loving our neighbors as ourselves, praying for them and being a blessing to them, even when it means making room for unfamiliar traditions alongside our own?

It boils down to two possible goals. If our goal is to preserve our own traditions and protect our Christian subculture while the world goes to hell, then by all means, the fight is on. But if our goal is to balance truth and grace to lovingly influence our surrounding world for Jesus’ sake, perhaps we should strive for a better approach.

Christian… don’t be a grinch.

The Light of the Knowledge of God

This article is based on a message from Matthew 2:1-12 from a series on the light of Christmas.

I’m beginning to preach a series of Christmas-oriented messages at Bethel on the theme of Light. It will consist of three messages…

  1. The Light of the Knowledge of God. God wants for us to know Him, so He has revealed enough light that we might pursue a knowledge of Him.
  2. The Light of the Glory of God. The shepherds beheld a myriad of angels and the glory of God and I think it dramatically changed their lives forever.
  3. The Light of the Salvation of God. As Isaiah said, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

[Read more…]

Christmas Sermon Series: GOOD TIMES

Note: Yes! Feel free to use anything you find here. Permission granted!

Good Times Christmas Sermon SeriesThese are tough times in many respects, but for the believer, they are also really good times in terms of some of the great opportunities God has brought our way. With our entering the holiday season, approaching the celebration of the birth of Christ, I wanted to present the really good news of Christmas in the midst of a world of scrooges. While most people are saying “Bah! Humbug!,” Christians ought to be saying, “Thank you God for being so good!”

So here is the series…

 

Christmas is a Good Time for Family.

We emphasize gathering with our relatives, but we also belong in God’s family. We believe the truth together, behave in holiness together, and belong together for all eternity. (1 Peter 1:18-25)

Christmas is a Good Time for Giving.

Christmas usually brings out the giving nature in us. Jesus said it’s “more blessed to give than to receive” and the New Testament is full of examples of churches that were enduring poverty and persecution, yet dug deep into their pockets to support the family of God across the Mediterranean.

Christmas is a Good Time for Hope.

All of the Jews placed their hopes in the coming of Messiah. Jesus’ mother Mary said about His birth, “He has fulfilled the hope of His people.” And today, we hope still. Part of our hope (of forgiveness) is fulfilled in Jesus’ death and resurrection, but we still hope for His second coming and final deliverance of His people.

Christmas is a Good Time for Receiving.

Is it not interesting that while giving a gift brings us joy, receiving a gift forces humility? It’s almost awkward to open a gift because of our feeling of unworthiness. Jesus said when He came to earth the first time – God’s Son wrapped in flesh – His own people did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, “to them gave He power to become the children of God.” Why not receive the greatest gift of all – the gift of eternal life?

My hope and prayer, for this and every sermon series I ever preach, is that God will use it to draw people into a relationship with Himself and into a church family. May God bless these weeks together!

Recommended Resources

Prepare for History’s Greatest News

Christmas Sermon Series: God’s Christmas Messages to You, Part 4
Based on Luke 2:8-20

This is the fourth and final message in a series of Christmas messages based on the angelic appearances of the first Christmas. We’ve learned with Zechariah and Elizabeth to “prepare for the miraculous.” We’ve learned with Mary to “prepare to be God’s instrument.” We’ve learned with Joseph to “prepare to meet the Savior.” Today, we learn with the shepherds to “prepare for history’s greatest news.”

More than the others, God’s message through the angels to the shepherds represents His universal message to all of humanity. It was the only angelic announcement that involved more than one angel (it involved myriads) and it was the only one to more than one person (Elizabeth was not with Zechariah). It was a group of angels giving God’s message to a group of people who were looked at as “common” in Jesus’ day.

Christmas is, at least in part, the story of God sending His message to all of humanity, to you and me.

GOD’S MESSAGE TO THE WORLD…

1. God’s message is for real people living real life.

Notice that the shepherds were living in the fields with their sheep. That was their life and their livelihood. They were real people with real lives doing real things. I want you to understand that the Christian message is not for perfect people, but for real people. Notice that the angels said that the good news would be for all people.

2. God’s message for the world is good news.

There are two elements to be found in the reaction of the shepherds to the message of the angels and these two reactions should be ours today as well.

A. Fear.

Fear because God is holy, because He is great and awesome, and because He will judge sin. Fear because an encounter with the holy God is a reminder that we are ultimately sinful and unable to stand in His presence.

“For our God is a consuming fire.” –Hebrews 12:29

“For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” –Revelation 6:17

It is very true that the gospel (which means good news) is not such good news until we realize the bad news, that we’ve sinned against and offended a holy God who will punish us for eternity in hell if we do not repent and come to Christ by faith.

B. Joy.

Joy, sweet relief, peace in the soul. That’s what they felt when they realized that the message here on earth was not one of judgment (that will come for the unrepentant in heaven) but rather one of a Savior.

3. God’s message for the world demands a decision.

The shepherds decided to act on the message and go meet the Savior. Every time we hear the message of the gospel, God’s good news, we are called to a crisis of faith, a moment of decision. We must decide what to do with Jesus in this life or perish for eternity.

You see, we are all responsible to respond to the light God gives us. We should know from nature that there is a God and seek Him further. We should hear our conscience telling us that we’ve sinned and we should seek to repent. We should hear the gospel and respond to the light of God’s message, God’s revelation.

The Bible and the gospel preached by preachers across the land is God’s message of warning and consolation to us today and we must respond.

4. God’s message changes lives forever.

Notice the change in the shepherds’ lives. Their newfound faith prompted them to do at least two things:

A. Tell others about Jesus.

B. Offer praise to God.

Their hearts were changed! They had a new message to give and a new song to sing because things were different for them now. They had met the Savior!

What about you? Have you received His message? Have you met the Savior? Are you different now than before? What have you done with Jesus?

Sermon Brief: Prepare to Be God’s Instrument

God’s Message to Mary: Prepare to Be God’s Instrument
Sermon Series: God’s Christmas Messages to You
Based on Luke 1:26-38, 46-56

A couple of years ago I attended a men’s retreat in Richwoods, Missouri and decided to go horseback riding. I got on a horse that had a mind of its own (and it was my first time). I did okay and got control of the animal but it kept jerking its head downward. Once, going up a steep, rocky path, the horse jerked the reigns right out of my hand and I was no longer in control. The horse knew it immediately and began to climb through a thicket with me. Thankfully a guy in our group gave me the reigns back and they all had a good laugh.

We’re all a little bit like that horse, we want to be in control of life. We want to hold the reigns. We do this with God too. We want to call the shots and decide how God will use us. As a matter of fact, we often use God instead of letting Him use us. The result is shallow Christian living. It’s not much of an adventure when we set limits on what God can do with us.

Luke records for us the example of Mary who decided to let God use her instead of just using Him. She was fully open to Him and became an instrument in His hands. Before we understand how, let me clear up some confusion about Mary.

An Overemphasized Mary

Some segments of faith attempt to overemphasize Mary’s role in the world. She gets more attention than Jesus and is even called by many as “mother of God” or worse, “co-redeemer.” She is none of the like. She was just a woman saved by grace. She wasn’t virgin born and she died a death just like any other human being.

An Underemphasized Mary

Many, perhaps in reaction to the overemphasized Mary, tend to underemphasize her role and leave her out of the gospel story all together. There is a balance. Mary was a godly young woman, a teenager without a clue but ready for God’s assigned adventure.

WHEN GOD USES AN INSTRUMENT…

1. God uses people only by His grace. (vs. 28-30)

Numerous times in this passage, the angel says that Mary is the object of God’s “favor.” That word refers to His gracious choosing of an instrument. Mary was a sinner, saved by grace.

“But we have this treasure (the gospel) in earthen vessels (clay pots), that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” -2 Corinthians 4:7

When we testify of God’s grace, we’re giving Him the glory and letting people see Him as pre-eminent and not us.

2. God uses people who are available.

I love what Howard Hendricks says about being used of God. He says we must be “FAT.”

How to be FAT for God…

Faithful
Available
Teachable

Looking at Mary’s example, she was certainly all of these qualities. She was “faithful” in being ready to take up the assignment. The Bible points out three times in this passage that she was a virgin. On the theological side, this was to testify to the impeccability of Jesus’ divine nature. On the practical side, it lets us know that Mary was ready for her particular assignment.

She was also available. When God spoke, she didn’t say “no” and she didn’t demand more evidence. She was simply ready for the assignment.

And Mary was teachable. Do you notice how quietly and obediently she listens to the Lord’s messenger? She asks how it will all happen but she does not interject her own opinion of things. She simply lets God have His way.

Are you ready to be FAT for God?

3. God uses people in His own power. (vs. 35-37)

Mary asks how the miraculous birth of Jesus is supposed to occur. A natural question considering her virginity. God’s answer is clear:

  • The Holy Ghost will accomplish it supernaturally.
  • The power of God will overcome the laws of nature.
  • All the world will testify of God’s power.

Then the messenger gives Mary the testimony of what has happened in Elisabeth’s life. She too has experienced a miracle by the power of God.

Remember that verse from earlier?

“But we have this treasure (the gospel) in earthen vessels (clay pots), that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” -2 Corinthians 4:7

If you’re wondering how it is that God is supposed to use you, just remember what Jesus said to His disciples…

“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” –John 15:5

4. God uses people for His own purpose.

God always has His own reasons for using people. He is never obligated to tell us His purposes and His purposes are sometimes past finding out. He just thinks differently. But we do get an insight into two of God’s greatest purposes as they are revealed to Mary…

• God used Mary to birth Jesus to save others. (vs. 31-33)

Why Mary? Who knows but God. What we do know is that God selected her for the purpose of being the incubator for the Messiah so that all the world could trust Him and be saved. God does things in our lives as well so that others might be saved.

• God used Mary so He would receive the glory. (vs. 46-56)

Mary issues what is called The Magnificat. It is her song of praise to God. The first stanza gives God all the glory for saving her and using her. The remainder of the song gives glory to God for coming to the rescue of His people.

Are you ready to be used by God today? You first need an experience of His grace! You need to receive His forgiveness and be saved.