Tag Archives: Christmas

Loose Your Religion – Make Room for Relationship

It’s hard for us to realize this today, but when Christianity first arose in the world it was not called a religion. It was the non-religion. Imagine the neighbors of early Christians asking them about their faith. “Where’s your temple?” We don’t have one. “Where are your priests?” We don’t have priests. “Where are the sacrifices made to please your gods?” We don’t do that kind of thing. Jesus himself was the temple to end all temples, the priest to end all priests, and the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. First century Christians were even called atheists. They were the non-religion.

Religion in general is man’s strategic manual for how to reach God. But Christianity is not a religion in this sense. Christianity holds that man, no matter how hard he tries, cannot reach God. Man cannot ascend to God’s level. Therefore there is only one remedy: God must come down to man’s level (that’s what Christmas is all about). Scandalous though it may seem, God must become man and assume the burden of man’s sins (D’Souza, Christianity, 290). Christianity teaches that this was the great sacrifice of Christ – from heaven to amniotic fluid. In religion, man must take the active role. In Christ, God does it all. And religious people generally find this offensive, because it takes away the “tax-payer status” with God. In other words, if I am good and do good things, I have rights to make demands of God.

Tim Keller, a New York City pastor, tells about a conversation he had with a woman. She said that she had gone to a church growing up and she had always heard that God accepts us only if we are sufficiently good and ethical. She had never heard the message of sheer grace through the work of Christ. She commented though on how scary that was for her. She said “If I was saved by my good works –then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace – at God’s infinite cost – then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.” Says Keller: “She could see immediately that the wonderful-beyond-belief teaching of salvation by sheer grace had two edges to it. On the one hand it cut away slavish fear. God loves us freely, despite our flaws and failures. Yet she also knew that if Jesus really had done this for her – she was not her own. She was bought with a price (Keller, Prodigal…).”

God’s grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a Savior. Christianity proclaims that all the things that religion promised but couldn’t deliver have been delivered once and for all by Jesus.

The world has many religions, but there’s no Gospel in them. In all the world religions, man is endeavoring to reach up and somehow find God. Only in Christianity is God reaching down to man. Christianity holds that man, no matter how hard he/she tries, cannot reach God. Therefore, there is only one remedy; God must become man and assume the burden of man’s sins. And that’s what He did at Christmas. Loose your religion. Make room for relationship.

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“I Don’t Have a Drinking Problem” | Alcohol, Christmas, and Getting Real through Tough Love

In Brennan Manning’s book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, he tells a story about confession. He found himself in a rehab center north of Minneapolis. The setting on this particular day was in a recreation room with twenty-five chemically dependent men and a counselor named Sean Murphy-O’Connor. A man named Max was in the hot-seat, a seat in the middle of the room.

Max was a nominal Christian, married with five children, owner and president of his company, wealthy, affable, and gifted with remarkable poise. Keep in mind that no alcoholic is truthful with how much he or she drinks. Sean knows this, and so begins his day of therapy.

“Max, how long have you been drinking?”

Max gives this long, detailed list of how much and what he drinks.

At the end of it, Sean, the counselor said, “You’re a liar.”

Max was offended, but composed himself quickly. Eventually, he admitted more than before. He kept a bottle of vodka in the nightstand, a bottle of gin in the suitcase, another in his bathroom cabinet, and three more at the office.

The questioning went on, “Have you ever been unkind to one of your kids?” Max asserted that he had a good relationship with them.

“But I didn’t ask you that.”

“When have you been unkind to your kids?”

Max suddenly knew what he needed to say about his daughter on last Christmas Eve, but said that he couldn’t remember the details. Sean, put the phone on speaker mode so that all could hear, and called Max’s wife for an explanation of what he suddenly could not remember. The conversation went like this:

“Hello ma’am. I’m calling in the middle of a group therapy session and your husband just told us that he was unkind to your daughter last Christmas Eve. Can you give the details, please?”

A soft voice filled the room (I’ll paraphrase), “Yes, I can tell you the whole thing…. Max gave Debbie some money to buy the nicest shoes she could find on Christmas Eve. On his way back home, Max stopped at the Cork-n-Bottle, a tavern a few miles from our house. He locked little Debbie in the truck with the engine running to keep her warm in the 12 degree weather. It was 3 in the afternoon. Max met some army buddies in the tavern and came out of the tavern at midnight. He was drunk. The motor had stopped running and the car windows were frozen shut. Debbie was badly frostbitten on both ears and on her fingers. When we got her to the hospital, the doctors had to operate. They amputated the thumb and forefinger on her right hand. She will be deaf for the rest of her life.”

Manning describes Max when he heard these words: “Max appeared to be having a coronary. He struggled to his feet making jerky, uncoordinated movements. His glasses flew to the right and his pipe to the left. He collapsed on all fours and sobbed hysterically.”

All of the other addicts left the room and no man will ever forget what he saw that day. Max was still on all fours. His sobs had soared to shrieks. Sean, the counselor, approached him, pressed his foot against Max’s rib cage and pushed. Max rolled over on his back. Sean told him, “Get out of here before I throw up. I am not running a rehab for liars!”

Manning summarizes: “The philosophy of tough love is based on the conviction that no effective recovery can be initiated until a man admits that he is powerless over alcohol and that his life has become unmanageable… For Max there were three options: eventual insanity, premature death, or sobriety…

Max later got honest and became more open, sincere, vulnerable, and affectionate than any man in the group. Tough love had made him real and the truth had set him free (123-130).” If we are a prisoner of our pride, confession is impossible. Lies trap you because you have to live in your own false little world that you have created. You can’t allow anyone to see the true you. You have to keep up the show and keep pretending that you’re that person that everyone loves you to be.

How about getting real with your need this Christmas? You are only fooling yourself and no one else. See the real you, and rather than retreat into denial, own your problem, refuse to medicate with alcohol, and achieve a new intimacy with those you want to love over the holidays. Tough love can set you free.

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Women – The Climax of Creation (For Men Only)

God made women beautiful. They are the crown of His creation – the one final thing that God made in Genesis. She is a work of art. She is the crescendo. Creation was brought to completion with Eve. God gave Eve a beautiful form and a beautiful spirit. There’s something about her that is mesmerizing. Of course, the Fall has impacted how we see women and how women go about being beautiful, but for the record, women are the climax of a creative Genesis week. They should be adored; but not worshipped.

Jesus makes sure that we should take great care to appreciate, cherish, and value this special climax of creation that belongs to God. Jesus uses extreme and graphic figures of speech to convey this truth.

Matthew 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully [Lustfully is the keyword. Jesus is OK with acknowledging the beauty of a woman; it’s the lusting that He has an issue with.] has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin [or stumble, coming from a word that describes part of a trapping mechanism. If you’re in a trap…], gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.

Jesus uses hyperbole – extreme exaggeration for effect – that is, more is said figuratively than is literally meant.

In a dramatic way, so that you wouldn’t forget it (many men can still quote this part of the Bible, even though they haven’t read it in years), He says “Don’t look lustfully, don’t act, and don’t go there. It’s a trap. Enjoy love and intimacy and appreciate beauty, but do whatever it takes to stay morally clean. Amputate the sources. Cancel subscriptions. Take another route. Put the computer in a public place in the home. Be as drastic as you have to be.”

When you mess with your sexuality, you open Pandora’s Box. I don’t believe Jesus endorsed self-mutilation, but He did believe in self-control. It is better for you to lose one part of your body, and forgo some experiences if that is what it takes, than for your whole body to go into hell (NIV).

Why does Jesus use such extreme and graphic figures of speech in this passage?” He understands what incredible harm can be done in this particular area of life. We hunger and thirst for love and relationship and we go about fulfilling this in all the wrong ways. We live in a world in which people are dying to be loved and don’t know where on earth to find love and intimacy. So what we do is that we confuse sexual fascination and desire with true love and intimacy.

Jesus gets extreme here because we have gotten extreme in what we do with, for and to others and how we view each other, especially how men view women. Jesus gets graphic because we have gotten graphic in our consumption of people. Jesus is not telling us to deny the beauty that God bestowed on a woman at Creation. He’s telling us to cherish the beauty, not consume it.

Randy Rowland argues: Lust is the under functioning of love and sexuality as God intended it to be. “We fear rejection, abandonment, alienation, failure to be lovable and adequate in relationships. The insecurities drive us to what we feel are safer places to explore our sensual and erotic urges. In doing so, we under function. We become less than what God created us for. You see, love and sexuality are meshed together in the context of a committed relationship… Sexual intimacy is a bonding agent (Sins We Love, 173).”

When we are in lust instead of in true love, we consume objects rather than love persons. The focus is entirely on yourself. We fixate and build scenarios in our mind that emerge as fantasy. We look in all the wrong places to feed this displaced sexual urge. In all our attempts, we dehumanize, degrade, and consume what should be loved, cherished and respected. Love gives; lust takes. Love values; lust uses. Love endures; lust subsides. Love is a process; lust is an act. Love is learned; lust is instinctive. Love requires constant attention; lust takes very little effort. Love takes time to develop and mature; lust needs no time to develop. Love requires emotional and spiritual interaction; lust requires only physical interaction. Love deepens a relationship; lust (operating alone) dulls a relationship–and will often end up killing it. It drives you into secrecy and hidden activities and self-absorption and self-hatred. The longer lust takes charge, the greater the loneliness and more extensive the shame.

True love and intimacy is a covenantal promise to understand the depths of another and stand with them for the long haul. Love is about a deep relationship over time. Love seeks the highest good of another. Love always pays a price. Love always costs something. Love is expensive. When you love, benefits accrue to another’s account. Love is for someone else, not for me. Love gives; it doesn’t grab. Love honors; it doesn’t devalue. Love leads to greater openness, enjoys creativity and leads to a bond of closeness. It all results in a very satisfying, guilt-free relationship with a spouse.

So, men, let’s do the honorable thing. Let’s affirm the beauty that God placed in a woman. And, if we are married, let’s focus our attention on the beauty in the One woman that He has allowed us to be with. Your woman doesn’t have to be on the cover of a magazine to make her truly happy. She just wants to know that she would be on “your magazine” and that she is a beautiful person to you.

Give her this gift this holiday season. What a climax!

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Pornography – A Thirsty Person Craving Salt

I like Frederick Buechner’s words: “Lust is the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst.” Pornography only creates more thirst, and quenches nothing, damaging our ability to be intimate with anyone. Sex is a beautiful concept. It is sacred; there’s nothing casual about it. But it has been twisted into insatiable thirst.

Even though pornography is not a source of lasting satisfaction, people who view it usually do so because they’re looking to fill a deep intimacy need. Pornography is a cheap substitute for what they’re really seeking — intimacy. And porn just leaves you more thirsty.

For many guys, an image is easier to relate to than a young woman with a heart, mind and emotions. An image has no expectations. You don’t have to impress an image or deal with any of the awkwardness that comes with relating to a real person.

Moving into the context of marriage, sex between a husband and a wife is giving yourself completely to your spouse. Those who masturbate to pornography, are engaging in sex with self. Masturbation is giving nothing. Masturbation can take a man into a fantasy world where he can be with anyone he wants and do anything he wants. That’s why married men can get caught up in pornography; it’s a low risk, self-centered way to get that “chemical pop” or rush. But something is lost, intimacy is lost, when we handle our sexuality in this way.

Pornography viewing can begin with something seemingly harmless: airbrushed photos in a magazine or a click on the Web. Soon you’re desiring more graphic material and falling more often. Pornography, a closet addiction, grabs you when you’re weak and holds you in its clutches. Planting seeds of alienation, it attacks and destroys relationships and robs you of self-respect.

Some things that we need to know before we click on those images and masturbate to pixels on a screen are offered by Steve Arterburn.

1. Attraction to a person of the opposite sex is natural.

2. Sex is exhilarating and it is God-given. God made sex beautiful; we have twisted this gift from God.

3. Sex is a slippery slope. Little compromises turn into bigger compromises.

4. God has sexual standards for His creation. To “lust” for something is to have “an intense desire or need” usually to the point that you’re willing to violate God’s word or use another person for your own gratification. Lust must be gratified now at any cost. Again, I like Frederick Buechner’s words: “Lust is the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst.” Lust is never satisfied.

Scripture illustrates this. Genesis 19 records the perversity of Sodom. Judges 16 tells of Samson’s fatal flaw. 2 Samuel 11 tells of David’s voyeuristic rooftop lusting that led to sin. Perhaps, one of the saddest pictures of lust comes from 2 Samuel 13 where Amnon rapes Tamar, his half-sister.

The NT speaks against homosexual relationships (Rom.1), incestuous relationships (1 Cor.5:1,5, 9-11) and immoral relations (1 Thess.4:3-7). Contrast all of this with the story of Joseph in Genesis 39 who showed restraint and control. So lust can be controlled, and Joseph shows us that we have to literally flee in some cases.

5. God’s love endures through our failure to keep His standards.

6. There is a devil and he will exploit this area. Before marriage, Satan does everything he can to get you to have sex with your boy/girlfriend. After marriage, he does everything he can to keep you from having sex with your wife. One of his ploys is pornography. It sets you up for temptation and moral failure. It degrades people, children, and undermines families. It normalizes immorality.

I may be sharing more on this. But for now, get yourself sexually sober, allow God to show you true intimacy, and rebuild your interior life over the holidays. What a great gift to give to those people who you truly want to be intimate with. If you are married, take ALL of your sexual energy to your spouse and recover true intimacy. What a great Christmas present!

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The New Testament Summed Up for Atheists

I have found that many people, especially atheists, struggle with a comprehensive understanding of the New Testament Bible books. In this post, I mention each of the 27 New Testament books by name; I succinctly in one sentence or less sum up that particular book or authors argument; and I tie it all together in a flowing, historical narrative that reflects the chronology of when books were written. This is literally the product of years of study. Again, I offer it to you free.

Here’s how I would sum up the New Testament for everyone, especially atheists:

After centuries of writing about and waiting for Israel’s expected Messiah (the Old Testament – see The Old Testament Summed Up for Atheist post), He finally arrived (that’s what Christmas is about) as the King of the Jews (Matthew), as the Suffering Servant (Mark), as a Human Being (Luke), as God’s Son (John) and some people slowly began to realize who He was and what He represented as they matched Old Testament teaching with what they had witnessed or heard about in the life and ministry of Jesus and they believed in Him, whereas others, specifically Israel’s leaders, rejected Him as Messiah and had him crucified. This resulted in a postponed kingdom implementation (the actual, literal reign of Christ on earth).

Nevertheless, He was resurrected from the dead, appeared to eyewitnesses to validate his life, prepared His followers for life in his absence and ascended back to heaven, after which His followers, specifically Peter and Paul, empowered by the Holy Spirit, spread the news of what God had done for the world through Jesus Christ (Acts) while building expectation of Christ’s return someday to rule and reign over the world in perfect justice and to love and heal the wounds of mankind.

Until then, those who believed Peter and Paul’s message became a part of the New Community of God, the Church, and needed instruction and training in how to live in this New Community, how to be a new Christ to the world, and what to believe and practice regarding several key beliefs (doctrines), such as the Second Coming of Christ (1 & 2 Thessalonians) and how to live a Christian lifestyle in the world and how to conduct themselves in the local church (1 Corinthians) and how to submit themselves to Paul’s authority (2 Corinthians) and how to be justified by faith and live the Spirit-filled life (Galatians, Romans).

Paul also taught that Jesus is Lord and that we should submit to His Lordship (Colossians), that we should forgive one another (Philemon), that we should live in light of our spiritual riches in Christ (Ephesians) and that we should joyfully serve Christ in a selfless manner (Philippians). Paul also trained leaders in how to lead in the New Community and on what viewpoints they should subscribe to regarding important issues (1 Timothy, Titus) and to stand firm for the Gospel even in his absence (2 Timothy).

James adds that believers are to be obedient to the Lord, even in trials (James) and to stay faithful to the superior Christ even when persecution makes it unpopular to do so (Hebrews, 1 Peter) and to stay ready for Christ’s return (2 Peter), earnestly contending for the faith (Jude), being careful to maintain a fervent love for God and one another in true fellowship (1 John) while exercising cautious support in showing hospitality to those who teach and proclaim the truth (2 John, 3 John) and do all of this in light of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ into the world where He will be glorified in human history after which believers will live forever with Him unhindered by sin in a New Heaven and a New Earth (Revelation).

And that’s the New Testament summed up for everyone, especially the atheist.

Christianity basically asserts that the end of all religions has come. They are no longer needed to be in a right relationship with God. Even though some choose to practice them, Christ has done all that needed to be done in order to bridge the gap between humanity and God. So “oppressive religion” does not have a monopoly on God’s grace. No religious group can contain what God has done for the world in Jesus. No special sect has a “corner” on the truth.

The truth has been embodied in a person – Christ Jesus, Our Lord. By-pass religion, and go straight to Christ. He will lead you home. And much of the New Testament is written to help those who have by-passed religion and who have come together to “be Christ” in a broken, and lonely world. Until He comes, may we all gather in New Community to be His hands, his feet, his body – to learn how to do life differently than we’ve done it before, to steward the creation, to be agents of redemption in a world of hate and revenge, to keep the memory of Jesus alive, to be the Church, and not just attend one.

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The Mentally Handicapped – Icons of Jesus

You have been seized by the power of a great affection (atheists and theists alike). It’s not so much that the one loved is lovable; it’s more about the beauty of the love with which one has been loved. This kind of love commonly comes strangely enough from the mentally handicapped.

Brennan Manning was able to spend an afternoon with an Amish family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Jonas Zook was his host, an eighty-two-year-old widower. The oldest child, fifty-seven year old Barbara, managed the household. The three younger children, Rachel (fifty-three), Elam (forty-seven), and Sam (forty-five) were all severely retarded.

Manning writes: “When I arrived at noon with two friends, little Elam – about four feet tall, heavy-set, thickly bearded, and wearing the black Amish outfit with the circular hat – was coming out of the barn some fifty yards away, pitchfork in hand. He had never laid his eyes on me in his life; yet, when he saw me step out of the car, this little Mongoloid dropped the pitchfork and ran lickety-split in my direction. Two feet away, he flung himself at me, wrapped his arms around my neck, his legs around my waist, and kissed me on the lips with fierce intensity for a full thirty seconds.”

Manning said, “I was temporarily stunned and terribly self-conscious. But in the twinkle of an eye, Jesus set me free and I returned this little mentally retarded mans kiss with the same enthusiasm. Then he jumped down, wrapped both is hands around my right arm, and led me on a tour of the farm.”

Manning later observed: “I was seized by the power of a great affection. In his utter simplicity little Elam Zook was an icon of Jesus Christ. Why? Because at that moment his love for me did not stem from any attractiveness or lovability of mine… Elam loved me whether I was kind or unkind, pleasant or nasty.”

This is what has happened in our world at Christmas. Humanity has been seized by the power of a great affection. Restraint has been thrown to the winds and love has grabbed us and will not let us go. The question is: Will you return the kiss?

Let’s join ranks with this special group of people who know how to love – icons of Jesus.

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Searching for “the Good Life”? Give Your Life Away

Everyone is looking for “the good life.”

Here’s the logic: if I could live in the perfect location in the perfect house surrounded by perfect friends, doing the perfect job in the perfect employment setting, and spend evenings and weekends with my perfect spouse and perfect family and watch my bank account rise to the perfect level, then I could say that I am truly living the good life.

This is ironic because “the good life” is not about a perfect life lived for myself. Rather, the good life can only be achieved when we give our lives away. It’s only then that a life of significance can be achieved.

The movie About Schmidt is the story of Warren Schmidt, a man who had a moment of awakening after he retired from a career with an insurance company. The point raised in the movie was about what gives our life significance. Warren Schmidt retired and the rest of the movie is about what significance, if any, his life possesses. One by one Warren questions the ideas guiding his life. He visits the young man who has taken his place at the insurance company; only to find that he doesn’t need Warrens help. On Schmidt’s way out of the building, he sees the files he developed over a lifetime have been discarded next to the dumpster for disposal. Schmidt tries to see purpose in a huge Winnebago Adventurer that barely fits in his driveway. He finds himself irritated by his wife, Helen. He can’t stand the man his daughter is going to marry nor all of his future in-laws. While cleaning out his wife’s closet, he discovered among some old letters, that she had an affair with his best friend Ray years ago. Where did the “good life” go?

We are all on a search, and so many times, the places we look come up empty for us – like it did for Warren Schmidt.

What are you chasing this Christmas?

Fortune? The world says you’re only successful if you have a lot of money. The more we hold to this, the more it has a hold on us.

Fame? You’re significant if people know you in the public arena.

Power? If you wield a lot of authority, then you’ve got the good life.

Pleasure? You can do whatever feels good anytime you want.

Many today are questing for these lesser passions, but are not finding the truly “good life.” Mick Jagger is right “I can’t get no satisfaction.”

Living the good life begins by believing in the existence of God, knowing God, respecting what He represents, and living life the way He has designed it to be lived. Of course, this is a part of what we lost in the Fall. God is no longer the default reference point for our ideas. We’re so confused because when we try to understand the world without relating every part of it back to God, it doesn’t fit together. He made you to know Him as the foundation for everything else in your life.

On the basis of your relationship with Him, get a job, get married if you’d like, have a family, and build a life. But keep God in the center of all of it and give your life away.

Practically speaking, the truly good life is finding something to enjoy about every moment; it’s loving and being loved in the context of a family; it’s engaging in meaningful work and using your resources to help facilitate the restoration of others to their God-intended purpose; it’s making the journey through life with others who care about you; it’s looking in the mirror with a clean conscience; it’s resting in the Sovereign care of God; it’s the joy of making a difference because you lived; it’s joy in your work and the opportunity to do something significant with your life. The “good life” is not a gathering of expensive possessions but a deliberate investment in the lives of others and to see their lives change for the better. It’s only when we realize that our life is not our own that we begin to live the truly good life.

On a whim one night, Warren Schmidt decided to become the foster parent of a poor 6 year old African boy, Ndugu Umbo, through a charity. In writing to this boy and telling him about his life, Schmidt had an awakening of sorts, asking the question “What in the world is better because of me?”

After taking a journey across the country and back home again, Schmidt opens the door of his home in Omaha, and he’s writing a mental letter to Ndugu, telling him what a failure he’s been.

“What difference has my life made to anyone? None that I can think of. None at all.”

Schmidt gathers up the mail and among the letters he received was one from Ndugu. The letter explains how he was recently helped by Schmidt’s gifts. Schmidt with trembling hands and a smile of satisfaction, begins to feel that maybe his life has counted for something after all.

Once we stop chasing after what we thought we wanted, we have to ask ourselves the question, “What is my life truly about?” Give your life away to a great cause and you will live the Good Life.

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