If you are bothered that we might go over a fiscal cliff, think again. Our march toward a moral cliff is its taproot. The moral cliff is the ever quickening erosion of core values and our growing expectations of government. Slowly slipping away are individualism and commitment grounded in hard work, personally doing good and the proper role of citizens within the society….[view article]
The mainstream media continues to insist that the economy is “getting better”, but the poverty numbers for children and young people just continue to explode. For example, did you know that the poverty rate for families with a head of household under the age of 30 is a whopping 37 percent? Children and young people sure didn’t cause our recent economic downturn, but they sure are getting hit the hardest by it. According to the U.S. Department of Education, for the first time ever more than a million U.S. public school students are homeless. That seems like an impossible number, but it is actually true. How in the world could the “wealthiest nation on earth” get to the point where more than a million children can’t count on a warm bed to sleep in at night? Sadly, a huge number of American children can’t count on a warm dinner either. About a fourth of them are enrolled in the food stamp program. What do you do if you are a parent in that kind of situation? How do you explain to your kids that you can’t afford a nice home like everybody else has or that you can’t afford to go to the grocery store and buy them some dinner? (Read More….)
There can be no doubt that our nation is headed into very troubling times. Many economists are warning that our nation is on the verge of a financial meltdown; we see immorality becoming the American way of life; and a growing number of Americans are turning their back on God and His Word, choosing their own individual path to spirituality.
Apprising Ministries shares a new email from RZIM forwarded on to me by an AM reader about concerns he expressed to them about the popular Word faith prosperity preacher.
However, it does not address the central issue of Zacharias’ outright praise for Joyce Meyer, who among other things, is in violation of God’s Word acting as an elder in the visible church.
Fox News reports:
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is calling for an end to Christian prayers at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“West Point cadets should be able to train for service in our nation’s military without having religion forced upon them,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Academy officials must respect the religious liberty rights of all cadets who should be free to make their own decisions about prayer without government coercion.”
A spokesman for West Point told Fox News they had received the letter. The spokesman said that all prayers at West Point are voluntary.
The Resurgence, a ministry of Mark Driscoll that seeks to “train the head, heart and hands of leaders,” has announced the speaker lineup for its 2013 conference. The gathering, which will not take place until November of 2013, boasts many familiar names, including Driscoll himself, James MacDonald, Rick Warren, Greg Laurie, Matt Chandler and Crawford Loritts.
These are the faces and speakers that often headline the larger conferences within American seeker-driven evangelicalism, appearing together again and again, year after year. As CRN has noted previously, there appears to be a new, ecumenical, evangelical magisterium forming, and with each conference that is held, it is becoming evident just who are the members of this emerging coalition.
by John MacArthur
The community where I live doesn’t make international headlines very often, but last week the managers of a local residential complex for seniors earned a large-print banner at the top of the Drudge Report. “Christmas Tree Banned: ‘Religious Symbol,’” the headline screamed.
Someone in the retirement center’s parent corporation decided Christmas decorations are sectarian emblems and banned them from all communal areas. Staff were directed to remove the central Christmas tree that residents had already decorated.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about that story is that it made headlines at all. Every year the Grinches of militant secularism complain about Christmas decorations in public places, and each Christmas seems to produce more stories like that than the last. Lawsuits and protests over decorations have become as much a holiday tradition as figgy pudding.
Of course, Christmas trees are not really religious symbols. There is no biblical, creedal, or ecclesiastical mandate to decorate trees—or to exchange gifts, for that matter. We don’t know the actual date of Christ’s birth, so even the December 25 date had no special significance to the church for at least three centuries after Christ. Those are traditions that Christians have observed for generations. Like breaking plates at a Greek wedding, such things are cultural customs, not religious rites.
There is certainly nothing sacred about Christmas decorations, and if you don’t believe me, take a drive through the typical American neighborhood at night during the holiday season. Yards and houses are blanketed with fake snow, bright lights, and fantasy figures—Santa, Frosty, Rudolph, Jack Frost, gingerbread men, elves, nutcrackers, Scrooge, Charlie Brown, and of course, the Grinch.
Indeed, Christmas in American popular culture is overgrown with folklore, feelings, and nostalgic icons that have nothing whatsoever to do with religious faith. Most popular Christmas traditions are less than 150 years old. One such tradition, dating back to Dickens’s time, is the sentimental exploration of the question “What is the true meaning of Christmas?”
The true-meaning-of-Christmas meme even has its own Wikipedia entry. According to the article there, “In pop culture usage, overt religious references are mostly avoided, and the ‘true meaning’ is taken to be a sort of introspective and benevolent attitude.”
The truth of that analysis is amply illustrated in a growing menagerie of popular Christmas movies. From the classic favorites (played repeatedly in 24-hour marathons) to the cheesy dramas shown wall-to-wall on cable TV each December, Hollywood force-feeds viewers a seriously skewed notion of Christmas. The Hallmark Channel alone is advertising 12 new Christmas movies this month. In one way or another, most of them offer some view on the true meaning of Christmas.
All of them get it wrong.
Frankly, if everything you knew about Christmas came from tree ornaments, house decorations, and Christmas movies, you might not have a clue the holiday ever had anything to do with the birth of Christ. The fact that people think of Christmas trees as religious symbols proves Christians have not made their message clear.
For believers, that surely ought to be a more urgent matter of concern than the so-called war on Christmas. Secularists who can’t stand the sight of a Christmas tree pose no real threat to the church or her mission. What ought to trouble us in a culture dotted with churches and filled with professing Christians is that we haven’t managed to break through the confusion and commercialization of the year’s biggest holiday and show the world what we’re actually celebrating.
Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ. But it’s not just a poignant story about a baby born in a stable because his family was turned away from the inn. According to the New Testament, that baby is God in human flesh, voluntarily stepping down to live among humanity, as a servant, in order to take the burden of others’ guilt and pay the price for it by sacrificing his life for them:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14).
“Although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
He “appeared … to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26 ESV). “He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3 ESV). To echo the apostle Paul, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Timothy 1:15, emphasis added).
That’s what Christmas is truly all about, and December 25 is as good a day as any to set aside for a special celebration of it: “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11, emphasis added). In other words, the “peace on earth, good will toward men” proclaimed by the angels is not merely about peace between nations and goodwill among men. It’s about peace with God and grace from Him to us in spite of our sin.
Even the name Jesus means “Savior”—“for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). In other words, the very heart of the true meaning of Christmas is a promise of salvation—full and free redemption from the guilt and penalty of sin, “for all those who believe” (Romans 3:22). That is the “good news of great joy which will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Miss it, and you will have missed the true meaning of Christmas entirely. Lay hold of it, and you will not only gain eternal life; you can also enjoy a true peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
This article is from the December 11, 2012, edition of The Washington Times. © 2012
Available online at: http://www.gty.org/resources/Blog/B121220 COPYRIGHT ©2012 Grace to You
This blog was originally published in 2010. It is a favorite of the ChurchandCulture.org Team and we thought you would enjoy reading it again.
Most people have seen one or more versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Hands down, it is among my favorite Christmas tales: the story of Ebenezer Scrooge having his conscience reawakened through the apparition of his former partner, Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future.
I like the characters.
I like the Victorian-era Christmas charm, complete with frosted windows, mistletoe and plum pudding.
I love the streets of Old London.
But when I first read the novel itself, after viewing various editions of the movie, I was shocked. Scrooge was not the buffoonish, almost cartoon-like character some of the movies made him out to be.
He was genuinely evil. Cruel. Malicious. He was a dark and sinister man. The story actually reads more like a Stephen King novel.
When you study the era itself that Dickens wrote about – and he published A Christmas Carol in 1843 as a social statement against harsh child labor practices – you realize that it was dark and evil as well.
Historian Lisa Toland once wrote a fascinating essay on the reality behind the story.
Almost 75% of London’s population was considered working class, many of them children laboring in the factories. In fact, every member of a family had to work in order to survive. Dickens himself worked as a young boy to support his family while his parents were in debtor’s prison.
The time was known as the Hungry Forties, because there was a depression along with a time of poor harvests. The London skyline was little more than smokestacks putting out clouds of sooty grit that covered rooftops and the cheeks of the young chimney sweeps.
It was the coal-dependent nature of these factories that created the famed London Fog. It wasn’t fog at all, but a combination of smoke and soot and grit. The streets were covered in rainwater, the contents of chamber pots, and animal waste. Rats were abundant.
Small, often emaciated children sold flowers and matches while the wealthy class’s horse-drawn carriages swept past. London’s poor were forced into shrinking housing districts. Multiple families lived in single rooms in rundown buildings.
That was Dickens’ London.
And people had turned a blind eye, because supposedly there were “services.” When the two men ask Scrooge for money, and he says, “Are there no prisons? And the Union workhouses? Are they still open?…The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigor, then?” There is much there that we fail to understand.
What makes Scrooge’s comments so biting is that the Poor Law, with its accompanying workhouses, were despised by the poor. The driving principle was to make the conditions in those places worse than how they would have lived and worked had they had a job. And in trying to determine who did deserve to go there, the group that fell through the cracks was children. The father or mother would be sent to the workhouse, leaving the children alone to beg in the streets.
If you died while laboring in a workhouse, your body was automatically turned over for dissection. You wouldn’t even receive a burial. The conditions were so bad, and people there were treated so poorly, that many of London’s poor chose to beg on the streets or enter into prostitution in order to avoid them.
From that darkness, Dickens gives us a tale of redemption.
The story of someone being saved.
There is another story we tend to romanticize.
We’ve all seen the Christmas cards that go out; pictures of Mary in flowing robes, gentle animals gazing lovingly down on the baby, who is always blue-eyed, blonde-haired, and while supposedly newborn, has the look and weight of a six-month old.
That’s not the way it was.
They were desperate to find a place for her to give birth, and couldn’t find one. They ended up in an outdoor livestock area. Unclean, unkept, unwelcome. Tradition, dating back to Justin Martyr in the second century, says it was probably some kind of cave. Smelly, damp, cold.
They had to use a feeding trough as a bassinette. The word “manger” is very warm and fuzzy, but don’t romanticize it – a manger was a feeding trough for the animals.
This was a desperately stark and sad scene.
The Bible tells us that Mary wrapped the baby in cloths. That was common for the day. Long strips of cloth that were used to wrap the baby tight and keep their legs and arms straight and secure. The process was called swaddling.
It tells us something of the lonely nature of Mary’s motherhood that Luke records that she was the one who wrapped Jesus up after His birth – there was no midwife or relative helping, which would have been the norm.
And she was young. Very young.
Engagement usually took place immediately after entering puberty, so Mary may have just entered her teens – 13, 14, or at the most 15.
And from that darkness, we also are given a picture of redemption.
Another story about being saved.
Another story that can be romanticized, but was very, very real.
Real in a way that drives us further on our knees to marvel at God come to earth to save…us.
James Emery White
Lisa Toland, “The Darker Side of A Christmas Carol,” Christianity Today, December 2009, pp. 44-48.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to http://www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.