Friday, December 20, 2013

To my Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Dear brothers and sisters,

Let me start with this:

Luke 2
Living Bible (TLB)

About this time Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the nation. (This census was taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)

Everyone was required to return to his ancestral home for this registration. And because Joseph was a member of the royal line, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, King David’s ancient home—journeying there from the Galilean village of Nazareth. He took with him Mary, his fiancĂ©e, who was obviously pregnant by this time.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born; and she gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn.

That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly an angel appeared among them, and the landscape shone bright with the glory of the Lord. They were badly frightened, but the angel reassured them.

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem! How will you recognize him? You will find a baby wrapped in a blanket, lying in a manger!”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God: “Glory to God in the highest heaven,” they sang, “and peace on earth for all those pleasing him.”

When this great army of angels had returned again to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Come on! Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They ran to the village and found their way to Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. The shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story expressed astonishment, but Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and often thought about them.

Then the shepherds went back again to their fields and flocks, praising God for the visit of the angels, and because they had seen the child, just as the angel had told them.

I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas last night.
I've read all about Phil Robertson this week and A&E's reaction.

Let me ask you: What is Christmas all about?

Is our faith a card? Is it a toy to be sold? Do we "Duck the halls"? Why should we even deck the halls at Christmas, buying light strand after strand, wreaths and trees and gifts? I submit we do these things for US, for our pleasure and Not in honor of an infant and a moment's fleeting peaceful expression on the face of a troubled teen mother who KNOWS her son is born to save the world. Though we like to pretend it's because of "Baby Jesus" or quiet snowfalls or Peace on Earth (I don't think I know what peace on earth looks like outside the sleeping face of an infant, honestly.) I suggest that if we celebrate it ought to be because of the whole package.

We have a problem, my beloved. Even we who claim the Name of Christ forget -oh, so often!- that we were born separated from the love of God by the sin of our parents and theirs all the way back to the first people who defied their Creator and named themselves Authority. Yet, unaccountably from our point of view, God loved what he had made. Us! He loved us. He saw all we did wrong. He saw all the ways in which we defied him every single damned day of our damned existences, but he made a promise that his love for us was stronger than our sin. That was always his promise; it was not a contingency plan. He knew when he made us that we were good, not perfect and that we were not going to survive on our own.

What was that word? Sin? What *is* sin, anyway? Someone famous recently defined sin by starting with something he considered to be sin: homosexuality. That's like defining a circle by saying it's circular. To be honest, I believe that we like to comfort ourselves by starting at such a point. We like to say, "Wow, yeah! Never been there! Whew, dodged that bullet! That sure is sin!" Now, I know that's not what he meant and anyone who really reads what he said will understand that he actually meant so much more than that. But for the rest of us, really? "Never been there"? When we do that, we fail to "get it" Big time.

To understand the sinking ship we're in, to understand "sin" we must begin by starting with perfection. We must look at the one who knew no sin and did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. I'm talking about Jesus, the Son of God. The one sent to redeem. Did you know that he, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his advantage? Instead, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-- even death on a cross! You can read that in the book of Philippians. Do you get what I'm saying here? He made himself nothing! He was born in that lowly stable with the smell of animal feces and dust and blood and water and all sorts of people coming and going to save US from the depths of our willful rejection of God's authority over us.

Oh, My Amazing God.

Sin, my beloved, is every lack of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God! Sin is not just murder or adultery or stealing or wanting what others have. It's not *only* sex outside of marriage. By the way, that's Biblically defined as EVERY kind of sex outside of marriage - get it? That thing you called a "fling" in college with the co-ed, BOOM! That's sin, brother, or -hey- sister. It wasn't "innocent exploration" it was against the law of God. You with me? We're ALL in the SAME boat. Remember, I'm talking to those who already claim the Name of Christ. Sin is our quiet "white lies" that we think "hurt no one". It is OUR laughter at the inappropriate joke that takes someone made in the image of God and makes fun of them. It is OUR love of money over God. It is OUR failure to love our children and our frequent, almost gleeful attitude of frustrating them to the point of anger. Sin is putting our wants, our desires before the soul penetrating worship of the One who made us. We need to repent, beloved.

Sin is debt. Sin is buying that "one last Christmas present" on credit when you KNOW you haven't got the money and shouldn't spend what you haven't got. But you do it anyway because, "Hey, it's Christmas!" Jesus didn't come to be born, to live a perfect life and to die so that you and I could get that Wii U for our kids when they're already treating their bodies less like the temple of God and more like the temple of Consumerism. Was he born in that stable so that we could buy stocking stuffer Duck Dynasty iced-tea cups and Si-gnomes or bobble heads for everyone on our foolish "lists"? No. By God, no.

Now, before you all decide to lynch me, understand that I love giving gifts. I think it is a fine thing to honor God in that way, but often it gets in the way of the truth we need to be telling one another. He was born, grew and in his thirties died a gut-wrenching, suffocating, horrifying death on a cross So that WE could do our jobs - and that job, my brothers and sisters is to go to others around us who are dead in those very same sins we so like to live in every day and show them the ONE who makes them alive. He lived again so we could be made alive! Do you remember that? He lives so that we could stop being conformed to this dying world and be transformed by the renewing of our minds! That renewal doesn't happen watching programs on A&E, either.

It doesn't help anyone to point to one sin and say, "start here and move outward." Every single day we still sin against God. In every thought that is not captive to the will of Christ. In every moment we conform to a world that values things above our fellow men and our fellow men above the Almighty who lives and reigns forever and alone deserves our utmost praise.

The good news is that when Jesus died, so violently and painfully on that monstrosity of a cross that we like to turn gold and wear around our necks and give as gifts (I know, I have several. I keep them, but I've stopped wearing them - I'm not saying you should, it was my personal conviction), he broke the power of sin. Sin was cancelled by his blood for everyone who believes. The ONLY reason we're not headed straight to Hell, where, by the by, we were headed on our own before he saved us (eternal separation from God IS the essence of Hell, my friends and it does not start when we die, it starts when we are born in rejection of God. Jesus plucks us from that road.) - the only reason is because God intervened and died for us to restore us. But sin - it is ALL the SAME. That lie you told to your boss about being sick last week when you really weren't? That's the SAME as having sex outside of God's perimeters for sex. That putting someone down because they wore socks with sandals, calling them names or thinking you're somehow better than them because they aren't ... well, *you*... is the SAME, in the eyes of God, worth the same death of his beloved Son, as murdering the unborn. There are no "worse" or "not as bad" sins, see. There are sins that have consequences greater than we can imagine because of the number of people they damage - but we damage ourselves with each sin committed. Nevertheless, these things can all be forgiven by the shed blood of Jesus, resurrected by the power of the Father.

You and I, we need the Savior. If you think you know him and you find "little" lies okay, then you don't. If you think you know him and you mock or slander someone's sin as "worse" than yours, or someone who is "different" from you; if you think it's fine, as it seems a lot of folks who call themselves Christians do by making fun of those they call homosexuals rather than getting to know them and loving them as Jesus commanded, then you don't know him.

The shepherds told everyone about what the angels said - the Messiah is born! Salvation is at hand, people!

Christmas is not about taking up banners and shouting "Merry Christmas!" to drown out those saying "Happy Holidays" when they don't know what you celebrate. How sad that our love for Jesus isn't so obvious on our faces and in our treatment of others that they know we celebrate Christmas at a glance. Christmas is not about defending a wealthy brother who maybe should have been more circumspect in defining sin by the God we sin against rather than the sins we commit. I'm fairly certain he can defend himself - but I do stand by his right to speak his faith and, as with all who defend what they believe, to endure the results of proclaiming those beliefs. We should never doubt for a moment that the world will come after us for stating what we believe. There is no tolerance for faith in God among the living dead.

That's not the point of this article, however; or the point of Christmas.

My point, my hope for you this Christmas is that you get to know Jesus. Re-Learn what Christmas is ALL about: the Son of God who was born to exhausted parents in that stinky stable for the hope that his horrible death on that cross would bring because HE LIVES again for YOU and for ME and everyone, every single person that he has chosen to make his own.

That's the Good News and that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Hark, the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

-Charles Wesley

As an interesting aside, if you are curious about what the Robertson family has to say about Phil's interview and the subsequent uproar, read here: The Robertson Official Family Statement.

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