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Christmas for Dummies

Every year pastors, preachers and teachers are expected to come up with a fresh and new perspective of Christmas for their congregations.  On some occasions this goal is achieved.  Yet, many sermons crash and burn, wasting weeks of preparation making the simple complex.  In reality, Christmas is the mass of Christ, a day of remembrance, thanksgiving and worship.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost,” Luke 19:10. 

In a summary of a conversation with a tax collector, Jesus provides a Christmas for Dummies answer.  The context of the passage above refers to the fall of mankind, also known as original sin.  God gave Adam and Eve just one rule in the Garden of Eden, You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die,” Genesis 3:2.  When lust entered into Eve’s heart, she influenced her husband Adam to ignore God’s law, taking and eating fruit.  This act of disobedience enabled sin to enter the world, resulted in expulsion from the garden, severed an intimate relationship with God and gave Satan authority and dominion over the earth.  Jesus’ birth came to seek and save what was lost back here.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel,” Genesis 3:15.

During an exchange with one of his fallen angels, God prophecies for the first time about the need to send his one and only son, John 3:16.  If you have seen the Passion of the Christ, this symbolism is played out while Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, stomping on the head of a serpent at the end of his prayer.  While Satan convinces first century religious leaders to execute Jesus’ crucifixion, the resurrection served as a check mate moment, foiling forever any demonic attempts to change the spiritual course of history.  However, this is one catch.

In which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience, Ephesians 2:2.

God allows the Devil, aka Satan to retain his former angelic powers that he possessed while serving as the archangel Lucifer.  When you add this fact to a confession by one of Jesus’ disciples, Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour-1 Peter 5:8, this threat is real.  This why evil continues to exist on earth.  Therefore, while Jesus has his own birthday on our calendar, the ongoing spiritual war does not stop.  The fight for the eternal destiny of souls is a fierce battle, taking many innocent individuals to their graves.  While singing Christmas carols today in church may inspire or move you, make sure you guard your heart and mind, 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, so that the hope of Christmas will not be lost again.

by Jay Mankus

The Grouch That Spoiled Christmas

 

As a child, Christmas was my favorite time of the year.  As Christmas Eve drew closer, the more excited I became, wondering what gifts may be waiting for me under the tree.  Somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, life got a lot more complicated.  Now that I am the one in charge of working to help pay for all the presents, this season has lost it’s luster.  After three consecutive weeks of working sixty hours at Amazon, I find myself turning into a new fictional character, the grouch that spoiled Christmas.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” – Matthew 10:38-40

Last night as I was leaving work, I had a flashback of the passage above.  Mary and Martha illustrate the clash of personalities that happen every day in life.  In this story, Martha is the older sister, the responsible one, running around to clean and cook for Jesus, trying to be a hospitable host.  Meanwhile, the baby sister cares more about talking than doing, entertaining Jesus by listening to his daily encounters with his disciples.  In an attempt to be a perfectionist, Martha becomes jealous, grouchy like me.

Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her,” Luke 10:41-42.

Looking back, I never realized how much my parents did to make Christmas special.  I’m sure there were private moments behind closed doors of complaints or frustration, but my mother possessed the characteristics of Mary.  Before I ever heard of Mary and Martha, my mom demonstrated the personality trait God encourages others to emulate.  In a sense, last night I was reenacting this scene from the Bible in real life.  I played the role Martha.  My co-workers illustrated the joy of Mary, savoring the time together.  However, Jesus wasn’t there to scold me.  Rather, the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart, “watch out or you will become the grouch that spoiled Christmas.

by Jay Mankus

Tithes and Lives

According to the book of Genesis, the first family on earth felt compelled to make offerings to the Lord.  It’s unclear if God first communicated the concept of a tithe to Adam while living in the Garden of Eden or later on in life.  Nonetheless, sons of Adam, Cain and Abel began to practice what is referred to as first fruits.  As a farmer, Cain brought forth crops during the harvest.  Meanwhile, little brother Abel was a shepherd, not withholding any expense, presenting the Lord with some of his finest sheep.  These offerings often reveal who trusts God completely from those whom are still trying to control the steering wheel.

In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord, Genesis 4:3.

Like buying Christmas gifts, some individuals have the means to purchase anything they want.  Meanwhile, the majority have to set spending limits to avoid going into debt.  This limitation can create animosity between family members or friends over the holidays.  If you expect a certain amount of gifts in your mind, any type of high expectations can lead to disappointment.  From God’s perspective, He is the Creator of life, a spiritual father to all.  Unfortunately, human nature breeds selfishness, causing many to forget about God the Father, like the wayward child in the parable of the prodigal son.

And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, Genesis 4:4.

The prophet Isaiah uses the term Emmanuel to refer to the coming Messiah, Jesus.  When translated into English, Emmanuel means God with us.  Perhaps, this inspired three Magi to each bring gifts from their lands.  One brought gold, another frankincense and the last myrrh.  If there is a lesson people can learn from these three wise men it’s that tithes and lives go together.  Giving tithes and transforming lives go hand in hand.  As Christmas Day approaches, may the Holy Spirit inspire you to give back to God through tithes and a rededicated life to Jesus.

by Jay Mankus

Tis the Season to be all about Me?

There is this perception attached to Christmas that you can somehow buy someone’s love.  Whether it’s a brand new car sitting in the driveway with a giant bow on top, expensive jewelry which is suppose to symbolize love or a brand new phone that you can’t afford, what do all these commercials really mean?  Do retail shops want Americans to go into debt, a way to make up for all the wrongs of the past?  Are you judged by the size, quality and value of the gifts that you purchased?  Or is this simply a scam, another way of suggesting tis the season to be all about me?

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Isaiah 9:6.

In 2004, Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis starred in Christmas with the Kranks.  The premise of this film was to skip Christmas for a year.  Instead of spending all of their time and money on decorations, donations and gifts, the Kranks decided to be selfish, buying tickets for an all inclusive cruise in the tropics.  To afford these tickets, the Kranks needed to avoid the added expenses of Christmas, shunning the causes and people they associated with in the past.  Everything was going as planned until their daughter’s surprise phone call altered this plan.  A hectic rush to get their house decorations in place culminates by giving these tickets to a neighbor recently diagnosed with cancer.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth, John 1:14.

The hardest part about celebrating Christmas is breaking free from the traditions of your past.  The house you go to, what you eat and when you eat your Christmas meal is hard to deviate from especially if inlaws are involved.  Like the Kranks, there is an expectation to get a new tree, put up lights outside and throw a great party for family or the neighborhood.  The more you try to do, stress builds, often stealing the joy many have for Christmas.  If this holiday has become a burden to you, perhaps it’s time to change your perspective from me to thee, Jesus.  My parents decided to start going to a mass that ended at midnight, singing Christmas songs for thirty minutes or so.  This Christmas tradition helped me to see it’s not about me; it’s about Christ the king.

by Jay Mankus

You’ll Never Know Unless You Ask

December is the season for watching Christmas classics.  Every year networks have some sort of X number of days, re-airing animations, children and hallmark Christmas shows.  Recently, I sat down while my wife and son were watching Home Alone.  I can’t remember the last time I saw this film, but one scene got my attention.  Attending a Christmas Eve service, Macaulay Culkin is talking to his neighbor in the back of the church.  This discussion reveals a broken relationship between a father and son without any communication for years.  After this man gives Macaulay advice, Macaulay turns the tables, “you’ll never know unless you ask your son?”

Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive, Colossians 3:13.

Throughout this country, previous disagreements create tension over holidays spent together.  When maturity is present, differences can be overcome.  Unfortunately, when arrogance, bitterness or pride enters the equation, relations turn cold.  As a former teacher and youth pastor, I have listened to a number of heart breaking stories of families falling apart.  Emotions tend to make individuals say things that they often regret.  A few careless words in the heat of the moment can divide the closest of friends.  After cooling off, if you want to make amends, you’ll never know until you ask.

And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses, Mark 11:25.

One of the hardest parts of uniting two people who are convinced that the other is at fault lies in the principle of forgiveness.  According to Jesus, prayer should incorporate reflection, thinking about anyone that you are holding a grudge against.  The purpose of this practice is to reconcile, making right previous wrongs done by you or approaching others whom you haven’t forgiven for a past transgression.  The apostle Paul builds upon Jesus’ words, adding the concept of bearing with each other.  In the final scene of Scrooged, Bill Murray proclaims it’s never too late to find forgiveness.  Therefore, if you are alone and afraid this Christmas, wondering if reconciliation is possible, you’ll never know unless you ask.

by Jay Mankus

Developing An Attitude of Gratitude

As Christmas Day draws near yet again, it appears the Grinch Who Stole Christmas isn’t just a Dr. Suess classic.  Rather, a lack of thanksgiving is turning hearts once full of joy into Ebenezer Scrooge.  While 24 hours of Christmas music attempts to put people into the Christmas spirit, demons whispering Bah Humbug are drowning out carolers in the streets.

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,  Ephesians 5:17-18.

I’m not sure the initial reason, but a song writer felt called to create a piece entitled the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Perhaps, modern times need a composition to prepare souls to celebrate the birth of Emmanuel, God with us.  If Thanksgiving Day is used properly, this celebration could kick start the 12 Days of Thanksgiving, enabling a spirit of thanks to be transformed into an attitude of gratitude.

Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Ephesians 5:19-20.

The apostle Paul provides a blue print for this evolution in a letter to the church at Ephesus.  The ungrateful tend to drown their sorrows in alcohol.  Meanwhile, the expense of gift giving can steal your joy for this special season.  To avoid this common fate, turn bitterness into praise by humming Christmas classics.  As this is practiced daily, perspectives slowly change from self-gratification toward a heart of service.  If you want to change for the better, start keeping a journal of reasons to be thankful.  When healthy practices become a habit, an attitude of gratitude will be established.

by Jay Mankus

Beyond Tradition

In order to keep with tradition, individuals will travel across the country if necessary to be with their family.  American minds have been programmed to gather for Thanksgiving and Christmas annually, getting stressed out and becoming broke in the process.  Is this cycle really worth repeating or has the meaning of these special holidays become lost in translation from one generation to the next?  Perhaps the meaning lies somewhere beyond tradition.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, Philippians 4:6.

As a former teacher,  I know Thanksgiving has become commercialized and stripped of its original meaning to avoid becoming politically incorrect.  Yet, if you search hard enough, you will find what really happened to celebrate this occasson.  Early on the Pilgrims initially tried communism, sharing the land and it’s harvests for the common good of the community.  However, when hard working individuals realized there was no reward for going above and beyond what was expected, production declined making that first winter difficult to survive.  Recognizing this flawed system, the following year families were allowed to keep any excess harvest, bartering and trading with Indians.  When the concept of this free market system took off, the Pilgrims and Indians came together after the fall harvest to thank God for providing enough food to get families through the winter.

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High, Psalm 7:17.

Unless you are homeless or poor, it’s hard to appreciate the effort necessary to collect, gather and store food for several months without a refrigerator or modern applicances.  Some nights, families went to bed starving, not knowing when or if another meal will be provided.  This desperate environment forces you to either work tiredlessly for food or develop a complete trust that God will somehow supernaturally provide.  Today, Americans have so much more than the Pilgrims ever did that many become spoiled, complaining about superficial aspects of life.  Sure, it would be great to be rich, buy family members lavish Christmas gifts and not have to worry about making a car or house payment.  Yet, it’s time to go beyond the tradition of Thanksgiving and Christmas to see life for what it is, a gift from God.  Don’t let earthly demands for these holidays steal your joy.  Rather, each time you wake up, look around at the blessings you have been given so that a spirit of gratitude will reign despite what others may do or say this holiday season.

by Jay Mankus