To Christmas Sunday, or not to Christmas Sunday?

Alright folks, it’s almost Christmas.  You guys are shopping, doing Christmas parties and wearing ugly sweaters; I won’t keep you for long for this post.

A few days ago, a person I follow, Jon Acuff (@JonAcuff), tweeted:

Shoutout to churches cancelling services this Sunday. We pastor’s kids often leave faith because the church stole our Christmas every year.

A lot of people, myself included, found a lot of humor and appreciation in his tweet.  But others didn’t and lit him up like a Christmas tree.  The 6-7 Year Debate as begun again:  Should churches have services on Christmas Day?  It’s shocking to see how Christians strongly defend having church on Christmas Sunday to the point of arguing against those who don’t.

People tweeted against Acuff, calling him an idolater and offering to pray for his salvation.  I saw an article’s comment section (Pro Tip:  Never go to the comments section. Ever.  Avoid it like sin) saying that churches that don’t do Christmas Sunday should not be called Christians.

I get it.  Christmas is a time for family and friends and most importantly,  for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.  What message are we sending to people when we say we are celebrating one of Heaven and Earth’s greatest moments but at the same time trashing other Christians and churches for not having Christmas Sunday services?

I advise that we check our hearts.  We act like not having church on Sunday is going to rob us of Jesus for that week.  Think about that for a second.  Is this the state of our Christian faith and our hearts, that getting Jesus once a week for a few hours is sufficient?  I think not.

So family, go and celebrate our Savior’s birth, whether you have a Christmas Sunday service or not.  You won’t get any judgmental looks or words from me.

Until next time, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with who he is pleased!” — Luke 2:8-14

Dear Christians, whenever atheists say we’re unloving, this is why.  We do this to each other.  We’ve become the people Christ fought against most, the self-righteous religious who have all of the rules but none of the grace.  Why do people who don’t know my Lord show me more forgiveness than those that do? — Jon Acuff

Stay hidden in the shadow of His wings,

– Jon Pannell

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Pre-Gifted: The Gifts of the Wise Men

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! Happy Solstice!  Season’s Greetings!  Happy Whatever-You-Celebrate-In-December!

I want to wish you an awesome holiday season full of joy, peace, and good tidings, and hopefully no fruitcake.  I don’t think anyone likes fruitcake.  But that’s beside the point.

Social media has become a place where the loudest argument wins, where we have the option to hide behind the safety and security of our screens and proceed to rip apart every statement that comes our way, even if it doesn’t concern us.  We react violently instead of responding gracefully.  We get offended by everything.  We would rather unfriend and unfollow someone instead of discussing our differences over food and coffee.

The truth?  It’s one huge distraction.

This month of December is a time where we are supposed to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  This season is supposed to be a time of cheer and selflessness, Christmas caroling, Kevin saying, “Merry Christmas you filthy animal,” and Buddy the Elf shouting out “SANNTAAAA!”   But I hardly see that nowadays.

Buddy

Yep, I put that here because reasons.

Call me an idealist (ironically I’m an INFP), but we’re missing Jesus.

I was involved in this year’s Annual Virginia Christmas Spectacular by Thomas Road.  During our Nativity scene, I had to introduce the band of scholars, the wise men, who followed a star until it led them to Jesus.

Turn with me to Matthew 2.  After Jesus was born, the wise men (Magi) were summoned by King Herod to find the child so that he could worship Him (Spoiler alert:  That wasn’t Herod’s intention!)

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

I want to talk about the three gifts here:  Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.

Gold – Jesus as King

Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain,

Gold I bring to crown Him again,

King forever, ceasing never over us all to reign.

Gold is a precious metal and is often used as a status symbol for those in royalty.  It’s dense and very weighty.  The elements of the tabernacle mentioned throughout Exodus and Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings 6 has elements created from pure gold or overlaid in gold.

Gold is incredibly valuable, but it’s also very soft.  It can be bent, twisted, and beaten down, but that doesn’t change its identity.

Christ the King lived a life that we couldn’t live.  He experienced good times and bad, joy and sorrow, trials and temptations.  He was beaten down, attacked, and broken, but His identity as the Son of God never changed.  He who knew no sin became sin so that we could become His righteousness.

Here’s the thing.  There is no amount of gold that can even compare to the kingship of Christ.  His kingdom will never end.  His love and justice has the final word.  You can mock Him, claim He doesn’t exist, challenge Him, but He is still God.

Christ is King forever and ever!  Hallelujah!

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.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. — Isaiah 9:6-7

Frankincense – Christ as God

Frankincense to offer have I

Incense owns a Deity nigh.

Prayer and praising all men raising, worship Him, God on high.

Frankincense is a high quality composition.  Some of you burn incense in your homes and it gives off a distinct fragrance.  During Old Testament times, incense was burned daily and nightly as a constant offering to God.  It accompanied sacrifices and was burned by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies on the annual Day of Atonement.

Incense represents the prayers and intercessions of people to a spiritual power.  In this case, it’s the saints (Christ followers) to the Almighty Father, with Christ as the mediator.  We offer our incense to God whenever we pray to Him.  Did I mention that prayer is a weapon against the enemy?  When you pray, God is working on your behalf.  He will guide you, protect you, sustain you, but only if you call out to Him.

O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to You!

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! — Psalm 141:1-2

And when [the Lamb] had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. — Revelation 5:8

Myrrh – Christ as Sacrifice

Myrrh is mine: It’s bitter perfume

breathes a life of gathering gloom.

Sorry, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in a stone-cold tomb.

Myrrh served a few purposes.  It was an ingredient in anointing oil, it was also an embalming agent, and a perfume.

Well, if myrrh seems like a good gift, then why is it associated with death per the last verse?

Take a look at Mark 15:23.  This is where Jesus is being crucified.  The sinless Son of God whom the Pharisees demanded His death is being forced to carry the cross to Golgotha (Place of a Skull).  They nail Him to a cross.  The suffering is excruciating.

Look up Roman crucifixion in your spare time.  That’s what Christ went through for you and I.

And they offered Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it.

According to Jewish custom, those sentenced to crucifixion were given this mixture of wine and myrrh to deaden the senses, to make the pain more bearable.  Jesus didn’t take it.  He went through hours of pain with the weight of the sins of the world upon Him.  When He died, they laid Him in a tomb, embalmed with spices and myrrh (John 19:39-42).

But that’s not the end of the story.

Three days later, the tomb is empty and Christ has risen in glory!  The Son of God conquering death so that all who would believe would be born again!  He has given us the task of spreading the good news of the Gospel, that He died for us, killing our sin, so that we can live with and for Him in this world and for eternity (Matthew 28:19-20, John 3:16).

The wise men’s gift of myrrh was a prophetic indication that He would be the great Sacrifice, the one who would give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).

Wise Men

Glorious now behold Him arise,

King and God and Sacrifice

Alleluia, alleluia!

Earth to heav’n replies

For this Christmas season, remind yourself.  It’s not about Santa Claus, the presents, or the jaded commercialism.  Instead, it’s about one night in Bethlehem that changed the course of history; a prophecy hundreds, if not thousands, of years in the making.

The Baby Jesus, born of a virgin in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

The angels heralding of Christ’s birth to nearby shepherds.

The wise men a time later presenting their gifts to the future King, God, and Sacrifice.

Reflect on that, my friend.  Read the stories for yourselves.  Slow down and appreciate what God has done for you and I on this one particular, holy night.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. — Hebrews 4:14-16

Until next time, stay hidden in the shadow of His wings.

Merry Christmas and an awesome New Year!

-Jon Pannell

Disagree?  Let’s talk!

The Salty Christian

Hello friends, once again I have the opportunity to write to you guys.  I hope your month/week/season/semester is going well and that you are spending quality time hanging out with Jesus.

It’s been a while since I have written on this blog and I didn’t have the time or the idea to write, until now.

As most of you know, Joshua Feuerstein encouraged Christians to have Starbucks baristas write “Merry Christmas” on their red cups.

You’re probably wondering, “Oh no, not another red cup post.  Can’t we just drop it already?” And then proceed to close my blog post.

Darn you Starbucks for making me be vocal about my faith!  *sarcasm*

Darn you Starbucks for making me somewhat vocal about my faith! *sarcasm*

I’m not going to touch on this issue that much.  Honestly.  Keep reading.

In my opinion, we as Christ followers tend to get upset when companies and corporations wage a “war on Christmas,” and that the secular liberal progressives are ousting God, like that is going to hurt His feelings.  Let me tell you folks something.

Christ will still be in Christmas and He will still be involved in America as long as there are people in those arenas who are devoted to Him.  He is still on His throne, and He will be reigning there forever.  He conquered death, hell, and the grave.  So, why do we feel the need to be upset over something as a silly red cup?

The word “salty” has become one of my favorite words to use in today’s day and age.  It means to be angry, upset, agitated (thank you, Urban Dictionary!).  Most Christ followers aren’t salty about the red cups, but they are salty that other Christians are salty about the red cups.  We’re saltier than a Salted Caramel Mocha with extra salt (which is probably definitely not good for you, with so much salt).

Mmm...delicious.

Mmm…delicious.

BUT, What if I told you that we as Christ followers are supposed to be salty?  And no, I’m not talking about the angry and upset kind of salty.  This is a different kind of salty.

Turn with me to Matthew 5:13.  This verse is at the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus says this:

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

You are the salt of the earth.

Salt had incredible value and revenue before and during Jesus’ time.  Soldiers were paid in salt and it accompanied sacrificial offerings.

Salt is a mineral that adds flavor.  Salt makes food interesting.  Do you have bland food?  Put a little salt in it!

Christ followers are not meant to be bland and boring!  Your life should make people wonder how you still hold on in difficult situations, how you still have joy even in the direst of circumstances, how you were RESCUED from a life of sin and TRANSFORMED by the power and love of Christ.  Your saltiness should come out as a testimony of God working in and through your life through your words, actions, and character.

Salt also preserves.  There were no refrigerators or many preserving agents in biblical times other than salt.  If you had food, you better cook it or handle it as soon as possible or it will not bode well for you.  Salt helps preserve food to make it fresher longer.  The food will not spoil or rot for a while.

Salt represents endurance and protection from corruption, dear Christ follower.  In your saltiness, are you persevering in your daily life?  Are you staying strong?  Are you fully equipped with the armor of God so that you can stand after you done all you could (Eph. 6)?

Salt also heals.  If you have a wound, you will need to put something on it to keep it from getting infected.  Salt is an antiseptic that does just that.  It’s painful, but it will do the job as true healing takes place

Christians are meant to be healers.  We heal by speaking the Truth of Christ and from His Word.  We can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be healed.  It involves confronting sin, but also provides an eternal remedy.

But if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

If salt doesn’t get used, or if it’s contaminated, it goes bad; there’s no use for it.

As Christ followers, we are meant to live out and be vocal and unashamed about our faith.  When we are not committed to God, one another, and our neighbor and engage in the spiritual disciplines, we start to atrophy.  We weaken.  We get stale.  It’s the same when we compromise our beliefs.

Salt and sand are both minerals, but salt brings life and zest.  Would you rather have salt in your food or sand?  Christ follower, if you lose your zest and zeal, what will make you different from a nonbeliever?  If you lose your savor, of what purpose will you serve?  It will take a miracle, a revival even, for you to be salty again.

So yes, brother or sister in Christ, let’s be biblically salty, but not in the contemporary sense.  Let’s not be upset and offended over the small stuff; instead continue to live life with Christ as your Savior and Lord and to tell others about Him.  Remember, the “attacks” on Christianity and the negative events of this world do not excuse you from fulfilling the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20.

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. – Colossians 4:6

Until next time, stay hidden in the shadow of His wings,

– Jon Pannell

P. S. – Got questions for me?  Let’s talk about them.