How I celebrate, and why…

Christmas…


You really can’t bring it up without some level of controversy…


Some saints celebrate, others don’t…


Stores depend on it, and our culture seems to exploit it and make it less religious every year.


Our society is dividing along the lines of making this season simply a  “Holiday”, and “Don’t take the Christ out of Christmas”…the battle lines are drawn and everyone has an opinion.


You know what I mean.


So in my assignment to live life more intentionally I have had to go out and conquer some of my more primitive concepts, things wrapped up in my belief system and daily culture that I have practiced or believed without intentionally pursuing a definitive reason for…things like the atonement (punitive or ransom?), Sabbath (which day is holiest?) and now I come to Christmas…is it pagan and am I participating in an ancient custom that has no roots in Christianity?


My good friend Andrew will chuckle and say “Its all pagan”…we have a bit of an inside joke on what parts we are willing to embrace and which parts are the by products of our culture…but he’s right…on some level its ALL pagan.


What to do, oh what to do?


Basically when I look at things that fall into “tradition” or established practices I try to look and see if it is one of three things:


1. Culture
2. Preference
3. Kingdom


Everything we do will fall into one of these baskets, and there is nothing wrong with this process, it is part of life and just the way things are, in fact I do not believe it offends God when some things do not fall into the Kingdom basket, we are after all reading this on computers using electricity and language that is the product of culture and preference…we cannot avoid living in a culture and having a preference, from the clothes we wear to the haircuts we pay for, everything will fall into one of these definitions.


I’m going to take the gloves off for a moment and show you what’s in my heart because I have come face to face with many close friends and relationships that embrace postures ranging from “Yes we celebrate” to “Never” and whats more this division does not stop at Christmas, it reaches down into the foods we eat, the days we keep, birthday celebrations, video games, sugar, decorating, seafood, Harry Potter and immunizations…


The difficulty I have in approaching this subject is that it deals with our basic core nature as RELIGIOUS creatures and how we interact with other RELIGIOUS beings…


Before you freak out at my calling us “religious” like its a bad thing, let me define it for you:

We are religious spirits, it is a vital part of our make-up and it goes all the way back to the garden when even before the fall, Eve (who was not named until AFTER the fall) said “Of the trees in the garden we may freely eat but of the tree in the midst of the garden God has said “you shall not eat it, NOR SHALL YOU TOUCH IT LEST YOU DIE…

She added a phrase that we have no proof that God actually said…


Notice the slight shift that happened?

God never said they could not touch it…but somehow even before she ate the woman had adjusted her posture and ADDED to the one simple commandment of “don’t eat it”…its as if she is thinking:

“If not eating it makes God pleased, just think how much more He will be pleased if I don’t even go near it! I will make God more pleased by not touching it…”


This might seem like a subtle or insignificant adjustment in understanding but it is not, it is a massive redefining of how we approach God…it moves His approval of us, OUT of His character and into our performance.


This is the core of all religion, it is what drives us and defines who we are as religious beings…


It defines us not by what we believe, but instead by what we don’t do…


“That group, they don’t speak in tongues…”


“They don’t believe in dancing…”


“They don’t meet on Sunday…”


“They don’t eat pork…”


“They don’t_________________” fill in the blank…


I’m actually kind of glad we got booted out of the garden because without a doubt we would have created a church that “touches” the tree and a group that “doesn’t touch” the tree…


How would like to be in a church that is called “touchers”….yikes!


My real difficulty is not the definitions and boxes we throw each other in, my challenge is to honor the gift of God that resides in a person or group that holds to a different religious culture than what I have, and before you go getting offended at my definition that what you are practicing is simply a religious culture and preference and NOT kingdom, lets just let the Bible define Kingdom for us:


“For the Kingdom of God is NOT, eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit-Romans 14:17″…this verse is defining what the Kingdom IS, by adjusting what we think it is NOT…

Gods basket for what He defines Kingdom does not have eating or drinking in it at all…

In Gods definition of His kingdom, He completely removes your behavior based upon the daily practices and moves it all over into the Holy Spirit…if you take out the parenthetical phrase “not” and strip the verse down it says:

Gods government, His Kingdom…its in the Holy Spirit… 

You want to know what Kingdom is? Better plug into the Holy Spirit…you don’t get to define it strictly from the Bible.

And where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty…that means options…

If you define Kingdom without the Holy Spirit, you have removed life and moved over to the letter of the law which brings death…(2 Cor.3:6)

God does not want you to define Kingdom without His input…its “in” the Holy Spirit…if you want to see what it is…you gotta go “in”.

This chapter in Romans (the addition of chapters and verses is something we haven’t even started debating yet, it was ADDED much after the original manuscripts were written, so is it pagan or preference?) starts off with a commandment to recieve one another, but NOT for the purpose of debating things that are doubtful…and you may say “There is NO doubt in my mind these are pagan practices”…to which I respond:


Really?


So what about the cultural contamination that we are importing something pagan?

How big an issue for us is the pagan influence supposed to be?


Lot’s of other things are pagan and we don’t throw them out, tattoos, rock music in our worship, wooden crosses (was Roman not Jewish), and if we are honest there are a host of other issues we are not comfortable with but like to ignore, like the admonition for our women to keep silent in the churches…this was in response to a direct cultural influence but we don’t practice it now…

We are already practicing a bit of cultural “editing” as it were and frankly I don’t have a problem with this, my issue is lets be honest.


Are we being true to toss out some and not all?


Or are we no longer under the Law, and frankly only required to follow the instruction of Acts 15:20 which is the only law the early Apostles would lay upon the gentiles…?


The entire book of Galatians becomes problematic in this debate…


And to be honest…we don’t throw out baptism and communion because they had pagan roots do we? Of course not.


Baptism at the time of Christ was widely celebrated as a way to be initiated into salvation by the Greeks, the Romans, the Hindus, the Egyptians…as a matter of fact the practice of baptism as a means of removing sin and joining into a religious faith was so widely known that at least two of the early church fathers (Justin Martyr and Tertullian) actually had to write explaining that we were not practicing the same ritual as the pagans, even though it looked identical, Justin Martyr actually admits the practice predated Christianity and explained that the devil was trying to prophesy and claim the practice as his own…


The Eucharist (communion) has plenty of pagan examples just google Lectisternia by the Romans…Mithra, Adonis, Attia, Isis and Osiris all practiced a covenant meal long before the Christians did.


My point is when someone tells me these things are not debatable I must respond and say, be honest and consistent, if you are going to throw out things for the reason that they have pagan roots, you gotta throw out baptism and communion as well…

Frankly I don’t care why you throw them out if it makes you feel better, but if you are doing it as a salvation issue, if you are suggesting that your daily eating and drinking habits are getting you into the Kingdom…I gotta say “foul”…15 yard penalty for dishonesty…if you toss these things out simply because they have pagan roots, where’s your consistency?


If these issues cannot be made into Kingdom “qualifiers” then we need to be careful about how we present them.


We have absolutely no power in ourselves to get into the kingdom through behavior, the minute we pretend we do we are back at the tree thinking “if I don’t touch He will be more pleased”…


So you point to the fact that Jesus himself introduced the Eucharist and baptism, so these things are no longer pagan…I totally agree…for us as believers these things no longer are tainted from culture because Jesus redeemed them…but is this a pattern of the Kingdom, or a one time shot? Didn’t he suggest we are to “occupy” till He comes? 

Define occupy…if we do it like the recent protest we are in trouble because all that’s left is a big mess and a stain on our reputation.


I am not at all suggesting we need to celebrate and embrace anything and everything, that is not my point, my point is when we draw a line around what we will embrace and what we will not embrace, be it Sabbath, Christmas, Easter, covering our heads, church buildings, pastoral models, etc…ad infinitum…that line can only be drawn around ourselves and it is drawn with the hand of faith or we are in trouble.


The Bible will tell us that if you don’t eat, or observe one day…do it unto the Lord, and if you do eat, and observe all days the same, do it unto the Lord, and then will instruct us to not put offense into the path of our brother…


If you celebrate you are not allowed to despise the guy who doesn’t, and if you don’t celebrate you are not allowed to judge the guy who does, we are to pursue peace and things that build up one another…


These two postures, to despise, or to judge are the issues we must face regarding culture and practice…to despise means to “set at nought”…or basically count as nothing, and to judge means to “call into question”, or to condemn…our problem isn’t just about holidays though…it’s our culture and our preferences that create issues, we despise tattoos and metal bits in peoples faces, or we judge people in business ties and suits as stuffy and stiff, religious and legalistic…


We are judging and despising Gods kids and our own family and its not healthy…no wonder the world stays away…


Lets play it forward and see what this might look like:


So suppose you come to me and say “I practice only the Jewish Feasts” “I don’t eat pork” or “I observe one day as the Sabbath”…


My immediate response is really? So you’re a Jew? When was the last time you sacrificed a real live lamb?
Are you wearing garments that have mixed fabrics?(Duet.22:11) Do you wear slacks as a woman? (Duet.22:5) Do you listen to rock music (Eccl. 7:5) Do you shave? (Lev. 21:5) Do you have tattoos? (Lev. 19:28)…hows that whole thing of women being under the law of her husband working out for you? My immediate response is snarky, demeaning and a little arrogant.


I have drawn a big circle of faith and put you inside and said you are weaker than me…I have assigned less value to your faith than to mine.


But this immediate response is wrong…regardless of what I believe about keeping the law …

(My personal posture is that if you are determined to keep ANY of it in your own strength you are required by that same law to keep ALL of it in your own strength which is impossible (James 2:10), and I’m just not that strong, your milage may vary, and I am not allowed to force this issue or control you with my doctirne)


What I have done with you is “set at nought”, or basically said, you’re wasting your time…I have suggested that what you practice is not valuable, in other words I have not assigned any value to what you practice (or refuse) because I might have faith to eat seafood, or pork or play cards, or work on Saturday or celebrate Christmas my lines of behavior do not have the right to say your lines of behavior are not valuable.


In order to keep peace as a core practice I need to assign a value to what you practice…I need to honor who you are and how you practice your faith…I need to say and truly believe that what you bring into my Kingdom box is worthy and I need to honor you for practicing what you do.


So what if I believe that these things are irredeemably pagan? And you come to me and say you are going to get a Christmas tree (Jeremiah 10:2-5), or eat shrimp(Duet 14:9-10) or pork (Lev. 11:7), or work on the true Sabbath (lots of verses look them up yourself)…?


My immediate response is that you are defiling yourself with pagan and unbiblical practices that, this defilement makes you unclean and is an abomination to the Lord and why on earth would you want to offend God like that? Don’t you have a heart to follow the Lord and keep His commandments, don’t you want to live a holy life? Can’t you see that these are PRACTICAL admonitions and you are choosing death over life?


But my immediate response is wrong…because I have called into question not only your motive, but your faith, I have judged you as someone unwilling to please the Lord in your behavior…I have drawn my circle of faith and behavior and have excluded you because you are not pure, I have judged you. 

In both situation the common problem is honor…how can I honor what God honors?


What the Bible directs us to, is to honor Gods people and not get into debates over culture, to assign a value to one another that allows a free exchange of life to flow without punishing one another by judging or isolation.

One of the big problems is BOTH postures invite the idea that Gods approval of us is based on our little circles of what we do…”If I don’t touch the tree, He will be more pleased”…

But Gods approval of you will never, ever, not in a millions years be based on what you do, it must be completely based on His character and how He views us in Christ or we are in deep do-do…


Our approval in God is based solely upon the life of His Son…and His Son touched lepers, healed on the sabbath, and got baptized like the Greeks and Hindus…but He also wore only one type of fabric, practiced the Jewish Festivals, and  lived without sin…


God declares that both groups, the “touch” and the “touch nots” are powerful, valuable and to be given honor without restriction, and to do that in a way that faith is not damaged.


So where am I at in the process?

When it comes to my approval before God, I am completely dependent on His character and not my performance…I cannot throw in one Bible reading, one day of fasting, or one habit of holy-day into the mix…He approves of me because He placed me in Christ and approves of Him…my behavior has NOTHING to do with my approval…

…but my behavior is not separate from my heart, my actions follow my belief system, so if I love Him I will want to please Him in all things…my behavior will reflect His heartbeat and His value system, and the main things in His heart are the things He loves, they are His children, NOT the things He hates, my beliefs which will drive my behavior must be on what makes His heart beat with joy, and that focus will ALWAYS be on loving His kids…


 I celebrate for the same reason that I get my hair cut, I am trying to impact and be a part of my culture without becoming stained by either fear of disappointing God by performance, or becoming so enamored with my culture that I have no respect for Gods Presence.


What about a tree? Yep I’ve read Jeremiah 10:1-5…and my personal problem with it is, this passage could very well be describing a cross just as easily as it is a Christmas tree, and frankly I ma not ready to toss out all the crosses in my life because they are in my home, my church, my friends homes and I cannot make a distinction in practice to having a cross and having a Christmas tree based on this verse…I don’t worship the cross anymore than I do the tree…there is no biblical support for owning a cross.


But the issue for me isn’t so much about personal practice and believe as much as it is about culture and displacement…


See I believe that until we own the culture we will not be able to establish anything better, that by withdrawing from our culture we create a void in the human religious sphere that the enemy is to eager to occupy…where we as believers abdicate culture as corrupt and unworthy, we create an opportunity for the darkness to own and dominate…


We are called to be leaven, to be salt, to occupy and to bring everything in our world under the subjection of Gods kingdom…I don’t believe that is possible where we disengage and avoid…


The Old Testament model was to “come out”, remove and avoid…if you touch the unclean you become unclean…but Jesus changed all that, when He touched a leper they were made whole, when He faced an adulterer she was restored not stoned…the Kingdom of God is much more powerful than the little lines of culture and preference that we want to draw and establish…

Yes I know all about the Sun god and Constantine and how we changed the calender and how the birth date we circle is overwhelmingly NOT historically accurate…I am not uninformed or ignorant…I have studied the pagan roots of these holidays and even what we do every week…


But I’m just trying to be completely honest…if I toss out these things because their roots are pagan, I have to get rid of all the crosses and baptism and communion and quite a few other cultures and preferences that are in all of our lives…


Or…I can say the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, and rather than create a list of rules and circles and touch-nots that allow me to devalue or reject my brothers and sisters in Christ…I can assign honor to what you practice and say thank you for your dedication to purity, I benefit and I know it…and hopefully you can give thanks and assign honor to my faith in displacing the devils agenda to own holidays and celebration and joy and his plan to corrupt that, because if we abandon it, he will completely ruin it for the entire planet.


We both do it unto the Lord…both postures have value and should be honored…

Some of us are called to settle, to establish the building and make it permanent we are called to be the building of Christ, and some of us are called to advance, to be mobile in our world and act like the body of Christ…this duality, this paradox that we are both a building and a body is something we need to embrace with faith and not debate about things that are in doubt…

It is not my intention to convert you or defend my posture, frankly it will take a lot more than I have offered to change some of my best friends practices and I am just not willing to waste my time on what I believe are minor and minuscule issues that have the power to separate us and keep us at a distance from one another.


I need and love these people to much to get hung up on the touch or touch-nots that we have adopted based on our own particular journey of faith…


I desperately want to honor the journey that has brought these people in to my life and celebrate the story that each journey tells.

You may disagree…thats ok…we need to be able to honor what each person brings even if we don’t completely agree or understand one another…we gather around His Presence…not our individual approaches to the tree of the knowledge…

Lets agree to honor the journey and celebrate the story that God has woven into the fabric of our fellow travelers… 

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