Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Blessing.

 Merry Christmas! What wonderful words to be able to say. This time of year, so many people get depressed, stressed, grumpy, or withdrawn it is unbelievable. Some for good reason. Maybe Christmas brings up painful memories. Maybe they don't have the family or friends to spend the holidays with that they would like. Maybe Christmas puts too heavy a financial burden on some people.

Whatever the reason, a lot of people don't find Christmas to be so "Merry."

I am reminded of Charlie Brown desperately trying to "get" the Christmas Spirit. His compassion for a sickly tree was despised. His disdain for an overly commercialized production misunderstood. And his frustration at the competition over Christmas Spirit won by Snoopy was too much for him to take.

I truly hope and pray that you, reader, are not one of them. And if you are, here are some reasons that you shouldn't be.

Christmas is about Christ. Yeah, I know that you already know that. But let it sink in for a moment. The world has been lost in sin, without hope, without direction and God chose to intervene.

God CHOSE to help mankind and his Son Jesus was the single greatest gift that was ever given. Think about these verses of scripture for a moment.

Philippians 2:5-8

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus was and still is the second part of the Godhead. The Son is the second person of the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit. The Son was in Eternity with the Father and Spirit and chose to humble himself, set aside the benefits of deity, and come to earth as a human being. A man of a lower social order. He deserved to be worshiped and adored by all creation, yet He chose to come into our world and live as one of us so he could die a condemned man on a cursed tree.

That is what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown. So remove all of the hustle and bustle, the gift buying, the crowds, the decorations, the family gatherings, and you still have one of the most monumentous occasions to celebrate that mankind has ever seen. If you understand the enormity of what Christmas means, then you can get into the Christmas spirit, the Spirit of Worshiping the God who loves you, without needing any egg nog, carols, lights, or wrapping paper. (Though, I must admit, egg nog may have been given by God to help celebrate the birth of the King of Kings. A drink worthy of majesty.)

This year, think about those who are able to celebrate Christmas without all of the social acceptance that we here in America enjoy. Persecuted Christians in the Muslim world who celebrate under threat of imprisonment, persecution and loss.

But they still celebrate.

I don't write this to make anyone feel guilty or to dismiss the difficulty that some have during the Christmas season. I am writing this to help us all see that Christmas should be a time of worship and thanks for the fact that God sent his Son into the world to save sinners. Of whom I am chief.

In order to get a view of what Christmas is truly about, think about the lyrics to this popular Christmas song.

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!"

Christmas is about the Gospel. It is about God saving mankind from himself. The long march toward the cross started the day the Eternal Son stepped out of heaven and into creation as a child who would grow to a man. As a man, he would offer himself on the cross as a sacrifice for sins. 

That is what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Indoctrination vs. Discipleship

Indoctrination: to teach (a person or group of people) systematically to accept doctrines uncritically. It is an accusation that is commonly placed on religious practices.

Often times, rightly so.

The process of indoctrination is thousands of years old and has been used countless times over. Indoctrination forces a set of principles, values, or thoughts onto a person, demands uncritical, unquestioning acceptance of everything taught, frowns on individual expression and condemns creativity as dangerous.

The church has been at its worst when it has resorted to indoctrination in order to try to spread the message of Jesus Christ.


Because that is not what Jesus did, taught, stood for, or why He died on the cross. Lets get this straight right now. Jesus never indoctrinated a single person. He fought constantly with the Pharisees, who, consequently, were all about indoctrination.

Jesus was into discipleship, not indoctrination. Whereas those who are interested in indoctrination are concerned with conformity, Jesus is interested in the person as a whole. Mind, body, and spirit are all part of Jesus' teaching and it never involves blind conformity. Indoctrination discourages and condemns questions and free thought in the interest of "maintaining doctrinal purity."

Jesus, however, encouraged his disciples to ask questions. Why? Because questions are the beginning of faith. Jesus said "Seek and you will find" not "listen and repeat after me." This is the greatness of discipleship. It involves you as you are. Your being. Your soul. Your likes and dislikes. Its like Jesus comes along side you and says "I am going to fully invest myself in your life. I'm going to get to know you inside and out. I am going to know what makes you tick. I'm going to love your for WHO YOU ARE, and in the process, I'm going to teach you how to live. I'm going to teach you truth and how to recognize truth. I'm going to show you great and hidden things you do not know. Don't worry, I am going to be with you through this whole journey. Don't be afraid to ask questions and don't quit when it gets hard. I promise to be with you."

Discipleship is personal. Discipleship is relational, intellectual, emotional, social, and on-going. Indoctrination is interested in people saying the right things, looking the part, and in producing quantity over quality. Indoctrination is a one time process where someone is told what to think and then moved along. Discipleship is personal investment that encourages questions, seeking, and personal growth.

This is the problem with much of our so called "Bible-study" today. Much of it is incorrectly based on the principles of indoctrination. It gives people the "answers" for life in a bullet point format, tells people what God wants them to think and to be and then moves on to the next approved lesson.

This isn't how Jesus taught.

If God had wanted us to learn from bullet points, scripture would be laid out differently.

You see, indoctrination is a cheap and ineffective substitute for discipleship. It tries to skip the discipleship process by giving people the "answers" ahead of time. Unfortunately, getting the answer is not how we learn and grow. The discipleship process is how we learn and grow. The answer isn't effective if we lose the process. So, instead of trying to skip to the end, we need to get back to true discipleship.

Think about this. Jesus, the pre-existent Logos/Word of God in flesh, took three years to train his disciples. If anyone could have skipped to the end and taken the short version it would have been Jesus. Yet, here he was, teaching, walking with, loving, valuing and investing himself in the lives of His disciples for 3 years. And in those three years we hardly see Jesus asking his disciples for quick, indoctrinated answers. Even when they came to Jesus looking for those answers Jesus redirected them.

So, this raises the question for you and your church. Are you making disciples or simply trying to indoctrinate people? If you are indoctrinating people you will get a lot of people who can say all the right things but not live them. You will get Pharisees.

And Pharisees are hypocrites.

You also must ask: "Have I been indoctrinated or discipled?" You may be surprised at the answer. Do you grow in your faith by asking questions and seeking or by wanting a quick black or white answer to something that really doesn't affect your life one way or the other?

Jesus commanded us to make DISCIPLES of all nations. It is time to let go of the easy but ineffective model of indoctrination and rise Above Reality by embracing discipleship.