Some Reasons to Go to Church on Christmas

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Browsing the internet today, I was reminded of one of the more shocking and ironic practices in the Christian world. No, I’m not talking about some obscure ritual like snake handling or drinking poison. And I’m not talking about some strange, random practice by some small and insignificant group of nut jobs. I’m talking about the increasingly mainstream practice in some of the largest and most prominent evangelical churches in the country of canceling church on Christmas Sunday. For a variety of reasons I think this is ridiculous. I mean, seriously?! It’s Christmas. The day we celebrate Jesus’ birthday. And we think it’s a good idea to not go worship on that day? That baffles me.

Now, I feel that I must stop and acknowledge that many of these churches are wonderful, gospel preaching churches that love God and His people and want to do what is right. I am also aware that missing one Sunday of church is in all likelihood not going to send a church careening headlong into apostasy. I am not even saying that this decision is necessarily wrong and I have no desire to condemn the churches that are canceling their services this Christmas. I am simply saying that I don’t understand the reasoning behind it. In light of that fact, I want to offer some reasons why I think going to church on Christmas Sunday is a wonderful idea.

  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday is a great way to celebrate our Savior’s birth. Not to be too obvious, but it is Christmas. And Sunday. Seems like a good day for some church.
  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday affirms the belief that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Not that we cannot make Christ the center of Christmas from home, but it seems appropriate to set aside a little time to go to church if it’s really all about Him.
  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday is a testimony to what is most important to you. Like it or not, your actions do speak louder than words. By going to church, your actions loudly declare that church, worship, God’s Word, and other believers are important to you. More important than, say, presents or sleeping in.
  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday can be an act of sacrificial love toward God. There are things that are inconvenient about a Sunday Christmas, but we can sacrifice our conveniences out of love for God and appreciation for all He gave up for us.
  • Going to church on Christmas demonstrates a genuine understanding that church is about worship and not personal gratification. It really is all about Him, not me.
  • Going to church on Christmas is a proclamation that Christmas is not just a cultural celebration. It is a religious observance that commemorates the coming of a Savior, the forgiveness of sins, and redemption for all mankind.
  • Going to church on Christmas acknowledges the importance of the faith community in our individual lives. Though many churches cancel services to provide for family time at home, going to church affirms that our church family is equally important.
  • Going to church on Christmas can be an opportunity to serve. Many people will go to church on Sunday, some for the first time. When you show up ready and willing to serve, you can have an impact in their lives.
  • Going to church on Christmas can create a great foundation upon which to build the rest of your Holiday festivities. You don’t have to give up family time, special dinners, presents, or other traditions to go to church. You can go first and then enjoy a special day of celebrating that is truly focused on Jesus.

I know that we all celebrate in different ways, but I hope that you will consider joining many of us who will be at church Christmas morning. I personally can’t think of a more appropriate way to start the day than gathering in the name of Jesus with a group of his followers to praise Him on His special day. Merry Christmas!

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Singing in the Pain

A brief glance at headlines these days can be a little disturbing. You will read of devastating earthquakes, riots, terrorist attacks, plan crashes, political scandal, social controversy and much more. Given the fact that these events always impact believers in one way or another, I have given a great deal of consideration lately to this issue of trials in the believers’ life.

One story the Lord has used to address this issue in my life is found in Acts 16:25-34. Paul and Silas had been arrested, beaten and thrown in jail for casting a demon out of a slave girl. Their response reveals two important truths about the way we should understand trials in our lives.

  •  Suffering is an opportunity for worship. The Bible records their response this way: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing praises to God, while the other prisoners listened.” It is dangerously easy to miss the simple power of what this story actually reveals about these men. They had been beaten. They were in jail. And they were praying and singing! Rather than feel sorry for themselves or try to fix their problem, they just worshiped.
  • Blessing is an opportunity for service. When God did deliver them, they didn’t high tail it out of there. They weren’t thinking only of themselves. No, they turned to the jailer – one of their persecutors- and had pity on him. They saved his life physically, and then shared the gospel with him. Paul knew nothing of the kind of Christianity that looks out for one’s own comforts and conveniences first. His priority was sharing the Gospel and he took every opportunity to do so.

I am convinced that for most Christians, a biblical understanding of trials will require a changed perspective on life in general. We must begin to see both our problems and blessings as opportunities to worship and serve others. If we continue to see life as all about “me,” trials will always be a frustration. God has a better plan. He wants me to look away from myself and turn my attention to Him and to others. This new perspective can keep any believer singing through their pain.

My Greatest Joy

March Madness descends upon us and I, for one, am cheerier for it. Last night, my wife actually caught me humming “it’s the most wonderful time of the year…” as I looked at my bracket for the very first time. As my brother and I concluded a serious conversation, we finished with a jolly “at least the tournament starts on Thursday…or Tuesday or Wednesday, but for real on Thursday.” For all of you normal people who don’t understand what I’m talking about, it’s pretty much Christmas in March for the sports fan. Honestly, college basketball is not even my favorite sport; but this has always been my favorite time of the year.

Some of you must think I am a crazed fanatic, but I must tell you that my enthusiasm for sports has mellowed with age and children. I still enjoy sports of all kind, but my former self would question my present fandom. It’s been ages since I watched an entire game of anything and I often have to look up the record of my favorite team in a given sport. That might not sound odd to some of you, but this is coming from the guy that at 19 years dumb actually quit a job because he was scheduled to work when the Tar Heels made the final four. More confessions could be made, but suffice it to say that my view on sports has changed significantly over the years.

Many factors have probably played into that change, but none so significant as the realization as a young man that my passion for spiritual things paled in comparison to that of my fandom. Before you check out because you don’t care that much about sports, understand the real issue I wrestled with. It wasn’t an issue of sports as much as it was an issue of my passion for Christ. For me, this issue was raised in the context of sports, but it resulted from a question that is generic enough for everyone. The question is simply this: Is Jesus the person that excites me the most and is He my greatest source of joy?

When I realized that I couldn’t answer yes to that question, I had to intentionally deal with the heart problem this revealed. The reality is that this is a type of idolatry. Throughout the Bible we are told to avoid idolatry (Exodus 20:3; 1 John 5:21), but we often think of this command as pertaining to little wooden statues or the like. I think that Isaiah 42:8 sheds some light on idolatry as more than that. There God says, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” Idolatry is about stealing God’s glory. It’s about putting something in His place. Nothing should have more value to you than Him. Nothing should be more important nor bring greater joy than Him. He should be your greatest influence, motivation and excitement. My prayer is that we can together with the Psalmist tell God that “earth has nothing I desire besides you.”

Priorities of Worship

I’ve been thinking a lot about worship lately. As I’ve studied and read, I’ve noticed that a lot of what is written about worship relates to the format of corporate worship, music styles and impact on the worshipers  While these issues have their place and must be addressed, I believe they must take a back seat to biblical priorities of worship.

We get a glimpse of some of these priorities in the account of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple in John 2. The account is a familiar one. When Jesus entered the temple and observed the chaos of animals, merchants and money-changers  he became angry and chased the perpetrators from the temple. This simple encounter lends insight into Jesus’ thoughts and feelings about worship.

First, worship must be all about God or it isn’t genuine worship at all. Jesus was angry because the focus of worship had been diverted from God to business and selfish gain. Conducting business in a place of worship was demeaning to the purpose of the temple. It signified that all involved were not truly interested in worship at all. The commercial activities taking place in the court were a sign that true worship had been forsaken and replaced with a religion of convenience, compromise and self-interest.

Second, worship must be done in holiness of heart. As if the distortion of worship was not bad enough, the corrupt nature of the business was also a direct affront to God’s character and holiness. Sinful motivations and behaviors were defiling their worship, even though their actions were orthodox. God’s holiness demands our holiness as we worship. God has continuously pleaded with His people to understand that holy hearts are far more important than ritual acts of worship.

I am challenged as I consider worship in this light that I must be careful not to make myself the center of my concerns about worship. Instead, I want to worship God because His greatness and awesomeness compels me to do so and for no other reason.

Do you have thoughts on worship you would like to share, or some other biblical priorities of worship? If so, I’d love to see them.