jasonbwatson

December 27, 2011

Sighting in a Rifle…and a Life

Filed under: Biblical Worldview,Spiritual Growth — jbwatson @ 7:16 pm

A few days ago I went up on Battle Mountain with my father-in-law and brother-in-law so that my brother-in-law could sight in his new rifle. My father-in-law stepped off the distance and set up several clay targets. Meanwhile, my brother-in-law carefully set up his bench rest on a downed tree trunk, set a couple of small sand bags on top of the rest, and did everything necessary to get himself properly situated to get a steady shooting position. He would take a couple of shots, and then, based on the observations of my father-in-law, he would adjust the scope settings up or down, left or right in order to get the scope sighted as accurately as possible.

As I was watching and thinking about this process I realized how similar it is the process for sighting in life, too. We have to read the Bible in order to know how we ought to live. Similarly, someone (I assume) should read the owner’s manual for a new rifle and/or scope in order to understand the manufacturer’s specifications and the proper operation of the equipment. However, simply reading the Bible is not enough, just as reading the owner’s manual in and of itself would be of little value. Only by living out the instructions in God’s Word does the Bible have any meaningful impact, just as only by shooting the rifle will it be of any value. However, living out our lives–or shooting a rifle–is still not enough, because quite frankly it is highly unlikely that we will get it right the first time (in life or with the rifle).

As I mentioned, after a couple of shots there would be an evaluation of how close the shots were coming to the selected target, and then adjustments would be made accordingly. Similarly, we need to regularly evaluate our lives by pausing to see how close we are coming to the target of living in accordance with God’s instructions. When we see that are missing the mark, we need to make adjustments in order to bring our lives closer to the bullseye. We may remember from reading Scripture before what we need to do, or we may need to go back to our “owner’s manual” and remind ourselves how the Designer intends us to live. Then, we take another shot or two before we stop and evaluate again. With persistence and careful calibration we should be able to bring the rifle or the scope to the point that we can hit exactly what we aim at. Likewise, we should eventually get to the point where we live in a manner that allows us consistently hit the mark of living a godly life.

With a rifle, it is fairly obvious whether or not the target is hit. It takes closer inspection sometimes to see how far off the shot was, or in which direction, but even the casual observer can usually see whether or not the marksman hit his target. It is not always quite so obvious in life, though the more attuned we are to God’s Word the easier it should be for us to readily see how close we are to the target. Even a marksman that hits his target dead one with one shot, though, will sometimes miss the next time. When that happens, it is time to reevaluate. In life, we may handle a situation exactly the way God would want us to, and then blow it the next time. That means we need to reevaluate our lives, too. It may be that the scope needs to be re-sighted in order for it to remain accurate. Similarly, we may need to make some adjustments by checking our understanding and studying anew how we are to behave and speak and live out our salvation. Sometimes, though, the scope is still sighted accurately but the marksman shifted as he shot, or closed his eye, or got distracted, or…whatever. Somehow, the one pulling the trigger caused the shot to miss the mark even though the scope was sighted perfectly. Truth is, this is most often what will be the case in our lives. Assuming we understand the Scripture accurately and know how to apply it to our lives, our “scope” will not be the problem. The problem will be us–the flawed and fallible humans “pulling the trigger.” The circumstances of life, whatever they may be, can cause us to miss the mark…even when there is absolutely nothing wrong with our sights. Just like the responsible and effective marksman we must acknowledge our error and do everything we can to eliminate the possibility of that same disruption occurring again.

The marksman may use a stand, a shooting block, sandbags, or any number of other devices in order to help keep his rifle steady as he shoots. Some will be quite effective standing up, shouldering the rifle and taking the shot with no aides. Neither is right or wrong…success is measured only by whether or not the target is hit. In the same way, there may be times when we need to utilize aides to help us stay steady in our Christian walk. These aides may include Christian friends, accountability partners, regular attendance and participation in church, daily Bible reading and time in prayer, Christian music, Christian books, sermons on radio/CD/MP3…and so on. The point is, the aides that I find helpful and necessary in order to keep my life steady and on target may not look exactly the same as yours…but neither of us is right in what we choose to utilize. And, what I need in some situations may be very different from what I need in others; what I need one week may not be what I need the next.

What we do all need, however, is a submissive attitude to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Spirit will inform us–quietly, usually, but accurately–whether or not we missed the target, by how much and in what direction. Then He will tell us what adjustments need to be made, so that we can hit the target the next time.

December 22, 2011

Memories of Grandpa

Filed under: Uncategorized — jbwatson @ 5:49 pm

Today, in just a couple of hours, there will be a service to celebrate the life of my maternal grandfather, who went home to be with the Lord early Monday morning. Anytime a loved one passes away it is normal to reflect on favorite memories.

When I reflect on my favorite memories of Grandpa there are quite a few. I can remember as a very young boy going with Grandma and Grandpa to the mountain property that they had, where the only housing was a tent. I remember the trips up and back more than the actual time there, playing in the back seat and on the floor of the blue truck–when the wearing of seat belts wasn’t enforced. Many of my fondest memories with Grandpa took place in West Virginia, at Holly River State Park. Our annual week-long trips to Holly River are among the highlights of my childhood, and Holly River remains one of my “happy places.” More than any specific thing Grandpa did on those trips, I remember the freedom my brother Phillip and I were given to explore on our own. Though probably not literally, it felt to young boys like we had free reign of the entire park! Playing in the creek, swimming in the always-too-cold pool and playing softball; feeding the trout, going on hayrides, and walking to the commissary. I do remember the hikes we would take with Grandma and Grandpa, and I remember Grandpa would always turn the flashlight off on the way back from late-night activities at the pavilion and it would be pitch black along the road. Before long, the flashlight would come on again, from under Grandpa’s face, shining up to illuminate his smile.

Grandpa’s long hours building the “cabin” in the backyard of the home we lived in from the time I was 5 until I was 13 cannot be forgotten. I think that will likely go down in history as the most soundly-built “playhouse” any children ever had! And who can forget Grandpa giving Dr. Pepper to our German shepherd, Sampson? By the way, every time I drink soda from a bottle—glass or plastic—I have to blow across the top of the bottle and get a few “toots” just for Grandpa. I suspect I will do that for the rest of my life.

I think more than anything else I loved to listen to Grandpa tell stories. It seemed this happened most often at the table, after a meal or during “treat,” (late-night dessert, which almost always included ice cream!) and I could listen to Grandpa’s stories as long as he wanted to tell them. Most of the stories were of his own escapades, but he seemed to tell stories of his friend Kramer with just as much enthusiasm. I think if I had one wish it would be that we had recorded Grandpa telling some of his best stories. He always got so tickled with the stories himself you couldn’t help but laugh along with him. I imagine none of us will ever forget many of his tales, and I suspect many of them will live on for at least another generation or two, as my generation recalls these stories with one another and with our children.

Interestingly, I still remember the time when we were visiting Grandma and Grandpa when I was in college, and realizing that Grandpa now talked to me like an adult. That was a special feeling. I was not blessed with Grandpa’s gifts of mathematical and scientific knowledge or hands-on talent; I think Phillip got those genes. But it always fascinated me that Grandpa had worked on the Pioneer Venus satellite, and it amazed me to watch how he would figure things out and design systems probably few other people would understand. I also remember sitting on the floor by the kitchen telephone in Minnesota when I was in high school, listening to Grandpa trying to explain my Algebra homework to me from half a country away.

I think there was only one time I had the opportunity to be in Grandpa’s Sunday school class, but it was a pleasure to see the painstaking detail that went into his many charts, and to hear the understanding that he had of Scripture. His example of consistently reading through the Bible each year is something for which I am also grateful.

As I write this, trying to think of what to share, I find my mind filled with lots of memories…far too many to share. I know all of Grandpa’s grandchildren loved him very much, and we all know he loved us, too. We are all blessed with many happy memories of Grandpa…memories we will never forget.

I do not recall having very many conversations with Grandpa on the telephone, but I do remember my last one, shortly after he returned home from the hospital this past fall. We talked briefly about him and how he was feeling, but then he wanted to know about our new home, my new job, and the terrain of South Dakota. It was clear that he was at peace with whatever the Lord’s will was for his health and life. I will miss Grandpa, and I wish I could have seen him again before he went home, but I am grateful for the knowledge that he is in heaven, completely healthy. I know I will see him again someday. I remember that every time Grandpa prayed, he would always say, “And thank you most of all for the Lord Jesus our Savior.” This Christmas, he is in the presence of our Savior, thanking Him face to face.

December 17, 2011

Lessons from the Shepherds (part 3)

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 7:14 pm
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The third thing to notice about the shepherds is that they Announced Comprehensively. Not only did they hear the message, but once they heard it they acted on it. Then, after they had acted on it and seen Jesus for themselves, they announced it. Verse 17 says that, “[W]hen they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child” (NKJV). The Message paraphrases this verse this way: “They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child.”

The shepherds knew the truth about Christmas, and they went out to share it with everyone they saw. I can imagine them running through the streets of Bethlehem, shouting, grabbing people by the hands and telling them the wonderful news. How many of us have taken the time to share with someone this season–even just one person–that Jesus is what Christmas is all about?

When I was growing up my family had a tradition. We would get up and open presents at home on Christmas morning–my parents, my brother and me. (This is before my sisters were born). Then, we would drive eight minutes away to my paternal grandmother’s house. There we would eat brunch (which always included what we called “egg bake casserole”) and open presents with Grandma. After we had been there for a while we would drive 40 minutes to my maternal grandparents’ house, and there we would spend the rest of the day–opening presents, eating dinner, and so forth. But when I got to Grandma’s house in the morning I couldn’t wait to tell her what presents I had received from Mom and Dad. And when I got to Grandma and Grandpa’s house later I couldn’t wait to tell them what I got from Mom and Dad and from Grandma. Then, a day or two later, when I saw my friends, I would tell them everything I got for Christmas from Mom and Dad, Grandma, and Grandma and Grandpa! I had received these presents, and I wanted everyone to know about these great gifts.

Every believer has a wonderful gift from God–the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. And yet for some reason, most of us don’t seem too excited to tell anyone about that gift. We’ll tell people–even as adults, many times–about our new clothes or our new car or our new “toys,” but we won’t tell them about our new life in Christ…and the fact that they can have that gift, too!

The other thing that I think is worth noting about the shepherds announcing Christ’s birth is that there is no indication in the biblical account that anyone paid any attention to what they said. The only thing Luke tells us is in verse 18: “Everyone was surprised when they heard what the shepherds told them” (ESV). That’s it! They could have been surprised as in they were in awe of the birth of the Messiah, or they could have been surprised as in they thought the shepherds were crazy. Either way there is no indication that anyone else went to see the Baby for themselves. No where do we read that the stable was suddenly overwhelmed by crowds of people wanting to see Jesus for themselves. And remember, it’s not like there was no one in town! The whole reason Mary, Joseph and Jesus were in the stable in the first place is because all the inns were full!

Yet, and this is my imagination again, I suppose, I do not picture the shepherds being slowed down at all by whatever reaction they received from the people they told. Whether people smiled and nodded, said something like “Wow, that’s cool!” or told them to shut up and go away, I suspect the shepherds were still overcome with joy and still told everyone else they saw. Let that be a lesson to us, too–regardless of the reaction we may receive when we share the Good News, we need to keep spreading the Word!

Like the shepherds, we need to attend to God’s message, act on it, and announce His gift. John MacArthur calls the shepherds the “first New Testament evangelists.” “The shepherds’ story is a good illustration of the Christian life,” he writes. “You first hear the revelation of the gospel and believe it. Then you pursue and embrace Christ. And having become a witness to your glorious conversion, you begin to tell others about it. May God grant you the life-changing spiritual experiences and the ongoing attitude of enthusiasm and responsiveness that cause you to tell others that you, too, have seen Christ the Lord.”

It is easy to get caught up with the activities of Christmas time. There’s a lot going on. There is plenty of good, fun things to do. But if we forget or neglect what Christmas is all about then we will have ruined it. If we forget Christ, then we miss the point entirely. May we be like the shepherds and share the truth of Christmas, the truth of God’s Christmas present to the world, with everyone we meet.

December 15, 2011

Lessons from the Shepherds (part 2)

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 3:38 pm
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The second important lesson that we can learn from the shepherds is that they Acted Quickly. (If you’re a note taker, you’ll recognize immediately that “quickly” starts with a “q” not a “c,” but it works phonetically). The shepherds not only had the message, but they obeyed the message. Verse 16 tells us that “they came with haste.” That means they were in a hurry. They did not look at each other and say, “Maybe we should go check that out tomorrow.” No, they heard, they got up, and they went. And as far as we know–as far as the Scriptural account indicates–the shepherds were the only people who went to see the Savior that night.

The shepherds were the first to hear the good news that the Messiah had been born, and certainly having the news announced in person by a heavenly host of angels would have been an awesome experience. However, we too have the message of the angels. We know the good news that the Messiah was born…and we have the rest of the story, too. We know that He lived a perfect, sinless life, that He died on the cross, that He rose again three days later, and later ascended into heaven where He sits today at the right hand of God the Father.

I am guilty, though, of not always acting quickly in response to the message of Christmas. I am careful to remember the real meaning of Christmas and to be sure that it remains at the center of our family celebration, but I do not always remember, or take time, to share that true message with others. Having the good news is wonderful, and remembering the true meaning of Christmas is imperative. But in and of itself that is not enough. We must not keep that message to ourselves…as we will see tomorrow in the final lesson from the shepherds.

December 14, 2011

Lessons from the Shepherds (part 1)

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 8:54 pm
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Now that we have concluded our examination of the Dangerous Distractions that can prevent us from focusing on the Design of our Deliverance, I would like to take at three important lessons that we can learn from the shepherds. The shepherds who were tending their flocks in the fields outside of Bethlehem on that first Christmas night were the first individuals to ever recognize the Design of their Deliverance and the first to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

Luke 2:15 reads, “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.'”

The first thing we see about the shepherds is that they Attended Carefully. The word “attended” here means that they listened. The shepherds listened to what they angels had to say. They recognized that it was a messenger of the Lord who was speaking to them, and they listened carefully. There are far too few people today listening carefully to the message of Christmas. They think that the message is all about glad tidings and giving presents and Santa Claus and snow and fruitcake. And those things are all good and fun. (Except maybe fruitcake). But those things are not what Christmas is about. People who focus on these things miss the real meaning–they miss the true gift–because they do not attend carefully to the message of the manger.

With the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season it can be very easy to let the meaning of Christmas get drowned out by all of the noise and distraction around us. Even when we do pause to read or listen to the Christmas story from the Bible, we may even be tempted to let it go in one ear and out the other. After all, for many of us it is a story that is very familiar, and it can easily become just something else on our Christmas “to do” list. This year, let me encourage you to slow down, eliminate all distractions, and give your full attention to the wonderful message of the Christmas story. I am sure that if you will attend carefully to the message you will be blessed and encouraged by the reminder of the real Reason for this season.

December 9, 2011

The Design of our Deliverance

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 10:03 pm
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While Luke’s account of the Christmas story provides us with several examples of Dangerous Distractions, it also provides us with the real meaning of Christmas–God’s Design for our Deliverance.

The Old Testament is full of prophesies that the Messiah would come–that God would provide a way for man to be delivered from the bondage of sin. As the song says, “Long lay the world/in sin and error pining/til He appeared and the soul felt His worth. A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices/for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!”

So many people alive at that time, however–just like so many people alive today–chose to remain weary in sin and error, choosing to ignore that indeed it was “the night of our dear Savior’s birth.”

God designed a plan for sinful man to be delivered from sin and to have the opportunity to choose to spend eternity with Him. He had been providing advance notice of that plan for generations. And yet almost no one, as we will see over the next few entries in the blog, took any notice of this event.

If the Distance to the Destination, the Details of the Day, or the Demands of our Duties keep us from seeing God’s Design for our Deliverance then we too will miss the true meaning of Christmas. Our celebrations and parties and singing will all be for naught, it will all be meaningless and hollow with no significance beyond the pleasure of the moment. In the midst of a dark and sinful world, much of which is intent on denying the Reason for the Season, do not fall victim to the Dangerous Distractions! Remember the true message of Christmas! If you keep Christ at the center, I suspect you just might find that you have the opportunity to share that message with someone else, too. After all, could there be a better or more appropriate way to celebrate Christmas than to show someone God’s Christmas Gift?

December 8, 2011

Dangerous Distractions (part 3)

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 8:14 pm
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The third example of Dangerous Distractions that can interfere with our ability to actively recognize the true meaning of Christmas is this: the Demands of our Duties.

Remembering our passage in Luke 2, just think about the innkeeper. This man was likely beside himself even before Mary and Joseph knocked on his door. His inn was packed full. There was NO vacancy. Surely he was overwhelmed, and likely asked himself at least some of these questions: How was he going to feed them all? Did everyone have a pillow? Should he have upped his rates in order to take advantage of the crowd in town? Where was he going to park all the donkeys and camels? This man made his livelihood running the inn, but he had probably rarely, if ever, had so many guests at once. And not only the inn, but the entire town was full of people. And let’s not forget that his family had to register, too. There were many duties demanding his attention. And he had no idea what was about to happen.

Sometimes today we are the same way. We let our duties, our jobs, our responsibilities occupy all of our time. We have things to do at work, at church and at home–and more than likely they are all very valid and even very important things. But if we are not careful, they can divert our attention from what Christmas is all about.

In his book God’s Gift of Christmas, John MacArthur writes about the innkeeper: “Not only did he turn Mary and Joseph away, but he apparently didn’t even call for anyone to help a young mother about to give birth. The Son of God might have been born on his property. But he missed Christmas because he was so preoccupied. There is no indication that he was hostile or even unsympathetic. He was just busy, that’s all. Millions of people today are consumed with activity–not necessarily sinful activity, just things that keep them busy. At Christmas, people are especially busy. Shopping, banquets, parties, concerts, school activities, and other things all compete for attention. And in the clutter of activity, many preoccupied people miss the Son of God.”

Thinking of my own current and past experience, I know that December is one of the busiest times of the year. Right now, as a school superintendent, I have a perfect storm of end-of-semester activities, athletic events for winter sports teams that just started their seasons, musical performances for the Christmas concert, and a Christmas program at church. That’s not including anything on a personal or family level. When I was at the children’s home it would have been typical for there to be a dozen choir performances and at least half a dozen Christmas parties between Thanksgiving and Christmas, plus a staff party and things at church. As MacArthur wrote, there is nothing sinful about any of these things, but they keep people busy. And when we get so busy that we lose sight of what Christmas is all about–when the Demands of our Duties interfere with celebrating the true meaning of Christmas–we have a problem.

So this Christmas season, be on guard against the Dangerous Distractions that so easily find their way into our lives.

December 7, 2011

Dangerous Distractions (part 2)

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 4:18 pm
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In addition to the Distance to our Destination, we may also be distracted by the Details of the Day. Mary and Joseph, and probably most everyone else, would have been devoting considerable thought to what the day of the census would be like. Luke tells us that a decree had gone out from Caesar that the world should be registered, and that this was the first registration while Quirinius was governing Syria. That wording seems to indicate that this registration would have been a first-time experience for those impacted by the decree. So, putting ourselves in their sandals for a moment, it is easy to imagine what questions may have been going through their mind as they traveled to the cities of their ancestors’ birth. For example, where would they have to go in town in order to complete the registration? How many other people would be there? Would they have to wait in a long line? What kinds of information would they be required to provide?

Having never done this before they were undoubtedly unfamiliar with how it would work. This is somewhat difficult for us to imagine, because we do most everything by mail, telephone or the Internet. Can you imagine if each of us had to go to the city of our birth every so many years, or the city of our father’s ancestry? We don’t have these worries today, but just suppose the government decided to implement such a scheme? (After all, you never know what the government might do, right?) I was born in Washington, D.C. Traffic in and around Washington is bad enough on a “normal” day, but I cannot imagine what it would be like if everyone who had been born there had to return at a specified time. The numbers would be staggering. I was born at the Columbia Hospital for Women. The hospital closed in 2002, but it had been one of the oldest hospitals in Washington, D.C., having occupied the same location since 1870. It became one of the pioneering hospitals in many areas of obstetrics and gynecology, and more than 250,000 babies were born at Columbia. And that is but one of the hospitals in D.C. If such an edict were to be made that I had to return to Washington, D.C. for a registration I would certainly be asking myself many of the same questions that Mary and Joseph, and countless others, were asking…and I would likely have trouble finding room in an inn, too.

Registrations aside, though, we still get distracted by the Details of the Day today. Most of us have considerable traditions associated with our Christmas celebrations, and December is typically filled with lots of activity. As Christmas Day approaches, though, our minds may be filled with some or all of these questions…

* When will everyone arrive?
* Did I get all of my shopping done?
* Did I wrap everything?
* Does the tree look right?
* Is the house clean?
* Did I finish all of the decorating?
* When, and what, are we going to eat?
* Who’s bringing what dish?
* When will we open presents?

The Details of the Day can occupy our attention to the point that we forget all about the true meaning of Christmas. Most families make a big deal about Christmas. Family members get together, lots of food is prepared, etc. All of these things are fine. I love Christmas just as much as anyone else, maybe even more. (My collection of Christmas music is almost ridiculously large). But none of these things are what Christmas is all about.

Thinking back to that very first Christmas, no one knew that is was even about to be the first Christmas. Mary and Joseph had some knowledge, because they knew Mary was carrying God’s Son, but even they did not know exactly when Jesus would be born. To everyone alive at that time it was simply the night before another day. A day when they had to register, but other than that, just another day on the calendar. And unfortunately that is what Christmas is for many people today–just another day. It’s a day off of work, a day to get together with loved ones, a day to exchange gifts. But beyond the traditions and the time off of work, it is really just another day. The only thing that makes it any different is the Details of the Day, and so that is what becomes the focus of their attention.

Of course, it is the Details of the Day that account for the true meaning of Christmas, too. Only because Christ was born of a virgin in the city of David, lived a perfect life, suffered and died on the cross, and rose three days later does Christmas have any meaning at all. We just have to be careful to ensure that while we enjoy all of the fun details like food, family and gifts, we do not neglect the meaningful details of Christ’s birth.

December 6, 2011

Dangerous Distractions (part 1)

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 8:27 pm
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As I mentioned yesterday, I am going to spend several entries looking at Luke 2, and doing so from what may be a different perspective than is usually taken. For the first three entries I am going to examine the Dangerous Distractions that can interfere with our ability to stay focused on the true meaning of Christmas.

In verses 4 and 5 of Luke 2 we read that Joseph, along with his betrothed, Mary, had to travel to Bethlehem for the census which Caesar Augustus had ordered. As you know, Mary “was with child.” Despite her condition, she and Joseph had to travel approximately seventy miles over rough, mountainous terrain. Given their means of travel–likely on foot or riding a donkey–this would have been a particularly difficult journey for Mary. With the roads and vehicles that we have today, a 70 mile trip is no big deal. It would take slightly more than an hour, and the travelers would be inside of a vehicle, protected from the elements and able to stay warm. They could listen to music if they were so inclined, and enjoy a relatively hassle-free trip to their destination.

Today, of course, most people travel at Christmas because they want to, usually to be with friends or loved ones. Yet, the Distance to our Destination can still occupy our minds and distract us from the real meaning of Christmas. Think about your Christmas travels. I think it is safe to assume that you likely have asked yourself at least one of these questions:

* How far do we have to go?
* What time do we have to leave?
* How much traffic will there be?
* Will the weather interfere with our travel plans?
* How long will we have to wait at the airport?
* What if they lose our luggage?

These are but a few examples of the many things we spend time worrying about when it comes to Christmas travel–and I didn’t even mention every child’s favorite travel question: “Are we there yet?” When these matters become the focus of our attention they cause the message of Christmas to be pushed to the back of our minds–if we stop to think about it at all!

So this year, whether you are traveling 7, 70, 700 or even 7,000 miles, be sure to keep the message of Christmas in mind. Don’t let the Distance to your Destination and the many questions and concerns of travel interfere with what Christmas is all about.

December 5, 2011

It’s Christmas!

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 9:23 pm
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It is Christmas season! And since it snowed a bit last night it is also “beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” I love Christmas–the food, the music, the gatherings…all of it! I do prefer to wait until after Thanksgiving to start listening to Christmas music, though, and I must confess it bugs me to see Christmas “stuff” out in the stores as soon as they clear out the Halloween stuff.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that often neglects or even blatantly refuses to acknowledge the true meaning of Christmas. You may recall the post from a few weeks ago in which I discussed the letter I had received from the Anti-Defamation League. That is one example of the attempts of many in our country to remove any reference to God or Jesus Christ from the public sphere. (By the way, I received a letter back from the ADL in response to my letter. It was very short: “A letter regarding the December holidays was inadvertently sent to you last week. This letter was intended for public schools. We apologize for any inconvenience.”) I never expected any response at all, but the response includes further evidence of my point: the continued use of “December holidays,” for example, and the refusal to acknowledge that perhaps the “guidelines” provided in the original letter are absurd even for public schools. Not that I would expect otherwise from the ADL.

We also hear every year about stores that instruct their personnel to use “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” when speaking to customers. An acquaintance of mine was recently up in arms over what she considers the foolishness of some people refusing to shop at a store that won’t say “Merry Christmas.” Her position was that with the economy in the shape that it is in right now it is ridiculous to draw lines over something so silly. She went on to say that she does not find “Happy Holidays” offensive anyway, so people should just get over it.

Now, believe it or not, I opted to stay out of the discussion and keep my thoughts to myself. (Aren’t you impressed?) Of course, I am now going to lay out my position for all the world to see! (I have high expectations for the readership of this blog, huh?) I do not find “Happy Holidays” offensive, either. If someone says that to me, or sends me a card that contains that wording, I am not going to be offended or get upset. What does offend me is when any organization, institution or person establishes a policy that it will not, and its employees cannot, say/print/display “Merry Christmas.”

Why do I find this offensive? Because it is just one example of the intolerance of those who love to wave the banner of tolerance. If you look up the definition of “tolerance” you will find something similar to this definition provided by dictionary.com: “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry; a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.” The idea of tolerance has tremendous popularity today, and yet those who yell the loudest in favor of tolerance are the same ones who are so adamantly intolerant of Christianity. Do I think everyone in the United States has to celebrate Christmas? Nope. But do I think that real tolerance would include respecting the right of any individual to say “Merry Christmas” to any other individual? Absolutely.

I do not have a problem with a school–public or private–teaching its students about other December holidays. After all, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are holidays celebrated by other people, and they have the same right to celebrate those holidays as I have to celebrate Christmas. I do have a problem with any person or organization saying that a school (or other government entity) cannot teach Christmas, have a Christmas party, display Christmas decorations, or even use the word “Christmas.” (This actually leads to a very interesting discussion about the prescience of the Federalists and the unintended consequences of the Anti-federalists’ insistence on the addition of a Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, but I will reserve that discussion for another day).

So many of those who champion tolerance want tolerance only for their views. They want people to be able to say anything they want, so long as it isn’t the message of the Bible. They want a clear separation between the public square and any religious influence, failing to grasp that an attempt to eliminate all reference to God or Christianity is itself the imposition of a religion.

Anyway, I am starting to get carried away, so I better get off of my soap box now. It’s starting to get depressing anyway! Over the next six or seven entries I am going to take a different look at the Christmas story in Luke 2. I am going to point out the things that can interfere with the true message and meaning of Christmas, and then look at what we can learn from the shepherds. So stay tuned… And Merry Christmas!

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