How Can We Honor Jesus This Christmas?

Written By Tyler Edwards, USA

Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He has served in full-time ministry since 2006. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is also the author of Zombie Church: Breathing Life Back Into the Body of Christ.

Have you noticed that sometimes, Christmas can get controversial?

I’ve seen people yelling in the faces of workers at Walmart or other retail stores, just for saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” I appreciate our love for Jesus and our desire to make sure everyone else knows it, but maybe the reason they aren’t listening is because we are yelling it and not showing it.

Remember the pastor who got upset when Starbucks changed their Christmas cups from snowflakes to plain red? What do snowflakes and snowmen have to do with the birth of Jesus? Absolutely nothing. The pastor’s reaction wasn’t honoring Jesus; it was misguided frustration from a change he didn’t like.

Don’t get me wrong, Christmas has always been controversial: A teenage mother having a baby out of wedlock, in a culture and time where that was not even remotely acceptable. Shepherds, who are lowly, dirty, and were not generally well thought of in Jewish culture. “Wise men” or magi, who were likely pagan magicians. If that’s not bad enough, Jesus was born surrounded by unclean animals.

No part of this story fits the nice, neat picture we portray. It was scandalous. It was shocking. It was offensive. It was also a declaration of the Gospel—that Jesus didn’t just come for a group of special, set apart people. He came for everyone. For sinners. For the unclean. Even for those who practiced forbidden arts. Yes, Jesus came for them too.

 

Who Is Christmas For?

I went to school with a guy who now pastors a mega-church. He told me about one year where Christmas fell on a Sunday. He and the elders decided that rather than having church, they wanted to encourage their people to be the church that week. To honor Jesus by following His example out in the community.

They offered some practical ideas: take gifts to a needy family, volunteer at a soup kitchen, reconcile with a family member you’d had a falling out with, bring Christmas to someone who’d be alone for the holidays. There are so many ways we can show the heart of Christmas to a world that has lost sight of it.

But some people didn’t like this idea. The pastor received dozens of death threats, from Christians who felt the idea of canceling church on “Jesus’s birthday” was an offense against God.

The church moved forward with the event despite the opposition. Maybe it was a revolutionary act for their church culture. Or maybe it was just an opportunity for them to check their hearts and remember what the heart of Christmas was all about.

At some point we all have to ask ourselves, is our passion for Jesus displaying itself in a way that honors Him? Do we value the traditions of Christmas more than we value the heart of Christmas?

When we boycott companies because they go against our traditions, are we showing the world the grace of God? Does our passion, our drive, our leaping before looking contradict the message of the Gospel we claim to believe?

Christmas isn’t about traditions. It’s not just about giving gifts, or snowflakes and trees. Christmas is about Jesus. If we don’t honor Jesus by showing and sharing His love with others because we are too focused on our traditions, we’ve missed the point.

Most of our traditional customs and practices at Christmas time have little or nothing to do with Jesus. They’re all good fun, but they’re not sacred. They are just cultural customs and practices we loosely connect to Him. When we lose sight of what really matters at Christmas, we fight over the wrong things.

So how can we honor Jesus and live out the heart of Christmas this year? I’d like to suggest that we do this by pursuing the mission of Jesus.

It could look like putting an end to conflict in our family, or spending time with lonely people in our community. We could also consider feeding the hungry or bringing our Christmas feasts to the poor and needy. Maybe we could also invite our friends to church with us, or better yet, invest in their lives and share the Gospel with them ourselves. What better way to honor the God who gave us life, than by offering that life to others?

Regardless of how we choose to live out the mission of Jesus this Christmas, the most important thing is this: We have to remember who we are doing it for.

 

Why I’m Hopeful This Christmas

While I have seen so many “Christians” behaving in ways that are antithetical to the Gospel, I find myself not enraged, but hopeful. I remember Peter, who was passionate, even zealous for Jesus. But in his zeal for Jesus, he missed the mark as often as he hit it. Remember in the garden on the night Jesus was arrested? Peter drew his sword and cut a guy’s ear off. It seemed like a bold and heroic gesture from Peter. But Jesus’s response shows us he missed the mark (Luke 22:50-51).

I am hopeful that, like Peter, we will grow. I am hopeful that, like Peter, our love for God will surpass our blind passion. I am hopeful that, like Peter, our joy and conviction in having encountered the resurrected Jesus will drive us to faithfully serve and follow Him. Hopeful that we will leave this world a little more like the Kingdom of God than when we found it.

So this Christmas, I’d like to challenge all of us to find one person who does not yet know Jesus. If we can reach one person during a time where people tend to be more receptive to the Gospel, if we can show one person who Jesus is during this season, then we can begin to see the real meaning of Christmas. The greatest gift that is given is not some expensive treasure in a kingdom of ash and dust; the greatest gift is bringing someone into the kingdom of God.

How Was Jesus Both God and Man?

Cover artwork by Abigail Jeyaraj (@handsxpens)

Written By Richard Goetz

Dr Richard Goetz is a professor of theology at TCA College, Singapore. He has a passion for learning and then sharing that knowledge, information and understanding with others. Dr Goetz studies and teaches widely in the areas of theology, ethics, philosophy, and church history, having earned his PhD in theology from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. Dr Goetz and his wife, Tammy, have been married for over 30 years and have two grown daughters.

Christmas is fast approaching. It’s the time of the year when Christians commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I enjoy Christmas a lot, not just because it’s a time when we give and receive gifts, but especially because of the many beautiful Christmas carols we get to hear and sing.

One of my favorites is Charles Wesley’s “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”  Not only is it easy to sing and remember, the lyrics tell us the entire message of Christmas.  The latter part of the second verse goes:

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!”

With these words, Wesley describes the Incarnation or the biblical idea that in the person of the baby Jesus, God became human, or as John’s gospel declares “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).  But this raises two important questions: how can someone be both God and man at the same time, and why did Jesus need to be both?

The reason Jesus needed to be both God and man is that God designed humans for relationship with Himself, but ever since Adam’s fall, our sin has corrupted us and broken our relationship with God. Yet, in His infinite love, God still wants a relationship with us; He wants us to be reconciled to Him. But in our sinful condition, that is impossible. We need our sin removed but we are not capable of doing it—it would be like a medical doctor trying to perform open heart surgery on himself.

For that reason, we need someone else to perform the surgery and remove that sin for us, someone who by himself is not corrupted by sin. The only person who meets that condition is God Himself. Thus, Jesus had to be God in order to die on our behalf as a sacrifice for our sins.

But if Jesus were only God then what He accomplished on the cross in paying the penalty for our sins couldn’t be applied to us; He might be the perfect sinless sacrifice but He couldn’t really be our substitute; in order to substitute for us He needed to be like us. Thus, Jesus needed to be man, too, in order to apply the benefits of His death to us and on our behalf, to cover our sin.

It is one thing, though, to confess or to acknowledge that Jesus was simultaneously both God and man, and understand why He needed to be both. But it is another thing entirely to try and understand how Jesus was both God and man at the same time.

God is infinite, man is finite; God is morally perfect, man is morally flawed; God is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good, man is limited in power, knowledge, and goodness. Yet, the disciples saw Jesus eat, sleep, walk, talk, laugh, get tired, get hungry, be beaten, bleed, and die as a man. They also witnessed him heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, calm the seas, walk on water, forgive sins, teach new truth with authority, and rise from the dead, which all testify to His also being God. How are we to explain this?

The definitive early church statement or confession regarding who Jesus was is found in the Chalcedonian Creed. This creed, or confessional statement, crafted by bishops of the church in 451 AD, declares that Jesus was fully (truly) God and fully (truly) man, “like unto God as to his divinity, like unto us as to his humanity”.

When trying to explain difficult concepts, it can be helpful to first explain what it is not. Firstly, Jesus is not half God, half man; he is not alternately God and then man; and he is not a synthesis of God and man combined into something new. He is also not just a man with a superior God-consciousness, or a man with some superior new moral teaching, or a man who happened to have some right ideas about God; He was not a ghost or angel. Jesus is fully God and fully man; in other words, He is both at the same time.

What this means is that Jesus had two natures, not just one; a divine nature and a human one, combined in the same person, Jesus. The divine nature added human nature to itself and the human nature was in submission to the divine. While on earth, the divine nature of Jesus also voluntarily gave up the use or exercise of some of His divine attributes, such as knowing all things and existing everywhere, in order to be in union with His human nature.

How do we know that He was both God and man? Because it is a precise description of Jesus as recorded in Scripture, drawn from biblical data, which is itself based on the eyewitness testimony and accounts of the apostles.

Nineteenth century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard declared the dual nature of Christ to be a paradox, which means something which appears to be contradictory but nonetheless can be true. Because he saw it as a paradox, he concluded that it required a leap of faith to confess or believe.

Kierkegaard would seem to be right; at the very least we would have to conclude that Jesus as simultaneously God and man is a profound mystery. The Apostle Paul declares as much in his letter to the Colossians where he wrote, “in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (Colossians 2:2).

Confessing this mystery, that Jesus is both God and man, by a “leap of faith” is arguably the single most important decision a person can make. I know it has been for me. This “leap of faith” has brought me into a personal relationship with God and given me forgiveness, freedom and hope for both this life and eternity.

In this Christmas season, truthfully, we won’t really be able to fully grasp or understand how Jesus was both God and man at the same time. But not understanding, or not being able to understand, does not mean it is not true; we must simply believe and confess it as true within the limits of our knowledge and understanding. For that is the very nature of faith: putting our trust in a just and loving God.

 

Editor’s Note: This is the third article in a four-part series on who Jesus is. Read the first article, “Why Do We Even Need A Savior?” here, and the second article, “Why Did Jesus Have to Come As A Human?” here, and look out for the last article “What Difference Does Jesus Make?”.

5 Gift Ideas For A Meaningful Christmas

Written By Anna Chee, Singapore

It’s that time of the year again when we have to think of the perfect Christmas gift for our friends! If you’re thinking of giving your friends and loved ones more meaningful Christmas presents than those $1 notebooks that they might never use, look no further—here are five timeless gifts that will make Christmas infinitely more meaningful for you and your loved ones:

 

1. The Gift of Prayer

Our lives are filled with challenges—and sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves and our friends, is to pray. James wrote that, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). So surely, prayer is the best gift to give a friend.

Personally, there are some prayer requests that I don’t always have the courage to vocalize, and some which I believe only God can answer. Like bringing my staunchly atheist uncle to Christ.

But God knows our heart’s deepest desires, even the ones that we don’t express to Him. When I come to Him in prayer, I am reminded that I can trust Him with every aspect of my life—and the lives of my friends. Spending time with our friends in prayer can also be a good way to strengthen our relationship and to share in each other’s burdens.

My church mates and I often share our prayer requests with each other. For instance, my friend, who’s going on an overseas school trip, asked us to pray for journey mercies and God’s protection. And they are in turn praying for me that God will equip me with the knowledge and wisdom needed to write this article.

Whether the challenge we’re facing is big or small, we can bring them all to God. This Christmas, let’s pray for our loved ones that they will know God intimately, and that God will grant the desires of their hearts in His divine way and by His divine power.

 

2. The Gift of Love

As Singaporeans, food holds a special place in our hearts. Our favorite past time is to eat, so in our church, we often show our love for each other through food. We would regularly buy snacks like barbecued chicken wings, barbecued pork buns, and cheese fries (*drools*) for new friends to show our love for them.

Recently, we even installed a few stoves and an oven in the kitchen of the church so we can cook more for each other. We are also planning to bake cookies on Christmas Eve to give out to the guests at our Gospel meeting on Christmas Day!

A good way to think about how you can give your loved ones the gift of love this Christmas is to think about what makes them feel loved. Try being generous with kind words and praise, or pick up your pen and write some encouraging messages for friends and family members. Remember, what makes the gift more meaningful is that personal touch!

 

3. The Gift of Time

To say that this year was a busy year would be an understatement. I had to sit for an important national examination at the end of the year, and the period leading up to the exams was extremely hectic. I was swept up in a maelstrom of work, work, and more work! This meant all my dates with my friends were postponed to the end of the year.

Because of this, I’m looking forward to catch up with my beloved friends and spend some #quality time with them! Spending time with our friends is a sincere way to tell them “I cherish you as a friend!”

The Christmas period may be a busy time for everyone, but if your friend’s love language is quality time, you can consider volunteering with them at non-profit organizations or starting a fund-raising project for causes you are passionate about. Not only will this give you time to bond with them through the activities, you can both give back to the larger community and spread the joy of the festivities.

A few years back, my friends and I spent our holidays at a non-profit organization that prepared free meals for low-income families and foreign workers. Afterwards, we reflected that the joy radiating from their smiles when they received the meals made the blood (when I accidentally cut my finger), sweat (due to the hot, stuffy kitchen), and tears (shed when chopping onions) all worth it!

Sometimes our conversations with Christian friends may veer towards superficial topics. However, we are called to build each other up in Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:8, 11). Some fun ideas to do this are to keep each other grounded in our faith by having impromptu worship sessions, doing a Bible study together, or discussing current events from a biblical perspective. These encouragements are the perfect gift for our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

4. The Gift of Service

Other than blessing our friends with gifts of love, let us not forget the needy in our society who are often forgotten in the blur of our bustling lives. Jesus spent time with the poor and needy, healed their infirmities, and associated with the sinners, the despised and the outcasts. We should emulate His compassion and mercy. After all, it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).

Don’t know where to start? Do a quick Google search to find out whether there are any non-profit organizations with gift ideas for the poor and needy. A good example of that is World Vision’s Let Light Shine gift catalogue. Or you could donate to orphanages or a Salvation Army center near you.

While it’s important to serve the poor, let’s not forget that those closest to us could also benefit from our acts of service. For example, cooking a meal for your family, helping your dad wash his car, or running an errand for your siblings. There are many creative and practical ways we can remind our friends and family that they are important to us. Let’s be a conduit of Jesus’ sacrificial love this Christmas!

 

5. The Gift of the Gospel

Finally, I’ve saved the best present for last. There’s no doubt that the greatest gift we can ever receive is the knowledge that Jesus died for sinners like you and me. Christmas time is the perfect opportunity to spread the Gospel.

Of course, this is not a call to scream “YOU NEED JESUS” in the faces of the people we meet or be a fiery, fanatical Bible-thumping evangelist at every opportunity, and (alas!) scare away those who have yet to know God’s love.

Last year, I attended a Bible conference and was honored to meet an elderly lady preacher. She shared that she would reach out to the different people she met in her daily life, whether it was a cab driver, cashier, or cleaner, by spending time talking to them and observing their heart’s needs. From there, she would slowly guide the conversation towards the Gospel and share about how Jesus can fill our heart’s desires.

I was greatly inspired by her fervor for sharing the Gospel and the gentleness with which she did it—and am challenged to do the same this year!

There are many opportunities for us to spread the Gospel through our everyday conversations. The most important thing is to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, and testify about the Good News with gentleness and respect for the other person.

 

Jesus gave us the greatest gift that we can ask for—salvation and a relationship with God. Let us respond by sharing His love with others and making this Christmas a meaningful one.

What It’s Like to Spend Christmas Alone

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

My earliest memories of Christmas were a mixture of joy and sadness. I grew up in Melbourne, Australia, where celebrating Christmas meant wearing bathing suits, eating barbecued shrimp and steak, spending the day around the backyard pool, and of course, the excitement of opening presents!

On the other hand, Christmas was also a time of the year that painfully exposed the brokenness of my family. Though the spirit of Christmas seemed present in the festively decorated shops and the wreath-bedecked streets, it somehow failed to permeate our cheerless home. At least my parents tried to tolerate each other, instead of resorting to their customary fighting.

l realized l was part of a family that couldn’t embrace the season of love and goodwill to turn our dismal situation around.

 

Family Feud

When l started university, every year l would volunteer to work a double shift on Christmas Day at the restaurant where l waitressed. That way I could avoid spending Christmas with my parents—who didn’t seem much bothered by the fact that I was avoiding them. They were occupied with their own marital problems.

After completing my university degree, l left home at 23 and moved to Cologne, Germany. My relationship with my parents worsened considerably over time, until communication between us completely broke down.

That left me alone in a foreign country, with no money, and no family to fall back on.

Instead of wallowing in despair, I dedicated the next 10 years to carving out a new life for myself in Germany without my family, which included creating new Christmas traditions.

 

Christmas For One

In Germany, I became a teacher and made new friends, the majority of them expatriates like myself. Every year at the beginning of the Christmas break, however, my friends traveled back to their home towns to spend the holidays with their families, and l was left alone.

Every year I told myself that l was used to being on my own, and I worked to make each approaching Christmas a memorable occasion for myself.

On my own, I embraced the traditions of a German Christmas: I visited the Christmas markets; l went sing-a-long caroling amidst a winter wonderland; I ate roast goose and baked apples. It was completely opposite to the Christmas traditions l grew up with in the southern hemisphere, yet l enjoyed discovering these aspects of German culture. While l hadn’t given my life to Christ at that point of my life, l would still go to Christmas services at the local church.

Though self-pity and loneliness insisted on making their presence known, l pushed those feelings deep down and doubled my efforts to absorb the Christmas spirit.

I listened to the mellow crooning’s of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” while decorating my pine Christmas tree, and almost managed to convince myself that l was happy being by myself for the holidays.

But then Christmas day arrived. The shops were closed and the city was quiet. And it hit me that once again l was spending Christmas alone.

I began to despair of ever knowing a family that wanted me—not only at Christmas, but every day of the year. Though l wasn’t a Christian at this time, l got on my knees and cried out to God in prayer for Him to give me a loving family, so that l could experience the happiness that others enjoyed at Christmas with their loved ones.

 

A New Family Through Jesus

God heard my pleading and my prayers. Within a couple of years after arriving in Germany, l gave my life to Him and found the family l was yearning for. I gained a heavenly Father, and l became His child (John 1:12-13). I would never be alone again.

Through the salvation and mercy of Jesus Christ, l laid the painful past of my childhood to rest and reached out to my parents a few years ago in order to try and mend our differences. We resumed communications for a while. Last year, however, my parents cut off all contact with me.

In spite of this disappointment, I still feel the love of a spiritual family. For although my parents rejected me, God took me in and adopted me as His own. I joined a church and found new brothers and sisters in Christ.

God has also blessed me with a new earthly family. He has provided me with a kind and compassionate husband, as well as very dear friends whom l love like the siblings l never had.

Together, we have made our own family memories. We have celebrated numerous Christmases and birthdays together. We have laughed during the high points of our lives and supported each other during the low points. I am truly grateful to God for bringing these beautiful people into my life.

This coming Christmas, my husband and l are hosting my best friends, who are visiting us from Berlin. This year has been particularly challenging for all of us due to health and other issues, and l look forward to taking this time to share with my friends the love and victory that Christ has given me.

I will also write to my parents and wish them a Merry Christmas. So far, they haven’t responded to my attempts at communication, but l will continue to pray for them and believe that we can reconcile in the future. Until then, l entrust them to God’s hands.

If you are entering this holiday season without the comfort of your loved ones, know that God is with you. Your story isn’t finished yet. Hold on to that, and hold on to God.

And in the mean time, my thoughts and prayers are with you this Christmas.