Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Night Before Xmas, Scene 8: Opening the Gift

“So, children, I have done what I came here to do. I have given you the gift of Christmas. You now know why we celebrate this holiday. I have given you the gift. Now, you must receive it.”

“What do you mean,” asked Lori.

“What do you do with your presents on Christmas morning?”

Becky answered. “We open them.”

“Becky doesn’t wait until Christmas,” chimed in Stevie. Becky shot him a quick glare.

Lori held up a hand. “I thought we weren’t going to fight.”

They both hung their heads and said, “Sorry.”

“It’s okay, children. When you believe, God can help you break your bad habits. But first, you must open the gift that I have given you. A gift really isn’t yours until you open it, is it? Jesus has given you the gift of forgiveness, the gift of salvation, of friendship with God. He is calling you to believe. Do not be like so many people who never open the gift that God offers. It is life’s greatest tragedy, that so many refuse to even open the greatest gift that has ever been given.”

“How do we open the gift?” asked Becky, eyes wide. The idea of not opening a gift like this horrified her.

“Sir,” Lori added. “I want what God has given me. I want to receive it. I don’t know how, but I know that I need it.”

“Yes, Lori, you do. Every person does. The Bible tells us that we must believe in Jesus.”

“That’s pretty easy,” Stevie observed.

“Maybe less than you think, Stevie. I am not just talking about memorizing some facts or having a few ideas in your mind. I am talking about faith, about trusting your life to Jesus Christ. When you believe in Jesus, you admit that you can’t earn God’s favor on your own and you trust Jesus for everything. You turn away from the life you have without Jesus and repent of your sin. Then, you trust Jesus Christ to be your Savior and yield to him as the Lord of your life. When you do that, Jesus comes into your life, forgives you and gives you a new life.”

“That’s what I want,” Lori affirmed. “I believe in Jesus and I want that gift. I know my heart is sinful and I am sorry. I trust Jesus and give my life to him.”

“Me, too. I want to be friends with God.” Becky’s faith was simple; childlike.

“I want the gift too,” said Stevie. Then, with a smile, he added, “I think I’m going to miss picking on Becky.”

“Jesus will fill your life with so much that perhaps you won’t even notice it. Children, there are no magic words you can say to receive God’s forgiveness. But if you are ready to turn from sin and trust Jesus, why don’t you just pray and tell God what is in your heart.”

They were silent for a minute or so. Becky looked up at him first and smiled. Stevie followed soon after. Then, with tears running down her face, Lori raised her eyes, a new joy radiating from her face. Their visitor stood up and looked at each of them in turn. “Children, it is time for me to go.”

“No!” they said in unison. Lori continued, “You need to stay and tell our parents about this. They should be home soon, and they need to hear this story.”

“I’m afraid that is not possible, Lori. I was sent here to tell you the story of Jesus. Your parents would not be able to receive this story from me. It just wouldn’t work.”

“But they need to hear about Jesus,” said Becky.

“Then you tell them. They will listen to you – maybe not at first, but they will listen. When they see the new life you have in Christ, they will listen. When the Holy Spirit draws them, they will listen. You must tell them.” The children nodded. “In fact, children, tell everyone you know the story of the birth of Jesus, his perfect life, his death for your sins, his resurrection, and his offer of salvation to all who believe. The time has come, children. I must go. I love you and pray God’s best for each of you.” The children hugged him and walked him to the back door. He hobbled down the driveway and into the night.

The children sat in silence. Finally, Lori spoke. “We never asked him his name.”

“I think he was an angel,” Becky suggested.

“He was too ugly to be an angel,” argued Stevie.

“Maybe he was in disguise.”

They sat for a few moments of silence. Lori stood and looked out at the street in the direction their visitor had disappeared. “I don’t care who he was or where he went. I am just glad he came. Tonight, I received the greatest gift I have ever been given. I don’t think my life will ever be the same.” They heard a car in the driveway. “There’s mom and dad. Let’s go tell them what happened.”

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation;
O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, all glory in the highest;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be all glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

The Night Before Xmas, Scene 7: The Rest of the Story

“I’m sorry, sir. I just don’t get it.”

“What is it that you don’t understand, Lori?” asked the visitor.

“You told us that Jesus came to break down the wall that terrible wall between God and man. I don’t see how a baby being born could do that. He was just a little baby. They are cute and sweet, but babies don’t break down walls.”

He smiled broadly. “Oh, no, my dear. It was not Jesus’ birth alone that broke down the wall. That was just the first step. It was what came after that made the difference.”

Becky chimed in. “What came after?”

“Jesus grew up and became a man,” answered the old man. “And as he grew up, he did something that no other person in the history of the world had done.”

“What did he do?” asked Stevie.

“He did not commit a sin.”

Stevie was incredulous. “Everyone does things that are wrong. I can’t seem to go thirty seconds without doing something wrong.”

“Not Jesus. For more than thirty years he lived a perfect, sinless life. He never broke a single one of God’s laws – not in his actions, in his words, or even in his mind.” Stevie shook his head in wonder. Becky was trying to process it all and Lori sat with her head down, staring at the floor, lost in thought. “Remember what I told you before, children? The wages of sin is death. We have to die and face the judgment of God because we have sinned against God. But Jesus never sinned, so he did not have to die. He kept the Law of God perfectly and he earned a place in heaven with God.”


“Yes, Stevie. Jesus was perfect in his behavior, and he was also perfect in his love for humanity. He did the most incredible thing. It was planned by God before this world was made and it was carried out to demonstrate the love of God for us.”

“What did he do?” Becky couldn’t take her eyes off the man.

“He offered to die for your sins.”

“For my sins?”

“Yes, Becky. For yours, and Stevie’s, and Lori’s. Jesus died for the sins of all mankind. We had earned death with our sins. Jesus had earned life. So, he offered to take the death that we deserved. God took our sins and placed them on Jesus. He suffered death and hell – the punishment that our sins deserved. Then, three days later, God raised Jesus up to new life and having taken the death that we earned he can now give us the life that he earned. It is an amazing trade.”

“I understand,” said Lori. She was coming to grips with these spiritual truths for the very first time in her life.

“Do you really?” he asked.

“I think so. My sin built a wall between me and God. There was nothing I could do to break it down. So Jesus died for my sins and knocked down the wall.”

“That is absolutely right, Lori. Jesus was the one sent by God to save us from our sins and make it possible for us to be right with God again. He died for our sins, and now he offers eternal life to anyone who trusts in him.”

There was silence for several seconds. Finally, Stevie spoke. “Jesus is pretty awesome, isn’t he?” Becky nodded with him. Lori just looked up, tears in her eyes, the cynicism and sarcasm that marked her was fading fast.

“He is more wonderful that you can even imagine, children. That’s why the angels shouted so loudly, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.”

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

See Him in a manger laid,
Whom the choirs of angels praise;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While our hearts in love we raise.
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Night Before Xmas, Scene 6: Shepherds Hear the News

The old man addressed the children. “So, Jesus was born in a stable, behind an inn that had no room for him, full of people who had no time for him.”

“Didn’t they know who he was?”

“No, Becky, they did not. And they really didn’t care. They weren’t bad people, just busy. They were going about their business, doing what they had to do. They had no idea what God was doing there that night and they had no time for the baby Jesus. Isn’t that a lot like people today? We rush around throughout the Christmas season, going to school concerts and Christmas parties, and baking and shopping. But there is no time left for Jesus.”

The injustice of it all bothered Lori. “Jesus was born and no one knew a thing about it?”

“Oh, there were a few people that knew about it. But they weren’t in Bethlehem. They were shepherds out on the hillside, watching over their flocks that night.”

“How did they find out about it?” asked Stevie. “Did they see it on the news?”

Becky poked him in the head with her finger. “You don’t have anything in your brain but television.”

“At least I have something in mine,” he snapped back at her.
They were about to tangle so Lori intervened and sat between them, an arm hindering each of them from attempting bodily harm on the other. “Why don’t we stop fighting and listen to this man’s story. It the best story I have ever heard.” Becky and Stevie calmed down and agreed to declare a truce.

“It is a great story, Lori. And it is better because it is true. Stevie, they did not have TV’s to give them news back then. They had something even better. They had angels.”

Lori started laughing. “Angels? You have got to be kidding. Are you telling me that angels are real?”

The man had a strange look on his face. “Yes, Lori. Of course they are real. They are God’s messengers, doing his work in this world. And they are more real that you can know. Most of the time, you can’t see them, but once in a while, God allows an angel to appear on earth to deliver God’s message.”

He stared straight at her and continued. “That night was like any other dark night in the Judean hills. The shepherds slept around the camp fire; the only sound was the bleating of the sheep. But suddenly, the darkness was split by a blinding light. The startled shepherd cringed in fear as an angel appeared to them. What a happy angel he was, entrusted with the privilege of being the first to announce the blessed news of the Jesus’ birth. ‘For, unto you is born tonight, in the City of David, a savior, who is Christ the Lord." And then, the rest of the angels couldn't hold back anymore. Bursting forth from heaven, they filled the night sky shouting in heavenly voices, "Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, Peace to those whom God favors.’ And just as suddenly as they came, they were gone. The Shepherds decided to get up and go in to Bethlehem. These men were the first to see the Baby Jesus, savior of the world. It was the best night of their lives.

Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the new born King,
peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!"
Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies;
with th' angelic host proclaim ,"Christ is born in Bethlehem!"
Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the new born King!"

Christ, by highest heaven adored; Christ, the everlasting Lord;
late in time behold him come, offspring of a virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail th' incarnate Deity,
pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the new born King!"

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by, born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth, born to give us second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the new born King!"

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Night Before Xmas, Scene 5: The Birth of Jesus

Something was obviously bothering Lori. She wandered over to the window and stared out at the ice and snow. “So, you say Mary was happy about having this baby? That makes no sense. I bet everyone said mean things about her. It had to be embarrassing. Think about it. Would anyone believe that story?”

Nodding, the old man said, “I am sure that you are right. But Mary did what God said even if it was hard. She wanted to honor the Lord even if it caused her problems. She knew that the baby was the one whom God had promised, who would knock down the wall that separated man from God. She was willing to do it for the glory of God.”

Stevie stared at him with narrowed eyes. “Mister, are you making this up?”

“No, Stevie. It really happened, just like I am telling you.”

“What did Joseph think? Was he mad?” asked Becky.

“At first, he was very upset. Like everyone else, he did not believe Mary’s story about angels and the Holy Spirit and the Messiah. He decided that he would not marry her.”

“You can’t blame him, can you?” observed Lori. “Even Stevie wouldn’t make up a story like that.”

“I’m sure he wouldn’t. But God took care of Mary. Joseph was also visited by an angel in a dream, and God told him that Mary’s story was true and that he should take Mary as his wife. And that is what he did. You see, Joseph loved God, too. He did what God said, and they started making plans for the day when the baby would come. Then, one day, they heard something that made them very sad. The Emperor made a decree that everyone in the Roman Empire was to be counted and taxed.”

Stevie was nodding. “I’ll be he was mad. You should hear the things daddy says when he is paying his taxes.”

Laughing, the visitor said, “I can only imagine. But you see, there was a greater problem. To be counted, everyone had to go to the place that their ancestors came from. That meant that Joseph and Mary had to travel all the way to Bethlehem, where their ancestor David came from. And there were no cars back then.”

“No cars? How did they get there?”

“Well, Stevie, they had to walk, or ride on the back of donkeys.”

“Wow” exclaimed Becky. “I wouldn’t like that.”

Lori, still standing at the window, added, “And she was about to have a baby. That could not have been easy.”

“It was a very difficult trip for Mary. And it only got harder. When they arrived at Bethlehem, it was bustling with activity. Normally, a sleepy little village, it was packed with descendents of David waiting to be counted.” Every room at the inn was full. There was no place for Joseph and Mary to stay the night.”

“What did they do?” Becky was deeply concerned.

“The innkeeper helped them out. He let them stay in the stable behind the inn.”

This upset Lori. “With cows and goats and stuff?”

“That’s right.”

“It must have stunk,” Stevie observed.

“Again, we will have to leave that to our imaginations, but at least it protected them from the elements, it was warm and dry. As they were getting settled, it became clear that the baby was coming.”

This was too much for Lori. “Are you telling me that the Son of God was born in a barn?” She flopped back on the couch.

“That is what I am saying. He was born there, wrapped in tight cloths and laid in a manger.”

“What’s a manger,” asked Becky.

“It is where they put the animals’ food, a feeding trough.”

“Like our dog’s food bowl?”

“Yes, Stevie, only much bigger.”

Lori was having trouble letting go of this. “It just doesn’t seem right. If he was God’s son, he should have been born in a palace or something, not a smelly barn.”

“You must remember Lori, why he came. He left heaven and came to earth to be one of us. He came humble and poor, not proud and rich. And on that lovely night, God came to earth in a human body. Let me tell you, the world has never been the same since.”

A thought crossed Lori’s mind that raised her spirits. It is wonderful to hold a baby in your arms. But think how great it would be to hold one and know that he was the Son of God. I wish I could have been there.”

“Me, too,” chimed in Becky.

“Yeah,” Stevie agreed.

“Yes, children. It was a day that changed the world."

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes;
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Night Before Xmas, Scene 4: Mary's Big Day

Lori stared at the ground. “That’s kind of weird, sir. You are saying that Jesus was God and he came to live in a human body. Why on earth would he do that? It makes no sense.”

“That is an excellent question, Lori,” observed the old man.

Stevie interjected, “Everyone gets lucky once in a while.”

The visitor smiled. “I guess so, Stevie. Let’s go all the way back to the time of creation. The last thing God created was the first man and the first woman – Adam and Eve. He made them for a specific reason and purpose. Human beings were made so that we would give honor and glory to him, to worship him. But a terrible thing happened.”

“They ate a poison apple, didn’t they?” offered Becky, confusing the creation story with one of her favorite fairy tales.

“That is almost right, Becky. God told them they could eat from any tree in the garden, but they had to show honor and respect to God by not eating from one tree that stood in the center of the garden. That tree was off limits to them. But they disobeyed God and ate from the tree even though God had told them not to. Do you know what happens when you disobey your parents?”

“Boy, do I!” answered Stevie.

“God did the same thing when Adam and Eve sinned – they got punished. Because of their sin, death came into the world and marred the beauty of God’ creation. God sent Adam and Eve away from the beautiful garden to live in this difficult world. Sin always brings bad consequences. Many years later, God gave mankind a set of rules for us to follow. Do you know how many rules God gave?”

“Seven?” guessed Stevie.

Becky thought that must be too low. “Forty?”

Lori looked at them in disgust. She knew the answer. “Ten. The Ten Commandments. I’ve heard of them.”

“That is right, Lori. God gave the Ten Commandments which told people how they were to live if they wanted to be right with God. Do you know any of them?”

They sat silent for a few moments. Then, Stevie tentatively offered, “Don’t kill anyone?”

“Good, Stevie. Any others?”

“Isn’t there something about lying?” wondered Lori.


Becky wanted to chime in, “Isn’t there something about being an adult?”

He grinned broadly. “The seventh law tells us not to commit adultery. You’ll understand that more when you grow up. Can you remember any more?” No one could. “Well, the first one was the most important. No other gods! We are supposed to always put God first in our lives and take time to worship him. We should never use God’s name in vain or dishonor him in any way. Always honor your father and mother.” All three children looked a little uncomfortable. “Don’t steal what belongs to someone else or covet what others have. They were basic rules for how to live life the way God wants us to live.”

“I think I kept a couple of them,” asserted Stevie. “Sometimes, at least.”

“Right,” said Lori sarcastically.

“Here’s the problem, Stevie. It is not enough to keep some of the rules, or to keep them some of the time. If you want to be right with God, you have to keep all the laws perfectly, all the time, 100%, for all your life.”

Stevie’s head was shaking. “That is not good,” he said in a worried voice.

“Make no mistake about it, God is good and loving. But he is also holy and perfect. He has no sin in him and he cannot all sinners to be his friends or to go to live in heaven with him. Sin separates us from God. It is like a huge wall that was built between us; God on one side and mankind on the other. It was a terrible thing. But God loves the world and he had a plan to knock down that wall, to forgive sinners and to allow us to be his friends again. Isn’t that good news?”

“It sure is, especially for Becky.” Stevie couldn’t help himself.

“It is good news for you, too. For all of us. One night, over 2000 years ago, God put his plan into effect. That’s what Christmas is – the beginning of God’s plan to knock down the wall of sin. It all started with a young girl, a girl about your age, Lori.”

“Really?” she marveled.

“That is right. Imagine that you are this young woman. You are from a poor family in a village in Israel. You have just become engaged to a man named Joseph. You are an average girl like so many others. Then, one night, an angel appears to you, brilliant and shining, filling your room with the glory of God.”

“I’d be scared,” affirmed Becky.

“So was Mary. She was terrified. But she trusted the Lord. Then, the Angel spoke. He said, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary. For you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the son of the Most High; and the Lord will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.’ Mary asked him, ‘How can this be? I am a virgin.’ The Angel answered her and said, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, your child will be called Holy, the Son of God.’ And Mary said to him, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.’”

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The Night Before Xmas, Scene 3: Who Was This Jesus?

Stevie sat with furrowed brow, trying to figure out what this strange man was saying. A new world? A real world? Glorious Christmas? “Mister, I don’t understand what you are talking about. We’ve never heard of stuff before.”

“You’ve never heard of Jesus?”

Becky chimed in. “Of course we’ve heard of Jesus. He lived a long time ago, didn’t he? What does he have to do with Christmas, anyway?”

The old man shook his head slowly. “My dear little girl, what do you think Christmas is? It is the birthday of Jesus Christ. Christmas celebrates the day that Jesus, the son of God, became a man.”

Lori was skeptical. She didn’t believe in Santa; she would not easily be taken in by this man’s fantastic story. “What’s so great about that? Everyone has a birthday. Why should we all celebrate Jesus’ birthday? What makes him so special?”

“Isn’t it funny?” said their guest. “Your parents have given you three everything any child could want. You have enough toys to stock an orphanage. Your parents see to it that you have the finest education possible; you wear only the best clothes – everything this world offers. And yet, they have neglected the one most important thing in this world. They have not told you about Jesus.

“Daddy says that religion isn’t important,” Stevie pronounced this fact, obviously imitating his father’s dogmatic tone.

“Maybe not, Stevie, but Jesus is. He is the most important person in the world. He is the Son of God. In fact, he is God himself.”

This made no sense to Becky. “How can they both be God?”

“It is impossible to understand, Becky,” said the old man with a warm smile. “It is beyond the ability of even the smartest human beings to understand, but it is taught in the Bible, the Word of God. There is one God, and only one, but God exists in three persons. Each of them is God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

“Huh?” Stevie’s brain was overloading.

“Don’t worry, Stevie, it is something we believe, even though no one can understand it completely. But it is important to our story. Christmas is the time when God the Father sent God the Son into the world to demonstrate his love; to prove his love to the world.”

Tentatively, Lori said, “It sounds interesting.”

“Good, then let me start at the very beginning. A long time ago, God created this world and everything in us. This is his world. We all belong to him. He made the world and he keeps it running with his marvelous power. Even though we can’t see him, he rules over the whole universe.”

Stevie’s eyes were wide. “Wow, he’s bigger than Santa Claus.”

“Be quiet, Stevie,” Lori snapped at him. “Tell us more, mister.”

“Certainly. We’re just getting started, Lori. God sent his son Jesus, who is the rightful King of the whole universe, down to live in this world, to become one of us. God came down to live in a human body. Do you know why he did that?” They all shook their heads. “Because he loves you; he loves you very much.”

“Jesus love me?” queried Becky.

“And Steve, and Lori, and your mother and father. God loved the whole world that he sent his only Son into this world, so that people could have eternal life. That’s the real Christmas story. Its not about any of those things that you children have celebrated. It is about God sending his Son into the world to become one of us.”

Lori was fascinated with this man’s story, but was having trouble wrapping her brain around it. “It’s all kind of confusing, sir. I don’t understand all that you are saying about Jesus Christ. Who was he? Who was Jesus really?”

“Ah, Lori, that is a great question. In fact, it is the most important question anyone has ever asked; the most vital question in history. Who was Jesus?”

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Night Before Xmas, Scene 2: The Visitor

“That was fun,” said Stevie as the carolers wandered away. “I like Christmas songs.” They flopped back down in their places.

“Why do people go caroling?”

Lori shrugged. “I don’t know, Becky. I guess they don’t have anything better to do.”

“Maybe their TV’s are broken,” wondered Stevie.

Just then, there was a loud crash on the side of the house near the back door. Becky looked over the back of the couch out a side window. “What was that?”

Lori stood and walked across to the window. “I don’t know. It sounded like someone fell. Yeah, look. There’s an old man out there. He fell on the ice by the side door. I’d better go check on him.”

“Mom said we’re to stay in the house and not let anyone in.” Stevie was shocked she would even consider such a thing.

Lori waved at him dismissively. “He looks like he might be hurt. I can’t let him just lie there. It’s near zero out there tonight. He’s an old man; I don’t think he’s too dangerous. You two stay here and watch. If anything happens, dial 911.”

“What’s the number for that?” asked Stevie. Lori withered him with a derisive stare.

Becky was nervous as she peered over the back of the couch. Stevie, next to her, pointed, and exclaimed in shock, “Look, she’s bringing him in here.”

The old man entered the living room right behind Lori. He was brushing snow off himself, and limping slightly. Tall and portly, he was dressed in shabby clothing.

Lori led him to the recliner across the room. “Are you all right, mister? Why don’t you have a seat?”

As he sat, he spoke in a deep, bass voice. “I think I will be fine, young lady. Thank you so much for your kindness, and for this respite from the cold. This house is very warm tonight. Thank you again.”

It began to hit Lori that she had invited a strange man into their living room, something she knew she should not have done. The man inspired a strange sense of confidence, but her parents would not consider that justification for what she had done. She had to do something. “I don’t want to be rude, but my parents could be home anytime, and they wouldn’t like it much if they found you here. As soon as you are feeling better, you’d better be on your way.”

Leaning forward in the chair, he looked at each of them, and said, “But, young lady, this is my way.”

“What do you mean?” asked Lori.

“When I fell, I was on my way here; I was coming to see you.”

“Us?” wondered Stevie.

“Do we know you?” Becky added.

Stevie thought for a minute. Maybe there was an explanation. He crossed the room and stood in front of the old man. “Are you my great-grandpa or something?”

“No, no. Nothing like that. We have never met before and we are not related. But I was sent here on a mission. I was sent to tell you a story.” Disappointed, Stevie sat on the floor next to the old man’s chair.

Lori looked up at him. “A story?”

“Yes, my dear. I came here tonight to tell you the greatest story you have ever heard, and to answer your questions.”

“What questions?”

“A few moments ago, Stevie asked a question.”

Stevie’s head whipped around to look at their guest. “How do you know my name?”

“Stevie, you asked what Christmas is all about. That’s why I’m here. I’ve come to tell you.”

“Tell us what?” Poor little Becky was so confused.

“What Christmas is about.”

Stevie was not satisfied with the answer he had received. “How do you know about my question?” Then, suddenly it was clear to him. A suspicion formed in his mind. Yes! It had to be. “Are you Santa?”

The visitor laughed. “Well, in a way, I guess.” Now, each child’s face displayed confusion. “The Santa you talk about is an old man who goes about on Christmas and gives presents. And here I am, an old man who has come to give you a great gift.”

Now he was talking Lori’s language. “A present? Cool! Is it expensive?”

He nodded. “Of course it is, my dear; more expensive than you could possibly imagine.”

She lit up as she leaned in toward him. “Is it that iPhone I’ve been asking for?”

“No, no,” he said. It is nothing like that. It is even more valuable.”
Stevie jumped back in, the prospect of a great gift replacing his suspicion and curiosity. “Will you just tell us what it is? Can’t you just give it to us now?”

“I would be glad to, Stevie. I am here to give you the greatest present you have received.

That meant only one thing to Becky. “A Wii?” She stood and began to make slashing movements as if locked in some virtual battle.

Again, he shook his head. “No, I have a better gift even than that. I am here to give you Christmas.”

Becky was a little peeved. “We already know its Christmas. Duh.”
“That may be, Becky. But you have no idea what Christmas is. I want to give you the real Christmas, not this cheap imitation you have always known. You celebrate Santa and Rudolph and lights and presents. I want to open your minds to a whole new world, the real world. I want to give you Christmas, glorious Christmas.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Friday, December 12, 2008

In (Moderate) Praise of Labels

Don’t label me! Sound familiar? If you have been blogging amongst us Baptists recently, you have read a lot about labels. It seems to be a growth industry – assigning labels. Charges have abounded. Legalist. Fundamentalist. Liberal. Hyper-Calvinist. Semi-Pelagian. Baptist Identity. Neo-Landmark. And the response is almost always the same. Don’t label me!

It is an understandable complaint. Often, we use the labels pejoratively, to caricature, even to insult. No one likes to see his views reduced to a simple word, especially one with negative connotations.

But I would assert that labels can have positive value, if used properly. Can you imagine how cumbersome debate would be if we had to define every term or doctrine every time we spoke? If I say, Bob is a Five-Point Calvinist, that’s a label. It is much easier than saying, “Bob believes in the Total Depravity of humanity, our Uncondition Election to salvation through the atonement of Christ (Limited to believers) which becomes ours through Irresistible Grace and produces an unwavering Perseverence of the Saints, following the doctrines of the reformer John Calvin and the Reformed creeds and confessions.” Three words become shorthand for a volume of systematic theology.

I can tell you that I am a conservative, a 4-point Calvinist, a premillennial pretribulationist with slight dispensationalist predilections, and a Baptist. Now, in one sentence, you have a fairly good skeleton of my beliefs. Each of these labels describes me in a simple, straightforward way. They save time and without labels, carrying on the simplest theological discussions would become brutally complicated.

On the other hand, those pesky labels can also become problematic. No one likes to be called Hyper-Calvinist. I have been labeled a liberal by multiple bloggers because I don’t think everything Paige Patterson has done was right. It was a bizarre experience to be called a liberal and about as true as calling my beloved Yankees a small-market, frugal team.

We seem to like to label others, but don’t much appreciate when labels are applied to us. Since I am convinced that there is no way to do away with labels, and that, in fact, it would be counter-productive to do so, I would like to suggest a few guidelines, rules for using labels. The following list is obviously not exhaustive.

Rule #1 – Use Clearly Defined Labels

Make sure when you use a label, it has a generally accepted or reasonably well-defined meaning.

Evidently, James White is a hyper-Calvinist. Or, maybe not. One prominent professor at a recent conference used that label. The blog world lit up over this one – lots of passion. The problem is, no one really knows what the term means. What is a hyper-Calvinist? The best definition I have heard is “anyone more Calvinist that I am.”

The good doctor gave a clear definition of hyper-Calvinism and demonstrated clearly that according to that definition, Dr. White is undoubtedly one of the dreaded “hypers.” But others question the validity of the definition and therefore the label itself.

So, the whole discussion is pointless. We have devoted vast efforts in cyberspace to prove or disprove a label which cannot be proven or disproven. We have given offense, not clarification by the use of this label.

Shouldn’t the argument be whether Dr. White’s views are biblical, not whether they earn him a particular label? Debating James White’s views would be a productive discussion. Fighting about whether he is hyper-calvinist accomplishes nothing.

Rule #2 – Use the Common Definition

If there is a standard, commonly agreed to definition of a term, use it.

I can say, “Blogger Jones is a liberal.” Rev. Jones believes in inerrancy, accepting every word of the Bible as true. But he does not support the current leadership of the SBC and has views about women in ministry and other issues that are out of the SBC mainstream.

While “liberal” may be much like hyper-Calvinist in its usage, there is a generally-accepted Southern Baptist definition. If you believe that the scriptures have errors, mistakes, or inadequacies of any kind, within the SBC, you are liberal. That definition may not apply beyond the boundaries of the SBC, but it works pretty well within our little world.

By the common definition, Blogger Jones is not liberal. So, all I do is make my own, new definition. “If you oppose the conservative leadership of the SBC and do not go along with the majority view of women-in-ministry, you are liberal.” By that, I justify my use of the term.

But I think that is unfair and unproductive. If there is a generally agreed to definition of a term, stick with it.

Rule #3 – Label for Explanation, Not Insult

I call myself a Four-Point Calvinist because it reasonably explains my beliefs. I believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation. I understand the logic of Limited Atonement within the Calvinist system, but I see too much biblical evidence that cuts the other way, so I have not completely bought into TULIP.

If someone calls me a four-point Calvinist, it is accurate. If someone calls me a “Wimpy Calvinist” (I just made that up) because I don’t go all the way with the system, that is an insult and by definition, inappropriate.

Has anyone ever called himself a hyper-Calvinist? Of course not. I would suggest that it is a term that should be retired, since its only use is for insult. Dispensationalist is a useful label. “Darbyite” tends to imply an insult. There are a few people that embrace the Landmark label, but most of us view it as an insult. It is a label that seems to provide more insult than it does explanation.

It seems to me to be a work of the flesh, not a fruit of the Spirit to use labels as insults. It never leads to productive discussion, only to shameful blogging brouhahas.

Rule #4 – Don’t Force a Label

Many of the blog arguments have focused on a kind of petty, “Yes, you are,” “No, I’m not” bickering. Dr. Nathan Finn categorized Southern Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists into four groups (cooperative Calvinists, non-cooperative Calvinists, cooperative non-Calvinists, non-cooperative non-Calvinists). It seemed a useful categorization.

Another blogger came along, using this categorization and plugged names into each category. He named names, forcing people into the categories as he saw them. Strangely, this vocal Calvinist had a long list of non-cooperating non-Calvinists, but could not name a single non-cooperative Calvinist. Obviously, a few people didn’t like being forced into this man’s categories.

If someone says, “I’m not Landmark,” don’t waste bytes trying to make the charge stick. What good is it? When someone says, “I’m not hyper-Calvinist,” what value is there is trying to prosecute to make the label stick? Deal with issues; ignore the pejorative labels.

So, labels can be useful and valuable, if they are used reasonably. We must use them to explain and describe, not to accuse or insult.

The Night Before Xmas

This is chapter one of a simple Christmas story about 3 very secular children who learn what Christmas really is. I will be adding a new chapter every couple of days (a total of 8). Hope you enjoy it.

What's Xmas All About?

“Mom! Mom!” Stevie’s piercing voice burst into the living room a second before he did. He looked around to see if his parents had made it home yet, but the only person there was his teenage sister Lori, who was on the couch reading a magazine. Becky, holding a partially unwrapped Christmas present, followed him in, looking flustered and guilty.

“They’re not home yet, dummy,” she snapped at her 9-year-old brother, her elder by one year.

He stopped, pointed at her accusingly and said, “You know mom said not to mess with our presents.”

“I can wrap it up again.”

Crossing his arms, Stevie said, “I’m gonna tell mom.”

“If you do, I’ll slug you,” she threatened, shaking her fist at him.

His smile infuriated her. “I’m not scared of a little girl.”

“Why don’t you both be quiet. I am sick of hearing you fight. If you don’t stop, I’m gonna send you to bed.” Lori, snapped. Her disdain for her younger siblings was written clearly on her face.

Becky turned her wrath toward her sister. “You can’t tell me what to do.”

“Mom and dad will be home soon. We’ll see what they say.” She went back to her magazine.

Stevie was in no mood to let things go. He was pleased to have gotten under his sister’s skin, and he felt compelled to make the most of the opportunity. “Becky’s not going to get any presents this year.”

Becky’s head whipped from her sister to her brother, a horrified look in her eyes. “Yes I am.”

“No you’re not. Mrs. Higginbotham said that if you’re bad, Santa won’t bring you anything, and you’ve been real bad all year.”

“That’s not true. I haven’t been bad. Santa will bring me presents.” There a note of panic in her voice.

Smugly, Stevie retorted, “No, he won’t. He doesn’t like you. He told me.” He sat down in the recliner feeling pleased with himself.

That was more than little Becky could handle. She appealed to her sister’s authority which she had so recently been challenging. “Lori, tell Stevie to stop telling lies.”

Lori shook her head in disgust. “Why don’t both of you just stop. There is no such thing as Santa Claus anyway.”

Stevie’s smugness was gone and he shot up from the chair. “You shouldn’t say that. Santa might hear you. Then you won’t get anything for Christmas.”

“I’m so scared,” said Lori, rolling her eyes. “Santa is just a fable for little brats like you.”

“No way,” he shot back. “Santa is what Christmas is all about. He goes around on Christmas Eve and gives presents to all the good boys and girls. Isn’t that right, Becky?” Now, they were allies.

“That’s right,” she agreed.

Bursting with confidence, he said, “We saw it on TV.”

Lori was wondering how she could swim in the same gene pool with two such idiots. “There is no such things as Santa,” she reiterated.

Stevie was starting to lose confidence. “If there’s no such thing as Santa Claus, then what’s Christmas all about? “ His older sister was removing all the magic from the Holiday season.

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “I think it used to have something to do with religion a lot time ago. Now, its just a break from school and a chance to get some nice presents.” Lori saw the confusion on their faces and wondered if she had gone too far. But there was no sense in letting her brother and sister be taken in by silly myths.

“Santa brings the presents.” Becky was holding on to what she had always known, the truth that had been the foundation of all her Christmas celebrations to date.

Lori couldn’t back down now. “Where do you think Mom and Dad are right now? They are out shopping for more presents. That's why I'm stuck here babysitting you two instead of being at Ryan's party. Mom and Dad are Santa Claus.”

“Is that true?” Stevie asked.

“Of course it is.”

Stevie asked his question a second time. “Then what is Christmas all about?”

“Yeah, Lori, why do we celebrate Christmas if Santa’s not real?”

Lori let her cynicism overflow. “Who knows? Just open your presents and don’t ask stupid

They heard a noise outside. Becky climbed onto the back of the couch and looked out the window. Lori crossed the room and looked over her shoulder. “It sounds like singing. Oh, its just some of the neighbors out caroling.”

“Are they going to stop here?”

“Yes, Becky. I think so.”

“Do we have to give them money?” asked Stevie.

Lori withered him with a stare and went to the door. “No, shut up. Here they come.”

The three children stood at the door and listened as their neighbors sang such Christmas classics as “Jingle Bells”, “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”, and “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”. The carolers then waved and sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

For a few moments, the children watched them walk away, then they returned to their places and sat down quietly.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Is Jesus Disgusted with Baptist Bloggers?

I have been involved in the blog world for several years; much of that time way more than I should have been. I am ready to give it up. Many have come to this point before me.

Here's my problem: I have become disgusted with the level of conversation among Southern Baptists. What is more, I think our Lord may be more disgusted than I am.

If you have read anything recently, you have seen the brouhahas brewing as a result of the John 3:16 conference and the subject of Calvinism. It has been a brutal discussion -charges and counter-charges flying and hurt feelings abounding.

Think about it, folks. We are discussing issues related to the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and we are treating one another with cold brutality. James said, "out of the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. My brothers, this should not be." We seem to think we can skewer a brother or sister in Christ, then put a smiley-face emoticon on the end of the comment and make everything okay.

I honestly believe that Jesus Christ cannot be very happy with us Baptist Bloggers. We have brought more shame to his name that light to the world.

In Galatians 5, Paul distinguishes the "works of the flesh" and the "fruit of the Spirit." The works of the flesh are described as "evident" - things like enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and envy. The fruit of the Spirit is described as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Here's my question: How much do you see in the blogs of strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions and envy? How much do you see of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control?

In my opinion, the works of the flesh abound and the fruit of the Spirit is rare. Interesting that we are horrified by sexual immorality and drunkenness, both listed as works of the flesh, but we engage in strife, rivalries and dissension, which appear on the same list, with seeming impunity.

I do not count myself innocent in this. I have worked from the first list instead of the second all too often. We all have. But the problem is that the "works of the flesh" are not an infrequent problem in blogging - they define Baptist blogging. A pox on all our houses.

Or, maybe, repentance.

But, those few who read this will tend to say the same thing. I can hear some say, "You are right! Wade has really done a lot of evil." Others will agree that those evil, black-hatted "Baptist Identity Movement" folks have certainly been guilty. We are all too quick to condemn the evil on the other side of the argument. But we will continue to justify our own fleshly acts, ungodly attitudes, and damaging words. After all, the other side started it, right? I'm just responding to what he said!

For me, enough is enough. I may still read a blog from time t0 time, and comment from here to there. But I don't want to be involved in something that I have come to believe damages the cause of Christ more than it helps.

My NEW Plan: I have written a few books, and shopped for someone to publish them. I got a real nice note from a publisher who said what I wrote was worth publishing, but he couldn't do it. Big Help! So, I'm going to stop waiting and start publishing. I'm going to start publishing my writings - Proverbs, "Victory" (A Primer on Winning the War on Sin), The Names of God, "Brick Walls and Picket Fences" and other books. I'll just put my stuff out there, and if it helps someone, fine. The royalties won't really pour in, but who cares, right?

I will be writing mostly on my other site - WORD Processing.

A Lonely Lighting

I did something today I have not done in 25 years. I put lights on the Christmas tree all by myself. Since my first son was old enough to walk, I have engaged my children in helping with this holiday duty. First Matt, then Josh, then for many years my "right hand man" Benjamin, then in the last few years Bethany; each has been my assistant tree-light hanger.

Today, after a week trying to find a time when Bethany could help me, I used some time on my day off to do it myself, pensive and brooding the entire time.

You see, I love Christmas trees. I have two rules for Christmas trees:

1) Use a real tree! Artificial trees are for artificial people. (I do not understand why people get mad or offended when I say that - do you?) A tree needs to die to provide me Christmas spirit!

2) Hang the lights, baby! Keep hanging lights until the tree becomes a serious fire hazard, then add two or three more strands. My hero is Chevy Chase's character in "Christmas Vacation" who blew the power in the whole block with his Christmas display.

For some unknown reason, the Christmas tree has been crucial to me.

And the help of my children has been one of my greatest joys. We have always had a great time adding string after string after string after string to the tree. Once, Ben and I put 15 or 16 100 light strings on a regular 7 foot tree. It was luminous.

Don't get me wrong, I'm really not sad. I understand that my kids just don't have the time anymore.

Matt is off to his grad studies researching how to make computers think and make "The Terminator" a reality. He and Catherine seem happy.

Josh is reveling in being a newlywed, and is about to graduate from Liberty and head to Southeastern Seminary.

Ben, well what can I say? We are glad to have him home, having expected he would be off to college this year. When a local school gave him a full-ride music scholarship, he stuck around. So, all in all, its a plus. But he is going to school (most of the time), is co-director of the prep show choir at the school he graduated from in May, is practicing hard so his band can become the next Casting Crowns, and is starring in "Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings" in the local theatre. (If you are in the Sioux City area in the next couple of weeks, you HAVE to attend - it is one of the most enjoyable musicals you will ever attend.) That was what dominated his time this week and prevented him from helping out with the lights.

Bethany is involved in 6 different extracurricular theatrical productions and has been just about as busy as Ben. So, my most recent assistant hasn't had much time to help her old man with the lights either.

So, I did it myself.

But that's okay. And that's my point today. Life changes, and that's okay. Remember the old light-bulb jokes? "How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?" "Change? Change? We liked the old light bulb!"

I loved it when my kids were little. I loved watching them grow up, coaching them in baseball, soccer, basketball and track. I have enjoyed my kids as teenagers. Now, they are grown up and busy and active, and I still enjoy them.

I'm glad Ben and Bethany are involved in the activities they are involved in. I'm proud of the people they have become.

But things have changed. Life is different. We sometimes try to prevent the process of change, at home and at church. Parents hinder their children from growing up, trying to maintain the authority they had when the kids were 3 when they have become 17. Churches resist change and so do church people. We don't want new music styles, or new programs, or new ways. Lets just keep things as they are.

We need to embrace change. Yeah, its a little sad that I didn't have an assistant for the lighting duty. But life is good these days. Why moan and groan that they aren't like they used to be? They are not, and never will be again. We can long for the good old days, or we can embrace the days to come. Its hard to do both.

So, the lights are on the tree. Ben is practicing with "Rocks Cry Out" (his band). Bethany is at "Royal Players" finishing their skits for Magdrigal this week. Jenni and I are home alone. And life is good.

Now, if I could just get one of those two older kids to make me a grandpa. Then, I will no longer have to light the tree alone!