Merry Christmas from Bellator Christi

I want to take a moment to wish all of our readers at Bellator Christi.com a wonderful Christmas!!! May God richly bless you and your family this season. Take this time to give thanks for the greatest gift of all–Jesus. May you all have a most blessed 2017!

Blessings,

Brian Chilton

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Who is This Babe Lying in a Manger?

Who is this babe lying in a manger? Mark Lowry famously quipped, “Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man? Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand? Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.”[1] Who is this most celebrated baby? Why all the fuss? This child was special in many ways. In fact, the Child is in fact God come to earth. How do we know this and why is this still controversial?

            I have confronted a few people who still hold to the idea that the divinity of Christ was a concept developed by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century AD.[2] Such an idea is not rooted in history but a false assumption based upon the edict of the Nicene Council in 325 AD to condemn the ideas of Arius and uphold the ideas of Athanasius.[3] Constantine simply ordered that the church solve the Arian controversy as it was causing great ecclesiastical problems which could cause societal fragmentation.

Arius taught that Jesus was merely a human person and the eternal God. His greatest concern “was the premise that God is an undifferentiated whole. On this basis he argued that the Logos or Son is a creature and therefore must have had a beginning.”[4] Thus, Arius held that Jesus held a position higher than humanity, but lower than God the Father.

Athanasius argued that Jesus was fully divine in all aspects. Athanasius stated that “The Word was made man in order that we might be made divine.”[5] By “made divine,” Athanasius was noting the relationship that humanity held with the divine, being elevated to the level of eternity and perfected in God’s sinlessness. Based upon the Scriptures, the Council declared,

But to those who say, Once he was not, or he was not before his generation, or he came to be out of nothing, or who assert that he, the Son of God, is of a different hypostasis or ousia, or that he is a creature, or changeable, or mutable, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.[6]

But what basis did the Council use to uphold Athanasius’ teaching and condemn Arius’? They used the Scriptures and the teachings of the early church. How do we know this Babe lying in a manger was in fact divine?

The Divine Nature of The Babe Lying in a Manger was Prophesied.

            I recently delivered a message on Zechariah 12. I noticed something that stood out to me that had not in my previous readings. The chapter begins with the words “Thus declares the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him…” (Zechariah 12:1b).[7] Throughout the chapter, first-person language is employed indicating that the speaker is referencing himself. God is the speaker and later says, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10). Remember, God is speaking and he uses first-person language. Thus, God is claiming that he would come to earth and would be pierced for the transgressions of mankind. John the apostle understands this prophecy to have been fulfilled in Christ when, after referring to Christ’s crucifixion, he writes, “And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced” (John 19:37). Again in Revelation, this prophecy is referenced when Christ returns, stating, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen” (Revelation 1:7). Another element of Jesus’ divine nature is seen in addition to prophecy.

The Divine Nature of the Babe Lying in a Manger was Professed.

Jesus himself understood himself to be divine. Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man who had access to the Ancient of Days[8] (see Daniel 7:10) in Mark 8:38. Again, the “I am” of Jesus indicates the knowledge that he was in fact God come in the flesh.[9] Several other passages could be offered, but space does not allow such treatment.

John the apostle clearly understood Jesus to be co-eternal with the Father when he denotes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). As C. S. Lewis notes,

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.[10]

Jesus understood himself to be the Son of God as he claimed a divine status. But Jesus not only claimed to be divine, he demonstrated his divine nature in another fashion.

The Divine Nature of the Babe Lying in a Manger was Proven.

One of the coolest things about Jesus is the fact that he did not just say something about himself, he proved it. Jesus would prove his divine nature by the miracles that he performed (e.g., Mark 2:1-12). He proved his divine nature by casting out demons by his mere word (e.g., Luke 8:26-39). He proved his divine nature by performing supernatural works over nature (e.g., Luke 8:22-25). Jesus proved his divine nature by raising the dead (e.g., John 11:38-44). Finally, Jesus’ divine nature was proven by his own resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24; and John 20:1-21:25).

Conclusion

This Christmas, we celebrate a most marvelous birth. It is the birth of Jesus of Nazareth who is the Christ, the Son of Almighty God. How amazing the incarnation truly is! Ponder about the amazing nature of this event. Mary would give birth to the One who gave her life. Mary would bring forth the One who would save her soul. The most powerful Being in all the universe would humble himself to be born in a humble manger.

While we often stress ourselves trying to find the perfect gift for our loved ones, it is helpful to understand that the greatest gift has already been given. The perfect gift was, is, and forever will be Jesus. This Child, as Paul notes,

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess  that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

May we continue to remember, as the cliché goes, that Jesus truly is the reason for this celebratory season.

© December 19, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, Mary Did You Know, 1991.

[2] Constantine converted to Christianity. After his conversion, Constantine allowed the free exercise of Christian worship in the Roman Empire beginning in the 4th century.

[3] Saint Nicolas is said to have attended this conference. Nicolas is linked with the popular Santa Claus figure. Saint Nicolas was an ardent defender of orthodox Christianity. It is said that Nicolas smacked Arius due to his heretical concepts.

[4] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994), 248.

[5] Athanasius, De Incarnatione 54, in Early Christian Fathers, Henry Bettenson, ed. and trans. (New York: Oxford, 1969), 293.

[6] “The Creed of Nicea,” in The Creeds of the Churches, 3rd ed, John H. Leith, ed (Atlanta: John Knox, 1982), 31.

[7] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2007).

[8] That is, God.

[9] See John 4:26; 6:20, 35, 48, 51; 8:12, 18, 24, 28, 58; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1; 18:5-6.

[10] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillian, 1943, 1952), 41.

The Pastor Who Became the Grinch

Christmas is a time of celebration. It is a time set aside each December to celebrate the birth of Christ. Christmas is supposed to be a joyous occasion, filled with showing good will to one’s neighbor. However, such was not the case in a mall in Amarillo, Texas. Pastor Dave Grisham, originally from Panama City, Florida, took it upon himself to tell a group of kids, standing in line to see Santa Claus in an Amarillo, Texas mall, that Santa Claus does not exist. He was noted as saying, as quoted by the Drudge Report, “Parents, y’all need to stop lying to your children and telling them that Santa Claus is real, when in fact, he’s not.” Grisham went on to say, “When you substitute the lies of Santa Claus in heart of your child for the truth of Jesus Christ, you are bearing false witness against God.” Eventually, Grisham was silenced by a group of fathers who told him that he needed to stop and leave. Being in Texas, Grisham is lucky that is all he got from the angry dads.

grisham-texas
Grisham at an Amarillo, Texas mall before his obnoxious stunt.

Grisham is known for his confrontational tactics with his style of evangelism. He operates a ministry called Last Frontier Ministries. In Grisham’s eyes, he thought he was doing something right. I am sure that in his mind, he thought, “Hey, I’m telling these kids about Jesus. What could be wrong with that?” However, Grisham did far more harm than good. Not only did he make national headlines (perhaps the intention of his tirade), he portrayed Christians as a bunch of nagging, obnoxious, party poopers, who cannot allow children enjoy some innocent fun. In essence, Grisham turned the Nativity (the reason for the Christmas season) into the proverbial Grinch.

Some readers will say, “Yeah, but he did tell the children about Jesus. That can’t be bad, can it?” Others will argue, “Christmas has become too commercialized. Isn’t that what Grisham confronted?” Point taken. However, it must be noted that it is not only important what is said, it is equally important how something is presented. Tactless, confrontational evangelism defeats the purpose it sets out to accomplish.

Aristotle noted that there are three important tasks in communication: logos (the logic behind what is presented), ethos (the ethical and authoritative nature of the speaker), and pathos (the emotional appeal meant to persuade the audience). Grisham arguably teetered around the logos aspect of his presentation. Yet, he completely missed the ethos and pathos aspects. That is why both the Christian and secular communities are frustrated with Grisham.

Simon Peter notes in 1 Peter 3:15, a text that notes the importance of apologetics, that one should “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV, emphasis mine). Gentleness and respect! Grisham failed to display gentleness and respect, especially to the little children.

Remember, we can be right about an issue and wrong in our presentation. When that occurs, we are not persuasive. Rather, we become obnoxious. That is what happened with Grisham. May we (and he) learn from his mistakes. Jesus is the focus of our Christmas celebration. Celebrate Him! But don’t turn Him into the Grinch. To our friends in Amarillo, Texas, on behalf of the majority of the Christian community, you have our apologies. Amarillo, have a wonderful Christmas!

Click here to see the video, courtesy of the Drudge Report. http://drudgetoday.com/v2/r?n=0&s=18&c=1&pn=Anonymous&u=http://www.theamericanmirror.com/video-pastor-heckles-kids-tx-mall-no-santa/

(c) December 14, 2016. Brian Chilton.

The Mystery of Christ’s Incarnation

The Gospel of John opens with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14).[1] Incomprehensible! Often at Christmas time, we are lost in the imagery of a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. One may picture angels overhead with Mary and Joseph seated near the Child, surrounding by shepherds, wisemen,[2] and onlooking animals. But does one contemplate the great complexity of it all? John notes that the eternal Word, the Logos,[3] came to earth and became a human being. God became one of us. How does one understand this complex doctrine? Early in Christian history, two schools sought to develop and understanding on how it was that God came to earth. One developed in Alexandria, Egypt, a center of high intellectualism and which housed one of the largest libraries in human history—known as the Alexandrian school. Another developed in Antioch located in Asia Minor (around modern Turkey)—known as the Antiochene school.

The Alexandrian School of Understanding

The Alexandrian school was home to some powerful Christian thinkers including the great apologist Justin Martyr. Athanasius, the man who defeated the ancient Arian heresy,[4] came from this school of thought as well as Cyril of Alexandria and others. The Alexandrian school “focused sharply on the significance of Christ as savior.”[5] As such, the Alexandrian school focused on the divine nature of Christ and emphasized the divine Logos as He assumed a human nature. Cyril of Alexandria notes,

 “In declaring that the Word was made to ‘be incarnate’ and ‘made human,’ we do not assert that there was any change in the nature of the Word when it became flesh, or that it was transformed into an entire human being, consisting of soul and body; but we say that the Word, in an indescribable and inconceivable manner, united personally to himself flesh endowed with a rational soul, and thus became a human being and was called the Son of man. And this was not by a mere act of the will or favor, nor simply adopting a role or taking to himself a person.”[6]

Apollinarius of Laodicea (c. 310-390) took the Alexandrian understanding of the Logos assuming flesh to the point where he claimed that a human mind and soul were replaced with a divine mind and soul. The Apollinarian school thus devalued the human aspect of Christ, a concept that would be challenged by many Alexandrians and especially the Antiochenes.

The Antiochene School of Understanding

Whereas the Alexandrians focused on the salvific aspect of Christ, the Antiochene school focused on the moral aspects of Christ.[7] The Antiochene school focused on the wholeness of Christ being both divine and human. Unfortunately, like Apollinarius would for the Alexandrian school, a man name Nestorius (c. 386-451) would stretch the Antiochene understanding to the limits of heresy. Nestorius would argue that Christ held two natures: one human and one divine. Yet, Nestorius’ view led to the belief that Christ has two parts to Himself. However, a solution to this enigma would come from the Antiochene school.

The Hypostatic Union

The Antiochene school found a solution to the two natures of Christ in the term “hypostatic union.” That is, the union of the “divine and human natures in Christ—rests in the will of God.”[8] As Theodore of Mopsuestia would denote,

“The distinction between the natures does not annul the exact conjunction, nor does the exact conjunction destroy the distinction between the natures, but the natures remain in their respective existence while separated, and the conjunction remains intact because the one who was assumed is united in honor and glory with the one who assumed, according to the will of the one who assumed him…In this same way here [i.e., in the incarnation] they are two by nature and one by conjunction because the adoration offered to the one who has been assumed is not divided from that offered to the one who assumed him.”[9]

Thus, the solution is found by acknowledging that Christ was both divine and human, compiled into one person—Jesus of Nazareth. The Word became flesh. Therefore, one finds both the divine Word and a human persona in one being.

Conclusion

What mystery! What wonder! The babe lying in a manger was none other than God Himself! God joined the human drama. He became one of us so that He could point us back to Him. I read a story of a farmer who returned from his children’s Christmas program. He could not understand why God came to earth, or even why He would desire to do so. After he tucked his kids in bed, he checked on his animals in the barn on this cold, snowy night. Clomping through the snow and opening the doors to the barn, he heard faint chirping. He looked to find four little birds flopping in the snow. They could not yet fly and the cold snow was freezing them.

The farmer grabbed a broom, sweeping them towards the barn. The more he swept, the more frightened the little birds became. He tried to coax them inside with his voice, yet they could not comprehend his wisdom. He attempted to scoop them in his hands, only to find that the birds would flop back out. The birds were inches away from safety. The barn’s warmth would provide them shelter and warmth for the winter. Then the thought penetrated his mind, leaving him breathless with the insight of the incarnation for which he had long been longing: if he could become one of the birds, he could fix the broken relationship the birds had with the farmer. He could tell them that the farmer meant them no harm. He could lead the birds to safety, saving their lives—if only he could become a bird.

God did just that for all humanity. He lived among us, so that we could live with Him. He would eventually suffer for us, so that we could rejoice. He would die, so that we could live. What mystery! What amazing mystery! And what amazing love!

© December 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes:

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

[2] This is an erroneous depiction as the wise men did not appear at the time of Christ’s birth, but rather appeared a few months to a couple of years after the birth of Christ.

[3] The Greek term translated “Word.” The Logos is a complex concept as it depicts the personification of divine wisdom. It was understood as the aspect of God that developed the universe.

[4] Arianism is comparable to the modern Jehovah Witness movement as it denied the divine nature of Christ.

[5] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 277.

[6] Cyril of Alexandria, Second Letter to Nestorious IV, 3-5.

[7] See McGrath, 278.

[8] McGrath, 279.

[9] Theodore of Mopsuestia, “Catechetical Homily,” 8.13-14, Woodbrooke Studies: Christian Documents in Syriac, Arabic, and Garshuni, Alphose Mingana, trans (Cambridge, UK: Heffer, 1933), 89-90.

The Christmas Story in the Gospel of John

When most people think of Christmas, they think of the Christmas stories found in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. In Matthew, one finds the genealogy on the father’s side—albeit, the adopted father; the visitation of the angels to Mary and Joseph; the visitation of the wise men; the flight to Egypt; and the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod.

In Luke’s Gospel, one finds the foretelling and birth of John the Baptist; the foretelling of Jesus’ birth; Mary’s visit to Elizabeth; Mary’s song of praise; the birth of John the Baptist; Zechariah’s prophecy; the birth of Jesus; the pronouncement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds; and Jesus’ presentation before the Temple.

Unbeknownst to many, John’s Gospel holds a Christmas story as well. While John does not provide many of the historical details that Matthew and Luke do, John provides a deep Christmas story. John’s Christmas story is found in the first chapter of John’s Gospel.

What does John’s Christmas story tell us? Seeing that Christmas is really a celebration of the incarnation of Christ, John tells at least three things about Christmas.

John’s Christmas Story introduces the divine nature of Jesus.

First, John addresses the true nature of Jesus. John boldly proclaims that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).[1] John describes the divine nature of Jesus in this passage. D. A. Carson notes that

Since Mark begins his Gospel with the same word, ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ’, it is also possible that John is making an allusion to his colleague’s work, saying in effect, ‘Mark has told you about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry; I want to show you that the starting point of the gospel can be traced farther back than that, before the beginning of the entire universe.’[2]

That is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all acknowledge the beginning of Jesus’ life at his birth. John takes Jesus’ beginning back to the vast realm of eternity.

A person cannot escape the divine nature attributed to Jesus in John chapter 1. Jesus is described as being eternal with God, being in the nature of God. John also describes Jesus as the Creator by noting that “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made hat was made” (1:2). John also notes that Jesus is the source of life in 1:4-5. But, John’s Christmas story does not only include the divine nature of Jesus, he also includes information about Jesus’ mission on earth.

 John’s Christmas Story introduces the interactive mission of Jesus.

John notes that the “true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (1:9-10). Perhaps the most important truth that John provides pertaining to Jesus’ interactive ministry in the world is that “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). Kenneth Gangel emphasizes this point in saying,

“This may be the most important verse in the Bible on the doctrine of the incarnation. John went back to verse 1 to pick up one of his favorite themes, the Word. God became human; God showed us his glory; God offered us grace and truth; God literally “tabernacled” among us.”[3]

The core truth of Christmas is that God came and dwelt among us. The very God who gave us life came and became one of us. What should this tell us? It should tell us that God is concerned about the human race. God is a loving and caring God who was not willing to leave humanity as it is, but desires to save it.

Which brings us to the final point.

 John’s Christmas Story introduces the transformative gift of Jesus.

John demonstrates that God came to dwell among us. John uses the illustration of the tabernacle where God’s glory would reside in the holy of holies. In this manifestation, one finds the fulfillment of the law.

John states quite succinctly that in Jesus one finds “grace and truth” (1:17). Grace is unmerited favor. Nothing within us says, “I am worthy of God’s love and mercy.” Rather, God gives us something that we do not deserve—salvation.

While many will be inundated with the commercialism that surrounds Christmas, it is a good practice for us all to remember God’s grace during this time. We don’t deserve the love of God. But since God is loving, he came to save us from ourselves. He came to help us understand the true meaning of love. In Christ, we find the full expression of God’s love.

The world could use a great refresher course when it comes to the true meaning of love.

Love is not selfish. Love does not seek to hoard. Love seeks to give.

Conclusion

John’s Christmas story provides a poignant, yet profound statement… “the Word became flesh” (1:14). That’s the point in celebrating Christmas. Often, we become obsessed with finding the accurate date of Christ’s birth. We spend countless hours discriminating between those things that appear pagan in our celebrations, while failing to ponder on the most important truth behind Christmas.

God left the portals of heaven and dwelled in a physical body among us. He came to save us. He came to love us. He came to show us the truth. Will you be willing to focus on the core essential truth of Christmas this season? If so, you might want to camp in the midst of John’s Christmas story this year.

 

© December 24, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited:

 Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991.

Gangel, Kenneth O. John. Volume 4. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 114.

[3] Kenneth O. Gangel, John, vol. 4, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 13.

Problems with Political Correctness for the Evangelical Christian

Recently, W. R. Castle Elementary School in Johnson County, Kentucky made the decision to cut biblical references in their recent production of Charlie Brown Christmas. This latest edition of political correctness gone haywire has brought great concern among many inside and outside of the Christian community. The biblical reference in the play is brought by the Peanuts® character Linus as he answers Charlie Brown’s question concerning the meaning of Christmas. Linus answers by reading a portion of the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2.

Defending the school’s position, the Superintendent Thomas Salyer stated,

“‘In accordance with federal laws, our programs will follow appropriate regulations. The U.S. Supreme Court and the 6th Circuit are very clear that public school staff may not endorse any religion when acting in their official capacities and during school activities. However, our district is fully committed to promote the spirit of giving and concern for our fellow citizens that help define the Christmas holiday,’ Thomas Salyer said” (Weber 2015, Christian Post).

Johnson County Superintendent Terry Mattingly, for Get Religion, says, “If you can’t put the Christmas story in a Christmas play, what do these educators propose to put in its place? Why do this play at all?” (Mattingly 2015, Get Religion).

My question is this; how is allowing a literary piece to express itself an endorsement of a particular religion? Where does this lead? Are we going to begin stifling the viewpoints of William Shakespeare, John Donne, and even George Washington, the first President of the United States? To that extreme, would we handcuff even the scientific greats such as Sir Isaac Newton and Copernicus due to their Christian beliefs?

Johnson County, Kentucky allowed an ever growing sense of political correctness to override what should have been a great Christmas moment for one reason…

Fear.

However, Christians, especially defenders of the faith, should not allow themselves to be handcuffed by political correctness for at least three reasons.

Political correctness handcuffs a person’s focus on truth.

If a person allows political correctness to be the byword of their speech, then the person is not going to stand for truth. Truth is replaced by complacency. Jesus told the woman at the well that the “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23).[1] How is a person to worship the Father in truth if he or she is constantly concerned about hurting someone’s feelings—the mantra of political correctness? If a person is stifled by truth, what does this say about justice?

 Political correctness handcuffs a person’s focus on justice.

Political correctness hinders the ability for justice. PC advocates will take extreme measures not to offend, even blatant offenders! For a person who has become a serial killer, the murderer will not be blamed. Rather, the killer’s childhood, social status, or the like will be noted as the reasons that the person mercilessly executed his or her victims. Yeah, the killer may have had a horrible upbringing, but that does not necessitate the slaughter of an innocent person! This all boils to one horrible result of extreme PC.

One becomes unable to decipher right from wrong!

It all becomes a matter of personal preference. Society cannot stand on such a shaky foundation. But, there is yet another problem with PC as it relates to the evangelical Christian.

 Political correctness handcuffs a person’s focus on love.

The amazing irony behind political correctness is that it fails to demonstrate the very thing that many PC advocates seek…love. Jesus says that “this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). PC relishes in the darkness of sin, which is the antithesis of love.

Why?

Suppose a person is driving towards the precipice of a cliff. You have the opportunity to tell them to stop. But you do not. Is that loving?

Of course not!

 To demonstrate love, one must be willing to expose problems. Let’s give another example. Suppose a person is dying from a horrible disease, yet you have the cure. The person is sick, but they do not realize that their symptoms indicate a more serious disease. In order to provide the cure, you must have consent. Do you notify the person of their disease, knowing that it will bring great grief, in order to provide the means for the cure? Or do you simply let the person die?

If Christianity is true, then the world is sick. The cure is given in Jesus. Will Christians do the loving thing and tell others about Jesus? Obviously, the Christian would not be an advocate of extreme political correctness.

Conclusion

I realize that we must use tact when providing the message of Christ. We do not desire to “shove the message down anyone’s throat.” Yet, at the same time, Christians cannot allow the fear that promotes extreme political correctness to handcuff their efforts. I feel that Christianity is true. Because of that, I am obligated to tell others about the life-changing, mind-transforming, soul-saving message found in Jesus of Nazareth.

Are you handcuffed by political correctness or transformed by the providence of Christ?

 

© December 22, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited

 Mattingly, Terry. “Dear Lexington editors: If Linus doesn’t say you know what, then what does he say.” GetReligion.org (12/16/2015). Accessed December 21, 2015. http://www.getreligion.org/getreligion/2015/12/16/dear-lexington-editors-if-linus-doesnt-say-you-know-what-then-what-does-he-say.

Weber, Katherine. “No Christ in Christmas Play, Ky. School Says; ‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ to Miss Pivotal Scene.” ChristianPost.com (12/17/2015). Accessed December 21, 2015. http://www.christianpost.com/news/ky-school-charlie-brown-christmas-152801/#L7tOL77FiGCvZv6W.99.

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, Then Why is There Still so Much Turmoil?

linusIf you are like me, you love the Christmas classics that come on television every December. One of my favorite Christmas shows is Charles Schultz Merry Christmas Charlie Brown! The pivotal point of the cartoon is when Charlie Brown shouts out, “Does anyone know what Christmas is all about?” Linus, carrying his ever trusted blanket, then begins a monologue describing Christmas quoting Luke 2:8-14.

As Linus reads from Luke’s Gospel, one is left with the sense of peace as the angels proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14, NKJV).[1] The Bible greatly marks the Messiah with the sense of peace. Isaiah describes the Messiah as the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).[2]

But many will ask, “If Jesus is the ‘Prince of Peace,’ then why is it that the world remains so violent and chaotic?” Shouldn’t the Prince of Peace have brought peace to the earth and goodwill to all humanity? Does this discredit Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah? No! Why? For the three reasons given below.

Jesus’ statement on a “sword.”

Many in Jesus’ day thought that the Messiah would come to bring peace on earth. However, Jesus confronts this idea in saying, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). NT scholar Craig Keener notes that

“It was normally believed that there would be great suffering before the end, and that the Messiah would lead his people in a triumphant war, followed by a time of peace. Jesus assures his listeners that the promised era of peace is yet some time off and goes on to explain the nature of the current sufferings and conflict” (Keener 1993, 74).

Jesus notes the division that would occur in following him. Even in one’s family, a person may find a commitment to Christ by one and rejection by another. Jesus concludes in saying that “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

The point is: due to the nature of Christ’s work, peace will not be brought to earth until a later time. However, the work that Christ would bring about ultimate peace. But does this mean that one cannot experience peace in the here and now?

 Jesus provides peace in this life.

Jesus does provide peace to the believer now. But, one will certainly note the presence of great turmoil in the world. So, how does the believer have peace?

The believer has spiritual peace that emanates from the Prince of Peace. Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus also said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus provides inner peace for one facing the most horrific of outer turmoil. Does this mean that the world will never experience peace?

 Jesus’ end deliverance of peace and the application of “Prince of Peace.”

If the preceding is true, then what did Isaiah mean when he called the Messiah the “Prince of Peace”? Was it a metaphor for the spiritual peace provided by the Messiah? Actually, no. Isaiah goes on to say, “Of the increase of his government and of peace, there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). Rydelnik explains that “The child will fulfill the promise of the Davidic covenant (cf. 2Sm 7:12-16), and establish the messianic kingdom through justice and righteousness” (Rydelnik & Vanlaningham 2014, 1025).

Thus, the passage looks to the end when the Messiah would usher in a final time of justice and peace. This is the same glimpse afforded to the believer in the book of Revelation. Jesus’ ultimate demonstration of peace will come at the end of time when sin is conquered, death is defeated, and peace will reign eternally.

Conclusion

The recitation of Linus in Merry Christmas Charlie Brown! provides the viewer with the message of Christmas. Christ has come to provide peace. In a sense, Christ has already provided peace to the believer through the comfort of his presence which steers the believer through even the most tumultuous waters. However, the ultimate fulfillment of peace will come when Christ returns.

Christ came once before. He is promised to come again. When he does, peace will reign supreme. Hold on to the peace of Christ! Hold on to the Prince of Peace!

 

© December 21, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited:

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1993.

Rydelnik, Michael, and Michael Vanlaningham, eds. The Moody Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Bible Publishers, 2014.

 

[1] Scriptures marked NKJV come from the New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982).

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

What Can We Historically Know about Jesus of Nazareth?

As we come close to a Christian holiday, people often begin to ask, “Can we know that these events actually took place?” When it comes to Christmas, greater ambiguity exists as to particular elements pertaining to the life of Jesus (e.g. the date of Jesus’ birth) than it does for Easter. Part of this comes from the fact that the Gospels are part of a literary genre known as “bioi” (Licona 2010, 203), or ancient biographies and only focused on the core attributes of the person’s life. While we may not know the precise date of Jesus’ birth with great certainty, this doesn’t mean that we cannot know the most important aspects of Jesus’ life. Many skeptics will ask during the holidays, “How is it that we can know that anything actually took place in history? What can we know about the life of Jesus?” This article will provide a brief—and that is an understatement—evaluation about how history is evaluated and what can be known about the historical Jesus.

Is history knowable?

Skeptics will often claim, “We cannot know anything about history because we cannot know that the person recording a particular event is telling the truth.” This mentality is termed historical subjectivism which is defined by Norman Geisler as the argument “that the substance of history, unlike that studied by empirical science, is not directly observable” (Geisler 1999, 318). But if this is the case, then nothing past the present moment can truly be known with any certainty. What about that precious childhood event that shaped you? Well, extreme historical subjectivists would claim that such an event is unprovable as it is possible that you just thought that the event took place. Taken to its conclusion, the historical subjectivist has no means of knowing whether George Washington was truly the first President of the United States or whether King Henry VIII actually initiated the English Reformation. The historical realist believes that history is knowable. Historians obviously fit within the historical realist category. Luckily, there are ways that an event and/or person is deemed “historical.” The historian uses certain methodological tools to gauge the tenability of an event of history.

How is an event determined “historical”?

Since history is by its nature unobservable, the historian must gauge the probability that an event occurred or that a person lived. Nothing can be known with 100% certainty—not even scientific theories. Thus, history is gauged by the probability that what is written is true. These tools include, but are not limited to, the following.

-Multiple, independent sources (Habermas & Licona 2004, 37)—that is, several voices addressing the same event and/or person.

Enemy attestation (Habermas & Licona 2004, 37) comes from the enemy of the historical person or movement being studied. One can claim bias by a supporter, but if an enemy says the same thing about a person then the person(s) involved in an event can be deemed historical.

-“Embarrassing admonitions” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 38) are statements that are given in a history and/or biography that would bring embarrassment to the writer and/or movement.

-“Eyewitness testimony” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 39) is the account of those who witnessed the event and/or person being studied.

-“Early testimony” (Habermas & Licona, 39) refers to the time that the biography and/or history is written as compared to the event and/or person being addressed. Thus, a writer in the 1700s would hold more credulity than a person writing in the 2010s about the real life of John Adams.

Arguments to the best explanation (Licona 2010, 108) refers to whether a hypothesis pertaining to an event of history holds the best explanation or whether alternatives do. Licona adds that this practice includes “Explanatory scope…Explanatory power…Plausability…Less ad hoc…[and] Illumination [sic]” (Licona 2010, 109-110). Space will not permit the explanation of these divisions, but may be addressed in future posts.

-Arguments from statistical inference (Licona 2010, 114) is the practice of weighing the possibility that a certain person, fact, or event is more probable than not. So, what can we know of Jesus using these practices?

Using these methodologies, what can we know about the historical Jesus?

Actually, quite a bit! Gary Habermas presents what he calls the Minimal Facts Approach. These are facts about the life of Jesus that are agreed upon by the vast majority of historical scholarship—both skeptical and evangelical alike! They are:

1) Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.

2) He was buried, most likely in a private tomb.

3) Soon afterward, the disciples were discouraged, bereaved, and despondent, having lost hope.

4) Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after his interment.

5) The disciples had experiences that they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus.

6) Due to these experiences, the disciples’ lives were thoroughly transformed, even being willing to die for this belief.

7) The proclamation of the resurrection took place very early, at the beginning of church history.

8) The disciples’ public testimony and preaching of the resurrection took place in the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified and buried shortly before.

9) The Gospel message centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

10) Sunday was the primary day for gathering and worshipping.

11) James, the brother of Jesus and former skeptic, was converted when, he believed, he saw the risen Jesus.

12) Just a few years later, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) became a Christian believer due to an experience that he believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus” (Habermas 2003, 9-10).

That’s quite a bit! But, Habermas also notes that if one accepts the early creeds and early writings of the church fathers, then one can also know that “Jesus was born of Mary (Ignatius), who was a virgin (Ignatius; Justin), and he had a brother named James (Josephus). Jesus was born in the city of Bethlehem, located about five miles from Jerusalem, and it is recorded that his birth could be verified by the records of Cyrenius, who was the first procurator of Judea (Justin). Later, Jesus was visited by Arabian Magi, who had first seen Herod (Justin). He was also from the town of Nazareth (creeds: Acts 2:22; 4:10; 5:38)” (Habermas 244).

Conclusion

Seeing that history is knowable, that history can be verified by particular methodologies, and the wealth of information that can be known of Jesus of Nazareth using these methodologies, the Christian should take comfort in knowing that his or her faith is based upon actual events. So, when the believer celebrates this holiday season, they can worship with the full weight of trust in the biblical record without worrying about the doubts that the skeptics may bring. Enjoy the holidays and remember…Jesus is truly the reason for the Christmas season!

 

© December 13, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited:

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

Habermas, Gary R., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.

_______________. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.

O’ Christmas Tree: Is the Christmas Tree a Pagan or Christian Symbol?

My family and I participated in an annual tradition. We set up and decorated our Christmas tree. As I came home from church the other day, I noticed that traffic was heavy coming from the mountains. Car after car cruised down the road sporting a freshly chopped evergreen tied to the vehicle. While their evergreens were real and ours was more of the artificial flavor, a recent conversation caused me to ponder whether the tradition was a good idea. Many claim that Christmas trees hold a pagan past and represent anti-Christian beliefs. Is this true? Are evergreens symbols of paganism or are they symbols of Christianity? Well, the answer is “yes” to both. This article will investigate the origins of the Christmas tree tradition and will investigate the place of symbols.

Evergreens: A Pagan Symbol?

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2012, http://www.britannica.com/plant/Christmas-tree). To the Egyptians, the evergreen represented resurrection. For many other cultures, it was a symbol of eternal life. For the Hebrews, the evergreen had distinct representations which will be addressed in the next section. Many pagans would hang evergreen limbs in their homes to signify the winter solistice. The evergreens served as a reminder that the days were going to lengthen and were possibly used to worship a sun god. “Germanic peoples would celebrate the winter festival by honoring the pagan god Odin. Many believed he would fly through the night sky (on a magical flying horse) and determine who would be blessed or cursed in the coming year. Many decided to stay indoors, fearing Odin’s wrath” (Mintz 2014, International Business Times).

So, those who claim that the symbol of evergreens holds a pagan past are correct. However, what should be remembered is that evergreens holds a distinct symbol in the history of the Christian church as well.

Evergreens: A Christian Symbol?

As noted in the previous section, evergreens holds a symbolic place with the ancient Hebrews. Evergreens served as a symbol of God’s eternal nature. Hosea quotes God as saying, “O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit” (Hosea 14:8).[1] Isaiah considers the cypress to be a symbol of God’s blessings when noting that “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 55:13). Some even hold that the evergreen could be a symbol for the tree of life.

So, how did the evergreen become associated with Christmas? Well, there are several theories. An ancient tradition laced with fact and legend supposes that Boniface could have been the one who initiated the tradition in Germany. Boniface, also known as Wynfrith, was appointed by Pope Gregory II as a missionary to the Germans in the early 700s. Boniface was an ardent defender of Christianity and sought to destroy paganism in any way possible. Boniface was aghast to find that the Germanic peoples were worshipping an oak tree devoted to Thor (some say it was to Odin). Galli and Olsen note that Boniface “immediately took an axe to it. After only a few blows, the tree toppled to the ground, breaking into four pieces and revealing itself to be rotted away from within” (Galli & Olsen 2000, 365). The aforementioned is documented historical fact. Legend has it that an evergreen had begun to grow inside or around the Oak of Thor. Legend states that Boniface taught that the evergreen served as a symbol that the old pagan ways had died and had renewed in the Christian faith. While this tradition could be true, the practice of placing evergreens inside one’s home did not come until later.

One tradition points the Christian practice of placing trees in one’s home to the Protestant reformer Martin Luther, which may explain why later Catholics saw the practice as a Protestant tradition. It is said that Luther saw the evergreen tree as it pointed to heaven. He believed it served as a symbol of God’s eternal grace as it pointed to heaven. It is said that Luther brought the tree inside his home and placed lights around the tree symbolizing the light of Christ (O’Neal & LaRochelle 2001, 22).

The practice continued to develop in Germany before being transferred over to England. Neil Armstrong in the writing German History quotes the Illustrated London News as saying that “As Christmas eve always falls on the evening of Adam and Eve’s day, an orthodox Christmas-Tree will have the figures of our first parents at its foot, and the serpent twining himself round its stem. By a bold stretch of theological fancy, the Tree, with its branches and tapers, is … understood to typify the genealogy of our Lord” (Armstrong 2008, 495).

Therefore, the Christmas tree finds itself a home among a rich history of Christian tradition. But, how can one decide whether the Christmas tree is a symbol of the Christian faith or a symbol of paganism as it holds a place both traditions?

Symbols and the Christmas Tree

It must be remembered that symbols hold no power in and of themselves. Symbols are a medium for communicating a particular truth. Often, the church has taken symbols that had pagan roots and transformed them in order to use them to present a Christian message. Such a practice does not mean that the church adopted pagan practices. It simply means that the church contextualized the gospel message so that the message would make sense to those who had not concept of Christ, God, or salvation. I would have to agree with O. Z. Soltes in that “symbolic imagery can transform visual particulars while preserving the underlying meaning and message across time and space” (Soltes 2009, 144). Jesus used agrarian symbols in his parables to bring forth a particular message. John used the logos principle, which had a deep history in both Jewish and Greek philosophy (even moreso with the latter), as part of his didactic to teach that Jesus was divinely incarnated. Paul addresses the people of Athens using the phrase “to the unknown God” (Acts 17:23) on a pagan place of worship in order to teach them that this unknown God was the true God of all creation.

Conclusion

There is nothing wrong for a Christian to own a Christmas tree. While the evergreen has some history in pagan religions, the evergreen holds an even deeper history in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Symbols are not good and evil in and of themselves. Symbols are what we communicate them to be as they are a medium of communication. The letters I use for this article are in fact symbols used to communicate a particular message. So, rest easy. Allow the rich history of the evergreen (representing God’s eternal grace) and the lights (representing the light of Christ) to deepen your Christmas traditions as you turn your lives inward and upward to God this Christmas season.

In the end, we must all remember that Jesus is the reason why we have a Christmas season!

 

© November 30, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited:

 “Christmas Tree.” Encyclopaedia Britannica (2012). Accessed November 30, 2015. http://www.britannica.com/plant/Christmas-tree.

Galli, Mark, and Ted Olsen, “Introduction,” 131 Christians Everyone Should Know. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

 Illustrated London News (23 Dec. 1854). In Neil Armstrong. “England and German Christmas Festlichkeit c.1800–1914.” German History 26, 4 (2008): 486-503. Accessed November 30, 2015. doi:10.1093/gerhis/ghn047.

Mintz, Zoe. “Winter Solstice 2014: 3 Things to Know about Pagan Yule Celebrations.” International Business Times (December 19, 2014). Accessed November 30, 2015. http://www.ibtimes.com/winter-solstice-2014-3-things-know-about-pagan-yule-celebrations-1763756.

O’Neal, Debbie Trafton, David LaRochelle. Before and After Christmas. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2001. p. 22.

Soltes, O. Z. “Symbols of Faith Within the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Traditions. Religions (2009):140-159. Accessed November 30, 2015. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/898917750?accountid=12085

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

How a Red Cup Made Many Turn Blue

From the outset, I must be transparent. I am not a regular customer of Starbucks. In fact, I cannot say that I have ever set foot in a Starbucks store. It is not because of any particular thing I have against Starbucks. It is simply that, being somewhat of the anxious sort, if I consume too much caffeine, I become much like a squirrel devouring a high octane nut. It amps me up too much. In fact, some friends of mine told me that I was speaking what seemed to be 100 miles per hour after consuming a McDonald’s Frappuccino. I knew there was a problem when they kept saying, “What? You are talking way too fast.”

Recently, social media exploded with comments pertaining to the Starbuck’s decision to run simple red cups during the Christmas season instead of the previous cups which contained various Christmas logos. To be honest, I have no clue what those logos were. This led some consumers to great sorrow and others to anger. Yet, many, including myself, were perplexed over the way that a red cup could trouble consumers. One is left wondering how it is that people can find the most ridiculous things to find offense. This is especially troubling for Christians who are supposed to be filled with the joy of Christ. Perhaps this outrage stems from anger due to a culture which takes more and more pop shots at Christianity in general. Nevertheless, as the old adage goes, “two wrongs do not make a right.”

These Starbucks red cups have made many blue with sadness and others red with anger. But for what reason? It seems to me that these red cups point towards a more problematic issue for the modern American church. That problem stems from a loss of joy. Where is the joy with modern Christianity? Where is the celebration? The last time I checked, Jesus is still risen, the devil is still defeated, and the grace of God is still extended towards humanity.

Problems emerge when believers cease their worship and begin to focus on trivial matters. The greatest problem is that a grumbling spirit develops. Consider the Hebrews. The Hebrews were delivered from Egyptian slavery. They began a track which should have only taken them 11 days (Deut. 1:2). Instead, it took them 40 years. Why? Well, consider their grumbling attitude. The people grumbled over water (Ex. 15:24). The people grumbled over their leadership (Ex. 16:8). Their refusal to worship God led to idolatry (Deut. 9:16). Eventually their lack of worship led to doubts about their deliverance as the people said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst” (Ex. 17:3)?[1] How is it that people who had witnessed great miracles from God had moved from exuberant joy to becoming melancholic grumps? It is because they failed to count their blessings. They had forgotten the ways that God had blessed them.

I think it is time that modern Christians evaluate themselves. Are we really to expect our secular culture to praise Christ the way that Christians are supposed to? Perhaps it is time to forget red cups and stop focusing on the problems of the culture and begin to focus on what we should have been doing all along—focusing on Christ and praising God for all the blessings of life.

We cannot expect culture to do what the church was commanded to do–worship Christ! Our optimism and joy is not found in red cups, cultural traditions, and the like. Our joy is found in Christ. To stay optimistic, keep focusing on that God has done and is doing. Count your blessings. Focus on the reason for your joy which is Christ Jesus our Lord.

Christian—stop becoming blue over red cups and red over the culture’s love of green dollar bills. Instead–speaking of colors–focus on the purple (the royalty of Christ) and the pink (the love of God) and you will turn yellow with joy! As Jesus said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Lighten up! Flame up the light of God living in you by focusing on God! And get your praise on as we remember the classic hymn,

“Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;

Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;

Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day” (from Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee, by Henry J. Van Dyke, 1907).

© November 13, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

How a Red Cup Made Many Turn Blue

From the outset, I must be transparent. I am not a regular customer of Starbucks. In fact, I cannot say that I have ever set foot in a Starbucks store. It is not because of any particular thing against Starbucks. It is simply that, being somewhat of the anxious sort, if I consume too much caffeine, I become much like a squirrel who obtained a high octane nut. In fact, some friends of mine told me that I was speaking what seemed to be 100 miles per hour after consuming a McDonald’s Frappuccino.

Recently, social media has exploded with comments pertaining to the outrage of Starbuck’s decision to run simple red cups during the Christmas season instead of the previous cups which contained various Christmas logos…which, to be honest, I have no clue what those logos were. Many, including myself, seem perplexed over the way that many find the most ridiculous things to find offense. This is especially troubling for Christians who are supposed to be filled with the joy of Christ. Perhaps this outrage stems from a culture which is taking more and more pop shots at Christianity in general. Nevertheless, as the old adage goes, two wrongs do not make a right.

These Starbucks red cups have made many blue. But for what reason? It seems to me that these red cups point towards a more problematic issue for the modern American church. That problem stems from a loss of joy. Where is the joy with modern Christianity? Where is the celebration? The last time I checked, Jesus is still risen, the devil is still defeated, and the grace of God is still extended towards humanity.

Problems emerge when believers cease their worship and begin to focus on trivial matters. The greatest problem is that a grumbling spirit develops. Consider the Hebrews. The Hebrews were delivered from Egyptian slavery. They began a track which should have only taken them 11 days (Deut. 1:2). Instead, it took them 40 years. Why? Well, consider their grumbling attitude. The people grumbled over water (Ex. 15:24). The people grumbled over their leadership (Ex. 16:8). Their refusal to worship God led to idolatry (Deut. 9:16). Eventually their lack of worship led to doubts about their deliverance as the people said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst” (Ex. 17:3)?[1] How is it that people who had witnessed great miracles from God had moved from exuberant joy to becoming melancholic grumps? It is because they failed to count their blessings. They had forgotten the ways that God had blessed them.

I think it is time that modern Christians evaluate themselves. Are we really to expect our secular culture to praise Christ the way that Christians are supposed to? Perhaps it is time to forget red cups and stop focusing on the problems of the culture and begin to focus on what we should have been doing all along—focusing on Christ and praising God for all the blessings of life.

We cannot expect culture to do what the church was commanded to do–worship Christ! Our optimism and joy is not found in red cups, cultural traditions, and the like. Our joy is found in Christ. To stay optimistic, keep focusing on that God has done and is doing. Count your blessings. Focus on the reason for your joy which is Christ Jesus our Lord.

Christian—stop becoming blue over red cups and red over the culture’s love of green dollar bills. Instead–speaking of colors–focus on the purple (the royalty of Christ) and the pink (the love of God) and you will turn yellow with joy! As Jesus said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Lighten up! Flame up the light of God living in you by focusing on God! And get your praise on as we remember the classic hymn,

“Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;

Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;

Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day” (from Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee, by Henry J. Van Dyke, 1907).

© November 13, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!

Greetings!

First of all, I would like to thank each and every one of our readers. You have helped make this website a huge success. At last check, PastorBrianChilton.wordpress.com has reached another milestone, as the website has now reached 177 nations for the cause of Christ. This website continues to be devoted to teaching, proclaiming, and defending the risen Lord Jesus and traditional Christianity, in general. That is exactly what this website will continue to do in 2015. However, for the next week or two, this website will be somewhat dormant as I seek to take some much needed rest and will spend some quality time with my family. After the Christmas break, I will continue to post weekly articles and papers. In 2015, several issues will be addressed, including, but not limited to the following: the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, how one deciphers truth claims, Old Testament issues, issues pertaining to biblical interpretation, the theology of self-defense, and much more. If there are any issues that you would like Pastor Brian to research, be sure to provide the issue by commenting to this post. Also, be sure to check out Pastor Brian’s weekly internet show titled “Redeeming Truth” at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton. The show airs live every Monday at 12 noon (EST).

I hope that you all have a most joyous Christmas and a most blessed New Year!

Love in Christ,

Pastor Brian

The Case for the Pre-Existence of Christ: The Birthday that was Not the Beginning

The Case for the Pre-Existence of Christ: The Birthday that was Not the Beginning.

Why I Still Believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ

Nativity Story Big

RT: Why I Still Believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ

It’s been a troublesome week.  I admittedly write this to you after shedding many tears over the tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut.  We could focus on the questions of “why” and “how.”  But, now, I feel we should focus on the hope of Christmas.  Why?  Because, Jesus was born into a dark world.  The world, since the inception of sin, has always been a dark place to live.  This recent tragedy reminded us of the depravity of humankind.  My wife even said, “Just when you think that it can not get any worse, it does.”

Jesus came to bring light into a world that is depraved.  As John wrote,

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jn 1:1–5).

It is especially important that we remember the light of Christ in this ever-darkening world.  So, it is with this in mind, that I bring to you today seven reasons why I still believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ.  The fact that I, skeptically minded as I have been, came to trust the Scriptures should give you reason to believe, as well.  It is in the belief of Christ’s reality that we are brought ultimate hope.

1.     I still believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ because…of the Presence of the Birth Narrative (in Lieu of the Absence of Stories of Christ’s Early Life).

Ancient biographies were not like modern biographies.  Ancient biographers mainly focused on the main details of the “biographee’s” life.  This may explain why there is almost a complete absence of information concerning the early life of Jesus.  The gospel biographers, or “evangelists,” were mainly concerned about the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  In lieu of the absence of stories concerning Christ, we have the birth narrative positioned towards the beginning of Matthew and Luke’s gospels.

Some will argue that other great leaders of antiquity had grand birth stories concerning those leaders.  While this is a good argument, several differences exist in Christ’s birth narrative.  Many legends concerning other birth stories show a physical linkage between a god and a human woman.  This is not the case in the birth story of Christ.  No physical experience exists in the essence of physical relations.  It is a supernatural, spiritual event.  It seems that God created Mary with a fertilized egg from birth.  In the story of Jesus, you have real historical events surrounding the birth of Christ.  This adds to the validity of the story.

2.    I still believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ because…of the Personal Testimony of Mary.

Luke is an ancient historian par excellence.  Luke writes in the prologue to his gospel,

1 “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”  (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Lk 1:1–4….underscore and italics mine).

Luke tells us in the prologue that he “investigated everything carefully” from “eyewitnesses and servants of the word.”  With this in mind, we find an interesting statement towards the end of the annunciation in chapter 2.  Luke writes, “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Lk 2:19).  Literally, “συμβάλλουσα ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῆς” (The Greek New Testament: Logos Bible Software) or “debate seriously (or think intensely) in the heart of hers.”  How would Luke know this if it were not for the very testimony of Mary?  Of course, Mary could have lied.  But, if so, wouldn’t she have a character that would show otherwise?  Upright and honest people normally do not make up these kind of things.

In addition to this, the gospel writers did not have to add a birth narrative.  They could have written as Mark and John did and started the biography of Jesus with John the Baptist’s preaching and with Christ’s own baptism.  Why record the birth narrative of Jesus, and especially the Virgin Conception, if there was no truth involved in the story?  For those who were trying to show the truthfulness of the life of Christ, recording an event that was not true would not seem to help their case.

3.    I still believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ because…of the Proof of Biological Occurrences.

Some skeptics will claim, “It is impossible for a person to conceive a child while remaining a virgin.”  Not so fast Tonto!  A biological phenomena exists called “parthenogenesis.”  “Parthenos” means “virgin” and “genesis” (yes, like the first book of the Bible) means “beginnings.”  This phenomenon has been documented, although extremely rare, in sharks, monitor lizards, and supposedly even in rabbits.  According to some researchers, it has been shown to be possible for parthenogenesis to occur in humans due to the research on stem cells by Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk of South Korea. (See Wikipedia article given at the end of the article.)

280px-Cnemidophorus-ThreeSpecies

Some will claim that the offspring will almost always be a female.  However, those same critics would have earlier claimed that parthenogenesis was impossible.  The fact is that we are continuously learning more about how God works and creates.  So, it would be no impossible task for God to have changed an “X-chromosome” to a “Y-chromosome” to make a male parthenogenic offspring.  A simple mutation in one of the “X-chromosomes” would do the trick.  The fact that biology is opening up to show the possibility of such an event adds to the validity of the Virgin Birth story.

Note: Some skeptics will also use the same mentality towards the resurrection of Christ.  Many, using Humean philosophical logic, will claim that dead people just do not rise.  However, what do you do with the 100 plus medically confirmed cases where men, women, and children have died, experienced heaven, and came back to life?  Like the resurrection, one can no longer hold that the Virgin Birth is impossible.  You may say that it’s highly improbable, but not impossible.

4.    I still believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ because…of the Providential Creation “Ex Nihilo.”

Moses writes in Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ge 1:1).  John the apostle writes, ”

1″In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jn 1:1–3).

Dr. William Lane Craig has popularized what is called the “Kalaam Cosmological Argument.”

“1.     Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

2.     The universe began to exist.

3.     Therefore, the universe has a cause” (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-new-atheism-and-five-arguments-for-god).

Scientific evidence as well as mathematical theorems prove that the universe came from nothing…not no one.  God is the reason for the universe, physics, and the laws of nature’s existence.  So, what does this do with the Virgin Conception of Christ?  If God can create everything that exists (molecules, laws of nature, logic, and the billions of information that constructs your very own DNA), why would it be such an impossibility for God to allow for a Virgin Conception?

5.   I still believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ because…of the Proclamation of Early Biblical Writers.

Matthew was most likely written by the apostle who was a tax-collector.  It was common in Jesus’ day for rabbis to have individuals record their teachings.  Especially since Jesus was an evangelist, He would have preached many of His messages on multiple occasions.  It is of no surprise that perhaps Matthew and others recorded the words of Christ.  According to external and internal evidence, Matthew was the author of the first gospel.  Matthew records the birth of Christ.

Luke, although not an eyewitness, was a historian who was a companion of the Apostle Paul.  Luke reports that he used eyewitness testimony to construct his gospel.  Luke could have been written no later than AD 64.  Why?  Well, Luke ends the book of Acts, the sequel to the Gospel of Luke, with these words,

“When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. 17 After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans” (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ac 28:16–17).

“And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him,
31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered” (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ac 28:30–31).

Luke records the house arrest of Paul in AD 64.  Paul was executed in AD 67.  So, from this information we can know the general dating of Luke and Matthew, as well as Mark.  Since Acts is the sequel to Luke’s gospel and Acts was written in AD 64, then Luke must have been written around AD 60.  If Luke used information from Matthew, Matthew must have been written in the late 50s.  If Matthew used Mark’s gospel for the completed version of his gospel, then Mark must have been written at least by the mid-50s.  Some have even postulated a dating for Mark in the 40s.

So what we have in Matthew and Luke is early testimony concerning the life of Jesus.  This adds evidence to the story, as amazing as it is, that Jesus may have indeed been born by a Virgin.

6.   I still believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ because…of the Presentation of Extra-Biblical Writers.

Extra-biblical writers also record the Virgin Birth of Christ.  According to Caner and Hindson, Ignatius writes about the Virgin Birth of Christ.  Ignatius wrote this around AD 110 and refers to the Virgin birth as a “well established fact.”  The Apostle’s Creed is based upon a baptismal confession of AD 117.  The creed refers to the Virgin Birth of Christ.  Aristides (AD 125), Justin Martyr (AD 150), Irenaeus (AD 170), Tatian (AD 170), Clement of Alexandria (AD 190), and Tertullian (AD 200) all refer to the Virgin Birth of Christ (Ergun Caner and Ed Hindson,”The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics” (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008), 142).  It appears that the Virgin Birth of Christ was a well-established fact.  As occurs with modern history, serious speculation does not occur until modern times due to an unnatural attachment to naturalism.

7.   I still believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ because…of the Prophecy of Isaiah.

Isaiah gives a prophecy that could very well refer to the Messiah’ virgin birth.  Isaiah writes in Isaiah 7:14,“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Is 7:14).  Some versions translate the term “almah” with “young woman” instead of “virgin.”  However, even if this is the case, the word points to a woman who is most likely prior to the age of marriage (Ergun Caner, Ed Hindson, “The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics” (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008) 143).  The age for marriage was around 13 years of age in Jesus’ day.  Mary was most likely around 12 to 13 years of age when she conceived Jesus.  Therefore, Isaiah still indicates a supernatural intervention in the birth of Jesus our Messiah.

Conclusion:

As Dr. Frank Turek implies in his blockbuster book, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.”  I don’t have enough faith to deny the Virgin Birth of Christ.  As I stated in the beginning, Jesus is the light of the world.  He came so that we could live with God eternally.  He brought light to a dark, dreary world.  This Christmas, despite the tragedies world-wide, let us celebrate the victory of Christ.  Let us celebrate that death is not the ending, but the beginning of a new, wonderful life with our God.  This should bring comfort to those who are hurting…comfort in knowing that those children who died are now safely in the loving arms of the God who can work wonders; the God of love; the God of creation.  Let us celebrate life this Christmas; the life of Christ and the life that we can have in Him.

God bless and have a very, Merry Christmas,

Pastor Brian Chilton

Taking it Deeper:

Check out the Wikipedia entry on “parthenogenesis.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parthenogenesis

Caner, Ergun, PhD, and Ed Hindson, PhD, “The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics” (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 2008).

“The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel.

“The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict” by Josh McDowell.

“Reasonable Faith” by William Lane Craig.

Lea, Thomas D., Ph.D. and David Alan Black, Ph.D., “The New Testament: It’s Background and Message, 2nd ed.” (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman and Holman Academic, 2003).

The Real Saint Nicholas (Parental Warning: The Truth is Revealed)

RT: Episode 13–The Real St. Nick

Images of six St Nicholas faces

(Picture from http://www.stnicholascenter.org.  The picture in the upper center is a computer generated image taken from the actual skull of Saint Nicholas.  The designers regenerated the image of Nicholas using 3D techonology.)

Is Santa Claus real?  Certainly no rational person would ever ask that question would they?  Well actually, yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus.  What?  Some may ask if I have been smoking Colorado’s new tobacco.  No, but Santa Claus is a real person.  Let me explain.

Santa Claus is a dutch title meaning St. Nicholas.  “Santa” = “Saint.”  “Claus” is short for “Nicholas.”  Although traditions and legends originate from Saint Nick, there are reasons for believing that Saint Nicholas was a person of history.  Being a person of faith in Christ, we can even legitimately believe that Nick is in heaven with Christ.  Early testimony as early as the fourth century recognizes St. Nick as a person of history also being the Bishop of Myra.  Let’s take a brief look at the life of Saint Nicholas.

Saint Nicholas was born in the 3rd century AD in a village named Patara which is on the southern coast of Turkey.  Although an Islamic nation now, ancient Turkey was a Christianized nation.  As a matter of fact, I believe a treasure cove of early Christian writings may still exist in many locations of Turkey.

Unfortunately, Nicholas lost both his parents at an early age due to an epidemic in his area.  Nonetheless, Nicholas’ parents taught him to be a devoted Christian during their brief time with him.  Nicholas’ parents  were fairly wealthy and left him with a substantial inheritance.  However, Nicholas read the words of Jesus addressing the Rich Young Ruler in Mark (See Mark 10:17ff) and felt God speaking to him through this Scripture.  Nicholas decided to sell all that he had and give it to those in need.  The church took note of this and arranged for Nicholas to become one of the youngest bishops ever.  Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra.

One tradition states that Nicholas helped a man and his three daughters.  In Nicholas’ day, fathers would pay a dowry to prospective husbands in order to provide their daughters a good future.  The better the dowry resulted in a better prospective husband.  Unfortunately, not only did the father not have enough to issue a dowry for his three daughters, he barely had enough to support himself.  The father was facing bankruptcy and would be forced to sell his daughters into slavery as was the result of ancient bankruptcy.  Nicholas noticed an open window.  Nicholas, knowing that the family was in need, walked by and threw a bag of gold through the open window into a shoe drying by the fireplace.  The father used the dowry to arrange a wedding for his eldest daughter.  Later, Nicholas threw a second bag of gold through the open window.  The father used the gold to arrange a wedding for his second daughter.  The third time, the father caught Bishop Nicholas and said, “So, you’re the one who’s been supplying us with gold.  Thank you.”   Embarrassed, Nicholas said, “Thank God.  Don’t thank me.” (http://www.stnicholascenter.org).

Saint Nicholas was known throughout the land for his love and charity.  But, he was also known for his devout faith.  Emperor Diocletian was a great persecutor of Christians.  As Diocletian (or Nero depending on the dating of Revelation) exiled John the apostle to Patmos, so Diocletian exiled Saint Nicholas for his faith in Jesus Christ.  It is said that in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD there was no room for murderers, theives, and robbers because so many bishops and deacons were imprisoned (http://www.stnicholascenter.org).

Nicholas was released and was one of many who attended the famed Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  Contrary to popular (or shall we say “liberal”) belief, Christianity arose from apostolic teachings which came from Jesus Christ.  There was not a competition for belief.  There was orthodox belief and heresies that arose from synthesizing Christian beliefs with Greek philosophies (such as “Gnosticism”).  The Council of Nicaea sought to unite the church and preserve truth.  It was during this Council that the New Testament canon was established.  Three main canons existed.  They took and canonized books that were known to have come from an apostle in direct contact with Jesus or one who was associated with such an apostle.  The only book that did not make the cut was the Didache.  The Didache, a book that lists church procedures, could not be clearly linked to an apostle or an apostolic influence.  Therefore, the Didache was not included in the New Testament canon, although it was in of one of the three canons used to form the final New Testament canon.

Nicholas was so devoted to the Lord that he once lost his temper due to a heresy.  Arius was in attendance at the Nicaean Council.  Arius tried to present a teaching that Jesus was not on the same ground as God.  He was not as the Apostle John showed in his gospel the one and same as God, but less than God.  Nicholas was so outraged that we went over and slapped Arius on the face.  Everyone was astonished at this action and withdrew the bishop status from Nicholas.  Nicholas later repented and the Bishops accepted Nicholas back on the Council and back as Bishop of Myra (http://www.stnicholascenter.org).

Known for his protection of children, help for the needy, and devotion to the Lord, Nicholas is remembered as a loving, charitable man of God.  Nicholas entered heaven on December 6th, 343 AD.  His cause of death is not certain.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, Saint Nicholas was given mythological characteristics such as riding on a sleigh driven by flying reindeer and living in the North Pole.  The more commercialized Christmas has become, the more mythology has been added to the character of St. Nicholas.  If Saint Nicholas knew how much attention he was receiving and how little attention his Lord was receiving, he would probably tell us the same thing he told the poor father, “Don’t thank me.  Thank God.”

However, we can learn a lot from the real Saint Nicholas.  We can learn a lot about giving to the poor.  We can learn about helping others without judging them for the cause of their impoverishment.  We can learn about taking a strong stand for truth as Nicholas did, although he slapped Arius the heretic.  We can also learn a lot about devotion as Nicholas worshiped God and the Lord Jesus Christ with his whole being.

A  word of caution should be given to parents, as well.  If you put Santa above the level of Jesus, don’t be surprised if your kids have a difficult time believing in Jesus after you tell them the mythology of Santa is not true.  The most important thing at Christmas time is to focus on Jesus.  That is what Santa Claus would want you to do.

God bless and have a Christ-centered Christmas,

Pastor Brian Chilton