The Beatitudes are Progressive

This is a follow-up to last week’s blog. It gives a little more insight into the book, Charter of the Christian Faith.

I began seriously studying the Beatitudes while attending the Oklahoma Baptist University in 1985. At the end of the semester, I had to choose one of five topics for my thesis, and I chose Matthew 5:1-12. As I began the research, I experienced almost as much confusion as I did when I read the Beatitudes as a child. But the more I dug into the topic, the more interesting it became, and the greater impact it had on my life.

A major concept I discovered is that the Beatitudes are progressive; they are sequential steps to godliness. It wasn’t obvious when I compared Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God with Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. The words didn’t adequately convey the intent of the Beatitudes; that’s why it’s difficult to comprehend the depth of the message. But when I realized that poor in spirit is sincere humility and mourning is deep sorrow because I have offended God, it became clear that there is an order to these concepts.

This example will clarify my point. When we want to learn math, we don’t begin by studying lambda calculus or advanced trigonometry. We start with adding and subtracting, and progress from there. In like manner, we’ll find out that everything we need to know, or even want to know, about enhancing our relationship with Jesus, starts with humility: the first Beatitude.

As we study the Bible, we find that the Beatitudes, and how God uses them to change and mature us, flow in magnificent sequence—in perfect order.

As we often climb stairs one step at a time to enter a house, mankind has known for thousands of years that we learn one step at a time. Jesus knew it and was a master teacher. That’s why these are not random thoughts to mull over; they are sequential. Following a logical order, each Beatitude is the step to reach the next one.

The goal that God the Father set before all of us is for us to become like Christ, but He knows it will be a life-long endeavor. Therefore, He provided the eight-step process the Church calls the Beatitudes to make the spiritual journey more understandable. In fact, the Sermon on the Mount, prefaced by the Beatitudes “is considered to be the most important sermon Jesus ever preached and starts with what is considered to be the most important attitudes that we need to have, The Beatitudes.”11

Preceding each chapter, is a pictorial illustration of the journey. The man represents humanity, the donkey represents the human mind without Christ, and the lion represents the Lion of Judah, and that is Jesus who is available to help us.

How did Jesus begin this teaching?

And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain; and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him. And He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying….

Whoa! Stop there. Let’s think about this.

There were 5,000 men, plus possibly another 5,000 women and children. How could a multitude that large hear, let alone understand, someone sitting down? Something doesn’t seem right about this picture.

That’s why we study. Let’s read further and analyze the scene.

Although Jesus spoke to large crowds at other times, Matthew 5:2 reveals that Jesus may not have been speaking loudly to thousands, or even hundreds of men, women, and children in this setting. Others may have heard, but the entire Sermon on the Mount—three chapters—was spoken primarily to these twelve men. Why do I say that?

The phrase He opened His mouth is a solemn pronunciation. This is in contrast with verses such as Mark 15:1 which says, And they cried out again, Crucify him! To cry out is to shout! But the phrase He opened His mouth is an important, quiet activity. Jesus was teaching His followers personally, quietly, and without the interference of a noisy crowd.

According to the end of chapter seven, there were many people on the hillside, and some listened in and learned from the Master. (Jesus also taught these same truths to others in different places.) But in this setting, although others may have heard, Jesus purposely addressed a small group of twelve men.

Learn more about Jesus’ primary teaching in the New Testament, and how you can become an effective representative of Almighty God by reading Charter of the Christian Faith. You may find the book on Amazon.

THE BE-WHATITUDES?

For many years I’ve taught about the Bible and from the Bible. One of the series I’ve been asked to teach on quite often is found in the 5th chapter of Matthew. Because of the profound nature of that section of Scripture, I call this teaching, Charter of the Christian Faith. Today’s blog is a portion of the preface of my book by the same name, and will give you a feel for what’s in the following pages. The foreword is written by Rev. David Ravenhill.

I remember as a child in Sunday School, one of my teachers wanted us to memorize the be-something-or-others; but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. I hated memorizing, and these things didn’t make any sense to me. Not only did I not understand them, but the teacher also couldn’t adequately explain them, either so I never got a gold star for learning those be-whatitudes.

But I did mentally retain other verses that made sense to me. Luke 19:10, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” And John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” I understood those verses, even in the King James Version. In fact, most of what I committed to memory was from the KJV.

Also, Acts 1:11 clearly told me that while the people stood watching the incredulous sight of Jesus ascending into the sky, angels told them how Jesus will return. Men of Galilee, they said, why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday He will return from heaven in the same way you saw Him go! (NLT). That gave me confidence that Jesus would come back, and it told me how He would return. No questions, no guesses. No less than 67 famous people, and more than five hundred others, have claimed to be the returned messiah; but people should have understood they were fake messiahs because not one of them came the way the Bible says Jesus would return.

Nevertheless, I had a hard time with the Beatitudes, but I wasn’t alone. Author Philip Yancey said in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, “I learned the Beatitudes [as a teenager] yet I never faced the fact that none of us—I above all—could make sense of those mysterious sayings, let alone live by them.” He later said, “If I fail to understand this teaching, I fail to understand Him [Jesus].” That is a powerful statement.

Teacher and song-writer Bill Gaither said, “What we call the Beatitudes still challenge our value systems every day.” Many people—including many in the Church—view the Beatitudes merely as lofty ideals: holy-sounding platitudes which are beyond our grasp. Some people think of them as verses or sayings to comfort the spirit in time of trouble. But is this the primary intent of the first major teaching that Jesus gave us in the New Testament? I don’t think so.

I believe Matthew 5:3-12 is the Charter of the Christian Faith, and this Charter is developed in the full Sermon on the Mount in chapters five through seven.

Again, quoting E. Stanley Jones, “Years ago when I asked Mahatma Gandhi what we could do to naturalize Christianity in India so that it would cease to be a foreign thing, among other concepts he replied: ‘Practice your religion without adulterating it or toning it down’—and he had in mind the Sermon on the Mount.… This fresh discovery, by a Hindu, of a truth long buried beneath the armaments of the fighting West, has been one of the most important spiritual discoveries of modern times.”

In order to properly understand the Beatitudes, we must realize they were not originally intended for our consolation, and they’re not statements to make us sound spiritual. Rather, they comprise one of the most important sets of instructions we could ever receive.

I’ll share more highlights in weeks to come, but you can order your copy on Amazon today. Also, check out my website at genelinzey.com.

What’s the Problem Here?

Why is there an uproar in America about having the Ten Commandments posted in public view? You might have been told the issue is separation of church and state, but that isn’t true. Some of my friends who call themselves atheists, and with whom I get along fine, don’t have a problem with the Ten Commandments being posted. Granting me the freedom of expressing my faith grants them the corresponding freedom to express theirs.

Although many faiths could be mentioned in this blog, I will mention only Islam, Judaism, and Christianity: three monotheistic religions.

Let’s briefly look at and comment on the commandments found in Deuteronomy 5: 6-21. The first four reflect on our relationship with God.

  • You must not have any other gods before [in priority over, or other than] me. Every person in the world is religious, and every country in the world has its own god or gods. Other nations place great importance on their god or gods without worrying about offending others – Islam being the most dynamic about this – so why are Christians being forced to change?
  • You must not create an object to worship. Adherents of Judaism and Islam agree with this, and many agnostics and atheists don’t care about it.
  • You must not use the name of God thoughtlessly or loosely. Although most people misunderstand this one and ignore it, adherents of Judaism and Islam agree with this principle.
  • You must honor the Sabbath day. Labor unions worked hard to give their members one or two days off from work each week, and the courts who invalidate the commandments won’t sit in session on Saturday or Sunday. Also, Judaism and Islam have their day of rest.

The next six commandments relate to human interpersonal relationships.

  • Honor your father and mother. Properly understood and applied, this command is one of the primary supports for most civilizations on earth.
  • You must not commit murder. We have stiff laws prohibiting murder. This command attempts to protect us from mentally sick and evil people who purposely kill others. Islam does not agree with this one.
  • You must not commit adultery. When this was observed and upheld in our culture, our society was strong. However, many people – including members of our courts, legislative bodies, and some presidents and pastors – have disregarded this one simply because sexual perversion is one of the world’s primary joys.
  • You must not steal. We arrest people and send them to jail for this.
  • You must not lie. We have contracts to keep people honest, and we can arrest people if they break contracts or commit perjury.
  • You must not think of taking your neighbors wife, house, land, or whatever else belongs to him. This command covers a lot of territory, and the courts are busy tending this every week of the year.

We’ve just seen that US citizens are not against at least seven of the rules, so what’s the problem with the Ten Commandments?

Here it is: the sound of “The 10 Commandments” reminds people of the God of the Bible. They may not be against a moral code; they are against God. And many who are NOT against God have been deceived into thinking the vast majority of people have to change our culture in order to keep from offending the miniscule minority. However, any culture that adheres to and lives by these ten laws – including honoring a Sabbath day – will be a healthier society. And most people know it.

I am still convinced these laws are the basic foundation upon which our nation was founded, although some folks disagree with me.

When we examine the Ten Commandments, it’s likely that only three of them are offensive to the general public. They are numbers 1, 3, and 7: many people don’t want God in their lives because they want the freedom to enjoy their evil, sexually-perverted lifestyle.

Some adherents of Islam agree with the ideals included in nine of the Ten Commandments. But they disagree with it all simply because the laws originated from the Judeo-Christian God; and, of course, command #1 disallows serving another god.

Other people all around the world have their own gods, and they don’t change their religion in the face of disagreement or opposition. But we in America are changing our historical, foundational belief in God simply because people disagree with us. But removing our historic foundation is outlawing moral integrity, and approving immoral hypocrisy. And that could destroy the fabric of our society. What’s the problem here?

I’ll tell you.

Many Americans have been convinced that in order to be tolerant, we must set our own beliefs aside. We have been deceived into thinking that stating our own faith is an intolerant act.

But our country has lead the way in guaranteeing personal freedom. We have openly offered freedom of expression of faith for all religions. So in keeping with the concept of religious freedom, and refraining from being ignorant hypocrites, we should not deny our own citizens the freedom of expressing their faith in Jesus Christ and Almighty God.

We Start With the Bible

The last time I saw my grandfather, Stanford Linzey, he was ninety-six years old. I asked him, “Grandpa, what is the most important thing in life? I want to pass your thought on to my children as part of their family heritage.”

Grandpa looked out into the field for a few minutes as I silently waited. At last he looked toward me and pensively said, “I suppose the most important thing in life is this: everything you need to know is in The Book. You can know a lot of other things, but everything you NEED to know is in The Book. Study it.”

Grandpa Linzey went to heaven in 1987, about four months before his one-hundredth birthday anniversary. And I continue to study The Book.

Today let’s talk about a New Years’ Plan. You could call it a resolution, but I call it: developing a relationship with the Lord. Warning: this might change your life – for the better! And I know that the New Year celebration was a month ago, but that’s okay. What I’m about to say is still true.

Many folk have their own ideas about how to study the Bible, and I have developed my own. I have read many methods, but in order to make it easy to remember, I keep my method simple. It entails three steps, and it goes like this.

  1. What do the words on the page say?

When I was in high school, my father said, “If something in the Bible doesn’t seem to make sense, study it out. Don’t stop until you understand it.” He then referred me to 2 Timothy 2:15 which became my commission in life. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (KJV).

It simply means: Study the Bible. You start by reading it. Be sincere. Be diligent. Don’t quit. Don’t embarrass yourself or insult God by being sloppy or half-hearted. Ask for help when you need it.

So I have set aside a time during which I can study without too much interference, and during which time I can concentrate on the topic at hand. For me, this is usually between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. I read the section of Scripture under consideration, but I also read enough before and after to get a grasp of the context. Without evaluating the context, we can misunderstand the content which can cloud our comprehension of the intent. We could even miss the entire message!

2. What did the writers mean when they wrote it?

Since the original manuscripts that we have were written between 1500 BC and ad 95 AD, many figures of speech, idioms, idiomatic phrases, concepts, and historical knowledge have been forgotten or misunderstood. Also, some of the words and phrases the translators used may not always currently convey the proper meaning. Therefore, in order to understand or “rightly divide” Scripture, we must often study language, history, archeology, or ancient Middle-Eastern culture. This is sometimes difficult and time-consuming, but without this step we can miss what God wants us to know.

Don’t get scared, now. Since most people have neither the time nor the resources to conduct an in-depth study of this nature, the Lord has set in place pastors, teachers, and evangelists to help (Ephesians 4:11–14).

3. How do I apply the principles to my life today?

This is sometimes the hardest part because applying scriptural principles to our lives entails honesty and integrity. We might have to change our way of living. In order to develop a closer, more dynamic relationship with God, we must give up things, activities, or ideas that are offensive to Christ or consume too much of our time. In order to do that, we must reevaluate our priorities in life. Will we continue to live a hedonistic, self-centered life, or will we change our way of thinking (Romans 12:2)? Specifically, we need to become Christ-centered. We must understand that our ultimate purpose in life is to know our Father God, and to honor him.

Now, having said all the above, please remember this:

It is not necessary to be a Bible scholar in order to change your life and honor the Lord. Salvation is received through a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Messiah, by accepting him into your life. Learn to know him by reading the Bible, regularly attending church meetings, attending Bible study sessions, or all three.

My prayer is that you grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ: and we start with the Bible.

A Resolution

Years ago, a man from Oklahoma called me. He was despondent and was looking for financial assistance – again. This man was in his thirties.

He was raised in a Christian home, affirms that he is a Christian, has spent time memorizing Scripture, sung in church choirs and gospel quartets, played his instrument in church orchestras, led in Bible studies, and discussed theology and history with others. He had a good-paying job. This man is loved by many people because he is fun to be with. We’ll call him Jake.

But Jake is in jail. Bond was $57,000, with a cash requirement of $5,700. The family could not pay it and he was in for awhile. What happened to Jake?

I located and talked with some of his family members. They told me about a statement Jake made while a teenager. The statement was: “I want to live a life of sin; that way, when I get older, I’ll have a good testimony of how God saved me from a bad life.” And he purposely turned to a life of alcohol, drugs, sex, and gambling, and has wrecked every car he had.

Jake doesn’t remember that resolution, but he told me, “A person will never change his way of life until he decides to change. Whether it’s through a Christian organization, secular counselling, Alcoholics Anonymous, or prison, a man changes only when he wants to change.”

I responded, “So THAT’s why you’re in jail: you’ve decided not to change. And because of that, I will not help you.” That caught him by surprise. I continued, “Jake, your continual return to your degraded lifestyle confirms that you don’t want to change. When you decide that you want to change, I’ll be available to help you.”

Jake has been in-and-out of jail five times on various charges. Apparently, he’s a “model” citizen as a prisoner – even leading in Bible studies. He has gone through detox several times in jail, and is clean when he gets out. But he goes right back to the stuff when he is free.

Free – that’s an interesting concept.

One of Jake’s acquaintances recently told him, “If you would turn to the Lord – truthfully, not merely with lip-service – the Lord and others would help you. If you would honor the Lord by the way you live, the Lord would help you get out of bondage.”

Jake erupted: “I’m not in bondage!”

His friend squelched the laughter until the phone call ended. He told me it was funny because Jake is in a 3-fold bondage: emotionally, spiritually, and physically (in jail). Make that 4-fold: he’s now in financial bondage.

And it’s all because of that resolution he made many years ago.

How about you, dear reader? Are you in any kind of bondage? Have you made decisions that have hurt you emotionally, spiritually, financially, or physically?

Here’s something to remember: a firm decision is a resolution. Also, a decision – firm or not – becomes a resolution if it isn’t modified. Ponder that one.

Many folks like to wait until January 1 to make a resolution. But why wait to make a good decision? Waiting to do the right thing is practicing procrastination. Waiting to make the right decision is a bad resolution. Waiting to make a good resolution verifies that you don’t want to make it.

What would you like to change this year? Let’s rephrase it: What have you resolved to change this year? While you’re thinking about it, let’s remember what Jake said: “A person will never change his way of life until he decides to change.”

You want to quit smoking? Quit indulging in alcohol? Quit wasting your family’s money, and God’s money, at the casinos? How about quit gossiping or slandering? Are you running from God in any way? Would you like to have a better understanding of who Jesus is? Would you like to have a better relationship with your family? Would you like to, overall, improve your life?

It takes a simple decision – then ask God to help. That’s a resolution.

Before my parents were married, my mother told dad, “I won’t marry you if you don’t stop smoking.” That was a resolution.

Dad said, “I tried to quit, but I can’t.”

“You need to pray about it – now.”

Dad did two things: He decided to quit smoking, and he asked God to help him. That was a resolution. He cooperated with God: that’s the key. He never smoked again and they got married.

If you have a decision – resolution – to make, ask God to help. If you’re sincere and honest with God, He’ll help you. That’s God’s resolution.

Old Things Pass Away …

What’s the rest of the axiom? You got it: Behold, All Things Become New.

That comes from 2 Corinthians 5:17 which says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

That verse is talking about turning away from sin and selfishness, and deciding to live to honor Jesus Christ. And we need to remember that. But this week I will use the verse in a different context.

Three days ago was New Year’s Day. And if you’re reading this, you survived. Wonderful! But what’s next? Did you make any resolutions?

Grandpa Linzey was born in February of 1888 and graduated to heaven in 1987, three months before his 100th birthday anniversary. He was a practical man, and didn’t have much use for celebrations. His days were wrapped around tending his animals, and Grandma’s job was to tend the garden. One day when I asked Grandpa if he ever made New Year’s resolutions, he said: “Son, resolutions are empty, and most people break ‘em on the day they make ‘em. It’s just another day. The sun will rise, and the troubles we have today will be with us tomorrow.”

That sounded rather bleak.

But it reminded me of a friend in New Mexico who made a resolution every year. Every December 31st he said he would stop smoking cigarettes starting January 1st. And he did stop—for four or five hours. I finally told him, “You have decided not to quit. Why make a pretend resolution?”

“Oh, it gives me something to look forward to. It makes me feel good to say it. And I can teach the kids that smoking is bad for us.” That was over two decades ago, but now his son smokes, too.

Grandpa was right. Perhaps most resolutions are not meant to be kept. And perhaps my friend was right: it just made him feel good to say it.

But even if someone wants to make a change, there might be a built-in flaw in waiting until January 1st to incorporate the change. The flaw is in waiting because waiting to make it is a subconscious affirmation that the change might not be necessary.

Dad, also a practical man, once told me, “If you are serious about wanting to change, don’t wait until New Year’s Day. Start the change now, and ask the Lord to help you.” And through the years I have proven Dad’s statement to be true.  (That’s my grandson, Caleb, next to dad.) Dad continued, “Don’t make a statement and call it a resolution.”

If you think a change is needed, resolve, or determine to change. Make up your mind, ask God to help you, then set your will to cooperate with God. When you are tempted to resume your former ways, remind yourself that God is ready to help. Ask the Lord for emotional strength to keep your promise. The key is to be honest! Be honest with God and with yourself.

What was it that Polonius said in Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3?  “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

God did a marvelous thing when He created us in His image. He created us with will-power, and He wants us to use it for His purposes. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that we can do whatever He empowers us to do.

Do you want to change something this year? Don’t be hypocritical. Make sure it’s in line with God’s will, and then ask God for help. If you are honest, God will help you make that change. This year can be a New Beginning for you. I know the covid-19 stuff has turned the world upside down, but God is willing to help you. Ask Him – He’s listening.

Then you can rejoice and say with 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Old (unnecessary, improper, wrong, harmful) things have passed away, and behold, all (needed, good, wholesome, healthy) things have become new.”

Oh yes: if you find that Grandpa was right and you broke the resolution, Don’t Give Up! Things don’t normally change with one statement or in one day. It took time to form bad habits, and it will take time to change. So, don’t quit. With God’s help, you can make, and keep, good resolutions.

Happy New Year, Friends … 3 days late.

Look Into the Face of Jesus

Who is this baby we call the Messiah? John 1:1-3 starts at the dawn of human history. “In the beginning there was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made by him, and nothing was made without him.” Verse 14 says, “The Word became a human and lived among us. We saw his glory—the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father—and he was full of grace and truth” (NLT). The baby, Who was (translated into English) named Jesus, was previously called both the Word and God.

Luke 1:26-35 tells Mary’s side of the story. The angel appeared to Mary, informed her that God favored her and chose her to be the mother of the Messiah. The angel told her to name the baby Jesus.

Can you imagine Mary’s shocked response? “I’m engaged, but I’m not married yet, and am still a virgin! How am I going to have a baby?”

The angel replied essentially, “Mary, this is an act of God. If you’re willing, God will supernaturally plant the seed within you, and you’ll remain a virgin until after the baby is born.”

With trepidation, Mary agreed with the angel. But Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, had a different reaction.

Matthew 1:18-25 gives us Joseph’s viewpoint. Joseph wanted nothing to do with an unmarried, pregnant woman! He intended to dump Mary for being pregnant out of wed-lock, but the angel finally convinced him of God’s plan, and that Mary was honest, undefiled, and still a virgin. The angel told Joseph in a dream that God wanted him to marry Mary, the baby was to be named Jesus and would [eventually] save people from their sins. Understanding the shame and derision they would endure, Joseph accepted Mary as his wife and adopted Jesus as his own son.

The Imperial decree ordered all men to return to their town of birth for the Roman census, so Joseph took Mary and went to Bethlehem. On the night of Jesus’ birth, the first yard to light up the community on the first Christmas was the field just out of town.

That’s where we read that after the angel scared the daylights out of the shepherds, the angels gave the world-changing announcement that God had entered humanity in the form of a baby. When the shepherds calmed down and believed the angelic message, they were the first visitors to look into the face of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and to welcome God, in the form of a baby, into the world. I also believe they were the first to offer a gift on Christmas night. They gave a lamb to the new-born King.

The wise men, Persian scientists, received the message of the new King as they studied the sky. Psalm 19:1-2 says, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known” (NLT).

About a year later, these scientists were the first visitors of their kind to welcome God into the world. Looking into the face of our Savior, in the form of a toddler sitting in His mother’s lap, they gave Him gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Remember that I said Joseph adopted Jesus – the Son of God – as his own son? Now the situation is reversed. If we accept Jesus as our Savior and live to honor Him, God will perform a miracle and adopt us – humans – into His heavenly family. And that introduces another miracle: Jesus, Who is God, is the best Friend a person can ever have!

Christmas is not limited to a starry-eyed baby lying in a manger. It wasn’t intended to be depicted by trees, lights, glitz, hoopla, parties, noise, and a lot more associated with the secular holiday event.

Christmas is about God entering humanity to rescue us from our uncontrolled descent into debauchery and death. God entered humanity as a baby, died on the cross as a man, but broke the curse of sin and death by rising from the dead as Almighty God on the third day and returning to heaven. That’s what Christmas is really all about.

Give gifts. Enjoy the season. Love your family. But look into the face of Jesus. Honor Him in everything you do.

Merry Christmas, friends.

How Do You Celebrate Christmas?

Do you know that the first hint in the Bible of what we call Christmas is in Genesis 3:15? A lot happened between Genesis 3:15 and Matthew 1:18, but we won’t go into all that today.

My questions are: How do you celebrate Christmas? Do you go over the river and through the woods to visit grandma? Do you read the Scriptures that talk about Jesus’ birth? Do you take a trip? Invite people to your house? Do you watch movies or football games? What’s your favorite Christmas meal?

I looked up historic Christmas celebrations. For about 300 years after Jesus’ resurrection, there were no observances of His birth – therefore, no festivities. The first one recorded was in Rome, on December 25, 336 A.D., but didn’t become a primary Christian observance until the 800s. Decorating trees started in Germany, but had nothing to do with Christmas.

In the fourth century, church officials decided to observe Jesus’ birth as a holiday; and for non-biblical reasons, Pope Julius chose December 25. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 A.D., and to England by the end of the sixth century. By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders thought that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but in doing so, they gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. Therefore, on Christmas, many people attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere.

Hmmmm … It seems like that still happens today.

Noting societal debauchery, prevalent poverty, and abusive child labor in Victorian England in the 1840s, Charles Dickens vowed to do something about it, and writing was what he did best. So, in 1843, he published his novel, A Christmas Carol. Although the book is more a work of sentiment than of Christianity, it captures something of the Christmas spirit.

Dickens wanted to insert joy and gladness into a life filled with drudgery, dreariness and death. While acknowledging the seriousness of life, he portrayed the Spirit of Christmas filled with miracles and laughter. He also reminded society of the importance of blessing others by caring for those around them. Dickens encouraged joy and human-kindness, and inspired a positive change in society.

How do Carol and I celebrate Christmas?

We read about the birth of Jesus in chapters 1-2 in Matthew and Luke. That sets the tone for the celebration. We often visit one of our kids, but this year we’ll visit our daughter’s in-laws, Robert and Phyllis Crawford, near Oklahoma City. And instead of buying gifts for our families who live far away, then pay more for mailing them, we’ll mail the allotted money and let them choose the gifts.

Have you heard of the song, Over the River, and Through the Woods, To Grandmother’s House, We Go? I grew up singing it at Christmas, but it was written as a Thanksgiving Poem by Lydia Maria Child in 1844, and referred to Grandfather’s house. I find it interesting that where Carol and I live, all five of our children and their families have to travel over rivers and through forests to reach us.

My favorite Christmas meal is not turkey. (Shhh…don’t tell Carol.) My favorite is ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams with marshmallows, and fruit salad with whipped cream. Two to three hours later, I want pumpkin or apple pie with vanilla ice cream! Oh, yes – and coffee.

I like to watch football. On this coming Christmas day, the Minnesota Vikings will play against the New Orleans Saints. But I won’t watch it. Not on Christmas Day. This is a time to spend with family, which includes church family, and helping others.

We usually watch It’s A Wonderful Life the week before Christmas. It helps us to realize – again – the intrinsic value of each and every life. I hope that every one of you reading this reflection understands that every person is important. If you are hurting emotionally or are happy, if you are sick or healthy, if you feel rejected or accepted, if you are poor or wealthy, please believe me: you are important! Whatever may be your status or position in life, reach out and help others. THAT, my friend, is one way of manifesting the spirit of Christmas…the Spirit of Christ.

I understand that the covid-19 pandemic is putting a crunch on worship services, family gatherings, and celebrations this year, but you can still give to others. Be creative and find a way.

But stop and think about what this celebration is really all about – Jesus Christ. He came as a human baby, but never relinquished His true identity – God.

That is spelled out in John 1:1-4. “In the beginning there was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made by him, and nothing was made without him. In him there was life, and that life was the light of all people.”  

Then verse 14 says, “The Word became a human and lived among us. We saw his glory—the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father—and he was full of grace and truth.”

May the Lord bless you this Christmas season.

Who Should Be Thankful?

Mr. Linzey,

I read your columns, and I can figure out what you think about Thanksgiving Day. But why does the celebration have to be Christian? Why can’t just anyone celebrate it?   (Gregg)

Thank you for your question. The simple truth is, everyone can enjoy Thanksgiving Day festivities. However, two questions need to be addressed: what is the memorial, and what was involved in the original celebration?

America’s Thanksgiving Day was a harvest festival based on giving thanks to God for His provision and protection. It was, and is, definitely Christian in nature, and everyone can commemorate it. But to properly observe and celebrate Thanksgiving Day, as intended, requires a belief in the almighty, loving, justice-oriented, Judeo-Christian God. Otherwise the observance is relegated to a holiday which honors a different god, an assortment of gods, or not god at all. Merely a holiday weekend.

But there’s something else to consider.

Can I celebrate the Kansas City Chief’s Super-bowl victory last February by conducting a fundraising campaign for the 49ers? No. Can I celebrate Pearl Harbor Day by lamenting the defeat of the Japanese Empire? No. Therefore, can we celebrate our American Thanksgiving Day, in context with its history and inherent meaning, by worshiping other gods and celebrating it differently than intended? No.

Having said that, any non-Christian – of whatever religion – can show gratitude and give thanks for blessings. The question is: to whom would he show gratitude and give thanks?

While a Jew or Christian cannot worship Allah during the fast of Ramadan, adherents of other religions cannot meaningfully celebrate Thanksgiving Day as originated in America while employing a different religious world view.

While anyone can enjoy the day off and be grateful for blessings, only those who worship and honor the Living God can truly celebrate Thanksgiving Day as intended. Am I being biased or prejudiced? Biased, yes. Prejudiced, no. I am merely being true to the concept. (Bias and prejudice have two different meanings.)

The intent of our Thanksgiving Day celebration is to worship and honor our provider, our Father, God.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the history behind Thanksgiving Day.

For the 50 surviving Plymouth Pilgrims and their 90 Wampanoag neighbors celebrating between September 21 and November 11 in 1621, wild turkey was on the menu along with wheat, “Indian” corn, barley, peas, waterfowl, five deer, bass and cod. Actually, the Native Americans brought a lot of the food, including the five deer.

Since then, we’ve added items such as ham, sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, popcorn, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. The Pilgrims probably made pumpkin pudding sweetened with honey, but they didn’t have sugar, crust or whipped topping…and No Pumpkin Pie!! Life was tough back then.

Because the wild turkey was fast and alert with sharp eyesight, Benjamin Franklin wanted to make it the United States national symbol. Also, the turkey reminded Franklin of God’s provision in our early colonial existence. (The turkey lost out to the Roman Emblem: the Eagle.)

For years, Thanksgiving was observed randomly, but the first Thanksgiving Proclamation was made on June 20, 1676. Thanksgiving proclamations were made annually by the US Congress from 1777-1783 and celebrated in December. George Washington declared a national day of Thanksgiving in 1789 and 1795; John Adams in 1798 and 1799; and James Madison twice in 1815.

The next national Thanksgiving Day was declared during the American Civil War in April of 1862 by Abraham Lincoln. In 1863, he declared Thanksgiving for August 6, and for the last Thursday in November. He declared a similar observance in 1864, establishing a precedent that has been followed by every president since then.

After a few deviations of time, the last Thursday in November was finally chosen as the day for our National Day of Prayer and thanksgiving, but remained a non-holiday tradition until President Franklin Roosevelt signed the bill on November 26, 1941. It established the fourth Thursday in November (in perpetuity) as our national Thanksgiving public holiday.

Eleven days later, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor!

Friends, we never know what lies in store for us from one day to the next. Life is so precious, yet circumstances are so unpredictable. We humans tend to be self-centered, but our heavenly Father loves us so much, and is willing to help us in times of trouble. So, let us, all around the world, humbly admit our need for God, and set time aside to honor Him. And with heart-felt gratitude, let’s thank Him for all that He has done for us.

A Must-Read from a Well-Loved Professor

Many of you who are reading this blog are university professors, teachers, teacher’s assistants, and vocational teachers. Many others are pastors, Bible teachers, CEOs, and business instructors. You all know how important it is to develop a good relationship with your students and colleagues because it is that relationship which enables the students to more readily assimilate your teaching.

On the other hand, most likely all of you have been students at one time or other, and you know what it’s like to learn from a great teacher and be bored with an ineffective teacher.

In all my studies at the collegiate and university level, I’ve met and interacted with many teachers and professors – both men and women. During those years, three men have made a profound impression on me. Dr. Gary L. Royer is one of those men. I want to tell you about him because his recent book, published in March of 2020, is a must-read if you want to learn about a deeper aspect of life.

Dr. Gary L. Royer, adjunct faculty member at Southwest Assemblies of God University, released his latest book: Out of Darkness Into His Wonderful Light. The book is based on the course he taught about the spirit world. He wrote it at SAGU in 1997, and has taught it nearly every semester since then. Many students have declared that the course changed their lives.

Upon retiring from classroom teaching, Dr. Royer was encouraged by many of his former students and fellow professorial colleagues to put his notes for the course into book form. Foreseeing that the book would be used in bible studies and personal reading, as well as in the classroom, he divided it into thirteen chapters with study questions at the end of each chapter.

Dr. Royer writes, “So many students have told me that, although they faithfully attended church every Sunday morning, they had never understood the spirit world. It was a delight to write and teach an organized presentation of this subject of the Spirits of God, ministering angels, demonic spirits, and the powerful human spirit.”

Dr. Gary was one of my instructors at the university – in fact, my favorite instructor at SAGU. I add my voice to many others who say he teaches from a deep relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, from an in-depth knowledge of people around the world, an in-depth knowledge of the spirit world, and with a love for his students.

With the skill of a biblical scholar, the spiritual insights of a Spirit-filled minster with much experience in dealing with spiritual problems, and with practical guidance in recognizing, addressing, and finding freedom in Christ, Dr. Royer presents this needed book. It is comprehensive in scope and is informed by other experts in addressing spiritual issues in dealing with the demonic and the spirit world. His text is centered on biblical insights, especially the Book of Ephesians, testimonies of many who have experienced spiritual bondages, and how they found freedom in Christ.

This is not a book of extremes, but a well-written and biblically balanced approach to a complex subject. Specific prayers are given which lead the reader in understanding how to approach God for help.

I encourage you to purchase several copies of the book, Out of Darkness Into His Wonderful Light, because you may want your family and friends to read it.

You may order it from Dr. Royer, or directly from Amazon.com at https://www.amazon.com/s?i=stripbooks&rh=p_27%3ADr.+Gary+Luther+Royer&s=relevancerank&text=Dr.+Gary+Luther+Royer&ref=dp_byline_sr_book_1

Feel free to contact Dr. Gary Royer, B.A., M.A., D. Min/Missions, at groyer@sagu.edu