Close-up view of ancient stones during sunset at UNESCO World Heritage Site at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK.
As we immerse ourselves in the holiday season and get into the full swing of the Christmas season, I’ve heard people accuse this celebration of having origins in paganism. Yes that’s right paganism. I’m talking about the good old garden-variety orgy and sacrifices paganism.
If you don’t know your church history you will be taken aback. When you find out that this holiday that we have known as the celebration of the birth of Jesus is rooted in ancient Roman fertility rites it may throw you for a second.
This same holiday that has inspired so many songs and beautiful movies was also inspiration for people to release their inner lusts. Yes Christmas has pagan roots, but that isn’t a reason to drop it just yet. I will get into the reasons for that but first let’s start with a little history just in case you are not convinced of its pagan origins.
Christmas was created as a holiday that coincided with the pagan Roman holiday of Saturnalia, a week-long festival that involved sexual license and human sacrifice that revolved around the Winter Solstice and the pagan god Saturn. Early Christians succeeded in converting large numbers of pagans by allowing them to continue to practice Saturnalia as “Christmas.”
In fact no one knows the actual date when Jesus was born. The date of December 25th was chosen to coincide with the Winter Solstice in which the sun was reborn. This seemed to be a likely date for the “Sun of Righteousness” (Malachi 4:2).
So yes Christmas does have some pagan origins and many of the things we do to celebrate Christmas (Christmas trees, mistletoe, gift giving) are leftovers from the older pagan holiday.
But it would not be fair or factual to declare that it’s a complete pagan holiday. It is a Christian holiday with some practices that contain pagan roots.
Whether we should celebrate or not celebrate Christmas is an issue of conscience. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans regarding holy days:
In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God.. For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead. (Romans 14:5-8)
In other words it’s not about the origins of the day but whether you can give honor to God with a clear conscience by celebrating that day. For most people, Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth and the arrival of hope in the world, not a pagan festival.
This is the way they have grown up and it does not offend their conscience because they partake in festivities in honor of Christ’s birth and not to the Roman god Saturn or to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun.
Others may have a hard time with it due to knowledge of the origins of Christmas. This is their prerogative. The key thing is whether it will bring glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
And that brings me to another reason we shouldn’t drop the celebration of Christmas and condemn those who do. Christmas is for pagans because Jesus is for pagans. What do I mean by that?
I think the story of the three wise men illustrates my point. The three wise men from the east were unchurched “pagans”. They weren’t schooled in the rabbinical schools at Jerusalem. They weren’t raised as children to observe the Mosaic law.
They were pagan astrologers and all they had was a star. But what that star led them to changed their lives.
Christmas is for pagans because everyone needs Jesus. Today we are always in danger of being inordinately focused on our gifts and presents. While we are decking our halls and making our lists we may be ignoring those who need to find Jesus.
If this season of toys and wrapping paper and office parties can be used as a springboard to talk about the greatest gift God has given the world then let’s keep celebrating. We must figure out ways to turn it away from the consumer-driven season it has become and make it more like the star that attracted the wise men to Bethlehem.
Let’s focus on Christmas being a tool to inspire people to worship the God of the universe. This is what the world needed back then and this is what the world still needs now.
At some point in life we’ve all made big decisions. Whether it’s the college we attend, the person we marry, the first home or car we purchase, or the city we move to, decisions are a part of our lives. And to some degree, we always feel like we have to make the right decision. But how do we know what the right decision is? What do we do to prepare ourselves for major decisions?
A study conducted some years ago showed that the more choices we’re presented with, the more debilitat¬ing choices can become. Participants were presented with an assortment of 30 items to choose from and an assortment of 6 items to choose from. More people stopped and recognized the display with 30 choices, but a lesser percentage of those people actually made the choice to buy. We can get to a point in our lives where we think through decisions so much that we talk ourselves out of doing the very thing we set out to do in the first place—making a decision. Why? Because we don’t want to “miss God.” But is that how things work? Are we supposed to agonize over the choices we need to make?
One passage of Scripture may be helpful here: “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established” (Proverbs 16:3, ESV). Commit literally means to roll over into or put your full weight on some¬thing. It’s giving everything. Interesting that Scripture doesn’t say commit your plans to the Lord. But that’s what we do, right? We commit our plans to the Lord, rather than our work. The distinction is huge. There are four things this verse teaches us:
1. There will be times when things do not go as planned.
It’s inevitable. It’s like walking through the store with your wife and a shopping list. As much as you might want to, “Stick to the plan,” she deviates. And you may get upset when she deviates. You want her to follow the list—to the letter. But your wife has the special ability of remembering stuff that you forget. We get mad when God gets away from our list too. We make plans to be married by a certain age. We make plans to retire by a certain age. When something pops up that isn’t on the list, we are furious. God remembers the stuff we forget too.
Maybe we should change our approach. Stop just committing your plans to the Lord and start committing your work to the Lord. Then Scrip¬ture will make more sense when it says, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9, ESV) or “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33, ESV). It is only by committing your work to Him that He establishes your plan. So stop working on that ten-year plan and start working on committing yourself fully to Him in your work.
2. There will be times when you won’t have peace about the decision you make.
Most times we feel like if we have peace about something, then it must be the right decision to make. I remember one decision I made where I didn’t have peace: the decision to move across the country to attend semi¬nary. I didn’t want to move 3,000 miles from home, but decided to do so anyway. Peace was the last thought on my mind. But, in hindsight, it was one of the best deci¬sions I ever made. If Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane reveals a moment of agonizing conflict over the decision to bear the world’s sin, then surely there will be decisions in your life where you don’t experience peace in the short term.
3. Never think God is not at work, no matter how absent He may seem to be.
Author Tim Keller said, “God’s guidance is more something God does than something God gives.” In other words, God guides you through events and occurrences in your life, ultimately based on the choices you make. So where you find yourself right now is right in the middle of God’s guidance. Stop looking for it. God is doing it in your life right now. We spend so much time seeking God’s guidance, but don’t realize that we’re right slap dab in the middle of it.
4. God expects us to develop wisdom to discern His guidance.
“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her” (from Proverbs 4:7–8, ESV).
Developing wisdom accompanies our spiritual maturity. Another illustration by Tim Keller is key here: How would your parents react if you, an adult, called them to ask permission to go outside? They’d prob¬ably think you were crazy. Why? Because you are mature. As we mature in our faith, God (our Father) wants to trust us more and more to have the wisdom to make good decisions.
So after we pray, get counsel, and ask for His will, we’re ultimately left with the decision to make. In de¬veloping wisdom, we can decide with confidence that He is at work in what we decide. Decisions can be tough. Decisions can be agonizing. Decisions can be filled with uncertainty. If you have a tough decision to make, commit your work to the Lord. You’ll find out over time that in doing so, God will establish your plans.
Being healthy is pretty simple, but most people in the United States find it pretty hard. And for an African American, it’s over-the-top hard. Not only is the struggle of getting healthy and maintaining a healthy lifestyle embedded in the culture, but there are sometimes actual physical and financial obstacles to overall health.
There are many things in life that are simple and hard. Like staying committed to your spouse. It’s simple. Just stay faithful to one person for the rest of your life. It’s hard because there are all kinds of ups and downs you go through.
Alongside various temptations, you will also lose that euphoric feeling you had when you first met. That’s what makes it hard for the long haul.
Following Jesus seems simple. Jesus is to be the Ruler and number one priority in your life.
Sounds simple, right? It is but it’s also hard to do it. It means you have to deny yourself. Who wants to do that?
It means that you have to trust someone you cannot see. That’s a pretty high expectation, and if you have ever tried it, it’s extremely difficult.
Application is Key
The simple part about being healthy is summed up in a maxim from Michael Pollan, the author of TheOmnivore’s Dilemma andFood Rules: “Eat [real] food, not too much, mostly plants.” It can also be summed up in the overall guideline of staying active. That seems simple enough but even in the overall culture, it is a tall order. Folks who try often get buried in a mountain of guilt over late-night binges and how that occasional donut in the morning becomes habitual.
There seems to be no end to the people telling us that we need to eat better and stay active. The problem is not more information but application.
Usually where application fails is when we try to break ourselves from our normal routine. It’s all about habits. Habits are what shape our lives.
In his book the Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg says that habits can be broken down into three basic steps.
First, there is a cue or the trigger that tells our brains that we need to do something. The next step is the routine, which is the behavior that leads to the reward. The next step is the reward that reinforces the habit.
This is something he has labeled the habit loop.
Breaking Old Habits
It seems simple to break a habit then. All we need to do is recognize our cues. Then we can choose alternate behaviors that lead to a different reward.
The problem comes when your whole culture is made up of cues that go against the habit you are trying to break. That’s when the mountain of unhealthiness seems insurmountable.
At that point, you have to choose between your cultural identity and your personal well-being. What do I mean by that?
It’s Sunday afternoon at Big Mama’s house and everyone is famished after spending hours at church. Big Mama’s table is full of all kinds of things that are detrimental to your health: creamy mac and cheese. Fried chicken. Chocolate cake.
The only thing that’s decent is the collared greens and those have been overcooked with ham hocks. So the health factor is reduced.
What do you do? Do you skip the meal? You’re hungry and after all, you don’t want to disappoint Big Mama. Plus your family has been eating this way for years.
Besides that not only has your family been eating this way but millions of African American families have been eating this way. It’s embedded in your culture.
You begin to remember that time when your unusual cousin from California came and ate a salad the whole week and everyone ridiculed her and said she had been hanging around white folks too much.
You don’t want to be thought of as betraying your race. So you reach for the fried chicken. It’s only right.
Limited Time and Resources
How about the many African Americans who are single moms? You don’t have time to cook healthy meals for the kids. You are just trying to make it through the day and get some peace once they are finally put to bed.
So what do you do? You give them the quickest and easiest thing.
Most of the time the quickest and easiest thing is also the unhealthiest. It is loaded with sodium and sugar. It is targeted to parents and children and has been tested and refined to produce a bliss point.
I learned about this concept from the book by Michael Moss titled Salt Sugar Fat
The bliss point is the perfect combination of salt, sugar, and fat that will get people craving for more. You don’t want to hear this but you’ve been had.
The food companies are deliberately making you unhealthy so they can make a profit from your lack of time to cook healthy meals for your family.
What if you did choose to live healthy in spite of the inconvenience of cultural identity and time? You still may face other challenges.
Let’s say you decided to follow Michael Pollan’s food maxim of eating real food and mostly plants. The economics are against you. Real food just costs more.
When you’re faced with feeding your family with the amount of money for food in your budget you have to make some choices. If it doesn’t add up you will buy the junk. And then you’re pulled back into the cycle.
There is also the existence of food deserts that totally trump eating healthy. A food desert is a swath of a usually urban community that does not have a grocery store.
There is no access to healthy food and families resort to buying food from the corner store which is usually processed and packaged. No fresh fruits or vegetables in sight.
If you are part of the 23.5 million people (mostly African American and Latino) in the United States who live in a food desert, this is a huge obstacle.
Let’s Talk Money
How about if you said that you wanted to stay active? You want to get a gym membership. That’s going to cost. You also have a family to take care of and a job to go to. You have to find time to squeeze it in.
Not only that but when most of your friends are not active then you won’t be active. Jim Rohn, the popular self-help guru, is often quoted as saying “You are the average of the five people you most spend time with.”
When it comes to being active, most black people don’t hang around other active black people. Watching sports on TV doesn’t count.
This is the essence of the struggle many black people face when it comes to health. On the surface, it seems like the struggle that anyone who wants to make a major change faces.
In many ways it is. What makes it unique is the cultural factors surrounding health.
For most African Americans eating processed, cheap, nutrient-absent foods and sitting on the couch watching reality shows has become a way of life.
Gathering around the table to consume salt, sugar, and fat in copious amounts has become the symbol of what it means to be family.
History of Soul Food
Don’t get me wrong. I love soul food. I think that the distinct flavor of the cuisine that we grew up with is worth having once in a while but I also believe that some of the ingredients have gone the way of just wowing the taste buds instead of delivering the sustenance we need.
He recalls the meals that his Ma’ Dear made in Tennessee and how they were organic and contained ingredients from the garden. It is important to note that we didn’t always eat like this.
So what happened? Corporate America happened. Concern for profit became more important than concern for humans.
In the 1960s, Soul Food became a hit and the recipes became more dangerous to our health. We have come to equate soul food with the fare showcased in the episode of the Boondocks about the “itis.”
You know, that feeling you get after a big meal and you just want to fall over and go to sleep.
TV or play video games on the couch are not what we are designed to do.
It’s a way of life I’ve seen played out in too many homes. Personally, I’ve tried to break away from it. I do it in fits and starts.
Some leafy greens here. Some HIIT workouts there. Then sooner or later the holidays come. That’s when the temptation levels are the highest.
My mind has two thoughts battling each other. The first thought is to not give in and pursue my highest ideals. The second one is that I’m not only missing out on the stimulation of my taste buds but the community that I’m a part of.
Most African Americans are a part of the church. It would seem that this makes things even worse. When church people get together, they eat.
And they don’t just eat but they eat good (or bad depending on your point of view). Treating our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit seems to only apply to sex, smoking, and drinking in the church world. Packaged foods and large meals get a free pass.
I can remember when I was a strict vegan for six months in college. I was filled with energy and it was mostly from the food that I was eating and not eating.
I felt like I was lighter than air. My mind was clear and I didn’t have any illnesses. Why did I stop? Family telling me I was eating rabbit food.
To put it simply I had no community to support me. And when it comes to food and many other lifestyle choices, the community always wins. That’s why for most African Americans, eating healthy is simple and hard at the same time.
So you’re intelligent. You’re a Christian. You love both of those aspects about yourself. It’s not enough for you to just get your praise on, you also get your study on.
You read the Bible, but you also read widely on many other subjects. You are in college and you don’t dread your courseload, except that one class. That one science class.
You imagine a professor opposed to anything that resembles religion or Christianity. You fear being embarrassed or ridiculed because of your faith. I’ve been there. Many of us who strive to represent our faith and use our minds for God’s glory have been there.
For me, it was Anthropology 101. For others, it was physics or astronomy. As science explores the natural world, it is inevitable that questions about who created this natural world come up. The good thing is that science and your faith can co-exist.
They are not polar opposites, and belief and love of one does not cancel out your belief in and love of the other.
In my pursuit of reconciling faith and science, I have concluded that they both have an authority, but their authority is relegated to two different spheres. Science asks, “What’s out there?” Faith asks, “Why are we here?”
Albert Einstein categorized these two questions as questions of fact and questions of value. Although in many ways these two things overlap and play off of each other, I do not believe they cancel each other out.
Science answers questions about what is observable and what we can quantify. In other words, it doesn’t seek to ask questions regarding the meaning of what we observe and quantify. Those things we believe in before we do any experiments or formulate our theories.
We already enter the science lab or classroom with a bias toward belief or non-belief in a Creator. We already have a religious tradition we hold to or don’t. The answers of science bring these issues to the surface, but they can never give the final answer on these issues.
What’s interesting is that the Christian faith helped aid the development of science. Galileo Galilei, who was sadly opposed by the medieval church, was a Christian and believed God had given us our mental faculties to explore the world.
He believed “the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has not intended us to forgo their use.” It was this belief that prompted Galileo to explore the universe and confirm that the planets revolve around the sun.
Ultimately, this discovery would lead to him placed under house arrest by church authorities. Galileo firmly believed in the two categories of facts and value, as he stated, “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”
Although not a Christian, Albert Einstein believed in a higher power. His whole goal in pursuing scientific work was to see the mystery behind nature and to “attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is.”
Einstein did not adhere to traditional religion, but had a particular disdain for atheists, considering them to be missing out on the wonder of the world and “the music of the spheres.”
Einstein could grasp science and the existence of something beyond our world. It is this mindset that motivated him to say “science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”
Then there’s the man that conquered the peanut and saved the whole South. A devout Christian man, George Washington Carver always found time to teach Sunday School to the students at Tuskegee University.
His fervent work into the peanut was fueled by his belief of the outdoors being a “great cathedral in which God could be continuously spoken to and heard from.” Carver’s time in the “great cathedral” yielded over 300 uses for the peanut and 100 uses for the sweet potato, as well as numerous synthetic products like the dye still used in Crayola crayons.
When faith and science clash
So what happens when scientific discoveries clash with your beliefs? Discoveries and theories in regards to evolution, cloning, and astronomy may seem to come into conflict with classical interpretations of the Bible.
Here’s what the great African theologian Augustine of Hippo had to say about it:
“If they [the infidel] find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learned from experience and the light of reason?”
Augustine here is saying that instead of continuing to promote ignorance in matters of science, we need to be careful with making dogmatic assertions on things the Bible is not concerned about. The Bible contains science, but it is not a science book.
The Bible’s main purpose is spelled out by Jesus in John 5:39: “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (NLT).
The Bible is the history of God’s interaction with His people pointing to Jesus Christ. Its purpose is to lead you to Jesus and draw you closer to Him. It is not designed to give you a thorough explanation and summary of physics, biology, or astronomy. It is designed to give you one thing: knowledge and love for Jesus.
When faith and science clash, we have to begin questioning our interpretation—not our faith. When we fail to do this, it only serves to cause those who don’t believe to mock and ignore us.
For example: In Psalm 19, David talks about how the sun revolves around the earth. It rises from one end and completes its course at another end like a runner in a race. We know from science that it is actually the earth that revolves around the sun.
This is what got Galileo silenced and put on house arrest by the church. Instead of insisting that we need keep up the belief that the sun moves around the earth, maybe a different
interpretation is needed. David was not a scientist, but he was a poet or a psalmist. Psalm 19 is an example of Hebrew poetry, and we know poetry is never to be taken literally.
So what can we say about David’s assertion that the sun revolves around the earth?
That the psalm’s point is not to assert that the sun revolves around the earth. It was, instead, David’s way of being in awe of nature—something that scientists and Christians can both agree on.
Science and faith are not opposites. They are just different ways of pursuing different types of knowledge. One deals with facts and the other deals with the meaning of those facts.
They both are needed and can help in our pursuit of truth. So instead of dreading interacting with your professor or hanging out with your really smart friend, maybe you could engage them with humility and an openness to see where science and faith can connect instead of clash.
It just might open up a new understanding and love for God for the both of you.
Let’s face it. Being single and Christian is hard. It’s even harder to find that person you want to spend the rest of your life with. There are so many factors to consider: age, personality, looks, and spirituality. It can all become a blur. How do you even figure out if someone is a match for you? What does God have to say about it? Here are five powerful secrets to finding Mr. or Mrs. right as a young Christian single.
The first thing to consider is whether you and the other person are serving the Lord. One of the first things I discovered about my wife was that we were both passionate about serving God and looked for ways to bless others.
In fact, I met my wife preparing for a short-term mission trip. The funny thing is it wasn’t love at first sight for either of us. We continued to serve together at different times and in different places for about four years.
One day I looked up and I realized we were spending a lot of time together and I had stars in my eyes.
You can’t find the right person for you if you are putting on a mask in public. The person you attract will be drawn to the mask and not the real you.
So don’t be afraid to share your real opinions about things. Put your likes and dislikes on full display.
Yes, some people will be repelled but the right people will be drawn to you. Now, don’t get me wrong.
You don’t want a clone of yourself who thinks and believes the same way you do. You want someone who will be attracted to your authentic self.
Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
I grew up in a small storefront church in Los Angeles. Most of my family still attends this church.
My heart will always be there, but staying within this circle made my choices for a mate slim.
Once I got out and started becoming involved in leading a Bible study on campus, and eventually going overseas on short-term mission trips, the dating pool started to widen.
I started meeting different people and more people who were going in the same direction I was going. That all started with me stepping outside of my comfort zone.
Decide That You are Dating to Marry
This should be a no-brainer for Christians but oftentimes we just date people because we don’t want to be alone.
I can remember hearing a sermon about marriage and being a single Christian man. The pastor said that if we’re not going to a hostile mission field or secluding ourselves in the Amazon jungle to find a cure for cancer we need to plan to get married.
That basically put me on blast and I started actively seeking to find the wife God had for me.
Be willing to let go
The last secret is this: Be willing to let go. Sometimes the person you are dating is not the right person.
Still many people go on dating someone when they know that they don’t want to be with this person for the rest of their life.
There are more red flags than a Chinese political rally yet the person still holds out hope that maybe they will change. Most of the time they will not.
It’s best to stop holding on to hope that this person will change their ways or their basic personality traits. When you do that your perspective on the situation changes.
You begin to compromise. You want the relationship to work so badly that you will do anything to make it happen.
Eventually, either you both move on after wasting time or you end up marrying them and committing to a person who is not for you.