The Curious Origins of Christmas

The Curious Origins of Christmas

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.

10 Commandments of Social Media for Christians

10 Commandments of Social Media for Christians

Video by THE BEAT by Allen Parr


Social media is pervasive in everything that we do. You can’t buy dog food or gas for your car without seeing an invitation to like the product page on Facebook or follow the Twitter handle.

So how do we as Christians engage the “clap back” and “you’ve been canceled” world of social media? After looking online and seeing so many faux pas and mistakes made by those who name the name of Christ, I’ve come up with “10 Commandments” of social media for Christians.

  1. Pause before you publish

The one thing you must do before you do anything else in the world of social media is to stop and think before you click “Enter” and send that post or tweet or Instagram photo. Think through the ramifications of what you are about to send to the entire Internet.

Your friends and people you don’t even know have a window into this part of your world. Where most communication is private, this is public in a way that wasn’t public 20-25 years ago.

More often than not, we forget that the words and pictures we send are going into a vast public record and open to the peering eyes of our bosses, co-workers, church members, potential employers, family, and friends.

Think about the words that you are about to type and send. It can go a long way in maintaining your online and offline reputation.

  1. World Star Hip Hop is not a credible news source

One of the things to think about is whether you are passing on credible information. Sometimes our hearts are already open to something that is more than likely a lie. We see the latest expos and what it really exposes is the bent of our heart.

Newsflash: Celebrity gossip is not news. So many rumors can be circulated in a matter of hours, and no one stops to check the facts but just publishes this stuff like it came from the mouth of God.

We have snopes.com now. There is no excuse. In this age where a story can spread faster than you can say “Ferguson,” we need to discover whether or not it is true.

Sometimes a story is just satire. Sometimes it’s for real. You need to know the difference.

  1. Improve your offline to online ratio

I see some people on Facebook no matter what time of day it is. The phone is probably the first thing they pick up in the morning and the last thing they hold at night.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some people slept with their phone. These are the kind of folks who obnoxiously text and tweet while having dinner. This is not the person you want to be.

As a follower of Jesus, you must place a higher value on your offline relationships than online. Your online relationships are flat and cannot see into the depths of who you are, and vice versa.

Technology has the privilege of giving you the ability to edit the parts of your life you don’t want others to see. Not so with real-life flesh and blood relationships.

The more time you spend with others, the more time you see their real authentic selves, and the more time they see your real authentic self as well.

This is a good thing. This is why God created Eve for Adam. This is why the “one anothers” of the church exist. We are called to live in community together, and online interaction cannot replace that.

  1. Would you want your grandma to see this?

First of all, as a Christian, some pictures don’t need to be taken. Yeah, that skimpy outfit just should not have been worn, much less photographed.

Second of all, some pictures don’t need to be published to the rest of the world. As a follower of Jesus, you are not just representing yourself, but the agenda of the King and His kingdom. You are representing your local and universal church family.

And if these things don’t strike a chord with you: You are also representing your own family.

Before you publish a picture, think to yourself: “Would I want my grandma to see this?”

Now if your grandma is living foul, then this doesn’t work, but if you’ve got one of those old, church mother, saved and sanctified grandmas, this can be very effective.

You wouldn’t want that grandma to see you getting “turnt” in the club or in a bikini gyrating with some dude.

  1. If you can’t say it in person, then don’t say it

For some reason, people are bolder online. It’s not just the anonymity. This sometimes happens when people know each other. I think it has to do with the lack of proximity.

By being far away from each other physically, we are emboldened to say things we wouldn’t say if we were looking at someone directly in the eyes.

Remember this: If you can’t say it in person, don’t say it. There is nothing courageous about being an online prophet and an in-person yes-man.

Just because you get an amen corner online doesn’t make you bold. Real boldness is speaking the truth even when you don’t have an amen corner at all.

  1. Pass on being passive-aggressive

Have you ever seen these posts that are directed to someone and no one at the same time? These are called “sub-statuses” or “subtweets,” and they are full of bitterness, anger, sometimes sarcasm.

They point out anonymous people’s faults. Sometimes they make you wonder if their online temper tantrum or cutting remark is targeting you. That’s not how saints of God air their grievances.

Private grievances need to be handled in private. Public grievances need to be handled in public.

Even if you are going to express your frustration, you at least need to name the person you are frustrated with. The Bible commands us to speak the truth in love.

Being passive-aggressive in your posts is anything but truthful or loving.

  1. Leave the doomsday prophets in the Old Testament

As followers of Jesus, we are called to share the good news.

Often when I look at people’s Facebook pages and tweets, I am surprised when I see the latest gloom-and-doom prophecies about how the nation is going down the tubes or how Black America is doomed to fail.

A lot of what I see is just negative events or news articles.

Yes, there is a place for being realistic, but spreading negativity shouldn’t be our default. Our default is joy. Our default is peace. Our default is hope.

The things we repost and retweet need to be aligned with what we value as the people of God. They should speak to the wider world of our orientation toward the kingdom and the hope we have in Christ.

  1. Bible-thumping doesn’t work (in person or online)

Have you ever talked to someone and the answer to every question was a Bible verse? These are the kind of people who figure out what kind of cereal to get with a Bible verse. And if it’s a religious question, they don’t actually answer the question, but just spew out Bible verses.

Don’t be that person.

Yes, we believe the Bible to be true in all that it affirms, but we also need to be aware of the world we live in.

Commenting on people’s posts with Bible verses that are most of the time out of context does nothing to win people over to Christ or a Christian perspective.

It’s best to meet people where they are and then explain what the Bible says about a subject than to proof text verses and expect to persuade people to your perspective.

  1. Respect the Internet

The Internet has specific guidelines when it comes to communicating.

ALL CAPS USUALLY INDICATES ANGER. Now I wasn’t angry there, but sometimes we put all caps on things where we shouldn’t and unintentionally communicate anger.

Because Internet conversations are in writing, they don’t always convey the intended meaning. What we intended as a joke can potentially be seen as a threat or an insult. Emoticons can help.

The key is that as followers of Jesus, we don’t want to look like noobs on the Internet, and most importantly, we don’t want to offend people unnecessarily.

The Gospel is already offensive, and if people know that we are Christians, they may be offended by our very beliefs. We don’t want to offend them unnecessarily any other way.

  1. Keep Jesus at the center

Last but not least, keep Jesus at the center of everything you do online. If being on Facebook or Twitter is becoming more of an addiction and less of a purposeful conversation tool, then drop them.

If you are unsure of whether to post something or respond to a comment, then think about the person and the work of Christ.

You will never go wrong by keeping Jesus as a model for your social media interaction.

 

7 Revealing Reasons Why The Black Church Lacks Influence

7 Revealing Reasons Why The Black Church Lacks Influence

Video Courtesy of Legacy Disciple


One of the things that puzzled me growing up, and still puzzles me today, is how devastated and broken many African American communities are although there are a huge number of local churches across America.

I often wondered why there were churches where so many people who claim to be changed and transformed had no effect on the community around them. Before we dive in, I’d like to emphasize that this is not a sweeping indictment of all black churches.

In fact, there are many places of worship where members are doing their part in a variety of ways to glorify God’s kingdom.

However, we can’t deny the fact that there are many street corners in the African American community where crime, violence, and poverty run rampant while the church does nothing, so, here are seven revealing reasons why the black church isn’t more influential in the community.

Reason #1: Failure to Make Faith and Life Intersect

We hear a lot about how Jesus died and rose again but we don’t often hear how this affects us in our everyday lives.

How do the scriptures inform our marriages? How do the scriptures inform our economics? These are just examples of what is left out in most black churches on Sunday morning.

There needs to be more of an understanding of how faith and life intersect.

Reason #2: Systemic Injustice

The primary culprit behind the Church’s lack of influence in the community is plain, old systemic injustice.

Black communities in the inner city are the way they are because of decisions that were made years ago. Whether it was poor and inadequate housing or the choice to build freeways over thriving neighborhoods, most of the problems boil down to systemic injustice.

 Reason #3: Church Hypocrisy

Another reason why the Church is not effectively helping the black community is because of widespread hypocrisy. Many people are in church on Sunday but the Church is not in them throughout the rest of the week.

Sadly, there are some closed-minded “regulars” in the Church that are wreaking havoc on the black community.

And as a result of this, many people in the community opt not to attend church for anything other than pacifying their relatives on Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Easter.

Reason #4: No Leadership Pipeline

There is also a case to be made for a lack of leadership.

Many older preachers and other leaders have held on to their positions and are not training the next generation to replace them.

It never occurs to them that not only will they have someone to succeed them when they’re gone, but they will be able to multiply their efforts in the present through the recruiting and training of younger leaders.

Reason #5: Lack of Connection with Youth

Another reason why the church is not more influential in the black community is because it is not willing to tip over its sacred cows.

Traditions are not to be tampered with in the eyes of leadership and older members of these churches. What they are failing to understand is that many of these traditions are irrelevant to young people, which can get in the way of effective ministry.

 Reason #6: Pie in the Sky Mentality

One of the things that you will sometimes notice in the black church is a pie in the sky mentality. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “Everything’s going to be alright when we get to Heaven. Why do anything now?”

Now, there is nothing wrong with aiming for Heaven. In fact, author C.S. Lewis once said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at Earth and you will get neither.”

But seeking heaven is to aggressively act as instruments of God’s kingdom here and now. Seeking Heaven is not an excuse to be passive.

When heaven just becomes the reason we don’t do anything that’s being too heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.

Reason #7: Lack of Vision

The final thing that stops black churches from affecting the community is that there is no vision for anything beyond Sunday morning.

As long as the tithes are paid and the people are running around shouting, then we can all go home and say “We’ve had church.” This is a far cry from Jesus’ exhortation to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-15).

So, there you have it. And just to be clear, this is not to bash the black church. This is an autopsy of what needs to happen if we are going to see true and lasting change.

African Americans are the most devout and religious group in the United States and so this remains a challenge as we seek to show that Jesus is the hope of the world.

 

How about you? What reasons would you add to this list?

 

Racism: We’re Not Making This Up

Racism: We’re Not Making This Up

light and word of Racism for background Racism seems to be a proverbial boogey man under America’s bed. When activists and spokesmen against racism cry out, they are usually met with the same suspicion as a young toddler who claims there is a monster under the bed.

“Okay, son. Let’s check this out. See, there’s no monster under the bed. Go to sleep. Everything is fine.”

Those who point to racist acts, or a racist system, are summarily dismissed and encouraged to go along and get along with the times. After all we are living in a post-racial America.

Something about this strikes a subtle but dissonant chord among the many who see racism interwoven throughout our political and economic system.

Not only that, but it is also seen in the outright and unmistakable acts of terror committed against people of color in general and African Americans specifically.

A General Overview

For example, from 1999 to 2014 there were over seventy unarmed Black citizens murdered at the hands of the police. Some of these people were criminals or had a criminal record. Others were ordinary, upstanding citizens who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time—and the wrong color.

These people were objects of a racist-tinged system that immediately perceives Black as bad, no good, and evil. Many were just in the wrong place at the wrong time but that has something to do with their Blackness and being at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. Their social location made them casualties of war.

So, there’s that. And then we come to the highest appointment in the land and in the world: The Office of President of the United States. From the beginning of the campaign until now, President Barack Obama has been suspected of being everything from an undercover Muslim extremist to the Antichrist and leader of the One World Government.

Now, every president that has been in office in my lifetime has been accused of being the Antichrist, but the first Black president has been accused of not only being a Muslim extremist but also not being a citizen of the United States.

No one questioned any of his predecessors’ citizenships. They only questioned his, because he did not fit into the neat “WASP” (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) category that so many of our commanders-in-chief have in the past. The last one who didn’t, John F. Kennedy, was shot. Hmmm…

Racism is now seen as the conspiracy theory that Black people rely on when things don’t go their way. The truth is things do not go anybody’s way all the time.

We live in a world of pain and suffering. Ever since the fall of man, our world has been plagued by failure and disaster.

Job put it simply that man who is born of a woman is of few days and full of suffering (Job 14:1). On the other hand, Black people in America and around the globe have had more than just a few days of suffering.

When a group of people as a whole are met with oppression and made to be scapegoats for 500 years, then that’s not the everyday suffering of an individual but the collective oppression of racism. It’s not that everyone’s racist.

Believe me, I have better things to do than play the victim and go around blaming people for attitudes that I can’t see. That’s not how I roll. No racist blaming here. What I focus on is this: racism is not dead.

Racism is an invented social hierarchy that is still in place today. You may not be racist but that doesn’t mean you are not affected by racism. Everyone is affected by it.

It has colored our view of the world so much that if you are directly or indirectly benefiting from it, you can’t see it. It’s those who are affected by it that see it best.

The Proof is in the Facts

Philadelphia, PA USA - November 24, 2014; Police Officers with the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) block a road as protestors pass by. (photo by Bas Slabbers)Following a jury decision from Ferguson, MO protesters nation-wide take the streets to protest the decision not to indict the Ferguson Police Officer that shot 18-year old Michael Brown in August of 2014. In Center City Philadelphia more then two-hundred protesters take to the streets that evening and the following days.It’s hard not to notice that one out of five African American applicants face discrimination at job interviews.

It’s hard not to notice that when a company receives a resume with a “Black-sounding” name, the applicant is 50% less likely to get a call back than one with the same credentials but a “White-sounding” name.

It’s hard not to notice that Black drivers are twice as likely to get pulled over by the police than White drivers. It’s hard not to notice that Black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than Whites.

It’s hard not to notice these statistics…unless they do not affect you.

As a Black man, I see that police murdered 70 unarmed Black citizens within the last fifteen years and it alarms me and scares me and makes me think: that could’ve been me.

I see that, even after careful research done on the people of ancient Egypt and the genetics of the first humans, a movie focusing on those times such as Noah or Gods of Egypt can depict only White men being in power. So, when I walk into a room I’m not seen as someone who can lead but someone who will be on the bottom.

I see that the median wealth of White households is 13 times more than the wealth of Black households since the Great Recession of 2007 and I have to ask myself, “How did we get here in the first place?”

A Historical Context

Well, way back in the 15th century when the European world was being awakened to the vast riches and natural resources beyond its borders, the then mostly Christian nations of the time needed a theory. They needed a theory that allowed them to justify them subjugating and oppressing those who were “other.”

Out of that need for a theory racism was born. A social hierarchy was created where the fair-skinned people were on top and those who were darker were on the bottom.

Out of this social hierarchy came slavery, genocide, colonialism and the conquest and rape of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. It’s not pretty but it’s something that we have to deal with.

This same social hierarchy persisted into the Jim Crow era. It gave license to separate but unequal schools, housing, health care, jobs, and anything else you could think of. It gave a blank check to the Ku Klux Klan terrorism and lynching.

This same hierarchy is embedded in the fabric of our nation.

It can be seen in the mass incarceration of African Americans.

It can be seen in the huge gap in African Americans being hired for tech jobs.

This hierarchy creates a subconscious bias against people of color. It causes us to unknowingly—and knowingly—give in to stereotypes. We write our screenplays and vote a certain way because of this hierarchy that has influenced people for over 500 years.

You can’t just get rid of something like that without sustained, focused effort.

Renewing of the Mind

It is the kind of stronghold and a principality that Paul talks about in his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:12). It’s bigger than just individuals.

In the same letter Paul says, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood.” Racism is bigger than people. It is a cultural force that has swept America up in its path.

In his book Brainwashed, Tom Burrell talks about the powerful propaganda campaign that has been executed to perpetuate the myth of Black inferiority. He states that, as a Black man, he is personally repulsed, but as an advertising executive, he can’t help but admire the genius of the strategy.

Holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” can’t fix it. It takes a renewing of the mind and a casting out. It is a demon that sits in the haunted corners of our national psyche and it needs to be evicted.

Yes, America. You are possessed. There is an unclean spirit in you that has caused you to act against your better self. Its name is “racism.”

We can get rid of slavery and segregation, but until we get rid of racism, Laquan McDonalds will still get shot in the streets in cold blood.

People will still get called the N-word, even if they are the President of the United States. Our children will not have equal education and opportunities, and many African Americans will continue to hate themselves.

As long as racism is allowed a free pass while we hold to not being racist, then we are doomed. It’s bigger than you as an individual. And no, we are not making this up.

Let’s talk about it. What are your thoughts on racism in America? Do you believe that the solution begins with changing one’s current mindset?

Can the Church Handle Those Who are ‘Straight Outta Compton’?

Can the Church Handle Those Who are ‘Straight Outta Compton’?

Straight Outta Compton grossed $60.2 million at the box office for its opening weekend and is now being seen as a possible Oscar contender. Deep inside I’m happy because I’m originally from Compton and the city is finally getting its due. At the same time one thought keeps flooding my mind: “How has the church handled the generation that has been shaped and influenced by this album?

When NWA first came out with their hit album, it defined the city and defined a generation. Straight Outta Compton changed the game. It talked of the street life in a way that was unheard of. The KRS-One sample from Gangsta Gangsta — “it’s not about a salary, it’s all about reality” — was the war cry of kids who were tired of not being heard. Black youth heard their frustrations as well as their joys voiced in the lyrics of Eazy-E and his cohorts.

Straight Outta Compton broadcast street culture not only to the rest of the nation but also to the world. It put hip-hop on the map but it also put the hood on the map. It made being gangsta and being a thug normal. What used to be seen as the underbelly of society was now being celebrated on the stage at award shows and even getting invited to the White House.

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With this newfound prominence, a whole generation began to see its own plight as something not to escape but to embrace. The hood was still a bad place, but it was something that was glamorized. It was something that could put food on the table. Thug culture and being gangster became part of the mainstream. At the same time, while all of this was going on, the church for the most part buried its head in the sand.

Now the children of gangster rappers are adults. This generation was not raised going to church. Even if they did go to church like me, they were also connected to the media and culture outside the church as well. The one thing that I have not seen is the church embracing this new generation and communicating the Gospel to them in a contextually relevant way.

This is a new generation. They don’t know all the hymns. They don’t know when to sit and when to stand. They don’t care about any titles a bishop or reverend may have. These kids were born during the crack era. Violence and drugs and explicit sexuality are normal for them.

The question is: Will they have a place in our houses of worship? Will we be able to speak their language? I’m not talking about faking an accent or using ridiculous slang as a forty-year-old. I’m talking about dealing with the issues that they have to deal with. In order to connect with this generation, we need to speak to the issues of sex, racism, drugs, and violence.

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Whereas before the hip-hop era and especially before NWA, there was a bit of shame and guilt over the things that were said and done by the younger generation caught up in the street life, now these things have become a badge of honor and a rite of passage. It’s not just those who live in the actual geographical place called Compton. There are those who have embraced a “Straight Outta Compton” mentality in just about every urban center in America.

Now that the movie is out, it would be good for the leaders of the church to reflect on its widespread popularity and what the implications are for the church. Part of it is sin, but there are other aspects of the music and the film that appeal to something unique in us as humans. Maybe then the generation shaped and influenced by Straight Outta Compton will be shaped and influenced by the Kingdom of God.

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A Messed-Up Ride or a Dressed-Up WalkA Messed-Up Ride or a Dressed-Up Walk
The Autobiography of Jerald January, Sr. (with Steve Wamberg)

Born in inner-city Detroit in 1956 at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, Jerald January was a firsthand witness to the complicated process of social change. From his boyhood in a violent urban neighborhood to his calling to be a minister, January recounts his experiences with issues such as gang violence, school integration, discrimination, class distinction, and racial prejudice.

Rev. January discusses his own journey of faith and finding his calling to serve God in the midst of these struggles. His inspirational life story will touch your heart and encourage you to reflect on your own ways of dealing with life’s difficult circumstances. A Messed-Up Ride or a Dressed-up Walk will help you think deeper about getting where you need to be at the time God has appointed for you.

More Books from UMI:

Biblical Strategies For A Community In Crisis

God’s Power to Help a Hurting People

Ordinary People Can Do The Extraodinary

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