My wife and I saw the sneak preview of the new motion picture, The Shack. I posted a review earlier of the bestselling book (click here to read it) of the same title by William Paul Young, so I wanted to follow up with this review of the movie.
The Shack is a deeply emotional film about a man named Mack Phillips, played by Sam Worthington, who is angry at God because of the abusive and tragic circumstances he experienced as a child and as an adult. The film tells the story of a deeply personal tragedy that occurs at a shack in the woods, and how Mack gets a letter from God, inviting him to return to the shack and deal with his pain. Mack returns, and there meets God in three persons, who engage him in experiences and conversations that allow him to rediscover the goodness of God. After he resolves these issues and learns to accept forgiveness and give forgiveness, Mack returns to his family a changed man. The plot uses flashbacks to tell about the tragedies in his life. Much of the story is framed as a visionary dream, which is a major departure from the plot of the original book. The plot moves well at the beginning and the end, although it may seem a bit long in the middle, if you are not engaged in the conversations.
Octavia Spencer plays “Papa,” a character representing God the Father, who appears to Mack as an affectionate African-American woman. She explains that since Mack could not relate to God as a father, due to his childhood experiences with an abusive father, Papa has chosen to appear as a mother figure. In fact, all three persons of the Trinity are there. The Son, representing Jesus, is a Middle Eastern man, played by Abraham Aviv Alush, and Sarayu (the Spirit), played by Sumire Matsubara, is represented by a young Asian woman who glows and shines and sometimes just disappears. Although God is represented as three different persons, they act in unison, as one person continues a conversation with Mack that he had earlier with the other person.
The movie deals powerfully with the question of why God allows suffering. Papa, The Son, and Sarayu do not offer easy answers, but they help Mack to get a bigger picture of how God loves, forgives and redeems. For example, when Mack angrily tells Papa that Papa could not be good and allow the Son to suffer on the cross, Papa shows nail scars in her own wrist, and says with tears, “Don’t think that I wasn’t also there when my Son died.” In another scene, Jesus sends Mack on a path to a cave where he meets a female called Wisdom, who lets Mack sit in the judgment seat of God and see what it is like to be a judge, an experience that overwhelms him, reminding him that no human should try to play God, and also hinting at the reason Jesus had to die for our sins. Unfortunately, the emphasis on God’s love is so strong, that a balanced statement about God’s holiness is lacking. God reminds Mack that sin has consequences, but when Mack bluntly asks Papa about God’s wrath, Papa could have said that God is holy and offended by sin, but instead only emphasized God’s goodness and love.
The film quality
This is a quality film production. There are breathtaking nature scenes, scenes filled with color and light, darkness and drama. The music is engaging, but not distracting. The main actors and supporting cast are all convincing in their roles. Octavia Spencer exudes love and kindness as Papa, and Sam Worthington explodes with emotion and pain as Mack. Country singer Tim McGraw does a good job as a supporting actor, playing Mack’s friend, who becomes a narrator of the story.
Comparisons with the book
Fans of the book will probably also like the movie, and some critics of the book may like the movie better than the book. I don’t remember hearing any profanity in the movie, although the book has some profanity. The portrayal of God the Father as a woman is explained sooner and more clearly in the movie than in the book. There were several passages in the book that critics accused of teaching universal salvation (that all people will go to heaven), particularly some conversations Mack had with the persons of the Trinity. Most of those controversial conversations do not occur in the movie, although the movie does repeat the words of Jesus that He is not a “Christian” (which came across as humorous to me both in the book and film.) The movie puts more emphasis on God’s love than on God’s judgment, although it it reminds the viewer that God does make judgments of heaven and hell and that sin does have consequences. After the movie was over, I asked my wife, who has not read the book, if she thought the movie taught universal salvation, and she said, “Not at all.”
Spoiler alert: If you have read the book, you will notice that the movie ends a little differently. It makes the whole encounter at the shack into a visionary dream, and while the book has Mack actually finding his daughter’s body and giving it a proper burial, the movie shows that happening as part of his dream. Then the movie focuses at the end on Mack going to church with his family and having a new faith in God. The movie added the friend as a narrator of the story at the beginning and end, which I thought was a good framing device for the story.
I liked the original book, despite its flaws, but I liked the movie even more. What I like the most is that it deals with the important issues of pain, suffering, the redemption God offers through Jesus Christ. I wept several times as I thought about my own sin and need for forgiveness, and it moved me to want to be more forgiving towards others. My wife commented that the story touches nearly every person at some level in their lives. This film offers a vivid story that can open up discussions with our friends and neighbors about how our hope is found, not in an old rustic shack, but on an old rugged cross.
Snoop: A Spiritual Memoir of a Vietnam Army Grunt (Published by Parables, 2016), by C. Wayne Harrison, is a 98-page book that tells stories of war, grouped together for devotional reflection. That may sound like an unusual approach, but Harrison makes it work.
Harrison was a private in the U.S. Army, who fought in the jungles in the Vietnam War in 1969-1970. Today he is Baptist minister in Booneville, Mississippi. In ten short chapters, he recalls his desire to be a soldier and relates in vivid detail the horrors he experienced in the war. Although the stories tend to move chronologically from early in his life through his year in Vietnam, the chapters are more thematic in nature, with titles such as, “The Heart of a Soldier,” “The Hands of a Soldier,” “The Hardships of a Soldier,” etc. Each chapter opens with a passage from the Bible, then focuses on stories that relate to the theme of the chapter, followed by some discussion questions and a prayer.
The reader identifies with the young man, who is nicknamed “Snoop” because of his lapel pin of Snoopy, the dog who imagined he was a fighter pilot, in the “Peanuts” comic strip. Some descriptions of war in the book may be disturbing to young readers, and the stories certainly are sobering even to mature readers. I believe Harrison’s writing will connect well with soldiers who read the book, and would make an excellent resource for military chaplains or anybody, especially soldiers, who are willing to reflect on God’s purpose for their lives.
The book is well-written, using excellent images and descriptions, and is easy to read, although I noticed a typo on p. 64, where the word “scar” was spelled “scare.” There are black-and-white photos of Harrison as a young soldier in the back of the book. In interest of full disclosure, I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author, with no obligation to write a favorable review.
Unless you have been living in a cave somewhere, you probably already know that Rowan County, Kentucky clerk Kim Davis has been sent to jail by a judge for refusing to issue any marriage license since the Supreme Court imposed same-sex marriage on all 50 states, causing an eruption of opinions on both sides of this issue.
On one side are those who would make her into a martyr for the faith. While I believe the judge could have been far less harsh (a gay couple in Kentucky who acted in civil disobedience in 2013 against the law were only fined one penny), we should remember that Mrs. Davis is not a private citizen; she is a government official who has sworn to uphold the law, and she could have resigned her position and advocated for change as a private citizen.
On the other side are those who mock her as hypocrite, especially since she has been divorced multiple times. This ignores the fact that Mrs. Davis only recently became a Christian in 2011, and her multiple divorces happened before she had a life-changing conversion to Christ. Now she openly acknowledges her sinful past, says that Jesus has changed her life, and she sincerely wants to obey Him now, no matter how hard that may be. That is not hypocrisy; that is honesty and courage.
Much more could be said about it, but Russell Moore has written by far the best blog that I have read on this subject. Please read this link to his blog before making any comments here.
I. First reason: The First Cause. (Psalm 90:2)
Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, You are God.” So God has always existed, but the universe has not always existed. The universe had a beginning, when God created it out of nothing.
But why should we believe this? We have clear evidence that the universe has not always existed. Instead, it began to exist. If it began to exist, what started it? What was the first cause? The answer is God!
Someone might ask, “How do we know the universe has not always existed? How do we know that it started sometime in the past?” We know this from logic, and science also confirms it.
Think about it. It is logically impossible for the past to go into infinity. It is impossible to count down from infinity to one. There is always an infinite distance to travel, so we never arrive. In the same way, if the past went on into infinity, we could never arrive at the present. But here we are! So there must have been a beginning. (Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, p. 219-223)
Science has also given us reason to believe in a first cause. In 1929, astronomer Edward Hubble discovered that a dozen galaxies near earth were moving away from us at high speeds. Scientists today agree that the universe is expanding, because it had a beginning, which they often call the “Big Bang.” Scientists don’t know what caused the big bang, they just know it happened. But as Christians, we know that caused the Big Bang. God spoke, and bang! It happened.
The Big Bang Theory is not the only scientific reason to believe in a first cause. There is also the second law of thermodynamics. This scientific law states that the energy in the universe is slowly but surely being used up. Like a fire that eventually burns out, all the energy in the universe is eventually going to disappear. Now here’s where it gets interesting. If the universe existed for eternity in the past, then it would have already used up all the energy by now. But here we are, with energy still available to use. So the universe is not eternal; it had a beginning in the past. What other way is there to explain this beginning, except that an all-powerful, supernatural person was the first cause? (Groothuis, p. 224-226)
The only answer atheists can have to this, is to argue that the universe was caused by nothing but a pure accidental explosion. Not only does it take more faith to believe the beautiful complexity of the universe had no cause, but such belief would also mean that everything in life is meaningless, and has no cause or reason. So would you prefer to believe that an all-powerful Creator spoke the word and brought the universe into being with a purpose, or would you prefer to believe that everything began from no cause, and life has no meaning? The choice is yours, but thank God we have a better choice than to live a meaningless life that began by nothing and has no purpose. Instead, it makes far more sense to believe that there was a First Cause, a supernatural Being, who brought the universe into existence, and that our lives do have purpose and meaning.
II. Second reason: Self-Consciousness. (Genesis 2:9; Romans 7:22)
Those who believe in Darwinian evolution, think that the human being is a mere biological collection of atoms that assembled by chance over a long period of time.
The Bible, on the other hand, says that God formed mankind from the earth, and we became a “living being.” (Genesis 2:9). Romans 7:22 talks about understanding something “in my inner self.” Whether or not you believe the Bible, we all know that we have an inner self, a self-consciousness. As the philosopher Rene Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” I have an awareness of my own self; I have something within myself that makes me to be me.
But where in the human body is my consciousness located? Where is my self-awareness? No scientist has located it. Nobody can tell you that in this part of the brain, or any other place on the human body, is the location of self-consciousness. Nobody can tell you where it is, yet we know we have it.
And if I am only a biological collection of chemicals, then how do we explain the human appreciation for beauty, music, poetry and art, and how do you explain love?
If you are an atheist, there is no explanation for it. But if you believe in God, the answer is simple: God put it there.
III. Third reason: Religious Experience (John 9:25)
The man born blind who was healed by Jesus could testify to a changed life, and nobody could dispute his experience. In John 9:25 we read, “He [the blind man] replied, ‘Whether he [Jesus] is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!'”
In Isaiah 6:1-5, Isaiah had a face-to-face encounter with the Lord in the temple; in Acts 9:1-9, Saul met the Lord on the road to Damascus and had a life-changing conversion experience.
This series of blog posts was originally presented as a series of sermons at the church I was serving in near Savannah, Georgia. When I presented the message, a student at Armstrong Atlantic State University, came forward at the end of the early worship service to publicly profess her faith, and at the second morning service, she gave her testimony to the congregation. She told how she did not believe in the existence of God, but she began to seek God. She heard all of the same arguments for the existence of God that we have talked about last week and this week, but she was still undecided about whether she believed. Then she decided to go with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Armstrong Atlantic State University on a mission trip to Haiti. That week, she prayed, and said, “God, if you are there, will you reveal Yourself to me.” Later in the week, she was walking through a voodoo area of Haiti, where all of the statues had been destroyed by the earthquake, and she looked up and saw a statue of Jesus on the cross. Her friend had been encouraging her to have faith in God, and right then she looked up and saw the statue. She decided that if she turned away then, she would never believe. That experience finally brought her to belief in God and faith in Jesus Christ.
The religious experience of millions of people is a powerful evidence for God. People can deny the existence of God, but they cannot deny the fact that millions of people of every time, language and culture have believed in God and claimed to have an experience with God. When the white men first came to the New World, they found Native Americans who had never had contact with Western society, yet they believed in a Great Spirit.
Atheists sometimes claim that people who believe in God are ignorant, or even neurotic. But they have a more difficult time making this claim when confronted with the fact that so many great leaders like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln believed in God, great musicians like Ludwig von Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach believed in God, great artists like Leonardo da Vinci believed in God and great scientists like Werner Van Braun believed in God. My late uncle, Dr. R.A. Clinton, Jr., was a rocket scientist who worked alongside Van Braun in building a satellite at the space center in Huntsville, Alabama. My uncle later became the leading American expert on Russian missile technology. Yet brilliant as he was, Uncle R.A. was also a believer, who taught Sunday School at First Baptist Church of Huntsville for over 25 years.
Atheists often claim that much harm and cruelty has been done in the name of God. However, atheists must also face the fact that millions of people were massacred by atheist dictators like Joseph Stalin and Mao-tse Tung. Atheists are correct that people with distorted views of God have done great harm, whether they were misguided people who claimed to follow Christ, as in the Crusades, or the brutal terrorists of ISIS. This points to the fact that it is not enough to believe in the existence of God; one needs to know the personal God who has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ, and truly obey Him. True followers of Christ have fed millions of hungry and in the name of God millions of sick have been nursed to health. After Hurricane Katrina, there were no atheist relief organizations to help, but thousands of churches and Christian organizations came to help. The life-changing experience of the God of the Bible, Jesus Christ, is the greatest reason I know to believe in God. How about you? Do you believe?
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
Things from nothing
Man from dust
Sin from perfection
Evil from innocence
Promise from faith
Hope from belief
Laws from above
Commands from Him
Failure from obedience
Despair from hope
Love for hate
Blood for anyone
Light in darkness
Peace in war
Crying to joy
Death to life
(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)
I have read about 20 books by Max Lucado. I love his gift for telling a story and turning a phrase. However, after reading so many of his works, I began to feel that if I’ve read one of his books, I’ve read them all. So when I got a copy of Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference, I let it sit on my bookshelf for over three years.
Recently, some circumstances in my own life drew me again to the title. I’d like for my life to make more of a difference, so I decided to see what Max had to say. I was deeply moved– to take action.
This book uses the familiar writing style of Lucado that has made him one of the bestselling Christian authors of modern times: vivid storytelling with a surprise ending, and clever, poetic phraseology. For example, he described the apostle Peter’s reaction to the vision to eat unclean food by saying, “Peter was pondering the pigs in the blanket when he heard a knock at the door” (p. 146). He also follows a Biblical theme, as he does in most of his books. This one focuses on stories in the Acts of the Apostles to encourage Christian readers to make a difference in their world, the way the early disciples did.
What really stands out in this book, however, is how boldly Lucado calls on Christians to be involved in social action. Again and again, he urges Christians to help the poor, care for orphans, feed the hungry, etc. He is very specific in examples of how to do that, more so than any other book of his that I have read to date. He does so without abandoning the gospel message. In fact, chapter four, “Don’t Forget the Bread,” stresses that if we help the needy and don’t share the gospel, we are like he was when his wife sent him to buy bread at the grocery store and he came home with everything else and forgot the main thing: the bread.
Each of Lucado’s books include a discussion guide at the end, but this book has a “Discussion and Action Guide” (emphasis mine). America’s most inspirational author intends not only to inspire, but to move the reader to action. For this reader, he succeeded.
(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)
Most Christians who are interested in missions are aware that Christianity has grown dramatically in modern China, despite persecution by the Communist government. But the story of how Christianity grew and what it looks like today in China remains a mystery to most Western Christians. Lian Xi, a native of China who is now professor of history at Hanover College, lifted that mystery for Western readers in 2010 with his carefully researched book published by Yale University Press, Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China.
Xi briefly surveys the presence of Christianity in China in ancient times, and then focuses most of the book on Christianity in China in the 19th and 20th centuries. China was forced to sign treaties with Western nations that included official toleration of Christianity after 1858. For the next century, over 23,000 missionaries poured into China from the West, half of them Americans. While this mission effort did contribute to over 623,000 members in mission churches by 1949, it also led to a deep resentment against Christians by most Chinese, who saw it as a religion of foreigners that was forced upon them. This resentment erupted into violence at times, such as the Boxer Rebellion. Xi stresses that Protestant Christianity was able to become truly indigenous under Communist rule, and no longer was seen as a foreign religion. The Communist government unwittingly allowed this to happen, by settting up the officially recognized and state-controlled Three-Self Church. Most Christians rejected the Three-Self Church as guilty of ungodly compromise with the state, and turned instead to a variety of underground church movements.
Xi then follows the stories of several influential indigenous movements among Protestant Christians, including the True Jesus Church, the Bethel Band, the Jesus Family, and the Little Flock, with charismatic leaders like John Sung, Wang Mingdao, and Watchman Nee. Most of these churches held to a fundamentalist faith, a charismatic leader, pre-millennial hope, and a revivalistic, if not Pentecostal, fervor. Some half million Christians died under Communist persecution, but by 2000 there were 15 million Protestants and 5 million Catholics in the official registered churches, and an additional 30 million Protestants and several million Catholics in underground churches.
Westerners tend to idealize the faith of Chinese Christians, but Xi points out that the lack of theological training and isolation from any accountability in underground churches occasionally led to doctrinal heresies and mixtures of Chinese folk religion with Christianity, as well as opening the door to leaders who were dictatorial and sometimes immoral. Despite these shortcomings among the underground churches, Xi credits them with having a powerful appeal by offering hope to the powerless under Communist oppression. Despite the phenomenal growth of Christianity in China, it is still a minority faith in China, and expected to remain a religion of the common people, not a majority faith or a faith of those in influence or power in China.
I found Xi’s research to be thorough and highly informative, but it came across as somewhat aloof and skeptical of genuine faith. He tends to explain away the faith of Chinese Christians in terms of sociological factors. He includes stories of the moral failings of Chinese Christian leaders, but he reports very few of the stories of commitment, martyrdom and persecution suffered by Chinese Christians. Nevertheless, Xi’s research is likely to become a standard resource for any historian or missiologist wishing to understand Christianity in modern China.
(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)
A lot of Christian films have poor acting and predictable scripts, so I was quite surprised at how good this movie was. Of course, it was predictable in defending the belief in God, but it presented that message in a way that was creative and hip. The film introduced a variety of characters but did not show how they all connect until later in the film, giving the subplots an unpredictability, even as the main plot was fairly much what the viewer expected. It targeted a young audience, as the protagonist and most of the primary actors were young adults who constantly used smart phones, computers, and visual media to communicate, and it all came to a conclusion during a Christian rock concert.
The acting was outstanding, both by the lead characters and the supporting roles. It was some of the best acting that I’ve seen in a Christian film. The dramatic tension made a very intellectual argument interesting, bringing it to a climax that was so strong that the theater audience where I was broke out into loud applause. Atheists will hate this film, but they cannot dismiss it as simple-minded or shallow. But what might infuriate atheists the most was that the movie showed that it is not only reasonable to be a believer, but it can even be cool to be a believer.
All over the world, people are putting up Christmas trees this time of the year.
In southern California, a 90-foot Christmas tree was erected at the Fashion Island shopping center in Newport Beach, covered with strobe lights and Disney-themed music for the thousands of shoppers. (Emily Foxhall, “90-foot Christmas tree arrives at Newport Beach’s Fashion Island,” Los Angeles Times, November 8, 2013.)
All over the world, people are putting up Christmas trees for the holiday. But what does this have to do with the birth of Jesus? Is it just a pagan practice, or can we find Christ in the Christmas tree?
I. The origins of the Christmas tree
Where did the tradition of the Christmas tree come from?
There are many different stories, since ancient peoples have made use of trees and even worshipped them. One of my favorite stories is of St. Boniface, the missionary to the Germans in the 8th century. Boniface told them about Jesus Christ, but they worshipped a great oak tree. So Boniface boldly went to the oak with an axe and began to chop it down. They were ready to kill him, when a great wind came and blew the tree down. After that, the Germans converted to Christianity in large numbers.
Some legends tell that St. Boniface later decorated a fir tree to represent Jesus instead of their pagan gods. It is uncertain whether this is true.
During the Middle Ages, there was a popular medieval play in western Germany about Adam and Eve and a “paradise tree,” which was a fir tree hung with apples, that represented the Garden of Eden. Germans set up paradise trees in their homes on December 24, the feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it, representing the bread of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and then later they hang cookies, and often put candles, symbols of Christ as the light. (“Christmas tree.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopeaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encylopaedia Britannica, 2012.)
Meanwhile, in the 15th and 16th century in Latvia, Estonia and northern Germany, there was a tradition of bringing an evergreen tree to the town square on Chritmas Eve, dancing around it, and letting it burn. Eventually people in Germany began to light a tree on Christmas Eve with candles. Lutheran tradition says that the Protestant reformer Martin Luther helped popularize the lighting of an evergreen tree at Christmas all over Germany.
II. Modern Christmas tree traditions
Germany settlers brought the Christmas tree to North America as early as the 17th century.
Prince Albert of Germany, the husband of Queen Victoria of England, introduced the Christmas tree into England in the early 19th century. By the 19th century, Christmas trees were popular all over the world. In Victorian England, trees were decorated with toys and small gifts, candles and candy. Blown-glass ornaments became popular in the 1870s. By 1890, strings of electric tree lights became popular to hang on trees. In the 1960s, artificial Christmas trees made out of aluminum became popular, but these were soon replaced by artificial trees that look realistic.
Many families still enjoy going together to get their own real Christmas tree. John and Pam Carper’s family have a tradition for the past five or six years, of traveling to a North Carolina Christmas tree farm, to cut a Fraser fir to bring back to Georgia for Christmas. James & Kerri Gilyard also have a tradition of getting a real tree, which they do right after Thanksgiving. Their tradition is to put on the lights first, then the ornaments, with the memorable and breakable ones up higher. Last of all, they put an angel on top.
Many families will choose a special ornament for each member of the family. We have an ornament for each child on the year that they were born. Kevin & Sharon Kendall choose a special ornament each year for each child in the family. They enjoy looking at the ornaments to see what dates they got each ornament.
That brings us back to our question. As nice as these traditions are, what if anything does a Christmas tree have to do with the birth of Jesus? Let’s open our Bibles and see.
III. God’s Christmas tree
- Israel was symbolized by a tree (Isaiah 5; Ezekiel 17; Daniel 4:10-12)
In ancient Israel, a tree symbolized God’s people Israel. Isaiah 5 gives a parable of a vineyard that was planted but failed to produce good fruit, and so it is torn down. Isaiah says, “For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah, the plant He delighted in.” (Isaiah 5:7, HCSB).
Ezekiel 17 gives another parable comparing Israel to a tree, saying God will plant a sprig on a mountain. “I will plant it on Israel’s high mountain so that it may bear branches, produce fruit, and become a majestic cedar… Then all the trees of the field will know that I am Yahweh.”
Thus Psalm 1:3 speaks of the righteous man as like a tree planted by water, and in Matthew 3:10, John the Baptists says every tree that doesn’t produce is cut down.
Daniel 4 tells how God used a vision of a tree to warn King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to beware of his pride. He told about a tree that reached to the sky, but it was cut down, and Daniel said, “That tree is you, the king.” (Daniel 4:22).
So a tree often symbolized Israel, although it could also symbolize the life of others.
- Christ is symbolized by a tree of life (Isaiah 11:1-10) and a tree of death (1 Peter 2:24)
So if we stay with the symbolism of life in a tree, notice what we read in the prophecy of Isaiah 11: “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit… On that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples. The nations will seek Him, and His resting place will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:1, 10, HCSB).
Jesse was the name of the father of King David, so this passage is referring to the Messiah who would be a descendant of David. Notice the description of the Messiah in verses 2 and following:
“The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him—
A Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
A Spirit of counsel and strength,
A Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord…”
From the beginning to the end of the Bible, we read of a tree of life. In the Garden of Eden, Genesis 2:9 speaks of a tree of life, and in Revelation 22:2 we read that in heaven, “The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations…”
Jesus is symbolized by this tree of life, for Christ gives us life. And how? Because he is also represented by a tree of death by his death on the cross!
Crucifixion was so horrible it was illegal to crucify a Roman citizen, and Jews saw it as a curse. Deuteronomy 21:23 says that anybody executed on a tree is cursed, and Galatians 3:13 repeats this. So when Jesus was nailed to the cross, which of course was made from a tree, the Jews thought He was cursed.
Yet look what we read in 1 Peter 2:24: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness, for you have been healed by His wounds.”
Thus the tree of life became the tree of death so that by faith in Christ, we could enjoy life.
The best Christmas gift was not under a tree, but hung upon a tree, the tree of Calvary.
In 1957, Frances Kipps Spencer at Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, Virginia, came up with the idea of the Chrismon tree. She wanted a way to display a Christmas tree in her church that had Christian symbols, instead of gaudy, bright lights. So she covered the tree with monogrammed letters, and other Christian symbols, such as the cross, fish, crown, etc. Today, many churches display a “Chrismon tree,” which is a Christmas tree that only has Christian symbols on it.
Why don’t we have our own traditions to see and show Christ in the Christmas tree? Put an angel or a star on the top. Display a manger scene under the tree. Put a nail on a ribbon, and hang it on the tree to remember the tree upon which Jesus was nailed. Make a Chrismon tree full of Christian symbols. When your family, friends and neighbors see your tree, you can share the meaning of the symbols.
But there is something even more important than what we do with our Christmas trees. That is what we do with our lives. Let us show Christ in a Christmas tree traditions, but even more, let us show Christ in the way we carry the cross of Christ in our daily lives.
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If you are looking for a resource for your church’s new member class, this is a book you will want to read.
Thom Rainer, CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, has written I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference. It is a short book that can easily be read in one sitting, but it has the potential of making a big impact in local churches.
The book opens with a story about two members of the same church with completely opposite attitudes about church. Then he zooms in on the Biblical attitude members should have in six short chapters, based on Rainer’s extensive research in attitudes among church members. These chapters teach members to be active, bring unity, avoid the tendency to insist on personal preferences, pray for leaders, lead their own families to be involved, and to treasure church membership as a gift. The main point of the book is that church membership is not like a country-club membership with perks and privileges.
There are some churches that reject the term “membership,” saying it is an unbiblical modern term. Rainer disagrees, pointing out that 1 Corinthians 12:27-28 speaks of the “individual members” of the church. Rather than reject the term, Rainer seeks to give a Biblical definition of the term “membership.” He emphasizes that Biblical church membership is a treasured gift, just as our salvation is a gift, and thus we should serve in our churches gladly, not begrudgingly.
One of the strengths of this little book is that each chapter includes a pledge of loyalty for members to make. This requires the reader to respond to the challenge of the book. Each chapter also includes discussion questions, making this book an outstanding resource for small group or one-on-one study for church members, both new and old.