Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Musings Pt. 2

Rector Phillips Brooks (1835-1903) of Philadelphia, wrote the words to O Little Town of Bethlehem in 1868, following a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He was inspired by the view of Bethlehem from the hills of Palestine especially at night time hence the lyrics of O Little Town of Bethlehem. His church organist Lewis Redner (1831-1908) wrote the melody for the Sunday school children's choir.

Living in a time of unparalleled housing foreclosures, massive job layoffs, the unemployment rate possibly rising to a ten percent norm, Amazon .Com being caught selling a how-to guide for pedophiles, and North and South Korea on the brink of war, I’ve found great comfort and meaning regarding my own hopes and fears in the song O Little Town of Bethlehem.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting Light The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight

Reflecting on the greed and debauchery that is so pervasive in our society today, I’m encouraged by the fact that God came to earth as a babe in order to redeem this fallen world from itself. And He came not only to redeem, but to be with us.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born to us today We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel

May you also find fresh courage and connection with the one who came as a babe to an obscure town in order to cast out our sin, enter in, and be with us.

May your celebration of the incarnation be blessed.

Pastor Don

Christmas Musings

EDITOR NOTE: Due to our church office being closed, this blog was posted late. Sorry for the inconvenience!!!

While watching a recent YouTube clip of The Opera Company Of Philadelphia Chorus and over 650 area choristers all apparently disguised as holiday shoppers, suddenly break out into the Hallelujah Chorus, I was reminded of the history of the location of this particular Random Act Of Culture, and the history of what we are embarking upon as a western church culture.

What is now Macy’s Center City Philadelphia, was once called Wanamaker’s. The story goes like this: It was Christmas Eve, and the first of 14,000 townspeople began streaming through the building’s huge double doors. A beam of light shone down from above, as though from heaven itself, highlighting an elaborate Nativity scene. Marble angels gazed down upon the largest pipe organ in the world. As the last of the throng filed in, the organist struck a chord and led the crowd in singing the first hymn: "O Come, All Ye Faithful."

Does this sound like a Christmas Eve service at a 21st century mega church? If you said "yes," you guessed wrong. This spectacular Christmas celebration took place, not in a sanctuary at all, but in a department store. It was an annual attraction that drew shoppers to the leading Philadelphia department store, Wanamaker’s, from the 1910s to the 1950s. And it illustrates how America’s Christmas consumerism has some of its roots, ironically, in our own Protestant tradition.

As strange as it may seem today, Christmas was not always treated as a holiday in America. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, few Americans really celebrated Christmas. Influenced by their Puritan heritage, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists viewed Christmas Day with suspicion, regarding it as a Roman Catholic invention with dubious origins. The emphasis on the Nativity, they believed, grew out of devotion to Mary.

We in the 21st century find it hard to believe, but in 1659 the Massachusetts General Court outlawed the celebration of Christmas. In the 1770s a Presbyterian teacher described Christmas as being "like other days, in every way calm and temperate. People go about their daily business with the same readiness." Even as late as the 1880s Methodists insisted that Christmas was simply a day of family reunions and good works. "We attach no holy significance to the day," a Methodist publication announced.

Protestant reluctance to celebrate Christmas had one major side effect. In his book, Consumer Rites, Princeton professor Leigh Eric Schmidt writes that keeping Christmas off the church calendar helped pave the way for its inclusion in the secular calendar. While church leaders downplayed Christmas, businessmen and department store owners like John Wanamaker stepped in where angels feared to tread, encouraging the celebration of Christmas in the marketplace instead of the church.

Several hundred years later we find ourselves in somewhat of a role reversal. We now decry that Christmas has become too commercialized, while yuletide cantatas, Nativity scenes, drama productions, caroling, and teaching on the incarnation are all a part of that season on the church calendar called Advent.

When I hear stories like this I’m challenged to take a 2nd look at the things I consider sacred and make sure that my walk with Christ is based upon the substance of God’s word, and not upon the shadows of my traditions.

Merry Christmas,
Pastor Don

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Another Man's Bride

A dear friend of mine wrote a paper recently regarding what I believe to be a phenomenon that if our Lord doesn’t return soon, Christian historians will point back to as one of the most significant, tragic, and pivotal trends of the 21st century: The abandonment of the local church.

When I consider my previous blog regarding the church in Atlanta, GA I can understand this unfortunate trend. There are many things in life that I don’t agree with, but I understand.

The trend, simply put, allows a believer to pursue Jesus Christ as their personal savior without any formal ties or attachments with God’s people.

This arrangement comes into conflict with what the Apostle Paul calls the body of Christ. In using the analogy of a physical body, Paul raises an interesting point:
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to
the feet, "I don't need you!" 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that
seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less
honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but
that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers,
every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
- 1 Corinthians 12:21-26

While I could never argue against the position that there probably are fewer hassles, challenges, and conflicts when one does not belong to a local church, I would contend that growth, development, and maturity are found and refined within the context of belonging. We certainly don’t need the scandals and the ridiculous choices that too many of God’s people find themselves making, but Paul would argue that the scandals and other poor and wrong choices actually validate the local church and its role in our lives. Who’s going to hold us accountable and ask us the uncomfortable questions about our lives? Who’s going to stand with us during seasons of doubt and conflict and allow us the freedom to fail under supervision? Who’s going to encourage us when we find ourselves leaning towards becoming more and more self-conscience and less and less God and others conscience.

The last thing God’s people need is encouragement to isolate themselves from one another and to live under the illusion that “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” is to be accomplished on an individualized basis. Our need for one another is not just in concept or theory.

I would argue that the problem with scandals and improprieties in the church is not that offenders belong to a local assembly, but that we tend to belong in name only, and having isolated and privatized our walk with the Lord, we find ourselves without meaningful and vital relationships during times of temptation and weakness. People who attempt to walk out their faith alone, even as church members, are far more vulnerable to the adversary and his lies than those who belong, are transparent, and humble enough to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” – James 5:16

One last thing: I may not like another man’s choice in a wife. I may not think she’s the most attractive woman I’ve ever seen. I may not appreciate the way she carries herself. I may even wonder why she doesn’t dress with a little more taste or class. But regardless of my preferences and opinions, she’s someone else’s wife, and not mine. The church is referred to as the Bride of Christ. She’s His wife, not mine. And I don’t want to be caught ‘dissing’ another man’s bride!

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I don’t understand all of God’s ways or His thoughts. But I do understand this, that he cherishes and is passionate about His church. Not just from a universal point of view, but from a local point of view, as well.

Laboring With You,

Pastor Don

The Church In Atlanta

Much of last week’s national news focused on an Atlanta GA. pastor who was accused of sexual improprieties by four different young men. While all four stories were similar, detailed, and convincing, Pastor Eddie Long firmly denies the accusations.

Law suits have been filed, attorneys have been procured, clergy who have fallen in the past have come forward to give “expert” advice to the public, and talk show host are salivating.

Where things will land for this pastor of 25,000 people remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, the church of Jesus Christ has taken another hit.

With what seems to be regular announcements of new scandals and salacious involvements of church leaders and parishioners alike, one can’t help but feel for the unbelieving person who only knows to evaluate the concept of God and Christianity by what he or she sees in the church today. Thus, the disregard and lack of respect for God’s house and its leaders is pervasive and contagious. From an outsider’s point of view, it must be confusing and offensive. A group of religious people who promote and argue for a standard of morality that they themselves can’t figure out how to live.

In a recent sermon I mentioned the need to take a second look at the biblical concept of judging one another. I encouraged the congregation to pursue judgment in relationships (people loving one another enough to tell each other the truth in gentleness and care) rather than run from it. Simply put, all of us need to be in transparent relationships with other Christians who will hold us accountable while we do the same for them. We need to have people in our lives who we will give permission to go beyond the normal greetings and cordialities of life and ask us personal questions about our devotional lives, weaknesses, struggles, and victories. We all need to be a part of a small group that meets regularly, prays fervently, encourages faithfully, holds one another accountable respectfully, and celebrates each others’ victories passionately. Christianity was not designed to be a private matter, only.

For the next few weeks I want to write about the church that we see in America today, and compare it to what we see in the New Testament. As we compare the two, my prayer is that we will be able to make adjustments together in the journey of becoming more and more like Christ. The Apostle Paul, writing to the church of Philippi said it like this: But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:7-11

Pray for the church in Atlanta. And pray for those who are stumbling and struggling regarding God and His love for them because of the failures of God’s people.

Laboring With You,

Pastor Don

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Welcome to the new weekly blog by Don Lewis, Sr. Pastor of Cross Points Church.
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