muddy_christmasChristmas is traditionally a time for family. And since no family tree can be completely homogenous Christians will be dining with unbelievers on Christmas Day. And sadly, some Christians I know are dreading that time.

You know the type: the believing bubble babies who were birthed into a Christian home, were either homeschooled or attended Christian school K-thru-college, and got a job in a sanitized and Christianized office where even the janitor has a fish sticker on his minivan. They get their teeth whitened by a Christian dentist and their oil changed by a Christian mechanic.

But the one time of the year they can’t escape rubbing shoulders with spiritual grime is at Christmas. Perhaps they even wish God would do some pruning of their family tree to make life neater.

Having been an unbeliever for many years I have news for that crew: your unbelieving family members are also dreading time with you. They view you as an annoying, sanctimonious, holier-than-thou hypocrite.

This species of believer is not going to change its ways by reading a blog post. They will either mature into loving, gracious, witnesses for Christ, or they will become more entrenched in their judgmental ways until no family invites them over anymore. But if you are one, and would like to try change, here is one simple strategy to employ this Christmas to be less abrasive to unbelieving family and friends: accept that mud is muddy.

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book-giftOver the past year, our bookstore — with suggestions by our pastors at Immanuel Bible Church — has featured a book of the month. The books have come from all different categories and with Christmas about a week away I thought you might find a list like this helpful. I’ve also included in this list books I have read over the past year, and books I have given away this year for ministry.

Productivity

Do more better by Tim Challies – This was my favorite book to read and to give away for 2016. Most people I know want to improve in their organization and discipline, and I think this book does a great job shepherding a heart as to why we ought to be more disciplined but also gives very helpful tips as to how to actually accomplish that.

For married or engaged Couples

What did you expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage By Paul Tripp

John Piper says about this book, ““Noel and I listened to most of this book driving in the car! Wise words. Authentic experience. Provocative application. Turned a long trip into a fruitful two-person marriage seminar.”

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Image result for window to the alps

My vote for book of the year? That’s easy: A Peculiar Glory, by John Piper.

Like most Piper books, A Peculiar Glory is centered on the glory of God, and how we can grow in our joy therein. But this book comes at the issue differently than anything else Piper has written (and yes, I have read everything else he has written). Piper always approaches the glory of God as something to behold, but in this book he focuses on the window by which we behold it—namely, the Bible.  Continue Reading…

depressionDepression and discouragement are not respecters of the holidays. For many reasons, the normal sorrow of life can reach a highpoint this time of year for some.

It may be a reminder that we are without a loved one. It may be financial stress, or loss, in a time where the pressure is to purchase. It might be emotional pressure of getting together with broken family. We just may not have a clue why we are discouraged, which can be discouraging itself. We can, even unintentionally, place big demands on this time of year to deliver and fulfill us in impossible ways, apart from God.

And Christmas time or not, many of us experience the normal, heavy weight of discouragement and depression as a regular thing; dejection, confusion, frustration, sadness, hopelessness, anxiousness, anger, darkness, despair.

But God has answers and real hope from his word for the battle.

Here are 11 truths for strength in sorrow:

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It was Christmastime at London’s Garrick Club, and British writer and producer Frederick Lonsdale was asked by actor Seymour Hicks to reconcile with a fellow member. The two had fought in the past and never restored their friendship. “You must,” Hicks said to Lonsdale. “It is very unkind to be unfriendly at such a time. Go over now and wish him a Merry Christmas.”  So, Lonsdale crossed the room and spoke to his enemy. “I wish you a Merry Christmas,” he said, “but only one.”

That is not reconciliation.

All of us can relate to the sentiment Seymour Hicks was trying to convey. Everyone feels the pressure of being a little bit more charitable at Christmas. Perhaps it is the festive occasion or the fact that everyone is looking forward to eating well and opening gifts, but we all feel a need to be more joyful.

For Christians, though, it isn’t enough to be more peaceful out of obligation, or because of the fact that it is just what you do at Christmas. We are called to be at peace all of the time with all men because of the very fact that we have experience peace with God.

If you’re a Christian you know what it means to be unreconciled.

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priorityIn 2010 Argentine soccer legend, Diego Maradona, graced South Africa with his presence as the coach of their formidable World Cup squad. The advance team prepared every hotel room to Maradona’s specifications. The flurry of activity in anticipation of his arrival included making sure all the rooms that the team would occupy were painted pristine white and were equipped with six Play Station video game consuls, and—I’m not making this up—an imported, electronic toilet known as the E-bidet, complete with a heated seat, front and rear water sprayers, and an air dryer.

Not only was Maradona particular about the accommodation, but his meal requests were a tad on the extravagant side: ten hot dishes per day, twenty-four different salads at each meal, three different pasta sauces with every meal, three different desserts, a barbecue every third day, and my personal favorite: a 24/7 unlimited supply of…ice cream. And I doubt this was for the professional athletes in coach Maradona’s team.

In Luke’s Gospel we meet a lady who volunteered to host God, in human flesh, and his team of ravenous disciples. And apparently she was expecting a persnickety prima-donna, not the simple tastes of a humble servant.

Three scenes from which we can glean lessons from Martha’s misplaced priorities so that we put Jesus in his rightful place this Christmas season.

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brain-thinking

edublox.com

One of the greatest responsibilities we have as humans is to learn how to correctly use our minds. In yesterday’s post, we began looking at common problems we run into when exercising reason and logic from Isaac Watts’ book on Logic. We are creatures made with logic and reasoning capabilities. We are made by a logical and rational Creator. Thus, we are obligated to exercise our minds with correct reasoning in all things. But this does not always come naturally.

We began looking at what Watts calls, “prejudices of thought,” which are common errors we make in our reasoning skills. Here are the final three prejudices, which are both the most common and serious:

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learning-mind.com

As I look back, one of my greatest educational irritations is that I never was offered a class on thinking. Even if I was, I probably would not have taken it. Consequently, I operated contently with a sloppiness of thought and did not know it. And the problem seems to be widespread. Our day is one which is filled with thinking errors. We persuade with sentiment and experience rather than truth and logic. Rules of reason are violated often in the public sphere with little concern. Subjective fancies carry more sway in convincing us than objective revelation. It’s a day of serious errors in thought and reason.

Enter a well-educated, logic ninja, Puritan to the rescue. Isaac Watts is typically most known for his classic hymns, especially “Joy to the World,” which is resounding this time of year. But in his spare time amidst pastoring, writing children’s poetry, books, and 750 hymns, he wrote an excellent book on how to think. Written in 1724, it is concisely-titled, Logic: The Right Uses of Reason in the Inquiry After Truth  With a Variety of Rules to Guard Against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences. It’s a great introductory book on the art and science of responsible human thinking, or, logic. For about two centuries, it was the go-to textbook at places like Oxford and Cambridge (where Watts was earlier forbidden from attending for his non-conformism), and Harvard and Yale.

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bibleI have never been persecuted. Not really. Sure I’ve been called names, but my bank account and my health have not been affected in any way for being a Christian.

I recently did an informal (and most definitely unscientific) survey, asking people who they thought was the most mature Christian. Although I got many different answers, there was a trend. Most people pointed to someone who had suffered severe trials or even died for their faith.

It does seem that those who have been persecuted are more mature. They seem to evangelize more, to say no to sin more often and to be an encouragement to those around them.

Perhaps persecution is coming for all of us, but as of right now we just don’t know too many Christians who are facing persecution. We hear of the bakers, florists and millionaires on TV losing businesses and TV shows, but we have a long way to go to experience what the “others” in Hebrews 11:36-38 who were even sawn in two for their faith and whom the world was not worthy of.

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’Tis the season to be controversial. Regrettably, Christians can be vulnerable to a form of orthorexia when it comes to celebrating or conscientiously objecting to the celebration of Christmastime.

Let’s first take a step back.

Orthorexia is when people try to eat so perfectly that they end up obsessing about their health to the detriment of their health.orthorexia

In the vegetarian—excuse me, “plant-based”—community there is wide consensus that humans should not be consuming cow-flesh. Motivation for this commitment is rooted in one of three factors, but often results in an equal-part blend of the following reasons:

  1. The undeniable health concerns (immediate improvement: watch Forks Over Knives, and/or longevity: read The China Study).
  2. The alarming environmental threats caused by cow flatulence and overgrazing (watched Cowspiracy yet?).
  3. The ethical convictions (Sir Paul McCartney’s Glass Walls stomach churning expose). Usually the motivation to go plant-based or at least plant-strong is firmly rooted in one of these factors and then blends in parts of the other two. But from that irreducible common ground the denominationalism begins its interminable divergence into branches and sub-branches of vegetarianism.

Some vegetarians who would never consume beef, pork, mutton, or poultry (notice how labels for meat distance the product from its source?) have no issue with scarfing down some shrimp and calamari with their gluten infused veggie cheese and egg burgers. Purist herbivores would label those dilettanti as pesco-ovo-lacto-vegetarian—the lowest rung of plant-strong compromisers. The class structure among eaters reflects their commitment to the cause. Orwell might say: “All animal products are equal, but some are more equal than others,” right?

If you really want to repent of your unorthodox omnivore ways you need to eschew all animal products and thus achieve the enlightened state of veganism. Eco-ethical vegans (as opposed to dietary vegans) will not even wear leather Birkenstocks, nor read from a calf-skin Bible. But vegans still gobble up grain and bread, with all its sticky gluten-rich glory. Gluten is a dietary gremlin that allegedly wreaks havoc with your gut flora, causing symptoms like bloating in an increasingly swelling segment of the population.

As you narrow the filter and strain out those pesky paleo-types you get the “glugan,” or gluten-free vegan. From there it goes down to fruitarians, raw whole food only (meaning no cooked veggies or supplements either), raw whole food juice only, and eventually to a diet plan that looks harrowingly similar to Gandhi’s guide to a successful hunger strike.

At this point of deprivation you are orthorexic. Your weekly meal plan looks as empty as a prisoner’s day planner. You might call it your John the Baptist Diet (not to be confused with its diametric opposite: the Typical Baptist Pastor’s Diet).

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