Next Steps

Calling Off The War On Christmas

WARCHRISTMAS

Yesterday on Facebook, I waded into a somewhat tired controversy that seems to never go away for some reason. It’s the supposed “War On Christmas,” the idea that the fundamental celebration of Christmas in America is being undermined and rejected for more of a secularized, sanitized version of the holidays. Here’s what I posted.

I ask in love and genuine curiosity:

Why would Jesus care who does or doesn’t say Merry Christmas?

Please, no political talking points or power moves. Give me *theological* reasons.

And if He doesn’t care… why should you?

It’s true: I genuinely want to know what the reasoning is behind this controversy. Over the last few days, I’d seen several posts about “bringing back Merry Christmas” (it gets the outrage clicks this time of year), and I wanted to know what theological viewpoint formed this assumption. In the responses, only one person reported having a retail company telling them not to say Merry Christmas. No one else could give a real-life example of this supposed holiday suppression.

But that’s not what I’m interested in anyway. What fascinates me is the assumptions we (maybe unwittingly?) make about the character of God by living as if this is true. From what I can tell, this is the story that’s being told within the controversy:

Christmas is under attack. Secular forces want God to be absent from the public square, so they are forcing us to say “Happy Holidays” and ignore our Christian beliefs. As a result, “Christ” is being left out of Christmas, and Christians are being prohibited from practicing their beliefs.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I sense a predominant narrative that drives these controversies. Underneath it all, there seems to be a sneaky feeling that something – slowly but surely – is being lost. Prayer in schools, public respect, political power, and cultural influence seem to be wavering. The threat of this loss leads to suspicion, fear, and a stubborn insistence to fight for what influence and power we once had. And when anyone pushes back on this narrative, they’re just another example of the attempt to suppress our beliefs.

So… is something being lost? Are the fears of these well-meaning men and women warranted? The truth is, something is being lost. With the rise of technology and globalism, almost everyone has access to learn from competing ideas, religions, and worldviews. America is a growingly pluralistic nation, and even here in Kentucky, we are seeing a cultural shift that is reshaping the way we see the world. We are not the only voice in the cultural landscape. Suddenly, we are sharing the microphone with other people who are very different from us.

And honestly, I genuinely understand why this is scary to so many. Change is hard. Technology has not only given a voice to all of us, it’s brought out the worst in all of us. The ability to see so many different perspectives has empowered the broken parts of us that lie about our own superiorities in the face of others. People aren’t just wrong, they are evil. Christians have done far more than necessary to merit a bad reputation in many circles, but I, too, get frustrated with the caricatures, intentional misrepresentations, and outright distortions of our beliefs that have reared their ugly head in these times.

And so when you say “Happy Holidays” in this understanding of the world, it’s just another change in a pattern of cultural shifts that can feel like a threat to the world you knew and the world you happily remember. There is a longing for the simplicity of not having to navigate cultural differences and competing worldviews. So much can come at us, so fast. It’s exhausting. And to you, I say this: I love you, and I understand.

But I love you enough not to let you live from a place of fear. The powers and principalities of this world – both visible and invisible – want you to live in fear. They know your fear will drive up ratings and get clicks, likes, and shares. In short, lots of powerful people are making money off of your continued fear of a shifting world. If you are a follower of Jesus, the perfect love of God drives out fear (1 John 4:18). We’ve not been given a spirit of fear, but power, love, and self control (2 Timothy 1:7). Fear of change, fear of our neighbors who are not like us, and fear of our future are antithetical to the way of Jesus.

I am not arguing for you to settle into the world as it is, slowly losing all distinctiveness of your belief and identity. I’m also not encouraging you to hole up and segregate yourself from the ‘evil,’ changing world around you. What we need is a strategy for how to live out our faith in distinct and yet compassionate ways in a pluralistic world. And wherever might we find that?

That, my friends, is the entirety of the Bible’s Story. The Bible isn’t written from the perspective of a people in power fighting not to relinquish it. It’s written by a marginalized people who suffered under oppression for almost their entire existence. The most culturally fruitful season in the life of Israel wasn’t in power, but rather in Exile under Babylon, where leaders like Daniel lived as distinct worshippers of Yahweh while also blessing those who ruled over them. This was the period where the Old Testament was written down and the future of the faith was formed.

The same is true for the New Testament, where the Church formed and thrived in a pluralistic society not unlike our own. The Church grew from a few hundred to tens of millions in a period of around 300 years by living as an alternative society that didn’t shrink back from the world, but loved it sacrificially like the risen Jesus they followed. The highly secular society around them did not cause them to fight back in fear, even in persecution that our American experiences of ‘struggle’ can’t come close to touching. As Scott Sauls says, Historically, Christians have most influenced society not as some sort of ‘moral majority’ but as a life-giving, love-driven minority.

I understand that the world is changing fast, and it’s incredibly hard to keep up. That alone is scary. But like the Christians of the past, let’s embrace this as an opportunity to show Jesus in a unique way to our pluralistic world. Have we lost cultural power and influence? Absolutely. But let me be clear: our loss of power is not God’s loss of power. If anything, this cultural moment is a chance to renew our faith in the power of God as he sovereignly works all things for our good and his glory. God is not threatened, he’s not panicking. He never ‘left our schools’ and he’s never ‘coming back to America,’ and this is good news! God doesn’t dwell in countries or schools. He dwells in his people, who carry his kingdom in governments and institutions faithfully in every culture and time.

So may I suggest that we lay down our weapons and call off the ‘War on Christmas’ counterattacks? Our constant offense and fear is hindering our ability to love both God and neighbor. In the ways of Isaiah 2:4, let’s beat our cultural swords into cultural plowshares and get off the “Us vs. Them” merry-go-round. It may entertain us, but it’s getting us nowhere. What our world needs now is an un-anxious community of people committed to a distinct, Jesus-shaped life together marked by hospitality, humility, and love for our enemies.

To the soldiers in the War on Christmas: you are being redeployed to the front lines of a different battle – the battle that is not against flesh and blood, but the powers and principalities that seek to rule over us in fear. As a people formed and being perfected by Perfect love, that fear no longer has a place. Our new life begins now as we lay down the megaphones and take up our cross.

This post was written by Justin Rhorer, pastor at Restoration Church. he can be reached at justin@restorationlex.com

[Next Steps] The Wait Week 1: What Are Your Waiting For?

PODCAST | ITUNES | SCRIPTURE

Next Step Questions

As you examine your heart, what are you waiting for? Meaning… what future hope is helping you today?

promisepainWe are all prone to live in misplaced hopes that can’t bear the weight of our hearts. What have been some of the misplaced hopes you’ve given your heart over to?

God’s promise can transform our present. How does our future as Christians change our present lives?

[Next Steps] James Week 5: A Supernatural Community

Podcast | iTunes | Scripture

As we close out our James series, we focus our attention on our posture towards God. The early Church lived with an expectancy of God’s power in their lives, available to ordinary people like you and me. It’s the very same life we are called to. Miss the message? Check it out here! 

Next Step Questions

Suffering? Joy? Sickness? James’ church first prayed. Honestly – what role does prayer play in your circumstances?

When you hear about the supernatural in Christianity, how to you feel…cynical? Skeptical? Excited? Nervous? Explain.  

How would your life be different if you were living in the power of God the same way we read about in this passage? What stands in the way of this being your reality?

PATHways Holiday Party: Let’s Give!

As the holidays approach, we’re excited for more ways to be generous and impact our neighbors with the love of Jesus! With the upcoming PATHways Holiday Party, we’re showing God’s love to women, children, and families who are overcoming opioid addiction through UK’s Polk Dalton Clinic. How can you help?

Volunteer

Click here to volunteer to help with our Holiday Party on December 3rd!

Give

Click here to give towards our Pampering PATHways ministry (choose Pampering PATHways in drop down menu)

Share on Social Media

Get the word out by posting one of these images below on your social media! (right click on image and select save)

[Next Steps] James Week 4: Laying Down The Gavel

“Do not judge!” It may be the most quoted verse in the Bible. But what does it mean? We are call to discern what is right, but in doing so, we have no right to stand over those who think and believe differently. This is what James is calling us to – a humble faith. Miss Sunday’s message? Check it all out below:

Podcast | iTunes | Scripture 

Next Step Questions

How would you describe the difference between condemning judgement and discerning judgement? Why does this matter so much?

Like the Pharisee and tax collector we heard about in Luke 18, who are you tempted to stand over in judgement? 

How can we hold firm to our convictions and believes while remaining humble and teachable?

[Next Steps] James Week 3: Words From The Heart

In Matthew 12, Jesus reminds us that our words are always the overflow of what’s in our hearts. In James 3, we’re taken deeper into this reality, revealing to us the power of our tongues and the difference our transformed heart makes on the way we speak. Miss this past weekend’s message? Check it out below!

LINKS
PODCAST | ITUNES | SCRIPTURE

Next Step Questions

Both discouragement and encouragement stick with us. Can you think of a time when you experienced the power of words spoken over you?

What are the marks of listening to understand verses simply listening to respond? Who’s listened well to you? 

As you look over the battles in your life and the life of those around you, who needs a word of encouragement that literally gives courage in what they are facing? Do it!

Following Jesus The Day After The Election

As I sit here tonight watching the election results roll in, I find myself a bit unsettled. No, I’m not fretting about the results themselves. I’m more concerned about those I pastor, who I know come from diverse political backgrounds and worldviews. No doubt, some of them will be celebrating, while others will be dejected.

As a pastor, I try to make my political opinions abundantly clear. In fact, I can sum it up in three words: Jesus is Lord. Sure, that may come across to you as nothing more than theology-speak detached from the reality of our political moment, but I beg to differ. The Lordship of Jesus was a subversive political pronouncement in the 1st century, and the same is true of our day. To say Jesus is Lord was to say Caesar is not – meaning Jesus wasn’t just the Lord of my spiritual life, but my physical reality. In today’s terms, Jesus is Lord, and Donald Trump is not. Neither are any of the leaders we elect.

Ultimately Christians, no matter what nation they live in, owe their highest allegiance to the the Kingdom that Jesus inaugurated with his death and resurrection. Out of this allegiance, we form values and practices through his Kingdom – meaning we view our citizenship in America through this lens. What drives our voting, language, and activism in our political systems should be molded by the the framework of Jesus. When our political affiliation drives our spiritual reality, dangerous things happen – no matter what party we vote for.

With that being said, I know people in our church who I truly know love Jesus who have political leanings on both sides of the aisle. Some republican, some democrat, both processing their politics through their faith. None of them get it all right, because, well, none of us do. There will certainly be strong disagreements, but in Christ, we have unity in his Kingdom. That’s the miracle of the cross – the walls of hostility are torn down between us, as love reigns supreme over our differences.

So as the election passes, all of us have the responsibility to examine our hearts. If our party won, we must guard against pride. If our party lost, we must guard against despair. Both pride and despair reveal misplaced hope in our hearts towards American politics as a means to save us. But perhaps worse is the fact that both our pride and despair harbor the seed of disdain for our neighbors who vote differently than us.

Love, after all, is the marker of our discipleship to Jesus. Not just love for those who look, live, and vote like us. But love for those who look, live, and vote unlike us. Jesus makes this clear in the Sermon on the Mount: 

“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same (Matthew 5:43-48 CSB)?

Voting is central to our American citizenship. But loving our neighbors and loving our enemies is central in our Kingdom citizenship. The degree that we allow American politics to undermine our kingdom mandate to love is the degree that we lose sight of the heart of our faith. When we demonize and dehumanize those who vote and think differently, we cease looking like Jesus to the world around us. James reminds us of this clearly: 

With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in God’s likeness. Blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way (James 3:9-10 CSB).

So in the day after the election, let’s be diligent to examine our hearts and keep our Kingdom perspective clear. In the grand scheme of eternity, your love will outshine your vote. It’s why I’m thankful that on Sunday, democrats and republicans will share in_MG_0207 the common meal of communion, receiving the bread and the cup in a unity only found in Jesus Christ. Together, we’re learning to love one another through our differences. I may not be able to meet you in every policy, but I can meet you at Jesus. And we’ll sort it all out from there – together.

[Next Steps] James Week 2: Faith That Works

There are versions of faith that never look outside of ourselves, constantly focused on our experiences and right-ness. James has a word for that kind of faith: dead. Miss this past weekend’s message? Check out the podcast, Scripture, and next steps questions below!

Podcast: Link, iTunes
Scripture: James 2:14-26

Next Step Questions

  1. James is combatting a view of faith that is all talk and no action. How would describe this kind of faith in our modern world?
  2. Brennan Manning says “The litmus test of our love for God is our love of neighbor.” How does our love for our neighbors flow out of our love for God?
  3. Changing our actions doesn’t change our heart – rather it’s a transformed heart that transforms our actions. What’s the difference between a heart change and a behavior change?

[Next Steps] James Week 1: Faith When It’s Hard

Life has a way sometimes of leaving us unsettled. James reminds us that even as the ground shifts beneath our feet, we have One who never changes that we can cling to through it all. Miss today’s first message in our James series? Check out the podcast, Next Steps questions, and Scripture below!

Podcast: iTunes, Direct Link
Scripture: James 1:1-18

Next Step Questions

What is the difference between seeing your faith through your circumstances and seeing your circumstances through your faith?

Trials are used by God to refine us and make us more of who we are – not less. What trials are currently refining you?

Looking back, what trials and struggles has God used most profoundly to make you who you are today?

Mission Opportunity: PATHways Holiday Party!

PATHways Holiday Party

Over the last year, God has opened a door for a partnership with the Polk Dalton Clinic’s PATHways program, which cares for women and children overcoming opioid addiction. We’ve been asked to throw a Holiday Party on Monday, December 3rd from 1:00pm-pamperingpathways3:30pm for the women and families in a new program called Beyond Birth, which serves these moms and kids in their journey with kids from birth to 5 years old. We want to show God’s extravagant love to these families, and we need your help!

 

Needed: New Toys!

As a part of the Holiday party, the families will be able to pick out one toy per child. We are asking for donations of new toys for children ages birth to 5 years old. You can drop these toys off in the lobby each Sunday!

Needed: Volunteers!

Sunday, December 2nd: Set up for the party (6 volunteers)

Monday, December 3rd: Pictures with Santa (4 volunteers), Crafts and activities (4 volunteers), Holiday shopping (2 volunteers), Serving the meal (2 volunteers)

Needed: Cookie Bakers!

The moms and kids will be decorating Christmas cookies, which means we’ll need Christmas cookie bakers! Our goal is 250-300 cookies for the women, so if you can bake, we need you!

Interested? Let us know here!

 

HolidayParty_Invite