December 2013

'Open door' moments for missions support

December 31 2013 by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Many years ago, the Page family gathered to decide the amount of our personal gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supporting international missions. We decided at that time that by far the most expensive gift we would give at Christmastime would be to international missions through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering!
 
No longer would our "large" gift be an item for the house or more toys for the children; it would be a missions gift!
 
This year, the need for sacrificial support for international missions is greater than ever. Though lostness abounds, doors of opportunity are open across the world. Missions volunteers are lined up and ready to go. All that is lacking are the financial resources. History shows us that open doors may be fleeting moments. If we miss these "open door" moments, they can close more quickly than we can imagine.
 
The theme for this year's Lottie Moon emphasis is, "Totally His…Heart, Hands, Voice."
 
To be totally His implies an absolute submission of self to the service and work of our Lord. It is to embrace a mindset and lifestyle of Christ-like selflessness. When we think with the mind of Christ and respond to others with the heart of Jesus, His mission becomes our mission. His heart becomes the deep conviction of our hearts. "Am I totally His?" is a question every true believer must answer every day. Have I submitted all that I am to Him?
 
When that happens, certain areas of our life begin to change. It causes us to focus more clearly according to a biblical agenda. What could be more Christ-like than reaching the nations with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
 
I cannot tell you how deeply I am burdened about this issue. As president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, it is my role to support and encourage the work of the Lord through our ministry entities, including our International Mission Board.
 
It is time for all believers to refocus and reprioritize our giving patterns. Many members of our churches have failed to follow the Lord in biblical stewardship of their time, talents and treasure. Many churches have declined in their overall mission giving in these opening decades of the 21st century. To be totally His will affect every aspect of our lives. When His Spirit truly permeates every aspect of our being, He moves us to pray more, to give more, to go more -- to be totally His.
 
Please join me in a recommitment to the heart of our Lord. May we truly be totally His!
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frank Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.)
12/31/2013 11:58:23 AM by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Hope in former Olympic city

December 27 2013 by Marc Ira Hooks, Baptist Press

SARAJEVO – My work takes me to many cities. Some I like, some I don’t. But almost always I come home to find that I have been affected in some way by the places I have visited.
 
I am not sure exactly what I was expecting when I went to Sarajevo. I knew that it was located in the former Yugoslavia – in Bosnia. But, as an American, I had rarely heard mention of Bosnia without the words “war-torn” preceding it.
 
I knew that Sarajevo was the site of a brutal ethnic and religious war and military siege. But beyond that, my knowledge of the area was limited, at best. But it was Sarajevo’s Olympic history that took me there.
 
I came to find that Sarajevo is a city filled with paradox and contradiction.
 
My first impression of the city came before we ever landed at the airport. Looking out the window of my plane I noticed the most prominent, and chilling, feature of the Sarajevo landscape – cemeteries. Not just one or two. And not just small little plots on the outskirts of the city. But seemingly acres and acres of white grave markers stood against the bright fall colors of the surrounding mountains.
 
I visited the place where the Olympic flame once burned atop a high brick tower so it could be seen throughout the city. Yet, less than a decade after the flame was extinguished, new flames lit the night sky as rockets and bombs ravaged this once-proud city.
 
And, not far from my hotel was a corner museum with a plaque on the outside wall. It marks where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was murdered in 1914, the catalyst for World War I. Sarajevo is a city marked by war.
 
A walk through the central section of Sarajevo uncovers yet another paradox – that of race, culture and religion. Sarajevo has long been recognized for its religious diversity, and until recently, it was the only city in Europe to house a mosque, a synagogue, an Orthodox church and a Catholic church all within the same neighborhood.
 
While diversity in ethnic and religious beliefs divided the country to the point of civil war, in modern-day Sarajevo, peace – or at least understanding between religions – exists in the city. This became most evident to me during my second day when I had the opportunity to photograph the president of Bosnia – at least one of them.
 
Locals explained to me that there are actually three presidents of Bosnia – a Bosniak (Muslim) president, a Croat (Catholic) president and a Serb (Orthodox) president. Together they serve one four-year term where the chairman of the presidency rotates among the three members every eight months.
 
An afternoon exploring the mountainsides and former Olympic venues uncovered more contradictions. At the time, the Sarajevo Olympics were heralded as the most successful and most organized games to date, remembers Zlatko Hrnjic, recently retired General Secretary of the Bosnian Ski Federation.
 
“The 1984 Olympics were something special,” he said. “It is the single greatest thing that I have been involved with my entire life.”
 
Today, the bobsled and ski jump areas have been all but destroyed and are covered with graffiti and pockmarked with holes created by mortar shells.
 
And yet, in this place where death, destruction, war and violence could break the spirit of man, a sense of hope pervades the people who live here.
 
Though surrounded by the reminders of war, they continue to remember the best things of their past and focus on the promise of the future.
 
I experienced simple gestures, like making sure the visiting foreigner did not leave his hotel without an umbrella on a rainy day. And more extravagant expressions, such as inviting a stranger into a home for a holiday meal.
 
The people of Sarajevo have learned much from their history. As a former Olympic city, they remember what it is to be a city of peace, prosperity and hope. They long for those days once again.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marc Ira Hooks is an IMB correspondent based in Europe.  He also serves as co-director and Olympic event coordinator for Engage Sochi.)
12/27/2013 11:41:02 AM by Marc Ira Hooks, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Give the gift of freedom

December 20 2013 by Raleigh Sadler, Baptist Press

NEW YORK – Though his roots are in southern Turkey and northern Europe, the commercialized Santa Claus as he is known in today’s culture was born in Manhattan.
 
New York Times writer Jeremy Seal quotes a Cincinnati newspaper from 1844 stating that “the sterling old Dutchman, Santa Claus, has just arrived from the renowned regions of the Manhattoes,” or Manhattan, “with his usual budget of knickknacks for the Christmas times.”
 
Manhattan is where the commercialized Santa Claus originated. The eyes of children in the United States were on New York each year as they eagerly awaited the gifts that Santa had packed onto his sleigh. But as we all know, Santa did not stay in New York.
 
For many, the larger than life figure of old St. Nick has eclipsed the small child born in Bethlehem. According to the American Research Group, shoppers plan to spend an average of $800 on presents this year. Whether we like it or not, Christmas is a commercial holiday. The weak and the vulnerable are probably the last thought that we have as we try to find a parking spot at the mall.
 
In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s easy to miss the reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place. Among other things, Christmas reminds us that God cares about justice. He sent His Son to die on the cross and bear the just punishment for our sins.
 
When Jesus returns, He will restore justice to the entire created order. As we await his second coming, we should work to bring justice to the vulnerable – people such as the widow, the orphan, the sojourner ... and the victim of human trafficking.
 
As we celebrate the birth of Christ this year, we can use our Christmas list to fight human trafficking. Let’s take our eyes off the North Pole and look again at Manhattan, for example.
 
Restore NYC and the Nomi Network are among the growing number of organizations across the country fighting modern-day slavery by generating awareness and caring for survivors of human trafficking.
 
Restore NYC is an aftercare program in the city for foreign-born survivors of sex trafficking. According to Restorenyc.org, their mission is to “end sex trafficking in New York and restore the well-being and independence of foreign-national survivors.”
 
When a girl moves into a Restore safe house, her restoration begins. Through counseling and basic job skills, she is placed on the road to healing. But Jimmy Lee, Restore NYC’s executive director, said even more restoration is needed.
 
“Restoration without being restored to the Father is incomplete,” Lee said. The gospel is paramount to the work of abolition.
 
The Nomi Network, nominetwork.org, is named after a survivor of sex trafficking. Nomi exists to restore survivors of sex trafficking in India and Cambodia.
 
The Nomi Network manufactures their signature “Buy Her Bag Not Her Body” and “Made for a Better Life” products, which are sold in the United States to raise funds and awareness of trafficking. Proceeds from the sale of the bags provide wages, health care and training for the victims they serve in Asia.
 
As you celebrate Christ’s birth and await His return, I urge you to help bring justice for the vulnerable whether in New York or wherever you may live.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Raleigh Sadler is a North American Mission Board missionary (@raleighsadler) and college pastor at Gallery Church in New York City.)
12/20/2013 1:54:07 PM by Raleigh Sadler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



3 wise men, fact & lore

December 20 2013 by David Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – It wouldn’t be Christmas without the wise men. They show up in nativity scenes, Christmas plays, carols, tree ornaments and paintings.
 
Everyone knows about them: There were three wise men, they rode camels and they brought their gifts to the baby Jesus as He lay in a manger.
 
The Bible, however, doesn’t tell us any of these presumed facts about the wise men, other than they brought gifts to Jesus. The rest is holiday lore that accumulated over the centuries, which too many have assumed is in the Bible.
 
The only biblical mention of the wise men (magoi in Greek, which translates into Latin as magi) occurs in Matthew 2:1-16, where we’re not told how many there were, only that they came from “the east,” where they had seen a star, to find the “king of the Jews.” (Some people assumed there were three because they brought three gifts. Later Christian tradition assigned them the names Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar).

The Bible tells us that Herod was frightened by a potential rival to his throne and tried to use the wise men as informants to learn Jesus’ whereabouts and kill Him. But after finding and worshipping the Christ child, they thwarted Herod’s plan by bypassing him on their way home, being warned to do so in a dream from God.
 
Contrary to the image portrayed in most nativity scenes, Jesus likely was between 1 and 2 years old when the magi arrived.

Matthew provides at least three clues suggesting this. First, he calls Jesus a “child” (2:9, 11) rather than a “baby” in the story of the wise men. Second, Matthew says Jesus and Mary were in a house at the time of the wise men’s visit (2:11) with no attendant reference to “the manger” which was so central when Jesus was first born. Third, apparently based on the date that the magi’s guiding star appeared, Herod executed all boys in Bethlehem ages 2 and under (2:16), hinting that the sign of Jesus’ birth appeared two years before their arrival.
 
And what about the wise men’s country of origin? Babylonia and Persia are perhaps the two most popular speculations. Originally, “magi” was the name of the Persian priestly caste, but later the term was used more generally to describe magicians and astrologers (see Acts 13:6).

Most countries in western Asia had magi in this broader sense, but Babylonia had developed a particularly sophisticated system of astrology by the first century. Another fact suggesting a Babylonian origin is the wise men’s apparent knowledge of Judaism and its expectation of a coming king – knowledge readily available in a land where the Jews were once exiles. Ultimately though, we can only guess where the wise men came from (and some have suggested lands as far away as India and China).
 
Another mystery is the star that guided the magi to Jesus. Many have attempted to explain it with astronomy. Origen of Alexandria and other early theorists viewed the star as a comet while later thinkers, including Johannes Kepler, explained it as a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation Pisces in the year 7 B.C. More probably though, the star’s appearance was a supernatural act of God.
 
Of course, all this speculation is intriguing and has a place in Christian scholarship. Still, we should not let it overshadow the most important realities of the wise men’s visit: In the earliest days of Jesus’ life, God the Father was already drawing Gentiles to come and worship Him as a foreshadowing of the Great Commission when He would call Christians to make disciples of all nations.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is a writer in Shelbyville, Ky. This column first appeared at the blog of Bible Mesh, a website that teaches the Bible as a unified story pointing to Christ.)
12/20/2013 1:24:32 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



Follow the star

December 20 2013 by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press

EL CAJON, Calif. – As the long-ago inhabitants of northern Europe grappled with their cold, dark winters in small huts with large families, they learned to lighten the mood by bringing little evergreens inside their houses. Later in Germany these indoor trees became associated with Christmas, perhaps at the prompting of reformer Martin Luther.
 
Christmas trees now come in all shapes and sizes, both real and artificial. Perched at the top is an angel or a star as the focal point of the tree. There may be hundreds of lights, beads, ornaments and ribbons of garland, but the shape of the tree causes the eyes to travel upward, toward the top, to the star, a symbol of the majestic light that guided the Magi of old.
 
It's remarkable that the New Testament opens by telling us about this group of Persian astrologers who followed a mysterious star to the crib of the Christ child (Matthew 2). But it's more than a historical account or an evocative scene from a pageant; it's a series of spiritual lessons for us. Let me give you four attributes of these pilgrims that made them wise.
 

Students of the Bible

First, I believe these Magi were students of the Bible. We think of them as observers of the stars, but we can safely assume they also gazed into the writings of the prophet Daniel, their famous forerunner. They also probably poured over the other Hebrew Scriptures that Daniel had deposited in the libraries of Babylon and Persia.
 
Remember the story in Daniel 2 when King Nebuchadnezzar ordered the execution of the wise men of Babylon because they couldn't interpret his dream? Daniel averted the disaster by telling the king, “There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets,” and he proceeded to reveal to the king all kinds of information that only God could have given him. In appreciation, Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel “the chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon” (Daniel 2:48).
 
Daniel lived an exceedingly long life and was still active in the days of the Persian empire. He was a student of the scriptures, as we know from his prayerful reading of the Law of Moses (Daniel 9:13) and the writings of Jeremiah the prophet (9:2). He himself was a biblical author whose writings were full of Messianic prophecy. We can assume the Magi were familiar with these writings and were looking for the Savior whom Daniel described as “Messiah the Prince” who would come at a specific time and be “cut off, but not for Himself” (9:25-26).
 
Wise people still take time to pore over God's Word. Amid the frantic festivities of Yuletide, make room for the quiet reading and study of the scriptures, which are so full of Christ.
 

Spiritual longing

This gives rise to spiritual longing. Daniel's book ended on a note of mystery as the angel told him: “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end ...” (12:9). As the years passed, the Jewish people waited and wondered why the Messiah tarried.
 
Many eventually forgot the promise of His coming and were unprepared when it happened. But among the Magi was a group whose hearts burned for a fulfillment of the longing they felt as they looked for the Fourth Man like the Son of God (3:25), for the Prince of the host (8:11), the Prince of princes (8:25) and the promised Messiah (9:25).
 
Like the Magi, we should study God's Word with a sense of longing and anticipation for His coming. They were awaiting His first coming; we're awaiting His return.
 

Patient following

That leads to a third lesson, one of persistent following. Since the exact location and identity of the Magi are hard to establish, we aren't sure of their specific point of origin; but they created a sensation when they arrived in Jerusalem and asked about a newborn “King of the Jews.” From there they proceeded to Bethlehem, following the star step by step and day by day.
 
When we study God's Word and long for His coming, it leads to daily perseverance and determined obedience.
 

Joy, worship and giving

The result is a heart-filled response of joy, worship and giving. Matthew 2:10-11 says, “They rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him.”
 
It's exactly the same with us.
 
During the holidays when so much competes for your attention, lift your eyes to the top of your tree. Remember the star. Take time for Him who is the Bright and Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). Study His Word, long for His presence and His appearing, follow Him daily with joy, worship and generosity. That's what happens when our eyes travel upward toward the star that leads us to Jesus.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. For more information on Turning Point, visit www.DavidJeremiah.org.)
12/20/2013 10:43:48 AM by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Duck Dynasty?

December 19 2013 by Russell Moore, Moore to the Point

Tonight I took to Twitter to say that A&E’s suspension of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson is ridiculous. If the reports are true that the reality TV star’s suspension was due to his stated views on homosexuality then I hardly think silencing him can be called open-minded. In fact, it’s the sort of censorious cultural fundamentalism that is neither “progressive” nor “pluralistic.”
 
Let me stipulate that I’m not really much of a fan of reality television. I think it’s largely inane and not worth watching. But I don’t think that means it ought to be pulled off the air. That’s why there’s an “off” button on the remote control.
 
Admittedly, A&E didn’t hire Robertson to be Charlie Rose or George Will. They hired him to be comedic and sometimes shockingly homespun. Now, I thought his reported anatomical comparisons were ill-advised and crude. But that doesn’t seem to be where the controversy lies.
 
The comments that seem most offensive to people are his moral assessments of sex outside of conjugal marriage, which were more or less just a recitation of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is lord over sexuality, and he says that sexuality is expressed rightly only in the marriage of a man and a woman. That’s not new. We also think we’re all sinners, and that God calls us all to repentance. That’s not new either.
 
We’re a divided country on sexual issues. That’s why every news cycle brings more controversy. Why not engage one another, and have the debates in a civil fashion, without attempting to silence one another. I don’t agree with David Letterman’s views on divorce and cohabitation, but I don’t want him suspended for voicing them. I’ll bet I don’t agree with MTV’s Nev Schulman of the popular Catfish show on sexual ethics, but it wouldn’t put me in the fetal position under the table to hear him voice them.
 
Let’s have the sort of cultural conversation that allows us to seek to persuade each other, not to seek to silence one another with intimidation. That’s what real diversity is all about.
 
A generation ago, preachy censors wanted the Beatles and Elvis Presley off the air because they were too “subversive” to be heard. We roll our eyes at such now. And that was when there were only three or four television options. Now, I’m not sure I could find Duck Dynasty on television in quicker than ten minutes because A&E is situated among hundreds of cable options. If I don’t like that he’s gutting a deer in front of his granddaughters, I can turn the channel. If I don’t like that he goes to a church with a different view of baptism than mine, then I can go on the Internet and say why I think he’s wrong. And if you don’t like his religious views on sexuality (views held also by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and evangelicals as well as by many Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and the Dalai Lama), you’re free to say why you think he’s wrong. And you’re free to change the channel.
 
Let’s have genuine diversity, meaning let’s talk honestly with one another about what we believe and why. Muting one another isn’t what debate is for in a free society. It’s what remote controls are for.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell D. Moore is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns.)
12/19/2013 12:41:23 PM by Russell Moore, Moore to the Point | with 0 comments



'Naughty or nice' shouldn't matter

December 19 2013 by Melanie Lenow, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – I love this time of year! Love everything about it! I love the music, the smells, even the craziness of all the parties.
 
Being a mommy at Christmastime is like being a tour guide at some magnificent destination. I get the privilege of guiding them to experience all the wonderful sights, sounds, smells and activities of the season.
 
Sometimes we focus on a favorite tradition my husband or I had growing up or sometimes we create our own traditions. I enjoy the millions of questions that surface in the awestruck mind of a child.
 
However, I have noticed a question arising more and more in the last few years, not necessarily with my own children but with our culture as a whole. It has nothing to do withMerry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” It is the question, “Have you been good this year?
 
Oh, I know. It's just a saying. We've all said it without any real meaning behind it. But through the marketing and merchandise around us, I believe this idea is creeping into our hearts and minds more and more. Many of you know of a little elf that you can pretend watches your kids to make sure they are being good.
 
Even in Christian circles, merchandise has been created to encourage our kids to be good this time of year. If not, they will find switches and ashes in their stocking. Of course, many dismiss it as part of the make-believe game we play with our children at Christmas.
 
I would argue it is more dangerous than that. The danger comes from the fact that it preaches a different gospel. In the New Testament, Paul marveled that the church in Galatia was “turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6).
 
Even then, the people of Galatia were turning away from a gospel of grace to a different gospel of works. The gospel of Christmas is that God loved us so much He sent His only Son and all we have to do is believe in Him and He will grant us eternal life (John 3:16). Ephesians says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
 
The gift of Christ is a gift not based on our works. There is no naughty or nice list in Heaven where if we have more checks on the nice side we get the gift. The gift of Christ is given to us simply because God loves us and desires a relationship with us for His glory.
 
In light of this, I want to challenge myself to remove this false gospel from my vocabulary and most of all from my heart. How do I approach giving gifts this Christmas? Do I do it out of obligation? I truly desire my attitude of gift giving to be one that reflects the same attitude of God. I want to give out of an overflow of the incredible gift that God has already given to me.
 
Most importantly, I want to express love this Christmas in an unconditional way, expecting nothing in return, but pointing the object of my love back to my Savior who loved me so. What if my 4-year-old throws a fit that goes 10.0 on the Richter scale because he didn't get the right color cup on Christmas morning? Am I going to be just as joyful about giving him gifts as I would be if he had been an angel? What about that family member who rubs you the wrong way? Will you buy her a present out of obligation or will you see it as a way to minister to her and show her the unconditional love that comes only from Christ?
 
This Christmas, may we give our loved ones gifts not because they were nice to us, but because the greatest Gift-giver loved us so much to give us Jesus.
 
As we talk with our children, let us make it absolutely clear that receiving gifts has nothing to do with their works, but has everything to do with celebrating the greatest Gift of all. None of us deserve the Gift of Christmas, “but God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,” (Ephesians 2:4) gave us the most wonderful gift of all.
 
(Melanie Lenow is married to Evan Lenow, an ethics professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is the mother of four children. This column first appeared at BiblicalWoman.org, a blog of Southwestern Seminary.)
12/19/2013 12:32:40 PM by Melanie Lenow, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Sorry, Megyn: Santa is an American adaptation

December 18 2013 by Jeffrey Weiss, Religion News Service

A couple of nights ago, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly took on a mildly satiric column in Slate in which Aisha Harris wrote that the common portrayal of Santa Claus as a white man excludes children who don’t happen to be white.
 
Before getting slightly serious, Kelly put on her “mom” hat to talk to whatever children might be watching Fox News at that hour:
 
“All you kids at home: Santa just is white. But this person is just arguing that maybe we should also have a black Santa. But Santa is what he is. Just so you know, we’re debating this because someone wrote about it, kids. OK. I wanted to get that straight.”
 
Given the likelihood of a kid of color watching her at that moment (lottery ticket odds against, I’d say), no damage done. But then she goes on.
 
“Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man, too. He’s a historical figure. That’s a verifiable fact. As is Santa. I just want you kids watching to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy of the story and just change Santa from white to black?”
 
How many problems are wrapped up in that? Start with the most obvious:
 
First, Santa is a splendid figure of imagination. Therefore, arguing that he has to be one color is like insisting that unicorns can only be one color or that leprechauns are only allowed to wear one brand of skivvies. Or like setting a limit for how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
 
Beyond that, what does it mean to say that Santa and Jesus are “white”? In today’s multiracial America, the claim sounds as anachronistic as the definition of an octoroon (a person of one-eighth black ancestry). But let’s play along:
 
The image of Santa is anything but eternal. And it’s been revised any number of times. The original character may well have been real: Legends grew up over the centuries about a Bishop Nicholas of Myra, a town on the southeast coast of what is now Turkey. Was the fourth-century bishop a fat, rosy-cheeked man in a fur-lined red suit?
 
Nope. He was likely to have had an olive complexion, given the population. And a dark tan, given the climate. And while winter in Myra will dip into the 30s, he wouldn’t have had much use for the heavy snow garb.
 
St. Nicholas eventually morphs into Santa Claus. But that’s almost certainly an American invention from the 1800s. The famous poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (aka “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”) starts to nail down our image:
 
“He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot. … His eyes – how they twinkled! His dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry! His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow. And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow. … He had a broad face and a little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.”
 
What color is his outfit? Some of the early drawings had it in black and white. Or even a patriotic American stars-and-stripes motif.
 
These days, our mental picture likely owes more to Coca-Cola ads that started in the 1930s than to any earlier illustrations.
 
Coke even has a Web page explaining the history of Santa’s look: “In fact, many people are surprised to learn that prior to 1931, Santa was depicted as everything from a tall gaunt man to a spooky-looking elf. He has donned a bishop’s robe and a Norse huntsman’s animal skin.”
 
So taking Kelly seriously, what’s essential about our current image of Santa? Here’s a thought experiment to isolate what really matters:
 
Start by imagining the full Coke version: Big fat guy with the full white beard in the red-and-white suit. Shave off the whiskers. Not Santa. Put him in street clothes and you get the funny Chevy ads where the humor is wondering if the portly car salesman with the long white beard is a moonlighting elf. Or not.
 
Now leave everything else the same but imagine his skin is any hue of the human rainbow. Would anybody not recognize him as Santa Claus? Other than Kelly?
 
As for Jesus. Well, we can be pretty sure that no first-century Jewish man born in Bethlehem was as white as Kelly. Or as Jim Caviezel, for that matter. Much more likely he looked something like Yasser Arafat. Or the bearded Osama bin Laden. Were they “white men?” I leave that discussion to the racial purists.
 
As for Santa’s essential nature, there has never been a better description than the one written by Francis Pharcellus Church in that most-famous editorial in the New York Sun of Sept. 21, 1897:
 
“He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.”
 
There’s no mention of color.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeffrey Weiss writes for the Religion News Service.)
12/18/2013 12:19:18 PM by Jeffrey Weiss, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



At Christmas, give what matters

December 17 2013 by Judy Woodward Bates, Baptist Press

DORA, Ala. – How much will most of us be spending this Christmas? According to the American Research Group, survey respondents plan to spend about $800.
 
While giving gifts is a nice way to honor those you love, perhaps there are even better ways to honor the birth of our Savior.
 
Let's be honest here. Most of us already have our needs met, along with a whole lot of wants. So is giving Uncle Hiram another box of handkerchiefs really a smart way to spend those celebratory dollars? Instead of giving to those who already have, why not invest your money in those who could really use your help?
 
A homeless shelter in Birmingham, Ala., spends $1.95 to feed a person a holiday meal. Forgo Uncle Hiram's handkerchiefs this year, donate that money, and you could feed 10 people Christmas dinner. I suspect that giving Uncle Hiram a card telling him that you did this in his honor will put a much bigger smile on his face than any box of handkerchiefs ever will.
 
That is sort of what our friends Jackie and Richard did for me and my husband Larry last Christmas. Instead of the fancy tree ornament we usually received, we got a card with a picture of a smiling group of Haitians showing off the goat that had just arrived in their village. This goat, the card explained, was given in our honor and would produce up to a gallon of milk per day, helping supply desperately needed nutrition. That goat was one of the nicest gifts Larry and I have ever received.
 
Let's say there are 10 adults on your Christmas list and you plan to spend an average of $20 on each, or a total of $200. Now let's say those same 10 people plan to do likewise. That comes to $2,000 more dollars.
 
Instead of the 11 of you giving each other gifts that you might not need or want, why not use that money to help those who truly have needs? Each of you could choose your own charities or churches to donate to, or better yet, imagine choosing a group project each year where that $2,200 could do something spectacular.
 
Psalm 146:9 reminds us that the Lord "cares for the orphans and widows." This Christmas and all year long, we have the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the helpless and hopeless. What better time than now to start a family tradition of giving rather than receiving? And make sure your giving includes your time as well as your money.
 
Where can you make an impact? A few suggestions: (1) Your church undoubtedly will take on some special projects you can help with; (2) the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (www.imb.org/offering) (3) Angel Tree (www.PrisonFellowship.org/AngelTree); (4) Operation Christmas Child (www.SamaritansPurse.org); (5) local shelters for the homeless or battered women and children; and (6) children's homes, such as those operated by Baptist conventions in numerous states.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Judy Woodward Bates is a speaker, TV personality and author of Bargainomics: Money Management by the Book. Visit her website at www.Bargainomics.com.)
12/17/2013 12:24:33 PM by Judy Woodward Bates, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



125 years of WMU, LMCO

December 16 2013 by Wanda S. Lee, Baptist Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – WMU and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering are celebrating their 125th anniversary this year! The first missions offering for international missions was the result of pleas from Lottie Moon to the women of the churches to send more workers to China to help share the gospel with so many who had never heard.
 
The goal was set to gather enough money to send two women, but when the receipts were counted, there was enough for three. While the offering that began in 1888 did not carry the name Lottie Moon until 1918 – six years after her death – the purpose of the offering was closely tied to the reason WMU organized.
 
The women had heard the stories of missions life through the testimonies and letters of Lottie Moon and other missionaries. They realized the needs were great and God was calling them to do more. And so they organized.
 
Those early documents reveal “the women of the churches connected with the Southern Baptist Convention, desirous of stimulating the missionary spirit and the grace of giving among the women and children of the churches, and aiding in collecting funds for missionary purposes....” They organized to increase support for our missionaries and to raise awareness of missions needs within the churches.
 
It wasn't long before the need for a systematic way of educating our children emerged, first with children (Sunbeams), then among the boys (RAs, Royal Ambassadors) and then among the girls (GAs, Girls in Action). Southern Baptist churches had a full program of ongoing education for the purpose of missions.

The impact of those early decisions can best be seen in the lives of people since that day, both those who were called and went to the missions field, and those whose lives were changed as they heard the stories of Jesus. To this day, missionaries often share the influence of missions education on their personal call to missions service.
 
For example, Amanda Mellot knew God was calling her to missions during her years in GAs and Acteens. “I knew I loved Jesus and that there are people in the world who didn't know Him,” she shares. “I was burdened at a young age for lost people in the world. GAs and Acteens were the foundation of my life; I knew I wanted to be part of what was going on in the world as God uses His church for His renown.”
 
Currently serving as an IMB journeyman in East Asia, Amanda says, “In GAs, I received a foundation of what the Bible says about missions. I learned a lot about missionaries and what they do around the world to share the Gospel. Then in Acteens, I got to put my knowledge to practice as we went out into the community and on missions trips.”
 
Looking back, she realized “it is important to encourage girls as they grow in their relationship with Christ ... to follow what He says even if it goes against norms of society. GAs and Acteens are where I was encouraged to honor God with my life no matter what avenue is taken. This age in a girl's life is so critical for how she will be when she leaves her family, goes to college or goes off to work. When she is firmly planted in the world, she will remember the truth of who God is when pressures of this life are faced.”
 
IMB missionary Susie Rain started her missions journey in Mission Friends, then GAs and Acteens. She says Bible versesmemorized as a GA still pop into my brain when I'm out doing ministry. It always surprises me when a verse comes to mind that will comfort someone in the midst of an earthquake or tsunami.
 
“GAs cast the vision for sharing the Gospel with your friends, family and beyond,” Susie continues. “Kind of crazy to think that something I learned in a small town in Kansas also works in spreading the gospel in Southeast Asia.”
 
Amanda and Susie are just two examples among thousands today who are supported through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and our Cooperative Program gifts. They also represent many who felt the impact of missions education as a child.
 
They are our “Lottie Moons” of today; their story of faith and commitment to serve and share Christ with those waiting to hear can also be our story as we follow Christ each day.
 
Happy Birthday Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and WMU! May you continue to flourish and grow together until all know of the Savior's love and forgiveness.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Wanda S. Lee is executive director/treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union.)
12/16/2013 11:48:23 AM by Wanda S. Lee, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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