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Christian Response to Illegal Immigration

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brandieIn recent months, thousands of illegal immigrant children have crossed over the Mexico border into the United States.  These children range in age from 17 down to 5 and 6 years old.  They are without parents or guardians, they do not speak the English language, and they are here without any belongings in a foreign country.  This volatile immigration crisis has already cost the United States $263 million this year alone, adding a substantial burden to our government’s pre-existing financial budget crisis.

I’ve read many statements and articles about this current immigration crisis, and to be honest, I’m not sure what my opinion should be.  My heart aches for these children who were so freely sent across the border and are now living in unknown territory with both hostile protestors wanting these children gone and friendly faces who are willing to take them in and give them the bare necessities to survive.  The judicious part of me recognizes this as complete disregard and disobedience towards the laws of this land and therefore they should be treated as illegal immigrants and sent back to their country.   But then I find myself asking again… is this what Christ would do to these children?

The subject of these illegal immigrant children has created great debates among politicians, educators, families and friends, and even church members.  Both sides of this debate are very passionate about their opinions and seek out to have their beliefs justified.  I read all of this and find myself asking… what should my response be?  And more importantly, what should my CHRISTIAN response be?  Putting my heart and feelings aside, what does the Bible tell me about illegal immigration?

Democrat or Republican, Christian or non-Christian, we all believe this one truth – if you enter into a country illegally, you are violating the nation’s laws.  There is a proper way to enter into a country and those laws are set in place not only for the country’s safety, but for those traveling as well.  As Christians, not only do we believe that it is against the law to illegally cross borders into another country, but that those illegal aliens are also breaking the laws of God.

This is what the Bible tells us about obeying our governing authorities in Romans 13:1-5: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”

Whether we personally voted for or agree with our current government leaders, we must still respect them.  This means, we must respect their governing decisions whether we agree with them or not, knowing that God’s will is better than our own and that He will use every opportunity to bring others into His kingdom.  1 Peter 2:13-14 reminds us, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”  This does not mean we must agree with them or refrain from sharing our opinion when asked, but we must speak with respect to our authority figures and governing officials.  We must believe that our elected officials will uphold the laws of the land and God.  We must believe that our government will find the best solution for those who break the laws and believe they will judge them accordingly because they have been given the divine authority to do so.  We must believe that our government will prevent similar situations from occurring again.  Whether or not our government enforces the established laws, the church (and individual Christians) should not knowingly support illegal activity.  To do so, would be breaking the will of God as well as condoning the sins of others, including illegal immigrants.  To be clear, those who violate the laws of the government are also violating the laws of God and this is sin; those who support or assist in the violating of the laws of both land and God is sinning.

At the very same time, Christians are called to have compassion and mercy for others, including those who have knowingly broken the laws.  We must somehow separate the fact that the citizens of Mexico have illegally sent their children across the border and broken the law.  We must express compassion and mercy in both our thoughts and our actions.  Our hearts must not be hardened to those who sin, regardless of age or circumstance.  Our hearts must not be hardened to those who illegally cross borders seeking refuge, work, or a better life for themselves and their family.

But dare I say that these children did not knowingly break the law but were likely forced to cross the border?  Would this change our hearts towards their status within our country?  Would we render aid faster, educate them, and feed and clothe them if we found out they were forced across borders and left behind parents and families who had already deserted them?  Would this make a difference in the eyes of God? 1 John 3:17 says, But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”  Regardless of how or why these small and vulnerable children entered our country, I think it would be best if we helped them on their feet and equipped them with skills and resources to go back to their country.  This might require our own citizens to help and render aid.

Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  As citizens of eternal heaven, Christians need to remember that we too have broken the laws of the land and the laws of God.  None of us are without sin.  The laws of land do vary in regards to the consequences served, but in the eyes of God, you sinned.  We have all disobeyed God and we all have the ability to accept His grace and mercy.  To show Christ to others, we must all extend that same grace and mercy to others.

Our best answer to the illegal immigration crisis right now can be found in Scripture and through the loving nature of our God. What is God calling you to do to help our country with this crisis?  How is God calling you to help these immigrant children?

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Blessed are the Peacemakers

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Can you think of a single day in your life where there has not been conflict with another person? How about conflict that happens to be around you but doesn’t involve you personally? There always seems to be some form of tension or bickering in our lives. There is conflict on the national level, in our homes and in relationships, and in our work places. As hard as we try and as perfect as we think we are, the truth is – we all have trouble avoiding conflict.

Matthew 5:9 reads, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Peace does not come from an organization or by man alone. It comes only through Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Jesus wants us to be His ambassadors, a member of His peace corp. Not only does He want us to cease fighting with others, He wants us to also make peace. And it all begins with the work Christ does in us first.

As sinful humans, we need to recognize our own spiritual poverty and admit that we need Jesus as our Savior. We must humble our hearts and mourn the fact that we often wander away from God. We must surrender ourselves completely to the only One who can do something for us and in us. We must become a new creation as written in 2 Corinthians 5:17-18, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” Just as God did, He asks us to bring peace first and then focus on reconciliation.

As a Christian we must desire righteousness and aspire to make things right in our personal lives and for those around us. We must desire mercy because our hearts are thankful for the mercy bestowed upon us. We must desire a pure heart because what’s in our hearts produces our behavior. When our outward expressions match our inward conditions, then peacemaking will be possible. We must want to have right relationships with one another. But we cannot be peacemakers until we are at peace with God.

The problem does not lie within our marriages or children. It does not lie within our communities and nation. The problem is not out there… the problem is in our hearts. Until we have peace with God, we are not in a position to be peacemakers. We must allow God to fully meet our needs and rest in His promises. It is only then that we cease seeking to have control over people and manipulate circumstances in order to have our needs met. We will relax knowing God has already met our needs through Christ Jesus.

What is the source of our conflicts and disputes? James 4:1-3 says it best – “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” It’s perfectly clear, the source of our conflicts is our insufficiency and our desire to make circumstances and people do what we want to fill a void. The truth is that only God can fill that void. When we are at peace with God, we do not lust and over desire. While it’s okay to desire things it becomes sin when those desires become more important than obeying God, treating people respectfully, and tending to our relationships. It is with lust that we become envious and quarrel. All of this can be quieted when we realize that God “will meet all of our needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). We must allow God to meet our deepest needs and then we can pursue peace.

How do we pursue peace? Romans 14:19 tells us “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

We are required to INITIATE peace. God wants us to be part of the holy order, for us to be the first to initiate peace. Are you waiting for the other person to take the first step, even if they are the ones who wronged you? The Bible tells us that “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” We are told that even if we are the person who has been wronged that we are CALLED to initiate peace. Someone has to be the mature person in every conflict and take the first step towards peace. Why not you? Are you the mature person?

We then are required to COMMUNICATE with love. Ephesians 4:15 commands us, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” This is the principle of good biblical communication – speaking clearly, in truth, and in love. Never speak out of anger or hold on to your negative feelings. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us to speak the truth in love… as long as it works. We need to keep communicating even when the other person doesn’t respond the appropriate way and even if they never come around to listening.

When communicating, our voices must remain calm and our words need to be void of manipulation. Don’t punish the other person with silence or act holier by simply not arguing at all. Ephesians 2:26 remind us, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”. If we conceal our anger instead of calmly talking it out with the other person, we begin to build up resentment. Sometimes we may even forget why we became angry in the first place! Our hearts become hardened and toxic and we begin to take everything personally, becoming easily offended. Resolve your differences as quickly as possible and move forward.

Ephesians 4:29 reminds us of this when communicating – “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Do not bring up what happened days, weeks, months, or even years ago. Use words that are only good for improvement, be positive and fruitful.

Nothing should come out of our mouth that doesn’t already have a solution. And invite them into your solution and refrain from commanding them to do and see things your way. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). The same must be true for our speech. Avoid criticism and use only positive words that are intended to build up the other person and the relationship.

Now we can begin to NEGOTIATE. Conflicts begin when two or more people believe they are right about something. But we must remind ourselves that every time there is a conflict, there will always be a solution. There is a creative third alternative than your way and their way. Only then when you look at everything, can you begin to get creative and find a solution. Be honest about the true needs, compromise. Give up complete control. You don’t have to agree with someone, if it’s a non-moral issue, just simply agree to disagree, it doesn’t really matter. God created us all differently! Sometimes we have different opinions to keep us out of trouble. We must give away our selfishness, our preferences, and love.

God made us for relationships. We are blessed with opportunities to share, love, and be flexible. It’s what it means to live in this world and be a part of the community. Intimacy brings about conflict and the resolutions of conflict produce peace and love. Pursue the things that make peace and the building up of one another. Don’t be shocked by it, afraid of it, or try to escape it; it’s a part of His plan. As we negotiate our differences we find ourselves in a better place.

The final step in creating peace is to ABDICATE. For some of us, letting go and moving forward is the hardest part of creating peace but must let go of past wrongs, all of them. Don’t collect and hoard past sins of other people. Don’t get historical in arguments or use them as a leverage to get your way. To be a peacemaker, we MUST let things go. Let go of our need to be right. It’s worthless, it has no value, and nobody is impressed with how many times you’ve been right. This means we need to relinquish our need to win. The reality is, we need to lose some argument on occasion. And it’s ok if only you and God know you are right. But you cannot be right all the time. Humility reminds us that we just might be wrong. Just the consideration of possibly being wrong causes us to be humble and yield to conflict. This does not include moral and ethical issues as we must not compromise our values. We are talking about humility that we are poor in spirit. We yield because we recognize that we are sinners and that we make mistakes.

Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Aren’t you glad that God initiated peacemaking with us first? He didn’t wait for us to come and die for our sins. He didn’t meet us halfway; He met us all the way. He sent His only begotten Son to die FOR US. Jesus came in the appearance of a man – the creator of the universe was willing to be seen as wrong. He hung on the cross to be seen as a criminal even though He was a Savior, to be seen as taking on the sin of the whole world, to be seen in a guilty state. He didn’t need to be seen as right or as a god in that moment and in doing so, He became the peacemaker. He asks us to repent, to turn away from the ways we think will fulfill us so that we can be turned humbled before Him.

As Christians, we are most like him when we initiate peace, communicate peace, negotiate peace, and when we abdicate and relinquish so that peace can happen. The blessings is this – we will be called the children of God. When we become peacemakers, people will look at us, recognize us, and see Jesus in us. He initiated, He communicated, He negotiated and He abdicated. We must become the catalyst and in ALL circumstances promote peace and bring people together. We must help others meet their Creator and become a part of the peacemaking process.

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Should Christians Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

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St Patrick Shamrock ImageThe life of Saint Patrick remains wrapped in mystery still today. Is March 17th a day marked with pagan rituals and traditions or is this a day for us to honor and remember Saint Patrick for his life of loving and serving God?

Saint Patrick was born in 385 AD in Scotland.  As a teenager, he was captured to Ireland by thieves and sold into slavery as a sheep herder where he spent six years enslaved as their captive. During his captivity, he turned to God for comfort and found a passion for Christian faith.  At the age of 20, Patrick had a dream where God encouraged him to escape slavery in Ireland and run to the coast.  Back home in Scotland, he was overwhelmed with dreams to move to France and begin studies for the priesthood.  As an ordained Bishop, Saint Patrick spent the next 40 years converting pagan Irelands to Catholicism and building churches and schools for the new believers before his death on March 17th.  Rumors of miracles circulated among the people and his mission for conversions became something to honor and celebrate.  Although he has never been canonized by a Pope, Saint Patrick remains on the list today of saints in the Roman Catholic Church.

Few letters exist of Saint Patrick that gives a narrative of his life.  However, this writing is believed to have been written during his time in captivity: “The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same.”

What is the controversy over the observation of Saint Patrick’s life?

While many believe Saint Patrick lived a life of serving and converting, others claim that he murdered the Irish pagans who refused to convert to Christianity, believing that he is the person to blame for the Roman Catholic Inquisition that took the lives of more than six million Irish citizens.  The story is told that those who refused to convert were bound and thrown out to sea or were tied onto stakes and left to starve. While Saint Patrick didn’t eliminate paganism, it is believed that he was the catalyst that brought Catholicism to Ireland.

Pagans celebrate the spring equinox, which just so happens to fall near March 17th.  The pagans refer to this season of nature’s rebirth as the Festival of Trees or the Feast of Ostara, the fertility goddess.  The pagans are believed to choose a god or goddess from ancient Ireland during these festivities to praise and pay tribute to.

St. Patrick’s Day symbols are also thought to bring respect and admiration to paganism.  The Wiccan church believes that all symbols associated with St. Patrick’s Day are founded in the worship of goddesses and witchcraft.  Christians believe that any use of pagan or occult symbols are from satan and should be strictly forbidden.  Scripture tells us in Matthew 5:19-20, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

  • The SHAMROCK –Pagans used the shamrock, also known as the Seamroy, to worship the three faces of the goddess found in the moon long before Christianity existed in Ireland.  They also use the shamrock as a hex symbol that curses and plagues others.  Saint Patrick used the shamrock during his sermons to represent the holy trinity – God, Son, and Holy Ghost.
  • The color GREEN –The original color linked with the St. Patrick’s Day was at one time blue, but the color green has grown in popularity overtime.  Today, March 17th is associated with the color green, maybe because of the color of the shamrock, the most notable symbol of St. Patrick’s Day, or to represent the rebirth of spring.  Pagans believe that evil spirits will pinch you if you are not wearing the color green on this specific day.
  • The LEPRECHAUN – These little green, mischievous men with beards and hats like to stir up trouble and wreak havoc.  A fairy in Irish folklore, they are also supposed to spend their time making shoes and storing away coins in hidden pots of gold found at the end of rainbows.  If caught by a human, they have magical powers to award three wishes to their captor in exchange for their freedom.  The leprechaun is a pagan idol used to observe and celebrate the rebirth of spring.
  • The IRISH GOOD LUCK CHARMS – Good luck charms are forces that are believed to shape events in a person’s life. Charms are said to help people become successful, provide advantageous opportunities, and define circumstances and many Irish wear good luck charms.  Some even believe the work “luck” is derived from the word “lucifer”.  This would mean that to wear or hold good luck charms, it would be the same as wearing a demon or carrying one around in your pocket.  Christians must put their faith in God and cast away in all superstitious philosophies.  Maybe we should reconsider the term “good luck” when sending blessings to others?
  • The CELTIC CROSS – Legend tells us that Saint Patrick combined the Christian cross with the Irish sun cross to represent the importance of the Christian cross to pagan groups.  Because the cross stands higher than the circle, this represents Christ’s authority over the pagan sun.  However, this theory combines pagan practices and Christianity which we are forbidden in scripture.  Let us be reminded evil will corrupt truth.
  • The SNAKES – Folktales recount that St. Patrick stood at the top of a hill and with the swoop of a wooden staff expelled all snakes from Ireland.  The truth is that Ireland was never really a habitat to snakes of any kind.  While the legend is false, it is assumed that the tale is a metaphor of the tattoo of a serpent that many Druids wore and that Saint Patrick banished the serpent tattoo (or snake) when he allegedly banished the pagan religion.
  • CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE – A traditional meal for Irish Americans is to serve corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day. Cabbage is very popular in Ireland; however corned beef has evolved as a very popular dish over the years.  Irish bacon was once a popular food item to be eaten on this day but has likely been substituted for corned beef to save costs.

The question remains, is St. Patrick’s Day a Christian holiday?  It is in my opinion that it is not.  Pagan practices and celebrations were in motion long before Saint Patrick began his mission of converting pagans to Catholicism.  Because of this truth, the links of many of the symbols and customs were already longstanding pagan traditions.  I believe that Saint Patrick’s death just so happened to coincide with the pagan festivals of spring’s rebirth and that overtime the two somehow became one.  The devil is very clever like that.  1 Peter 5:8 reminds us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  The devil knows the Bible and he mixes truth with sin to confuse us and ultimately destroy us.  Be aware of these ploys!

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What is Lent?

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Lent is the 40 day journey (excluding Sundays) set aside in the church calendar in preparation for Easter. The time spent during this period is to be devoted to prayer, repentance, and self -reflection of one’s life. Although not every church or denomination observes Lent, many Christians choose to observe this season as a way to keep their focus and shift their thoughts on the forthcoming death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Lent is not specifically mentioned in scriptures and therefore is not a command or requirement.

The rules for fasting during the Lent season vary from denomination and geographical location. Generally, those who fast during the Lent season, fast six days a week over the course of six weeks. Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent and was instituted to bring the exact number of fasting days before Easter to 40. The types of food and drink people fast from also vary but generally include meat, animal products, and soda. In some religions, the fasting modifications have relaxed drastically to make the process more simple and easy. Today though, Christians are still encouraged to give up something for Lent as a form of self-denial.

Another, less popular, Lent tradition is to limit your meals to just one per day. Traditionally, this meal would be eaten in the evening or at 3pm and should be void of meats and dairy. The absence of dairy products led to the tradition of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (also known as Fat Tuesday) and the blessing of the Easter eggs. The Lent practices for fasting have evolved overtime to allow for additional meals for strength as well as eating fish, other meats, and dairy.

Does the number 40 sound familiar? The number 40 holds special significance for Christians. Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai in preparation to receive the 10 Commandments (Exodus 34:28). Elijah walked 40 days and 40 nights before the Lord appeared to him on the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:8). And the most importantly, Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness fasting while continually being tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:2). Ash Wednesday also symbolizes the beginning of Jesus’ 40 day fasting and prayer while in the wilderness.

The choice to observe Lent should be a personal decision. When deciding what to give up for Lent, do so with a grateful and humble heart. Don’t give up something that doesn’t take effort or act like a Pharisee and look for loopholes in the guidelines. Fasting without the desire to renew your relationship with Christ is a form of blasphemy. Whether you fast from something small, give up your meals during the day, or add something to your schedule during this season, the effects of atonement and self-discipline will astound you and your relationship with our Savior will forever be changed.

While the fasting practices have changed over the years, the intent for the Lent season has remained the same – to repent of your personal sins, to renew your faith and commitment to the Church, and to prepare your heart for the return of Jesus Christ. How do you strengthen your relationship with Christ during the Lent season?

Here are some great ways for your family to celebrate Lent together:

  • Begin a Lenten devotional that accommodates the whole family.
  • Read your Bible and be intentional about memorizing scriptures.
  • Simplify your schedules and eliminate luxuries.
  • Serve others with the hope of sharing Christ.
  • Replace urges with time spent in prayer.
  • Walk humbly and keep your focus on Jesus.  Don’t publicize your Lent practices and bring the attention on yourself.  This time is about reflection on Christ, not your personal accomplishments.

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What is Ash Wednesday?

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ash wednesdayAsh Wednesday celebrates the beginning of the Lent season, the 40 day period leading up to Easter Sunday. This day is celebrated on the seventh Wednesday leading up to Easter and follows Shrove Tuesday (also known as Fat Tuesday).   This season is meant to spend time reflecting on your personal life and penance for your sins.  The 40 day Lenten journey leads us to the ultimate redemption through Jesus Christ’s resurrection and atonement for all of man’s sins.

The Ash Wednesday ceremony, originally called dies cerinum which means the day of ashes, dates back to the 8th century.  But the season of “repentance” dates back to biblical times.  In Leviticus 16:34, the Lord established an annual day of repentance for the Israelites saying, “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”  In the old tradition, those offenders who had committed grievous sins would come before the priest wearing sackcloth.  Wearing rough material or animal hair was meant to show an outward demonstration of an inward sorrow and shame.  The priest would then sprinkle ashes on their head and bless them.  They were expected to spend the next 40 days in penance and reconciliation and would return to the priest on Maundy Thursday for their first communion following their repentance.

Christians today have been blessed with the blood of Jesus Christ who made the greatest atonement for our sins.  However, many Christians continue the tradition with a time of fasting and prayer.  We spend this time of year bringing our hearts back in accordance with the will of God and giving thanks for the atonement made by Jesus Christ.

During an Ash Wednesday observance service, the cross is marked in ashes to the forehead of each church member to signify an inward repentance.  This process is meant to humble our hearts and remind us of the sacrifices made for our eternal life with Christ.  The service brings our focus back to the mission of the Church and the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf.  It is encouraged to spend time reflecting on the last year of your life and giving a greater commitment to God and the Church.

The ashes are a symbol of man’s mortality and remind us that life is not guaranteed. Ecclesiastes 12:7 tells us, “And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”   Traditionally, the ashes used in an Ash Wednesday ceremony come from burning the palm branches used in the Easter service the previous year.  The ashes are blessed with holy water and rest with burning incense to create a pleasant scent until the next Ash Wednesday service. 

Because Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent are not specifically mentioned in the Bible, Christians are free to observe this time as they desire.  The most popular method for celebration is fasting, or giving something up that would be difficult during the Lent season.  Others add an activity such as a daily devotional.  Both are great methods that lead you constantly back to the Lord, reminding us of our need for repentance and the need for our Savior.  Any activity chosen during this season is meaningless if not done with the intent for spiritual renewal and repentance.

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What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos?

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031Tattoos, at one time, were thought to be a mark of rebellion, a sign of adulthood and the freedom to make your own choices with your own body and no parent could stop you. As the years have progressed, Christians have continued with this trend of new-found independence and started putting Christian tattoos on their body to represent their faith and belief in the Bible and Jesus Christ. Others believe that all tattoos, regardless of their significance or symbol of your religion, are a mark of the beast and should be strictly forbidden. These theories confuse both Christians and non-Christians causing judgment to easily swell. The question remains – What is tattooing? And what does God say about tattoos? Are there really such things as Christian tattoos or is this an oxymoron?

The Bible speaks of tattoos (some translations use the word “marks”) as early as the beginning of time. In Leviticus 19, the Lord is speaking to Moses, giving the command that he must go and share with the Israelites; “‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.’” This command seems simple enough! The origin of the tattoo was rooted and practiced in the demonic and pagan realm. The tattoos were given during religious ceremonies and were intended to put the bodily soul in accordance with supernatural forces. Many times dancing and chanting were also done during these tattoo ceremonies to exorcise demons. Regardless if your Bible uses the word tattoos or marks, the context of the word heeds a warning to the Israelites from joining occult practices and entering false religions. Be assured, this is STILL a warning for us today!!

The Bible also teaches us that our bodies are a holy temple for the Lord Jesus Christ in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” As believers, the Holy Spirit resides in our bodies as our conscience and voice of God and Truth. The scripture is very clear about this issue – our bodies are not our own. We must treat our bodies respectably and we must pray extremely hard before making any kind of permanent mark on the Lord’s dwelling.

And what is the stuff about the “mark of the beast”? 2 Timothy 3:1 warns us, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.” Many believe we are living in the end times and that even today “cutting the flesh” allows satan and the demonic realm to easily enter your body. This blood-letting practice has origins in the cultic dominion (as stated above). We even read in the New Testament about Legion (Mark 5:1-9) who was possessed by demons and attempted to cut himself with stones to unleash the evil spirits locked inside his body. This serves as another illustration that mentions the cutting of the skin and its relationship with the occult and the demonic origins.

This command is not just an outdated Old Testament law. This is a moral law and was applicable then as much as it is now. It is just as important as many others given to Moses to share with the Israelites – do not make idols for yourselves (Lev 5:4), do not steal (Lev 5:11), and do not make your daughter a prostitute (Lev 5:29), among many others.

If you are a Christian with a tattoo, spend time in prayer asking God to cleanse your soul and use the mark on your body as a testament to his love and grace. Romans 8:28 reminds us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Have faith and ask God to use you for His greater purpose. If you are struggling with the desire for a new tattoo, spend time in prayer. Then spend more time in prayer. Ask God what He wants marked on His dwelling place. Ask God what He wants His money spent on. Are you willing to take that chance to allow evil spirits to enter your soul through this practice of blood-letting?

As a reminder, do not judge those who have tattoos. We do not know where their heart was when they received their tattoos and we do not know if they had received the word of God about this very issue. We cannot testify for them about receiving the facts and origins of tattoos. We must simply pray for them and ask God to use them to bring others to Christ.

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A Jesus Lovers New Year’s Resolution

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newyear2It’s the end of another year and the majority of us are eagerly awaiting the chance for new beginnings and blessings.  We certainly never look at the new year as a time for added stress, pain, or sickness.  In our anticipation and hope of new things to come, we tend to make new year’s resolution – to lose weight, cut out caffeine, go to the gym, work less, sleep more, find a new job, etc.

The question I ask of you as we close out 2013…. What does Jesus want from you?  He very well may be calling you to cut calories, lose weight, and exercise.  He may be tugging at your heart to work less and be at home with your family more.  But what does He want from your heart?  How can your life glorify His name in this coming year?  What changes does God want from you that will ultimately lead you to a closer relationship to Jesus Christ?

Here is a list of New Year’s resolutions all Christians need to work on in 2014:

Forgive more – As a forgiven sinner, you are required to forgive sinners.  Let go of other people’s mistakes and shortcomings, even if those decisions directly affected your life.  Satan will remind you of the pain others have inflicted on you but YOU are a forgiven sinner and are called to forgive the sins of others.  Remind yourself that you have not always been a Christian and that you too have hurt others.  We have all fallen short and we will all fail again.  Pray for those who have hurt you, that they are blessed by God and that those blessings change their lives.  “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32

Pray always – It’s so simple to say “pray more” but the thought of praying all the time can seem very daunting.  Rest assured, if you miss an opportunity to pray, you must not give up!  Begin by praying every morning or evening and slowly add in other specific times in your day devoted to prayer.  You will soon notice how your prayers shift from specified times to daily conversations with God throughout your day.  Make sure you also add a few minutes of reflection time to listen to what God says to you about your prayers.  “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Quit worrying – We begin to worry when we feel as if we are not in control.  The truth is, very seldom do we have full control over anything.    When we allow worry to seep into our lives, we are saying to those around us that we are helpless and have no one to turn to.  But as Christians, we must have faith in God and faith in His plan.  Find the good in every situation and be thankful for what God has already blessed you with.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

Give more – Give more of your time, your money, and your effort.  Pray about this specifically and see where God wants you to give.  Does he want you to give more of your money to your church or a mission?  Does He want you to give more of your time and volunteer efforts?  Does He simply want you to give your family more quality time?  Whatever it is that He leads you to give, give wholeheartedly and give as if you are giving to the Lord.  “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7

Go to church – Attending church should not be a Sunday morning visit when times are hard.  Church is a time for weekly reflection and an energy boost.  It’s a time for us to put aside the craziness of life and refocus on Christ and His will for our lives.  Church is a time for Christians to fellowship with other believers and together build the kingdom of God.  “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Learn more – Read your Bible this year, start a devotional, or commit to reading that book your spouse has asked you to read.  If you’ve already read the Bible in its entirety, read it again to gain more knowledge.  You cannot go wrong opening your Bible and reading scripture!  But there is power when reading with other Christians and discussing life together.  “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Proverbs 18:15

Judge less – Learn how to judge righteously and ask God to show you when you’re sinfully judging.  Practice the art of judging the sin and not the sinner.  Find the good in every person and in every situation, even if it’s simply acknowledging that God will use that situation for His glory.  Remember that we have all sinned and fallen short in the eyes of God.  We will all stand on even ground before God one day; your sin is no less than any other man’s.  “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” John 7:24

Be more gracious – Again, find the good in every person and in every situation.  Treat others with kindness and respect.  Even if we don’t think they deserve it, they really do.  Don’t assume the worst in others, even if their track record shows otherwise.  Give people the benefit of the doubt, always.  Complement those who frustrate you, and add a smile.  Work on changing your heart towards others and people will begin to seem far less threatening to you.  “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Plant seeds – Write down a list of people who are non-believers and commit to praying for them over this next year.  Make it your goal to talk to them about Jesus Christ and his unending love for them.  Invite them to church, offer to pray for them, connect with them regularly and allow them the opportunity to see how Christ is working in your own life.  The outcome is amazing to see how God uses YOU and your everyday circumstances to change the lives of others.  You plant the seed and watch as God grows new believers.  “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Go on a mission – Your mission trip doesn’t necessarily need to be across the world to a third world country.  While that is definitely an incredible experience, your mission field can be right here in your hometown.  Your mission field is the path you drive to work and the places you run your errands.  To be on a mission for Christ is to tell others of Christ and bringing His Good News to non-believers.  Begin by asking strangers, “Do you know that Jesus loves you?”  Spend time everyday preparing for your mission work and ask God to show you where your work needs to be done.  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28: 19-20

To put our focus on Christ rather than ourselves is ultimately what God wants for our lives.  He wants us to depend on Him.  When we do these things, our lives begin to take on a new meaning and good things begin to happen.  We will still suffer loss and heartache, setbacks and pain.  But life becomes bearable when we walk with our Savior and allow Him to lead the way.

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A Life Well Lived 2014 Day Planner and Prayer Journal Review and Giveaway

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I confess… I’m the housewife and mother who refuses to give up her day planner.  Yes, I like to flip the pages, write on the paper, use different color ink and / or highlighters.  Some technology gurus may even call this blasphemy and convince me I can do the same thing or even better with today’s technology!  I’m not even ashamed to admit that I spend quite a bit of time each December seeking out the best planner for our family.  My planner must be durable with plenty of room to write and ample space for a family of six and all of their appointments and activities.  I spend hours searching for the perfect planner and have even thrown some out and started over after the year has started because it simply didn’t fit the needs for our family.  Finding the perfect planner is a very important decision for us and one that I thoroughly enjoy accomplishing.

The Judgmental Christian has been blessed with the opportunity to review and give away A Life Well Lived 2014 Day Planner and Prayer Journal.  I’ve been sitting here with the planner and journal for almost two hours now and am simply amazed at all this planner offers.  It is very apparent that much thought and hours of prayer were put into the planner and journal from the very first page.

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The focus of the new 2014 planner is Getting Life Right.  The planner begins with the testimony of Jesus’ perfect earthly life and His desire for us to “live a holy life in preparation of eternity with God.”  When the first words of a planner grasp my heart and make me yearn to be more like Christ, I know it’s going to be a winner!  This company is not only concerned about selling fabulous planners but making sure we are living according to scripture and getting our schedules aligned with God’s desire for our life.  The makers of A Life Well Lived want to see us dedicated to serving Christ and reaping the rewards God has in store for us.

The planner then opens to the Seven Steps to Discipleship that help us to seek and know God’s will for our lives.  There are daily action steps provided as well as corresponding scriptures to these steps that help guide us towards daily growth in our Christian walk.  I simply cannot think of a better way to start off this new year and again each day than to evaluate my relationship with Christ and then to begin putting into place those steps necessary that will help me reach the goal of becoming a better disciple for Christ.

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The planner is divided into 365 daily pages.  My initial thought was that maybe this was too much space, even for a girl who likes writing and doodling areas in my planner.  But upon closer look, the planner becomes more than just a calendar of events.   It’s your devotional, a prayer journal, and calendar all in one.  There are words of wisdom and daily scripture readings. There are daily suggestions that encourage growth in your spiritual discipleship.  A place is set aside for daily prayer concerns and praises, and directly across is additional writing space for your goals and tasks God has placed on your heart for the day.  And of course there is ample space for your daily appointments!

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Each new week has a different theme that assists in your Christian growth.  Some of my favorites include priorities, witnessing and ministry, debt and money management, family and home, accountability, humility, mentoring and leadership, spiritual disciplines, tithing and giving, contentment and peace, and forgiveness and salvation.  The daily scriptures, words of wisdom, and discipleship suggestions all work together with the weekly theme.

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Other remarkable features include:

  • Daily Bible readings that allow for the Bible to be read in one year
  • Seven Steps of Discipleship bookmark
  • Month-at-a-Glance pages as well as a Month-in-Review pages
  • A guide to help create a personal mission statement
  • Action steps for achieving financial goals and success
  • A reference guide for accomplishing goals in your life
  • A list of suggestions for Random Acts of Kindness
  • Daily Proclamation page

The mission statement of A Life Well Lived reads, “Our mission at A Life Well Lived is the Great Commission.  We exist to revive the Christian faith and rebuild the broken wall of discipleship by helping as many people as possible grow in their relationship with Christ in such a way that they are inspired to participate with us in Jesus’ final instruction.”  I believe they have done a remarkable job of growing disciples for Christ.  I am so very excited to begin the new year with a daily focus on God’s will for my life and organizing my life’s plans according to God’s will for my life.

You can purchase your own 2014 Day Planner and Prayer Journal combo pack for just $29.95.  Be sure to also follow A Life Well Lived on Facebook and Twitter for future promotions and special offers.

To enter the giveaway for your own A Life Well Lived Day Planner and Prayer Journal, enter HERE.

Keeping Christ in Christmas

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christmas1Gifts, holiday baking, shopping, Christmas trees, reindeer, Santa, decorating the house, Christmas parties, elf on a shelf…. Every year it seems that the focus of Christmas becomes more and more about gifts and shopping and less about the birth of our Savior. Most of us Christians, if we are honest, often get caught up in the secular excitement of the season and find it hard to balance the enjoyment of Christmas shopping and keeping the focus of Christmas on Christ. Romans 12:12 reminds us, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, in order to prove by you what is that good and pleasing and perfect will of God.” How do we keep Christ in Christmas? What is the perfect medium to keeping the focus of Christmas on the birth of our Savior and still enjoy the great holiday shopping deals and buying gifts for others? Here are some fabulous suggestions from our readers and other great bloggers about how their families honor the holiness of our Savior’s birth.

Advent is the season leading up to Christmas and begins four Sundays before Christmas. Advent means “coming” and during these weeks, we devote special time remembering the coming of our Lord. We are blessed to know what God’s salvation looks like and have reason to celebrate. Here are several unique ways to observe advent:

The Ultimate Advent Bucket List for the Whole Family
Toilet Paper Roll Advent Calendar
30 Advent Ideas
Christmas with Advent

Christmas Bible lessons are a great way to dig deeper into the meaning of Christmas. Together as a family over a meal or individually, our hearts need to concentrate and be reminded on the reason for Christmas. Spend time reading and in prayer and allow Christ to reveal Himself more fully to you during this season.

Simple Christmas Bible Lessons
A Martyr’s Christmas Study
Printable Advent Devotional

Create specific trees to help teach the life of Christ. Have the kids build a Jesus Tree and introduce a new name for Jesus every night or a tree that chronicles the different Bible stories leading up to the birth of Christ. Having fun and learning at the same time, it’s a win-win for everyone.

The Names of Jesus
Jesse Tree
From the Jesse Tree to the Jesus Tree
Jesus Tree Readings

Christmas cards… are you more excited to send them or receive them? Be mindful about the cards you send as well as the cards you receive. Pray for the families that you send your cards to and pray for those who send you cards. Here are some crafty methods to paying for those families throughout the coming year:

Prayer Wheel
Statement Wall
Prayer Box

Make a birthday cake for Jesus and rejoice with a birthday party. After all, we are celebrating the day of our Savior’s birth and this is definitely a reason to celebrate! Don’t forget to light the candles and sing Happy Birthday, Jesus.

Happy Birthday, Jesus Cake
A Birthday Cake for Jesus

Get creative when your family retells the story of Jesus’ birth. Act it out together, make it a game, or tell the story over a period of time. Here are some fun and imaginative ways to tell the story of the nativity:

Nativity in a Box
12 Ways to Make the Christmas Story Come Alive for Kids
5 Creative Ways to Teach the Christmas Nativity Story
Creative Ways to Teach the Kids the True Meaning of Christmas
Teaching Through the Nativity

Many families have adopted the idea of giving their children three gifts for Christmas. Each gift symbolizes the three gifts Jesus received – frankincense, gold, and myrrh. This is an easy way to minimalize Christmas spending and still keeping the focus of gift-giving on Christ.

The 3-Gift Christmas
Three Gift Tradition

Keep gift giving simple. Your gifts to others do not need to be elaborate and they truly do not need to drain your bank account. Spend more time in prayer about your gifts and their meaning to the recipient and less amount of time on giving the “best” or most extravagant gift.

Homemade Christmas Gifts
Keep Christmas Gift Giving Under Control

Does your family celebrate the season in a unique fashion? Do you have special family traditions that you want to share with our readers? Leave a comment and share with us your family’s special traditions!

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Does Santa Belong in our Christmas Celebrations?

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Many of us grew up believing Santa Claus magically whisked down our chimneys and left us gifts below the twinkling lights of our Christmas trees. Some of us have even carried on that tradition with our own children. There are also plenty of families who have opted out of the Santa Claus myth altogether refusing to lie to their children. Some families also remove Santa Claus from their families traditions because they fear this mystical character takes the focus away from the celebratory birth of our Savior, which is a valid concern.

So who is Santa Claus? The legend of Santa Claus begins with Saint Nicholas, a man who dedicated his life to serving God and giving generously to the poor. Saint Nicholas was born in a village in Patara, which is the village now known as Demre, Turkey. His wealthy parents died when he was a young child leaving him their full inheritance. Saint Nicholas obeyed Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:21, “Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” His compassion and dedication to serving God eventually earned him the title of Bishop of Myra.

During this time, many Christians were being persecuted under the Roman Emperor Diocletian and Bishop Nicholas, along with other clergy and Christians, suffered greatly for his faith. He was exiled and persecuted but persevered through the persecution and was ultimately released. Saint Nicholas continued a life of serving God and others and doing good deeds to those who least expected it. He did all of these things without recognition and did so with a humble heart and a focus on Christ.

There are stories upon stories told over the years of Saint Nicholas charitably giving to others – the poor, innocent children, and even sailors. One extraordinary story tells of a poor ancient merchant who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters to be married. Without a dowry, the daughters were destined to be sold into slavery or prostitution. On three different nights, bags of gold were secretly left through an open window and found in a stocking or shoe that sat near the fireplace. These gifts of gold saved the lives of the merchant’s daughters.

Saint Nicholas’ legacy has been carried on over the centuries by Roman Catholics as well as Christians and has expanded throughout many different countries. Many believing his model for serving Christ and his unselfish giving are worthy qualities to be remembered during this season. Whether you celebrate the Christmas season with the tradition of Saint Nicholas or not, we must all agree he was a great God-honoring man who served Christ with his whole heart. He gave up wealth and even his own freedom answering Christ’s call to serve others. Is there any real harm by bringing this man’s legacy into your Christmas traditions? It’s definitely not a sin to do so! After all, we remember many other remarkable people who have also served Christ and lived Godly examples of what it means to be a Christian.

I also want to add that if your reason for not allowing Santa Claus in your family’s traditions is because of the potential “lie” being told to your children, think carefully about fairytales and other fictional characters allowed in your children’s lives. Remember that while we may fully understand that princesses and superheroes are make-believe, our children may not understand this. I say this to make sure you are staying consistent with your beliefs about not lying to your children.

And for those who choose to carry on the legacy of giving anonymously as Old Saint Nicholas did for years, do so with a humble heart and not for recognition. When you’re children are old enough to understand the faith and history of St. Nick, teach them how to be meek and reverent when serving others as Christ served the church. There is also the option to carry on the tradition of Saint Nicholas and being truthful from the beginning of your child’s lives.

While Saint Nicholas was a great man of noble character and performed many wonderful good deeds, the Christmas season is not about Santa Claus or any other holiday character. It’s about Jesus. However you choose to celebrate, the focus of the season needs to be put on Christ and Christ alone. We can do many things throughout the year and even mimic the lives of other wonderful Christians, but we must always give thanks to Christ and ultimately desire Him to be our one true Guide.

We must also remember to be respectful towards others regardless of how they choose to celebrate Christmas. Let us not judge others for their choices to include or not include the tradition of Saint Nicholas. We are only called to judge others’ sins, and remembering the legacy of Saint Nicholas is not a sin and it’s definitely not worthy of our strife. Make your life a living example of how Christ lived and served and ask God for others to see His light through you.

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