No season accentuates the difference between “religion” and “faith” more than Christmas. “CEOs” (Christmas-Easter Only) show up at church for the first time in months. Christian symbols are brought down from the attic and placed around the house and on the tree. Believers pick up the battle where they left off the year before at the first mention of “Happy Holidays” and “X-mas”. Christians find it tougher every Christmas to find a card with religious references. TV commercials fuel rampant consumerism, luring even those who understand the “reason for the season” into their trap. We’re certain to see more about Santa Claus than our Savior all around us as Christmas approaches.
Complaining about the increasing secularization of Jesus’ birthday won’t put Christ back in Christmas. Revival won’t break out if more stores acquiesce to boycotts demanding they resume greeting customers with “Merry Christmas”. Political pressure isn’t the way to force Hallmark to offer more religious Christmas cards and to compel advertisers to wait until after Thanksgiving dinner before kicking off Black Friday.
That’s the “religious” approach, fighting the culture war in America with an “air war” of verbal bombs. Instead, let’s combat the commercialization of Christmas with service and evangelism as our chosen weapons – a “ground war” of love and compassion.
No, we don’t need more religion this Christmas. We need more faith in Jesus…
- Religion is Temporal – Christianity is not about giving us a better life and sustaining us through the hard times. Religion focuses on this life and what God can do for “me”. Unfortunately, that orientation dominates the thinking of most professing believers and the teachings of many pastors today.
- Faith is Eternal – Jesus “for the joy set before him He endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Hebrews 11 repeatedly affirms that all those enshrined in the Hall of Faith were looking forward to what lay ahead – eternity with Jesus. They recognized that this is not our home and acted accordingly. It was that same assurance of the next life (not promises for this life) that convinced Rachel Scott to proclaim her faith at gunpoint in Columbine.
- Religion Defends – What should Christians do about our nation’s crumbling moral foundation? Protests and activism have largely backfired. Name a significant recent court decision where the Christian moral position has prevailed.
- Faith Turns the Other Cheek – Christ doesn’t need us to defend our faith. Jesus never defended Himself. He was like a sheep led to slaughter. What Jesus did was to keep on serving, loving, building disciples and preaching the gospel every day of his life. We should do likewise.
- Religion Judges – Religion says, “You’re wrong” and stays at arms length.
- Faith Cares – Faith says, “You’re loved” and pursues the lost at close proximity.
- Religion Repels – Society has come to see the defensiveness, accusations and evangelism of Christians as intolerance. It’s ironic that Jesus had the biggest issue not with those the “religious” considered “sinners”, but with those condemning “sinners”.
- Faith Attracts – Jesus normally healed and fed first, then said who He is. He had the perfect words, but knew words alone wouldn’t be enough to get people to listen. Today, if churches were still leading with compassion, non-believers would be much more interested in what Christians have to say.
- Religion is Transparent – Religion hinges on mankind. It tries to cover failures and look godly – obscuring the view of the one true God. As our frailty becomes evident, Christians are seen as hypocrites, causing others weak in their faith to walk away, some never to return.
- Faith is Impenetrable – Faith’s foundation is God. Unlike us, God keeps His promises. He has no moral lapses. Most seekers don’t “buy” man-made religion – they can see through its hypocrisy. They’re looking for truth and genuine faith that saves.
- Religion Loses the Battle – Our culture is moving away from Jesus. All of our lobbying, voting and venting on behalf of our religion isn’t turning the tide – it’s only galvanizing the opposition.
- Faith Wins the War – We know the end of the story. We’ve read the Book of Revelation. Jesus wins. In the war for the souls of men and women, faithful disciples of Jesus are much better equipped to be effective soldiers than the “religious”.
- Religion Consumes – The “religious” look to be fed. Prayers are about receiving blessings. Emphasis is on what God (and their church) can do for them.
- Faith Dispenses – Individual believers become the personification of “church”, living Prayer, Care and Share lifestyles, each looking to reach others for Christ.
- Religion Clings – A focus on the temporal causes cultural Christians to hang on to what they have.
- Faith Releases – Dying to self, crucified with Christ daily, causes disciples of Jesus to give sacrificially of their time, talents and treasures.
- Religion Holds Back – Those who stop at simply believing won’t leave everything behind if that’s what Christ asks of them.
- Faith Surrenders – Satan and the demons believe in Jesus too, but they won’t follow Him. Faith is belief that converts to surrender.
- Religion Puffs up – Hanging around other Christians more and cussing less, then criticizing others who don’t do the same, makes the “religious” feel superior.
- Faith Humbles – Humility is the essence of our faith; the realization that we’re all sinners in dire need of a Savior, redeemed solely by the grace of God.
- Religion Says “God will…” – Too many pastors teach that faith is having so much belief in a particular outcome that God decides to give us what we want. When healing doesn’t come or the deal falls through, we kick ourselves for not having enough “faith”.
- Faith Says “God can…” – Jesus asked repeatedly, “Do you believe I am able to heal you?” The trigger for miracles was always belief that Jesus COULD, not that He WOULD. That means deferring to God’s will – whether the outcome is good, bad or indifferent. Only the Lord know whether it’s best if healing doesn’t come – maybe His plan is to awaken others to their own mortality, leading them to Christ.
- Religion Caters – Asking little of churchgoers, providing an entertaining worship experience, and promising a better life is sure to keep lukewarm Christians coming back.
- Faith Challenges – Jesus preached his most challenging sermon at the height of His popularity (John 6). In contrast, pastors hesitate to unveil the true costs of discipleship and the Great Commission mandate for fear of driving the “religious” away.
- Religion Builds a Church – Prevailing church growth models like “Invite, Involve, Invest” define pastors and staff as “church” and churchgoers as “customers”. The redefinition of those terms has resulted in reallocating funds away from local missions to member retention and from intensive discipleship to small groups. For churches today, growth does not always imply health.
- Faith Builds Disciples – The Biblical definition of “church” requires equipping and empowering members to BE the church, reaching the lost between Sundays.
- Religion Speaks – Being a Monday morning quarterback, bemoaning what’s wrong with the world, is easy.
- Faith Acts – Getting out of your armchair and serving others in Jesus’ name is hard. As the book of James says, faith without works is dead. We’re called to be more about justice than judgment and compassion than condemnation.
- Religion Keeps Walking – In the Good Samaritan story, the religious leaders were too busy doing religious stuff to stop and care for the beaten robbery victim.
- Faith Stops and Helps – Instead, a man those religious leaders reviled – a Samaritan – was the hero in Jesus’ story. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…“ (James 1:27)
- Religion Shuts Off – Private, Passive, Pensive Christians keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ to themselves.
- Faith Pours Out – Powerful Christians come to grips fully with the grace and mercy of Jesus and can’t possibly keep it in.
It’s Your Turn
Rather than getting caught up in the madness, stressed by holiday obligations, and complaining about “Happy Holidays”, combat the commercialization of Christmas by serving others and sharing the Gospel. #GiveAnEternalGift is a much better way to remind neighbors, coworkers and friends of the real reason for the season.
#GIVEANETERNALGIFT, not temporal gifts that are quickly forgotten and discarded, by following these 3 simple steps:
- Perform an act of kindness and watch it open the door to sharing the Gospel.
- Post a pic and tell your story on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #GiveAnEternalGift to inspire others.
- Challenge 3 of your friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”.
On the upside, Christians always look at the upside, as fewer people celebrate Christmas without knowing the story of Christ, we have the opportunity to tell them why Jesus came, why he lived and died, and ultimately that he rose again changing everything for Christians, not just one day.