As we prepare to celebrate Christmas tomorrow, there has been a recent focus on how Christ has been taken out of Christmas. Christmas in the context of this debate, has been turned into a consumeristic, marketing, and materialism movement. We were even lead to believe a few years ago that on Black Friday, our Christmas shopping could rescue the economy with this view of Christmas. Black Friday may one day become a holiday all by itself creating the trifecta of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Christmas. But this isn’t the Christmas problem that I want to deal with. The problem I want to bring up has been an issue much longer. I want to focus on those of us that still keep Christ in Christmas. We have another problem.
Our problem is with the Christ that we lift up during Christmas. In an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world, we continue to lift up a Eurocentric Jesus. The majority, if not all of the images of the Nativity Scene continue to be a White Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, even though this scene takes place far away from any European country. Our problem is that as we strive to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we actually lift up a false Jesus. By lifting up a false Jesus, we run the risk of that Western Jesus become the very symbol of what Christmas has become. We also must remember that Christmas isn’t a biblically based holiday in the first place. First century Christian Jews would not have placed the importance on Christmas that we do today. Over time Christian Gentiles made the pagan rooted festivals of both Christmas and Easter what they are today and have long forgotten the true biblical holidays such as Passover and Pentecost.
I’m not saying that we should move away from Christmas and Easter. No, I’m saying that we should recover the real roots of how they came to be celebrations for us in the first place so that we can present the real, biblical Jesus to the world. Christmas and Easter are pagan rooted festivals that were used for evangelism purposes to present Jesus to the Gentile world. This was a multicultural world. Over time though the European part of the pagan world came to dominate Christianity through Constantine and the Roman empire. This led to the re-birth of Jesus into a European.
In this Christmas season the church has the opportunity to recover the true Jesus based on Matthew 1 and John 1. We can also recover the mission of the true Jesus through Luke 4 and Matthew 9, 10, and 25. The real Jesus is a Afro-Asiatic Jew (Matthew 1), but most importantly the Son of God, Who has existed before what we know as the beginning of time (John 1). The real Jesus calls us beyond consumerism to a life of truth, transformation, compassion, mercy, and justice. The church must present the gift of the real Jesus to the world and solve the real Christmas problem.
Maybe like me, you felt today as if the weight of the world was upon you. In your own power you were trying to provide all the answers, take care of all the business, and find time for your family as well. As the day comes to an end there’s still an opportunity to do what should have been done at the beginning. Approach the God of the universe with the weights upon your shoulders. Allow God to lighten your load. None of us have the ability in our own might to handle the full load of life’s journey. Find the rest and the strength your soul desires.
“And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger.” (Judges 2:10-11, NASB)
As I’ve been studying the book of Judges lately in the Old Testament, it’s hard for me not to think of the Hip Hop generation of which I am apart. I also think about the generation that we have produced, which I will call for now, the Rap generation. For those of you who are not African-American, Hispanic, Asian American, or come from an urban background do not make the mistake of ending your reading here. Hip Hop culture and rap music have a global influence on all of youth and young adult culture today. Though the church is in denial about this to a large degree, the corporate music industry is not. Even churches that don’t deny this primarily see Hip Hop and rap as the enemy of the church. Let me go back to Judges and then I will work my way to the connection with Hip Hop and rap.
The book of Judges is about a people disconnected from their heritage and their God. The initial chapters of Judges shows us a younger generation who do evil because they have no sense of the God who brought them out of Egypt and delivered them into the promised land. Out of this ignorance they become an idolatrous people, serving the gods of the people around them. What is very interesting to me is that we see a cycle within Judges. The younger generation does evil in the eyes of the Lord, the LORD sells them (or allows them to be sold) into slavery and oppression, and then delivers them through Judges when they cry out to the LORD for help. If only they would desire a knowledge of their heritage and a covenant relationship with God, they would not have to live within this cycle. Why doesn’t the older generation take greater responsibility for making sure their younger generation knows their history that they might stay in covenant relationship with God?
My generation has not taken the type of responsibility needed with the youth and young adults below us. You could also argue that the generation above me made the same mistake. The tiredness of promises unfilled during the Civil Rights movement caused many African-Americans above me and with me to give into individualism and consumerism. If I gain enough stuff, at least I can become apart of that smaller group of African-Americans that made it.
I must say that I’m very concerned that too many African-American and urban churches have not seen the value of having a full-time pastor to children and youth on their staff. This is a key strategy to reaching a rap generation influenced by the gods of others pursuing them daily. Will senior pastors be willing to sacrifice some luxury in order to have a staff person and a comprehensive strategy for the younger generation enslaved by commercial rap music? Michelle Alexander in her book,” The New Jim Crow” does a great job in connecting commercial rap music and the mass incarceration of African-American males. She also wonders why this issue isn’t a top priority of civil rights organizations. I wonder why it isn’t a top priority of the church.
Commercial rap music today is full of idolatry and mainly is about serving the gods of the people around them. These people around them are corporate heads that are mainly European-Americans who have no interest in the health of the African-American and urban community. They are using the worst of this community to sell a product to a suburban community. I believe that if the African-American and urban church would take responsibility for its own enslavement to idolatry today, we could reach a younger generation that does not know the LORD or the work He has done to deliver African-Americans out of slavery and Jim Crow segregation.
This weekend, I participated in the Berry family reunion in Houston, Texas. This reunion celebrates my wife’s family on her dad’s side. The theme of the weekend was “legacy.” Besides the very hot weather (100 degrees the whole time), this has been a very powerful time. I love attending family reunions. It was about 20 years ago when my life was greatly impacted thru a family reunion on my mother’s side of the family.
At that reunion I found out that my great, great grandfather was full-blooded Irish and married a woman who was half African-American and half Native American. I left that family reunion years ago embracing that I’m African-American and also multi-ethnic. A few years later, while in seminary, I unpacked further Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as a multi-ethnic Jew, who was the Son of Man (Matthew 1). These two discoveries have had a tremendous influence on discovering my ministry calling.
I wonder how many people are disconnected from their life mission, simply because they are disconnected from their family tree and cultural heritage?
At the Berry family reunion, many people shared on the power of family and the importance of legacy. Our ability to leave a legacy in the earth is deeply connected to an intimate relationship with God and having a deep understanding of our heritage. This, I believe has become a great weakness for many of my European-American brothers and sisters. By becoming White, they have become greatly disconnected from a heritage that could possibly fuel a deeper understanding of life and mission. I believe African-Americans could offer a great gift to our European-American brothers and sisters, by being more public in conversations about the power of heritage and legacy. There are people of all ethnicities who have become disconnected from family and heritage. Allow God to speak to you about discovering the power of your own family heritage and legacy regardless of ethnicity or racial background. You may discover your life mission.
I introduced the Biblical concept of marriage as ministry a couple of weeks ago, so it makes sense to lift up family as ministry as well. In Genesis 12, God speaks to Abram about a blessing that is the foundation for the birth of the nation of Israel. This blessing is also connected to the family tree of Jesus mentioned in the first chapter of Matthew.
This is the context in which I want to deal with family as ministry. Could it be that if all God had to work with was the family that the Kingdom of God could be expanded? I believe so. Family is a blessing from God and can be a vehicle of the extension and expression of God’s love. If marriage is a ministry, the family is a ministry as well that builds upon the gift of a God-centered Covenant.
The problem is that many people use family as a place to primarily get their individual needs met. This can cause family to be a place of envy, competitiveness, and abuse. Family is first and foremost about God. Family ought to be a picture on the earth of the community and culture of God’s Kingdom. This possibility is about experiencing family God’s way verses our way. Our families regardless of what they look like right now could be transformed into vehicles of love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, truth, and compassion.
Think deeply this week about how God wants to use you in your family to express who God is. God may want to be a reconciler through you in your family today. Will you let God be this through you? God may want to express compassion in your family today through you. Will you allow God to be God in and through you?
Before there was a church, a choir, a pastor, or a prophet, there was the ministry of marriage. Even though marriage is a blessing and a gift from God, ultimately marriage is not primarily about us. Marriage is about God and the advancement of His Kingdom. Marriage is given as a Kingdom resource and blessing to be stewarded by us that God’s love might be made manifest. In this context marriage is an extension and expression of God’s love for us.
The problem is, many people go into marriage to get their individual needs met. Many feel that through marriage they will be loved and rescued from loneliness or a pain injected into them during childhood. We may not have realized it at the time, but we may have gone into marriage a broken person hoping marriage would mend all that. Before we go into God’s “beloved” vision of marriage, we need to become God’s beloved child first. Let me say that this is a word initially to those that are still single. If you are already married, it’s about trusting God to do both at the same time. That is, God can transform an individual into the beloved and a marriage into a beloved Covenant relationship at the same time.
Many times in the Bible, marriage is used as a metaphor to describe the relationship between between Jesus and the church. Jesus in every case is described as the groom and the church as the bride. If you’re looking for Biblical principles for your marriage consider Scriptures that deal with Jesus and the church and reflect on what that might mean for your marriage. Consider reading Ephesians chapter 5 and Philippians chapter 2 .
Last weekend we had our first marriage retreat at the Sanctuary Covenant Church. Over 50 couples attended and we had a great time. As I prepared my talks for this weekend, I had some new thoughts from Scripture on marriage. As I read Scriptures on marriage and prayed for wisdom for the talks I was to give at the retreat, I couldn’t help but wonder why so many Christian marriages end in divorce. I’ve read a number of articles on Christians and marriage that state that over half of Christian marriages don’t last. What’s up with that? Maybe it’s because Christians and non-Christians alike share something in common when it comes to marriage; both groups think marriage is primarily about them. Herein lies the problem.
As I revisited Genesis chapters 2 and 3, I saw something within these Scriptures that led me to see marriage differently. Marriage is primarily about God and then it’s about us. To experience marriage God’s way, we must see marriage as an extension of God’s love and a expression in the earthly realm of what the kingdom of God is about. Marriage is a Covenant between one man and one woman that is to provide a picture to the world of the Covenant God desires with humankind. This Covenant between God and man was broken because of sin, but reestablished through Christ. Marriage is used as a metaphor throughout the New Testament in describing the relationship between Christ and the Church. This Covenant marriage is about the advancement of God’s Kingdom on earth. What if before the development of the church, Marriage was the first ministry God created, that thru it, the kingdom of God might be advanced? Puts a whole new take on, “be fruitful and multiply.” Read Genesis 1 thru 3 and see if God leads you to rethink marriage.