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Christian Living

Happy Birthday Jesus and Merry Christmas Too

Segregating the Two Sides of Christmas

Is Christmas an important holiday to you? I suspect you’ll say, “yes.” And if you follow Jesus, you may say Christmas is the most important holiday because it celebrates his birth some 2,000 years ago.

That’s when Jesus came to earth to live among us and die in our place so that we can live forever with him. Happy birthday Jesus.

As the saying goes, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Though Jesus is the basis behind Christmas, how much of our celebration focuses on him? I’m talking about Christmas trees, ornaments, lights, Santa Claus, reindeers, sleighs, eggnog, parties at work, and gatherings with family and friends.

Then there’s gift giving. Though it’s gotten out of hand, the idea of giving to others at Christmas does—or should—remind us that Jesus gave us the greatest gift of all: his life. But how many of us remember that?

Instead, we tune in to Christmas specials, watch Christmas movies, and sing Christmas songs. A few of them are even about Jesus.

When we strip away all the commercialization of Christmas and the man-made traditions we’ve grown to cherish, what do we have left?

A nativity. A baby laying in a manger with Mary and Joseph gathered around and an array of barnyard animals looking on. Amazed shepherds—and their sheep—stand nearby. Magi approach on their camels (never mind that they didn’t arrive until much later).

Happy Birthday Jesus

We may go to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. There we hope to celebrate Jesus and sing some Christmas songs that are actually about him.

I wonder what Jesus thinks of our Christmas traditions, the day once intended for our focus to shift exclusively to him, but which has gotten eerily misappropriated.

Whenever I wish someone “Merry Christmas,” it carries a God-honoring implication, but I doubt many people receive it in the way I intend.

Let’s remember the Christmas story in the gospel of Luke: “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10, NIV). Then check out “Linus Reminds Us What Christmas Is All About.”

We may never be able to reclaim Christmas as the spiritual celebration it once was. But we can reframe it to recapture its intent. Yes, we can continue to celebrate Christmas. But don’t let a secular celebration overshadow the reason behind it.

Let’s celebrate Jesus’s birthday with equal—or even better—fervor. We can even make him a birthday cake and sing Happy Birthday to him.

Happy birthday Jesus (and Merry Christmas too)!

Celebrate Christmas in a fresh way with The Advent of Jesus. It’s a forty-day devotional that prepares our hearts to celebrate the arrival of Jesus in an engaging read. Begin your Advent journey now and gain a greater sense of wonder for the season.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

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Christian Living

Celebrate Christmas Eve

Anticipating the Arrival of Baby Jesus

I don’t really think of Christmas Eve as a holiday as much as the prelude to one. Yet there is—or should be—a spiritual reason to celebrate Christmas Eve.

Anticipating Christmas

As a child I looked forward to Christmas Day with much excitement. On Christmas Eve I found it hard to fall asleep. I was too excited to quiet my racing expectations for the next day.

Not only did I struggle to fall asleep on Christmas Eve, sometimes I woke too early the next morning. My parents would wearily tell me to go back to sleep for a few more hours.

Yet despite my struggles to sleep that night and stay in bed until the morning light, Christmas Day would come and with it the presents I so looked forward to opening.

As such I didn’t celebrate Christmas Eve as much as endure it. It was something to patiently undergo so I could embrace Christmas presents the next day.

The Greatest Gift

Yes, I knew the reason for Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Yet the allure of opening gifts pushed the true reason for the holiday aside.

We are right to celebrate Christmas as a reminder of the baby born in Bethlehem who came to earth to save us for the punishment our sins deserve. And we can celebrate Christmas Eve as a prelude to Christmas Day.

Without first having Christmas Eve, we would never get to Christmas Day.

We celebrate Christmas Day as a reminder of Jesus coming to earth as a baby to save us. Yet one day of celebration doesn’t seem enough. That’s why we can celebrate Christmas Eve in anticipation of the blessed baby’s arrival the next day.

Thank You Jesus

We rightly see Jesus’s gift of salvation—set in motion at his birth—as the greatest gift that has ever been given and the greatest gift that ever will be given. With this we say, “Thank you, Jesus, for coming to earth to save us!”

We celebrate this—or we should celebrate this—on Christmas Day. And when we celebrate Christmas Eve, we can begin one day early our remembrance of Jesus and what he came to earth to do.

May we remember to celebrate Christmas Eve now with the same over-the-top excitement that we had as a child, looking forward to the day ahead.

Then it was presents. Now it’s a salute to the day of Jesus’s birth—the most significant day in all of history, throughout all time.

May we celebrate Christmas Eve with the same over-the-top excitement we had as a child, looking forward to Jesus’s birth on Christmas Day.

Thank you, Jesus!

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

​Enter your info and receive the free Bible Reading Tip Sheet and be added to Peter’s email list.

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Christian Living

Exploring the Church Calendar

Embrace Annual Cycles of Worship to Provide a Regular Rhythm to Our Faith Journey

Some churches follow a church calendar throughout the year to guide them into seasons of worship. This provides an annual rhythm to their embrace of God.

Other churches are less structured in their approach, focusing on two major biblical holidays: Christmas and Easter. Even so, it’s good to be aware of the traditional church calendar.

There is no single agreed upon calendar that all churches follow, with each applying their own unique approach.

Yet there are some general concepts that most church calendars follow. Note that church calendars don’t start on the first of the year but instead begin with Jesus’s birth.

Here’s a generic overview of the church calendar.

Advent

We call the time leading up to Christmas Advent. It begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas, which yields differing starting dates each year.

Some churches, however, are flexible with the start of Advent. They begin on the first Sunday after Thanksgiving (in the United States) or the first Sunday in December.

Often—but not always—this coincides with the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas.

Christmas Day

On Christmas Day we celebrate the birth of Jesus who came to earth to save us. This date is one of tradition more so than the Savior’s actual birth. No one knows for sure, but spring is a more likely time.

Epiphany (the day)

Epiphany occurs twelve days after Christmas, traditionally marking the Magi’s arrival to visit baby Jesus.

Christmastide

Some churches call the time between Christmas Day and Epiphany Christmastide. Other practices end Christmastide on New Years Day.

Epiphany (the season)

Confusing our understanding of the church calendar, some churches celebrate the season of Epiphany, instead of just one day. It starts on the day of Epiphany and ends with the beginning of Lent.

Other churches, however, have a break in their church calendar celebrations, calling the time between the day of Epiphany and Lent as “Ordinary Time.”

Lent

The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is six weeks prior to Good Friday. Though we commonly think of Lent as lasting forty days, the reality is that they don’t count Sundays to make the numbers work.

The ending of Lent varies greatly. It can be on Good Friday, Maundy Thursday, the day before Easter, or the beginning of Holy Week.

What matters in all this, however, is that Lent moves us toward Jesus’s death for our sins and his resurrection from the grave.

Good Friday and Easter

Good Friday and Easter—more appropriately called Resurrection Sunday—celebrate Jesus and his all-important mission of coming to earth to save us.

On Good Friday Jesus died for us and the wrong things we did. He was buried in a tomb. On Resurrection Sunday he rose from the grave, proving his mastery over death.

Eastertide

The season after Jesus rose from the grave on Resurrection Sunday is called Eastertide.

For some church calendars, Eastertide lasts forty days and ends on Ascension Day, which occurs on Thursday, even though many churches celebrate it the following Sunday.

For other churches Eastertide lasts fifty days and ends on Pentecost.

Ascension Day

Forty days after Jesus rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven. We call this Ascension Day. This occurs on Thursday each year, but many churches celebrate it the following Sunday.

Pentecost

Fifty days after Resurrection Sunday (Easter), and ten days after Ascension Day, God sent the Holy Spirit to Jesus’s church to fill them and guide them, just as he promised.

Ordinary Time

Church calendars label the days between Pentecost and Advent as Ordinary Time. It is, in fact, an ordinary time. It’s the space on church calendars without any religious holidays or celebrations.

Some churches also observe a short season of Ordinary Time between the day of Epiphany and Lent.

Celebrate Jesus Throughout the Year

Whether your church calendar celebrates all these seasons and dates or focuses on Christmas and Easter, we should all celebrate Jesus throughout the year.

The first four devotional books in the Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series guide us in doing just that:

  1. The Advent of Jesus covers the season of Advent, Christmas Day, and ends on Epiphany.
  2. The Ministry of Jesus focuses on what Jesus did leading up to his death and resurrection, that is, his earthly ministry. It’s an ideal devotional for Ordinary Time, be it between Epiphany and Lent or between Pentecost and Advent.
  3. The Passion of Jesus covers the season of Lent and concludes on Good Friday (Eastertide).
  4. The Victory of Jesus begins on Resurrection Sunday (Easter) and goes through to Pentecost.

Reading these four devotionals in this order provide a comprehensive understanding of Jesus’s life and mission as recorded in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Learn more about the Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series.

Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series, by Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

​Enter your info and receive the free Bible Reading Tip Sheet and be added to Peter’s email list.

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Bible Insights

Celebrate the Coming of Jesus

Prepare Your Heart for the Savior This Christmas

Most Christians and their churches celebrate Christmas to commemorate Jesus coming to earth as a baby. And many build up to Christmas by observing Advent—the time that precedes our Savior’s birth.

This book, The Advent of Jesus, is designed to guide us in this important season as we celebrate Jesus.

In doing so, we’ll take a holistic approach so we can better appreciate the coming of our Savior to earth. We’ll center on the gospel accounts in the Bible, giving primary attention to the beloved passage from the beginning of the book of Luke.

Then we’ll incorporate Old Testament prophecy about the coming Messiah to deepen our understanding. Along the way we’ll tap into our imagination to better see things from the perspective of Mary and Joseph.

The goal is to consider Jesus’s arrival from several different vantages to offer a comprehensive Advent devotional. And for maximum flexibility, there are options to fit your preferences and schedule. Here’s why:

Traditionally, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas.

As a result, Advent can start as early as November 27 or as late as December 3. This means that the length of Advent varies from 22 to 28 days.

It ends with the celebration of Jesus’s birth on December 25, even though this date is one of convenience and probably does not mark Jesus’s actual birth.

In this devotional we’ll celebrate the arrival of Jesus for all twenty-eight days of Advent. You can start on November 27, regardless of the year’s calendar. Or begin on whatever date marks the beginning of Advent for the current year.

We’ll build up to the grand culmination of Jesus’s birth.

Then, if you want more, continue the celebration past Christmas to Epiphany on January 6, which traditionally marks the coming of the Magi to celebrate Jesus. This event serves as a fitting conclusion to the Christmas story.

To cover all the essential parts of the story, we’ll compress some parts of our timeline and expand others. For example, we’ll look at Jesus’s birth for five days, not just on Christmas. And we’ll do the same for Epiphany.

The result is a comprehensive devotional that celebrates Jesus coming to earth as an infant who grows up to save humanity. May God speak to you through this book during the Advent season and beyond.

[This devotional is taken from the November 22 reading from The Advent of Jesus.]

Celebrate Christmas in a fresh way with The Advent of Jesus. It’s a forty-day devotional that prepares our hearts to celebrate the arrival of Jesus in an engaging read. Begin your Advent journey now and gain a greater sense of wonder for the season.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

May You and Your Family Have a Blessed Christmas

Make Jesus the Focus of Your Celebration

With Christmas falling on Sunday this year, I planned to wish you a blessed Christmas on my weekly Sunday post. Alas, I’ve already wished you a merry Christmas in the past—three times.

So, instead of repeating what I’ve already written or reprising an old post, I’ll give you a round-up of some of my top Christmas posts from the past.

May you receive them as my Christmas gift to you and carry them with you throughout the day—and the year. May you have a blessed Christmas.

Not surprisingly, I write about Christmas a lot. Over the years, I’ve mentioned it in over 70 posts.

As you celebrate Jesus this year, may you have a safe, happy, and blessed Christmas.

Celebrate Christmas in a fresh way with The Advent of Jesus. It’s a forty-day devotional that prepares our hearts to celebrate the arrival of Jesus in an engaging read. Begin your Advent journey now and gain a greater sense of wonder for the season.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Peter DeHaan News

New Book: The Advent of Jesus

Celebrate Christmas in a fresh, new way with this Advent devotional.

It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of Christmas and miss its true meaning. Why not make this holiday season a special time for preparation to reflect on the Messiah’s birth?

The Advent of Jesus: A Devotional Celebrating the Coming Savior

In The Advent of Jesus: A Devotional Celebrating the Coming Savior, Peter DeHaan leads readers through a forty-day devotional that prepares our hearts to celebrate the arrival of Jesus in an engaging way.

In this Advent devotional, you will:

  • draw closer to Jesus
  • celebrate the season with a deeper, more biblical outlook
  • focus on the meaning behind the holiday
  • celebrate Jesus’s arrival throughout Advent and into Christmas
  • marvel over the birth of our Messiah

If you’ve been longing to grow closer to Jesus this holiday season, pick up this illuminating devotional that will guide you through Advent. Each day’s brief and impactful reading includes thought-provoking questions and a meaningful prayer.

The Advent of Jesus will prepare your heart to worship and celebrate with a new passion. Begin your Advent journey now and gain a greater sense of amazement for the season.

Get your copy of The Advent of Jesus today.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Is Ascension Day the Fifth Christian Holy Day?

Celebrate Jesus’s Return to Heaven, Which Prepares the Way for Pentecost

In my post The Four Main Christian Celebrations, I list for holy days (holidays) that smartly recognize Jesus and succinctly outline the key elements of his life and what he did for us. These Christian holidays are:

  1. Jesus’s Birthday (Christmas)
  2. Jesus’s Sacrificial Death (Good Friday)
  3. Resurrection Sunday (Easter)
  4. Pentecost

I wonder if I should add Ascension Day to the list. It is, after all, a critical element in the arc of Jesus’s life.

What is Ascension Day?

Ascension Day occurs forty days after Resurrection Sunday (better known as Easter). On Easter Jesus rises from the dead. He spends forty days with his friends and followers to prove he is alive.

Then he gives his disciples the directive to wait in Jerusalem for a special gift—the Holy Spirit—that Papa will send (Acts 1:4). After his parting words, he ascends into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).

Ascension Day falls on Thursday, so the date differs each year.

Out of convenience many churches acknowledge Jesus’s returned to heaven on the following Sunday, which they call Ascension Sunday—even though it didn’t happen on the first day of the week.

Ascension Day is critical, for Jesus had to return to heaven before his followers—and we—could receive the Holy Spirit. Without Jesus leaving, Pentecost couldn’t have occurred.

The Five Holidays That Commemorate Jesus’s Life

Putting these five days together reveals a sound theological understanding of the essential role Jesus plays in our faith journey. Here it is:

Jesus comes to earth (Christmas). After he spends three years to teach his disciples and talk about the kingdom of God, he dies as our once-and-for-all sacrifice to cover all the mistakes we—and everyone else throughout time—have ever made (Good Friday).

To prove he has the authority to make the ultimate sacrifice for us, he overcomes death by rising from the dead (Easter). After confirming he is alive, he returns to heaven (Ascension Day) so that we may receive the Holy Spirit (Pentecost).

Recognizing these five days as Christian holy days and celebrating these holidays reminds us each year of the essential elements of the gospel story, God’s good news to save humanity.

Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his return to heaven in The Victory of Jesus. The Victory of Jesus is another book in Peter DeHaan’s beloved Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Warn One Another in Love

Consider What the Bible Says and How to Apply It

I’ve talked about the need for theological diversity in our churches. While we need to embrace those who hold different understandings of Jesus, we perhaps need to adopt a separate view of the behaviors of people who live contrary to God’s word. Or maybe not. Instead, we need to warn one another in love.

Paul touches on this in his second letter to the church in Thessalonica. He tells them to stay away from those who do not follow his instructions. He specifically refers to what he says in that particular letter.

However, by extension, we could assume he means all the commands in the Bible. But this might be dangerous, for we read the Bible through the lens of our experiences and not with the comprehension of the original audience or their situation.

It’s too easy to see what we want to see when we read the Bible and miss what God actually wants to communicate.

Even more worrisome is to imply that these verses offer a principal that we are to avoid those who don’t follow the words of their church leaders or spiritual guides. But this becomes even more problematic.

People are fallible, and many religious leaders have led their flocks astray by demanding compliance to some misguided belief. Don’t drink their Kool-Aid.

Who Is in Error?

We need to proceed with the utmost care before we criticize the actions of fellow believers. After all, we could be the ones in error.

If we do feel we must move in this direction, we should advance with great caution and follow Paul’s teaching in this matter: We are to not view these folks as an enemy but as a brother who needs a gentle warning. We need to warn one another in love

I say it again, if other Christians don’t behave like we think they should, they are not the enemy. If we say anything, we need to warn them in love and not with self-righteous indignation.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 2 Thessalonians 1-3, and today’s post is on 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

What Does a Christmas Sale Have to Do with Jesus?

Let’s Reframe the Idea of a Christmas Sale in Spiritual Terms

This time of year, we so often see the phrase “Christmas sale” that we barely give it a thought. And if we do think of it, we lament the secularization of our holy celebration of Jesus’s birth.

Yes, the commercialization of gift giving and a merchandising mentality of tempting, can’t-pass-it-up sale prices has coopted one of Christianity’s most cherished celebrations.

This distraction of Christmas sales takes us from what the birthday celebration of Jesus’s arrival on earth was meant to be, moving us to something spiritually unintended and eternally unhelpful.

The idea of a Christmas sale is to entice us to buy something that will make us or our loved ones happy. Connecting a sale to the memory of Jesus alarms us.

Yet before we reject the phrase Christmas sale, let’s re-examine it from a spiritual perspective.

While we don’t want to offer of Jesus for sale, in hopes that someone will buy him, we do want to promote Jesus in hopes that someone will follow him.

If we think of sales in terms of marketing, isn’t that what we’re really doing when we tell others about Jesus?

Granted, the thought of marketing Jesus offends many, yet telling others about the good news of Jesus—either through our words or our lifestyle—is, at its most basic form, marketing.

In our marketing of Jesus, we don’t expect anyone to buy him—even if we pretend he’s on sale—but we do want people to buy into the idea of turning their life around and following him.

Each time we see the words Christmas sale, may we connect it with Jesus. I don’t mean in a crass commercialization of him but in a way that reminds us that both in this season and all year round, we need to let others know about him.

Though shocking to suggest it, this might be the true meaning of “Christmas sale.”

Celebrate Christmas in a fresh way with The Advent of Jesus. It’s a forty-day devotional that prepares our hearts to celebrate the arrival of Jesus in an engaging read. Begin your Advent journey now and gain a greater sense of wonder for the season.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Personal Posts

The Season of Giving

Around 2008, the economy wasn’t looking good, the markets were in the pits, and there was general concern about the future. Given all this, it was easy to be self-focused and forget about other people and their circumstances.

Today, at least in the US, things are much different. The markets are booming and businesses are growing at their fastest rate in the last decade. However, whether the economy is good or bad, we need to think about others.

The reality is that there are folks out there who are struggling. To be direct, they are homeless, depending on the generosity of others just to eat.

Every major city has organizations and outreach programs to help these people—and that is good. However, these groups continue to address people who need their help, which means that they need our help. If you can make a donation, now is the time to do so.

If a monetary gift isn’t possible, then give of your time. With people in need, they are in need for volunteers. Of course, you can give both your time and your money.

As the holiday season approaches, the spirit of giving and sharing typically increases. Please do what you can to help, but just remember that the homeless don’t only need help at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the year around.

I hope you enjoy the holidays—and can help others do the same.

Do you like this post? Want to read more? Check out Peter’s book, Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide: Discovering the Spirituality of Every Day Life, available wherever books are sold.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.