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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 celebrates Jesus’s return to heaven, preparing for the Holy Spirit to arrive. Click To Tweet

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.

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

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.

Don’t let the secular celebration of Christmas overshadow the reason behind it. Click To Tweet

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)!

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

Christians who don’t behave as we think they should aren't the enemy. Click To Tweet

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.

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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.

In our marketing of Jesus, we don’t expect anyone to buy him, but we do want people to buy into the idea of turning their life around and following him. Click To Tweet

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.”

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

Are You Waiting For Christmas?

For a long time my wife has wanted a giant Christmas card to display in our yard during the holidays. She discussed the project with a local artist friend, but he moved before anything beyond talk ever happened. Then we lost touch. The Christmas card vision languished but never died.

Then we met another artist. She and my wife agreed on a price, and my wife started saving her money. The artist began work on it two and a half years ago, anticipating a Christmas unveiling. But other projects superseded our Christmas card.

The artist delivered it the following summer, just before we moved. The next Christmas—last Christmas—we were between houses so the long-awaited Christmas card remained secluded for another year.

That brings us to the present. It is advent. We have a house and we have the card, coinciding with Christmas for the first time. At long last my wife’s greeting card is on display, welcoming everyone who drives by. It was a long wait.

It was an even longer wait for the first Christmas. For centuries the prophets foretold of the coming Immanuel, the one who would be “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

Year after year, decade after decade, they waited in anticipation for the promised one. Their advent lasted most of a millennia.

Finally he came, but most of the people who yearned for his arrival missed it. They were expecting something else, someone else, not a tiny baby born in a barn to dirt-poor parents. After centuries of waiting for Christmas, it came and went with barely any notice

Before we criticize them too harshly we should pause for a moment of introspection.

The trappings of Christmas threaten to overshadow the baby who came to be God with us. Click To Tweet

Today we struggle with the same issue. The trappings of Christmas have ballooned out of proportion, overshadowing the baby who came to be God with us. With the decorations, the parties, the presents, and the family traditions it’s easy to forget the real reason we celebrate.

It’s all about Jesus—or at least it should be.

Are you waiting for Christmas? Will Jesus be the center of your celebration?

May your Christmas be a joyous one.

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

3 Thoughts About Christmas

Christmas is almost here; my mind swirls with a jumble of thoughts as I try to connect the calendar with my celebration of Jesus. Here are three items I’m considering:

1. My wife and I are in a state of transition between one home and the next. Most of our belongings, including everything relating to Christmas, are safely stowed in a couple of storage containers.

We have no decorations to hang and none of our familiar trimmings to remind us of this season. True, the signals are all around us, but those are just enough removed that the approach of Christmas mostly eludes me.

2. I wrote a blog post for Christmas, titled “Linus Reminds Us What Christmas is All About.” In it, I link to a clip of Linus reading part of the Christmas story from Luke 2:8-14.

This is from the perennial Christmas special A Charlie Brown Christmas, which first aired in 1965. The show was written to counter the secularization and commercialization of Christmas. In the intervening forty-nine years, things have eroded much further.

3. I just received an email from a friend living in a culture far different from mine. He shared that not many people celebrate Christmas where he is, but his family will, intentionally preparing their hearts to remember Jesus’ arrival on earth.

At first I felt bad for my friend. He will miss out on having the familiar trappings of Christmas around him. But as I think about it more, I’m envious because he doesn’t have the distractions from a secularized, commercialized distortion of Christmas to contend with.

Like my friend, I need to be intentional about Christmas and remember the true meaning behind it.

Thank you, Jesus! I love you!

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

Do You Wish People Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

My wife wishes people a “Merry Christmas,” while I say “Happy holidays.” We both have our reasons for doing so, and we are both right.

It’s important to us to keep Jesus as the central focus of Christmas. One way my wife does so is by wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas”—every chance she gets.

She never says “Merry Xmas” and doesn’t shop at stores that resort to that godless abbreviation. She also never says “Happy holidays”—and gives me a critical glare when I do.

I am, however, quick to say “Merry Christmas” to people who follow Jesus and am happy to return the greeting to others who offer it to me.

My preference, however, is a more intentional “Have a wonderful Christmas,” because the idea of making merry is a bit too jolly for me, obscuring the wondrous love of Jesus and what he came to do.

However, when expressing season’s greetings to people of unknown faith, I prefer a less confrontational “Happy holidays.”

While people of other faiths could take my “Merry Christmas” greeting in a secular sense, they could likewise be incensed at a perceived attempt to proselytize. That would not be my intent; I do not want to offend.

My wife thinks I’m over-analyzing something simple.

I consider it this way: How would I feel if someone wished me a “Happy Kwanzaa,” a created holiday originally intended as an “oppositional alternative” to Christmas?

Someone did, and I was offended. Caught off guard and unwilling to reply with “Happy Kwanzaa,” I blurted out “Merry Christmas.” Sadly, I responded to his confrontation with an equally confronting retort.

I wish I had just smiled and said, “Happy holidays.”

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

When Will Winter End?

Always Winter and Never Christmas

In C. S. Lewis’s classic book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the land of Narnia is under duress: it is always winter and never Christmas. As winter drags on this year, I feel the same way.

In Michigan, we enjoy all four seasons and in about equal proportions. According to the calendar, winter lasts ninety days. However, this year our winter weather started sooner, piled snow deeper, inflicted frigid temperatures, and lasted longer.

Everyone I talk to is anxious for spring. Even people who claim winter as their favorite season, look forward to warmer weather.

A couple weeks ago enough snow melted to where our deck was bare (aided by my snow shovel—an act of desperation on my part). On Facebook, I asked about setting out our patio furniture.

The answer was “no.” They were right, of course, and I was rushing spring. Winter will remain with us a while longer, causing us to ask, “When will winder end?”

Yet as I wait for spring to arrive, I focus on the future and forget the present. In some ways, I’ve placed my life on hold, squandering today as I wait for tomorrow. I need to stop doing that.

On Tuesday it snowed some more. Today the temperature is above freezing. I’m declaring an end to winter. And even if that doesn’t happen, I won’t waste another day waiting for something better to come along.

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

Celebrate Jesus Throughout the Year

Yesterday was Christmas, a time to celebrate Jesus. Many people went to church to acknowledge the Christ behind Christmas and even more celebrated Jesus in other ways. For my family, the day marked the last of four celebrations.

Now Christmas is over. We put it behind us for another year.

Yet long ago, Isaiah looked forward to Christmas, anticipating what was to come with these familiar words:

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, NIV)

Christmas may be over, but the celebration of Jesus continues. We can celebrate Jesus all year long/ We should celebrate Jesus all year long.

Thank you Jesus for who you are and what you did.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Isaiah 8-10 and today’s post is on Isaiah 9:6.]

Read more about the book of Isaiah in For Unto Us: 40 Prophetic Insights About Jesus, Justice, and Gentiles from the Prophet Isaiah available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

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

The Purpose of Christmas

For people who follow Jesus, Christmas is a time to celebrate his birth. Yet Christmas is under attack. Some want to turn it into Xmas, others try to band its mention, and others say it doesn’t matter because we’ve already sufficiently removed Jesus from it.

The reaction from Christ-followers is understandable, but the battle is already lost. Consider our Christmas traditions. How many of them connect with biblical Jesus? Not twinkle lights, mistletoe, garland, snowmen, Santa Claus, reindeer, crackling fires, or hot chocolate.

Not sending cards, decorating trees, drinking eggnog, lighting candles, ringing bells, eating ham, stuffing stockings, baking cookies, or wrapping presents. Even the date is off base; it’s highly unlikely Jesus was born in the winter, but a time of year when traveling for the census made more sense.

True, some of these traditions do hold meaning, but the sentiment is manmade, not Bible-based. How we celebrate Christmas has little connection with his birth. Here are the only things I could come up with that actually seem to focus on Jesus:

A Nativity Scene

A manger scene is a fine reminder to that earlier time and the real reason for the season.

A Tree Topper

An angel or star atop the tree reminds us of the angels announcing his arrival and the star the magi saw. But nothing else on the tree, not even the tree itself, connects directly with Jesus.

Christmas Carols

Though the list grows smaller each year, some of the Christmas songs we sing actually mention Jesus’ birth.

Gifts

What about gifts? The magi gave gifts to Jesus, not other people. To follow their example means giving gifts to God, not family and friends. Or what about the “gift” of Jesus? The real gift was not Jesus’ birth but his victory over death. That would be Easter, another holiday we must fight to protect.

Before you call me Scrooge or Grinch, let me assure you, I am not. I love Christmas because I love Jesus. My goal is for us to refocus Christmas on what truly connects with Jesus and make all other things secondary.

A Birthday Cake for Jesus

Several years ago, my wife began a practice of making a birthday cake for Jesus. We even sing “Happy Birthday”; some years there are candles. This may seem corny, but it does actually force us, if even for a moment, to focus on the birth of Jesus—and that’s the purpose of Christmas.

Happy birthday, 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.

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