How to Set up a Christmas Tree and Still Go to Heaven

Arun Kuchibhotla

Did you know I write a monthly article for my email subscribers?

This month I explored the supposed pagan origin of Christmas trees. Are these claims valid or not? If so, how should we, as Christians, respond?

Here's how the article begins:

If your family is like mine, you probably have some unique Christmas traditions. 
The Saturday after Thanksgiving, my family breaks out our Christmas decorations in accordance with the traditions we’ve developed over the years. First I head to the garage and unfurl the creaky wooden ladder leading to the attic. Once I test a few steps to ensure they’ll hold up another year, I climb up and then start heaving the boxes labeled ‘Christmas’ in Sharpie scrawl down from the upper room. 
As we decorate, we enjoy classic Christmas ballads from Aaron Neville and Sarah McLaughlin. Once all the paraphernalia is in place and the fake fir is erected, we open the ornament box and marvel at the mix of homemade and gifted ornaments, each a repository of memories. 
With the tree trimmed we order a couple of pizzas and prepare one of our favorite indulgences while we wait: Chex Muddy Buddies. There’s something magical about the mix of cereal, chocolate, and peanut butter laden with powdered sugar. The batch usually doesn’t last but a few days. 
When the pies arrive, all six of us pack out the couch and watch the Jon Favreau cult Christmas film Elf. Though we’ve all seen it ten times each, we still laugh till we hack and wheeze from the leftover autumnal colds we’re still getting over. 
With that, the Christmas season has officially begun in the Gilmore household. 
Yet there are some who say having a tree in the house at all is an un-Christian thing to do. They say the practice is pagan in origin and therefore has no place in Christmas festivities. 
Are they right? Am I sinning by erecting a fake fir tree and decorating it in observance of Christmas?
A Brief History of the Christmas Tree 
There are a few divergent issues we must address, so I’ll try to be brief as possible in order to get to the heart of the matter. 
The first is to determine if the claim that Christmas trees are pagan in origin is a valid one.

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Is There a Deeper Meaning behind the Virgin Birth?

Do you ever wonder why God sent his son as a tiny zygote in the womb of a teenage virgin?

The story is totally bizarre and, quite frankly, outlandish without some context.

I'm not questioning the virgin birth; I'm convinced it's true. But you could see how someone from the outside might consider the story mere fable.

Anuja Mary

Nevertheless one can be convinced of the veracity of an event without in the least understanding its cause. Take, for instance, NBC's television program, The Voice, in which singers compete for a cash prize and a record deal with Universal Music Group.* I know the show exists, but I can't for the life of me explain why.

*At least that’s what Wikipedia tells me.

Still, why didn't Jesus appear as a grown man on earth? Why didn't he come from the sky and boldly announce his arrival?

God Is Not as Silent as It Might Seem

Kristina Flour

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This month, I wrote about why it sometimes seems as if God is silent in our lives. Here's how the article begins:

Does it ever feel like God is silent? 
If you’ve been a Christian for any stretch of time, you’ve probably had moments or seasons of your life when you felt as if God wasn’t communicating to you. 
I know I have. 
Sometimes prayers seem like hand-written letters mailed overseas with no tracking number. No confirmation of delivery. So we are left wondering if God ever received the letter, and if so, why hasn’t he written back? 
What we really want is something like a text message with instant feedback and confirmation God received the message. And we want to be able to see when he’s typing out a response on his end. 
While these moments can be frustrating, may I suggest God’s not as silent as it seems?

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If You Found Jesus in a Time of Crisis, You're Not Alone

Crises are no fun.

Whether they come in the form of an automobile accident, cancer, natural disasters, or any other myriad catastrophes, crises are things we'd all rather avoid if possible.

Alex Blăjan

Nevertheless, in the midst of such events, God can use these circumstances to bring about amazing results.

Look no further than the jailer at Philippi responsible for prisoners Paul and Silas. When God sent an earthquake and the bonds fell off the hands and feet of the prisoners, the prison guard unsheathed his sword to end his own life.

He knew worse things befall those who let prisoners escape.

If You Ever Struggle with Telling Others about Jesus, You Are Not Alone

I'm excited to have written another guest article for Unlocking the Bible.

I wrote about how I have struggled with sharing my faith, and I offer some encouragement and practical advice for those of us in the same boat.

Alex Holyoake

Here's how it begins:

If you’ve ever wrestled with the idea of sharing your faith with those around you, let me assure you you’re not alone. 
As an introvert, I’ve spent years of my life trying to fly under the radar and to avoid having awkward or confrontational conversations about faith. Yet when I got serious about my faith several years ago, I felt the Spirit burdening my heart for the lost. 
I still think I’m a lousy evangelist, but I’ve learned a few things I think will be a source of encouragement to you in your pursuit to tell others about Jesus.

You can read the rest at Unlocking the Bible.

Our Relationship Status with Food: It's Complicated

Photo by Grant Barker

Did you know I write a monthly article for my email subscribers?

This month I wrote about how food can aid our knowledge of spiritual things. Here's how it begins:

No matter how you slice it, our relationship with food has always been complicated. The food that tastes the best also seems to be the worst for us. Too many doughnuts and cheeseburgers will render us obese and lethargic. Too little food? You’ll surely die. 
Spiritually speaking, our dealings with food might be even more bizarre. In the beginning, Adam and Eve tasted fruit they weren’t supposed to touch, even though they didn’t have to eat at all since death was not yet a thing. 
Because of those bites, we lost paradise, God cursed the ground, and suddenly not only was food now required for survival, it also became difficult to obtain. 
And that’s just the beginning. 
We don’t even have time to address vegetarianism, clean and unclean food, manna and quail in the wilderness, the Passover lamb, unleavened bread, food sacrificed to idols, Nazarite vows, our daily bread, cooking goats in their mother’s milk, fasting, eating with sinners and a whole multitude of other issues. 
Nevertheless, food provides a critical conduit for spiritual knowledge and realization, both as a metaphor and in the actual act of chowing down. This isn’t some sort of new age mysticism I’m hawking here, but stick with me as we focus in on two specific Bible passages with eerily similar wording. Coincidence? I think not, but I’ll let you be the judge.

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Maybe Vegetarians Know Something We Meat-Eaters Don't

Fifteen years ago I almost died. Not literally, but I felt like death, and I may have been okay with that outcome. What happened?

I stopped eating meat.

Photo by Monica Infiesto

This was one of those Lenten convictions I had back in my more pious days. And what better to give up for Jesus than the one thing I love the most? What’s next? Coffee and football?

I know I’m making light of it, but I assure you the decision was born out of a desire to please God and get nearer to Him, and I think I accomplished that goal.

But when I do something, I like to do it right. So I gave up eggs and fish too. But not dairy. Then I literally would have died. Suffice to say I ate a lot of Mac and Cheese and minestrone those forty days. (If only I had known about hummus back then.)

I felt drained and fatigued much of the time during those forty days. These sensations were perfect for accomplishing my Lenten goals of relying on God more, but as a way of life? I shudder at the thought.

On the other side now, I wonder how vegetarians and vegans do what they do and survive. Thrive even. One of my favorite athletes, hall of fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, turned pseudo vegan while still playing professional football, consuming only 20% of his protein from animals—primarily fish.[1]

And yet, as untenable as it sounds to me, maybe vegetarians are on to something. Maybe deep down they know something we carnivores don’t understand.

Is There a Good Way to Tell If God Has Spoken to Me?

Did you know I write a monthly email article just for my subscribers?

This month I answered the question, Is there a good way to tell if God has spoken to me?

Photo by Sai DeSilva

It's a question we all want to be able to answer, right?

If you'd like to read the entire thing you can sign up below, and I'll send it to you immediately. Subscribing is totally free; all it costs is your email address, but I will never spam you or share your contact info with anyone.

Best part? You can unsubscribe at any time--no hurt feelings. (But I have a feeling you'll want to stick around.)

Anyway, here's how this month's article begins:

Several times throughout my life I’ve had a sense God was speaking to me. Once, about seven years ago, I felt God saying, “It’s time you started writing.” Because of that message, you are receiving this email today. 
Another time, as I documented in this blog post, I thought God was telling me my wife would have a baby boy. She was in fact pregnant with a girl, meaning either God did not speak to me or I misinterpreted his words. 
Lest you think I’m some kind of saint or crazy person, let me assure you (as you probably already know), I’m just a normal dude with no special qualifications to receive messages from God. What I will say is most, if not all, messages from God come during prayer time. I simply show up and God does the work. Anyone can show up. 
So if you hear something from God, how do you tell if the message is authentic or simply the delusions of a mad man (like myself)? Is it even possible?

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Christianity Is Not an Ethnicity: What Jesus Really Meant When He Said "Born Again"

The most famous passage in all of Scripture is John 3 in which a Pharisee called Nicodemus visits Jesus at night.

During the encounter Jesus uttered the renowned verse sixteen stating, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This is the foundation for Christianity. It is the gospel encapsulated in one sentence.

Photo by Janko Ferlič

But the impressive nature of the chapter is the deep subtext which eludes the average reader, but enriches the reading for those in the know. This is the amazing thing about scripture. It is multi-layered, complex, and beautiful, but not so technical that the common man cannot understand it.

How to Work for God without Losing Your Religion

I'm over at Beliefs of the Heart today where I wrote a piece called How to Work for God without Losing Your Religion.

Photo by Samuel Zeller

Kingdom work is critical. Jesus said the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. And yet serving the Lord in any capacity without the proper motivations bastardizes the Gospel, transforming it into a sort of karmic Christianity. Or worse!

Here's how the post begins. I hope you'll take the time to click over to Sam Williamson's site to read the rest:

A young man named Jacob was a fixture of service at my church. I was impressed at his level of ministry dedication. Whenever an event or project arose in the church, more often than not, Jacob was there, lending a hand. 
As time went on and I got to know Jacob better, I discovered something was awry; it just felt wrong. Come to find out, his primary motivation for serving was guilt. His dad, who was an associate pastor, pressured Jacob into serving every week and at every event. 
But guilt isn’t the only negative driver for Christians. For some, their motive is the hope of earning salvation. This motivation is subconscious; people in this camp agree we are saved by grace through faith alone, and yet their behavior tells a different story. 
Others serve to feel good about themselves. In doing so, we seek a different kind of salvation-by-works: salvation from low self-esteem. Enjoying serving the Lord is not wrong, but it is wrong to rely on our accomplishments to derive our worth. God values us not for what we have done, but for who we are. 
I’ve been in these latter camps, and I’ve dipped into Jacob’s camp too. But let me tell you: all three are folly. Working for God without proper motivation is, at best, meaningless. 
Why focus so much on motivations for serving? you might be asking. Who cares about motives if the work is getting done, right?

Want to read the rest? Here's that link one more time: How to Work for God without Losing Your Religion.