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David Burchett Christian Blog and Commentary

David Burchett

Author and Speaker

One of my favorite Christmas stories happened during the horrors of war. The Christmas carol “Silent Night” was responsible for a wartime Christmas miracle.

The year was 1914 and soldiers were having to spend Christmas Eve night on the battlefields of France during World War I, the Great War, as it was called. After only four months of fighting, more than a million men had already perished in the bloody conflict. The bodies of dead soldiers were scattered between the trenches. Enemy troops were dug-in so close that they could easily exchange shouts.

On December 24, 1914, in the middle of a freezing battlefield in France, a miracle happened. The British troops watched in amazement as candle-lit Christmas trees began to appear above the German trenches. The glowing trees soon appeared along the length of the German front.  Henry Williamson, a young soldier with the London Regiment wrote in his diary: “From the German parapet, a rich baritone voice had begun to sing a song I remembered my German nurse singing to me…. The grave and tender voice rose out of the frozen mist. It was all so strange… like being in another world — to which one had come through a nightmare.”

Silent Night
Holy Night
All is calm
All is quiet

“They finished their carol and we thought that we ought to retaliate,” another British soldier wrote, “So we sang “The First Noël” and when we finished, they all began clapping. And they struck up “O Tannebaum” and on it went… until we started up “O Come All Ye Faithful” [and] the Germans immediately joined in …. this was really a most extraordinary thing — two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”It is recorded that enemy soldiers greeted each other in the no man’s land that was a killing zone the day before. The soldiers wished each other Merry Christmas and agreed not to fire their rifles on Christmas Day. The spontaneous cease-fire eventually embraced much of a 500-mile stretch of the Western Front. According to the reports of soldiers at the scene, hundreds of thousands of soldiers celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace among the bodies of their dead.

Christmas truce

Other soldiers told of how the “enemies” exchanged badges and buttons from their uniforms. Others shared photos of wives and children and some even exchanged addresses and promised to write after the war ended. The German troops rolled out barrels of dark beer and the British reciprocated with offerings of plum pudding. Some soldiers produced soccer balls and a spirited match broke out as fellow soldiers shouted encouragement.

At one location along the front the men who just the day before sought to kill one another now gathered together to bury their dead. Together, with heads uncovered, they held a service to memorialize their fallen comrades. A solitary voice began to sing Silent Night, in French. He was joined by another voice — this one singing in German — the words of a Christmas song known and beloved by all.

But the miracle of peace was temporary. Slowly, under threats from their officers, the troops returned to the trenches and the recoils of rifles split the temporary “Silent Night.” Some soldiers admitted aiming so their bullets flew well above the heads of the “enemy.”

Perhaps those of us who celebrate the birth of the Savior could learn a lesson from this Christmas miracle as we engage those who do not share our beliefs and faith in Jesus. Those on the other side of the cultural trenches are not unlike us. The message delivered in Bethlehem was peace and goodwill toward all men. When we fight the cultural war we need remember that the whole purpose of Jesus invading our space and time was to love and ultimately die for those on both sides of the battle.

But perhaps the biggest lesson is how the power of a unified focus on Jesus can unite even bitter enemies. My heart aches as I see Christians splitting ranks over things that don’t amount to a hill of beans on an eternal scale. I picture Jesus weeping over the churches of America like He wept over Jerusalem. I picture Him weeping over how Christians in this country divide over non-essentials and fail to communicate the joy and life-changing power of the good news of the Gospel. Jesus gave this final command to His followers…

“Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28,  The Message)

Pretty straight forward. Nothing in there about personal gain, power, or prestige. The power of what happened on that Silent Night united enemies centuries later on a French battlefield.  My Christmas prayer is that the miracle of God becoming man will unite you and me, His followers, to seek what actually matters. To really make it about Christ and not about us. To model His grace to a culture that desperately needs that grace. While we still have the chance.

(Note: There is a movie (Joyeux Noel), a DVD (The Christmas Truce), a children's book (Christmas in the Trenches) and a historical book (Silent Night: The Story of the WW I Christmas Truce) about this event if you want to know more about the story.

Reposted from "Confessions of a Bad Christian".  Contact Dave at Facebook or at daveburchett.com.

Recently I poured over the new titles at the local Christian bookstore. The usual suspects dominated most of the shelf space. One of the most important books in my Christian journey was not displayed. And that is a shame. Because this book has a message that needs to be heard.

The original version of the book was entitled TrueFaced and the newest revision is called The Cure.  I don’t think I have ever had a book (excluding the inspired one) impact me as much as this one.

I am borrowing one little bit of content that is very timely during this month. John Lynch is one of the authors of the book and in this section he addresses how we are programmed from childhood to default to performance theology. He calls it the “Santa Claus is Coming to Town theology”.

You better watch out
Better not cry
Better not pout
I am telling you why
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
He’s making a list….checking it twice…three times…every day
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
He sees you when your sleeping, nows when your awake, he knows when you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake.

Oh, he’s watching. Waiting for you to screw up so you will get coal instead of a bicycle. You had better please him. And we teach our kids to put on the mask and be something they are not. Because Santa Claus is comin’ to town. This omniscient being who is judging our every deed is coming to town…and we learn to do the dance early. Buck up…be good. Don’t cry. Don’t pout. Santa Claus is coming to town.  (©Copyright 2003, William Thrall, Bruce McNicol, John Lynch. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.)

He is exactly right. We learn that we get good things and receive love only when we are good and do good things. Santa is pleased (and we later substitute God) when we behave properly. So we learn early. We had better be good. Or least fool everyone around us to think that we are being good.

                                                           

Ask any child this Christmas if they are being good and I will wager you will never hear this response.

“Well, to be honest, I am really struggling with the whole being nice thing. I have actually been pouty and I cried yesterday. It just isn’t working out this Christmas so I suspect the video game system will have to wait.”

Nope. What you hear is the lie that we learn early and too often keep handy in our arsenal for a lifetime.

“Oh yeah. I am being really good!”

I remember (vaguely) the tension of the Santa Claus years. I knew I hadn’t really changed much if at all. I tried to modify my behavior for a week or two leading up to Christmas but I knew I failed. I learned a couple of things early. I learned how hard it is to change behavior by sheer willpower and I learned that I could apparently fool Santa by living a lie. I learned that that he would bring me presents in spite of my failures if I covered it up. I did not learn about grace. That maybe Santa gave me gifts because of who I was and maybe he came to my house because I was lovable instead of rewarding me for what I had done to please him. I figured I had fooled him and to get the good stuff I would have to continue to hide the little boy who broke an ornament and then hid it.

Isn’t that too often how we view God? We had better not cry. Better not sin. I’m telling you why. Jesus is coming to town. He’s making a list and He is checking it not once or twice but every moment of every day. God knows if you’ve been bad or good so if you want to be healed or happy or prosperous you had better be good for goodness sake. If I do mess up I am scared to death that I will get a bad life or miss all that God has for me. So I put on the mask and try to be really good for Jesus. If I can fool those around me maybe, just maybe, I can fool God too.

Satan sells the lie so convincingly. And we buy it for months and years and even decades.

But God and Santa are very different in their approach. God does not keep a list. He is not impressed by our hernia inducing straining to control sin.

You know the verse well.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NLT)

Jesus offers us so many gifts. But the one we seem to have the hardest time unwrapping is the gift of grace. The gift that allows us to become who God desires us to become as we simply trust Him and quit trying to be “good” for goodness sake. We are saved by grace and faith in Christ. We become like Him by the same radical strategy. Faith that He has changed us into a new creation. And understanding the grace that gives us good gifts even when we don’t deserve them.

Don’t let the Santa Claus theology creep into your journey. Go straight to the gift of grace that Jesus left under the Cross. Open it. And clothe yourself in His salvation, acceptance and love. It may be the best gift you have ever given yourself.

Reposted from "Confessions of a Bad Christian".  Contact Dave at Facebook or at daveburchett.com.

Recently I started with a list of things I really, really wanted for Christmas.

  1. Everything at the Bose store
  2. The coolest new tablet device
  3. A 4K television

Then I listed everything I really, really needed.

  1. Uhhhhh….
  2. Uhhhhh….
  3. Uhhhhh….

Yep. I didn’t need a single thing for Christmas. I give bags of clothing I no longer wear to charities every year. We have more stuff in our house than we can figure out how to store. That cool new tablet would only be another distraction. I have a HD television that gives me a remarkable picture. I still want the stuff from the Bose store but Jesus never said this journey would be easy.

So what do I want for Christmas this year? I want followers of Jesus (looking squarely in the mirror as I say this) to take seriously our call to take care of those who have less. Stop here if you want to continue living selfishly.

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister,in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? (1 John 3:17)

Ouch.

Giving and Tithing

I remember getting lectured by a blustering believer who was convinced God was judging America because of a particular sin. He tried really hard to get me to agree. Finally I told him something like this.

"I am not smart enough to know how God views particular sins versus others. But I do have a feeling that if He is judging America it might be for the way the American church has squandered the incredible wealth and resources we have been given. We have been given enough to make a difference around the world and we have been selfishly living while denying the power of the Gospel."

He quit talking to me.

An organization called Empty Tomb does some annoying but really valuable research. They are also a very important ministry that God has raised up to be a Nathan to our comfortable and consumer Christianity. In 2012, the latest year for which the numbers are available, church giving dropped to 2.2 percent of member’s incomes, the lowest percentage since 1968. They did the math in a 2008 study that showed what could happen if church members gave 10% of their income.

If Americans who identify with the historically Christian church had chosen to give 10% to their congregations in 2008, rather than the 2.43% given that year, there would have been an additional $172 billion available for work through the church. If those members had specified that 60% of their increased giving were to be given to international missions, there would have been an additional $103 billion available for the international work of the church. That would have left an additional $34 billion for domestic missions, including poverty conditions in the U.S., and this all on top of our current church activities.

I don't know about you but those sad numbers bother me more than the things that seem to exorcise the American church. And the giving percentage has gone down from the pathetic 2.43% of 2008. How about some loud protests and dire mailers over low church giving? Too close to home? I can just hear the Pharisees reading this and saying, "See how easy it is to be hypocritical?"

Regular readers of the humble ramblings know that I am not a guilt purveyor. Giving should not be a grudging obligation. Spend some time thinking about the miracle of God becoming flesh. Meditate on the one way love of God who loved us when we were unlovable. Remember the finished work on the Cross that made you friends with God forever. That list makes it easy for me to give out of gratitude.

If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord—
    and he will repay you!  (Proverbs 19:17, NLT)

We are the hands and feet of God to a hurting world.

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.  (2 Corinthians 9:7-8, NLT)

 I pray that we will have a generous and cheerful heart this Christmas and beyond.

Reposted from "Confessions of a Bad Christian".  Contact Dave at Facebook or at daveburchett.com.

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