Alex Crain

Editor, Christianity.com

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"Thanksgiving may be the last religious holiday still widely celebrated for its true meaning. While our post-Christian culture has all but divorced Christmas from the Incarnation and Easter from the Resurrection, this last holdout—this simple ritual of gratitude—is still hanging on."
-Jayme Metzgar: "Here’s The Difference Between Feeling Thankful And Thanksgiving"

In the rush surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday, it's easy to become overwhelmed with all there is to do. The ball game on TV can bump that well-intended time of grateful prayer down the priority list. But hopefully you will carve out time to slow down and count your blessings. And when you do, keep in mind something that Jayme Metzgar pointed out in a popular article recently: it's not really thanksgiving to just feel thankful. (Sorry, Oprah.) As admirable as it may be to routinely practice the habit of gratitude, real thanksgiving needs an object. It requires someone to whom we are thankful, not just generic feelings of thankfulness.

Metzgar writes: "While gratitude based on temporal things will eventually fail us, thanksgiving is an act of communion with the eternal God. As such, it anchors us to something that will last forever."

The early settlers of Plymouth Plantation rejoiced over their good harvest. But their material blessings weren't the source of their gratitude. Neither did they merely have thankful feelings in the generic sense. They directed their thanks to God. Historian Tracy McKenzie writes of them...

When the Pilgrims spoke of holidays, they used the word literally.  A holiday was a “holy day” set apart for worship and communion with God

The occasion that the Pilgrims would have remembered as their first Thanksgiving Day in America occurred in the summer of 1623, nearly two years after the event that we commemorate.  During that summer a two-month-long drought threatened to wipe out the Pilgrims’ crops, and the prospect of  starvation in the coming winter loomed over them.  In response, Governor Bradford “set apart a solemn day of humiliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer, in this great distress.”  The Pilgrims gathered for a prayer service that lasted some 8-9 hours, and by its end, a day that had begun hot and clear had become overcast, and for the next fourteen days a steady, gentle rain restored the parched earth.  “But, O the mercy of our God,” Winslow exulted, “who was as ready to hear as we to ask.” 

Having this sign of God’s favor, Winslow explained, the Pilgrims “thought it would be great ingratitude” not to thank God publicly for his deliverance.   And so “another Solemn Day was set apart . . . wherein we returned glory honour and praise, with all thankfulness to our good GOD.”

 

Your turn: What about you? This Thanksgiving, is your gratitude directed toward a Person---to the One, true and living God from whom all blessings flow?


Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com.You can follow him on Twitter @alex_crain.

Christians who watched President Obama’s speech on immigration last week may recall his concluding statement invoking the Bible: “Scripture tells us we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were once strangers too.” That statement has since received backlash from Christians charging Obama of mishandling Scripture to advance his political agenda.

Over a year ago, Kelly Kullberg of Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration highlighted the important distinction between sojourners and foreigners in the Biblea distinction not acknowledged in Obama’s speech: 

Old Testament scholar James Hoffmeier states that the Hebrew word “ger”, translated “alien” or “sojourner” refers to “a person who entered Israel and followed legal procedures to obtain recognized standing as a resident alien.” This lawful sojourner (“ger”) was not necessarily given all the rights and privileges as the Hebrew citizen, but was treated kindly, indeed much more kindly than was customary among tribes and nations of the ancient world. God commanded Israel to be kind to the sojourner.  In other words, Hoffmeier continues, “…verses about sojourners refer to legal immigrants into the country. But other people who did not have this recognized standing were simply termed foreigners …and did not have the same benefits or privileges that sojourners did.” (James Hoffmeier, Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible, Crossway)

While the Bible teaches us to be kind to the sojourner or “resident alien,” it also teaches that kindness to the sojourner ought not to be injustice to local citizens and their unique culture. To steward and cultivate, whether a garden or a nation, involves wisdom and discernment. We want to nurture a nation that would welcome our children as well as the well-intended sojourner. That would mean making distinctions.

We are to make distinctions between the foreigner (the zar, or nekhar or goyim in Hebrew) who does not come according to the host nation’s faith, values and laws, and the ‘resident alien’ or ‘sojourner’ (the ger in Hebrew) who is something like a convert and does come and live according to the nation’s essential faith, values and laws.

God loves the “sojourner.”  No question.  God also loves the citizen.  He is a God of love and of order, peace, freedom from debt, wise boundaries, and of nations. In some contexts Scripture teaches us to welcome.  In other contexts it teaches us to be distinct, set apart, and, at times, to build walls.

(See more by Kelly Kullberg at Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration.)
 

Your turn: What do you think about Obama's use of Scripture to promote immigration amnesty? How would (or would not) the granting of amnesty oppress U.S. citizens?
 

Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com. You can follow him on Twitter @alex_crain.

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“Jesus was always around people. He had a life full of relationships… What is fascinating
is that these relationships were not based on these people holding to the same theology
and doctrines as Jesus did. In fact, it's safe to say that
none of them believed like Jesus did.”
Mick Mooney: Jesus Didn't Care About Correct Doctrine, and Neither Should We

At HuffPost’s Religion Blog, author Mick Mooney recently posted a popular article with the intriguing title “Jesus Didn’t Care About Correct Doctrine, and Neither Should We.” Mooney’s title hardly squares with the actual… well, Bible, but he does make a valid point: Christians need to befriend people in every social sphere.

Christians who constantly isolate themselves from non-Christians are—plain and simple—not following Jesus. Maybe Mooney had this kind of self-centered, unfaithful-to-Jesus sort of Christian in mind when he wrote his article. Perhaps, Mooney has had a few bad experiences with dead or dying churches. That wouldn’t be surprising. Healthy churches are rare. But throwing out Christ’s vision of His church (which includes belonging to a local church) doesn’t solve the problem.

Yes, Jesus enjoyed people from all walks of life. He healed them, hung out with them, and—lest we forget—He also taught them. He knew His beliefs were 100% true. So, He invited everyone to join Him in His accurate view of God, man, sin, salvation, angels, the church, and last things—that’s doctrine. Doctrine has the unfortunate reputation of being dry, dusty, and divisive. But when Jesus said “The Scripture cannot be broken” in John 10:35, He was expressing His commitment to the foundational doctrine of Scripture’s inerrancy. When Jesus stood before Pilate and summarized His life’s mission, He didn’t say He came to befriend everyone. He said: “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37).

It’s tempting to take a few bits of information here and there that we like about Jesus and make Him into someone we want. But it’s far better and more authentic to embrace the record Jesus left about Himself in the New Testament.

Your Turn: Why do you think it's tempting to believe "Jesus didn’t care about correct doctrine?" Why do people fall so easily for statements like this?

Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com.You can follow him on Twitter @alex_crain.

What Does “Amen” Really Mean?

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Over at the Ligonier Ministries Blog recently, R.C. Sproul posted a challenging little article on the word “amen.

We know it as a word commonly found at the end of prayer and during times of singing praises, but do we really understand what “amen” means when we say it? Most think it means something like “I agree.” But they do not associate the idea of authority or submission to the truth with the word.

Consider this quote from the article summarizing the point Sproul makes using a combination of biblical and historical proofs:

“This little word is one that is centered on the idea of the truth of God.
The expression “amen” is not simply an acknowledgment
of personal agreement with what has been stated;
it is an expression of willingness to submit to
the implications of that word, to indeed be bound by it,
as if the Word of God would put ropes around us
not to strangle or retard us but to hold us firmly in place.”
—R.C. Sproul What Does Amen Mean?

Related to Sproul’s focus on “amen” being a truth-oriented word, Sproul’s ministry (Ligonier) recently conducted an in-depth study of American beliefs. This study called “The State of Theology” has been assessed by Albert Mohler as profoundly important, showing clearly that Americans are deeply confused on what is true about God, the Bible, and just about everything Christian they profess to believe. For example, only 43% of those surveyed agree with the idea that the Bible is 100% accurate in all that it teaches. This is an astounding departure from the words of Jesus Christ in John 10:35 “The Scripture cannot be broken.”

Recovering the true meaning of “amen” just may be one step in the right direction of restoring the high view of Scripture that all genuine Christians have had throughout history and ought to maintain.

Your Turn: Do you say “amen” with its true biblical and historical meaning in mind? Do American Christians seem unclear about what “amen” means?

Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com.You can follow him on Twitter @alex_crain.

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