Thank you and Merry Christmas!

Through worship, prayer, civil conversation and service, ECWA members work hard to transform the community they live in to a God loving community.

First and foremost, we express our heartfelt appreciation to all readers of ECWA USA Communicator and ECWA USA Blog. It was with the mere co-operation, enthusiasm, and spirit of people like you we could make ECWA USA Communicator and ECWA USA Blog a grand success. It’s been a wonderful year for us here at ECWA USA. We have so many things to be Thankful to the Lord for. We personally thank you our readers for your support. Your great work for the Lord will be rewarded in Heaven.

ECWA USA is committed to publishing outstanding scholarly and religious manuscripts in all areas of Christian Life. This is just a quick reminder that as the year end, we can always use a little contribution from you to support our mission……proclaiming the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. No amount is too small or too big. Please navigate to our website and click on the Donate button on the upper right of your device. Mobile users may need to touch their Menu (three lines on the upper right of their device) to see the Donate button.

We at ECWA USA thank you from the bottom of our heart for your support. Have a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!



Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

by Joshua and Joanna Bogunjoko | What a privilege it is to serve together with you in God’s mission through SIM. Thank you for your sacrificial gifts and support for us as a family and for SIM ministries around the world.

This year, untold numbers of new believers will spend their first Christmas worshiping Jesus. Not one of them had a star or an angel to summon them to Christ. They had a missionary, a local Christian worker, a friend, a family member or a neighbor. You all have been part of the team that has supported us to make Christ known where He is least known. As a result of your participation in the gospel through your partnership with SIM, there are many who this year have come to faith in Jesus and will join in celebrating the greatest gift on earth for the first time.

What a privilege it is to serve together with you in God’s mission through SIM. Thank you for your sacrificial gifts and support for us as a family and for SIM ministries around the world.  We praise God for you and your role in making disciples for Christ in communities where he is least known.
May your hearts be lifted in praise this Christmas for the wonderful gift of Jesus and the joy He brings to our lives, for He is Emmanuel, God with us.

Thank God with us that Joel’s semester ended well and he did amazingly well academically. Praise God for answered prayers for him and give thanks that Jochebed could be home for Christmas. We are glad that we could all be together for Christmas. Thank you for your love and prayers.

 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

May you experience the fullness of all the joy that Christ brought to our world this season. And, wishing you a Happy New Year!

Joshua and Joanna Bogunjoko

Joshua & Joanna Bogunjoko

Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko has been the SIM’s International Director since June 1, 2013. Joshua and his wife, Joanna, began their mission careers as members of the Evangelical Missionary Society (EMS), the mission arm of the ECWA church, which today sends more than 2400 Nigerians cross-culturally. They were commissioned by the national ECWA church in 1993 and their home church in Lagos in 1995, where they were sent out as seconded associates of SIM. They have served at three mission hospitals in West Africa and became full members of SIM in 2001. Joshua served on the SIM International Leadership Team since 2006, dealing with global issues related to mission.



The 30 Best Family Christmas Movies of All Time

by Keith Phipps | The holiday season is upon us, which means it’s time to put away our differences in the interest of peace on earth, goodwill toward others, etc., etc., and kick back with a great Christmas movie, a filmmaking tradition that dates back to the 1898 film Santa Claus. In that one, Santa slides down a chimney, stuffs some stockings, and promptly disappears into the ether; the whole film runs just over one minute long.

No one would argue that that early effort was anything but a Christmas movie, but these days, the question comes up frequently: What exactly is a Christmas movie? Is merely being set at Christmas enough? Or is there some elusive other element that makes a Christmas movie a Christmas movie?

Also, the movies on this list have to be good. There’s a cynical reason to make a Christmas movie: The demand is high, even for the bad ones, every holiday season, when cable plays them ad nauseam to satisfy Christmas-crazed subscribers. So, sorry, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — just because you’re unavoidable doesn’t earn you a spot on the list.

Another qualifier: We stuck with films that received a theatrical release, mostly features but with a few shorts thrown in as well. That means Hallmark Channel Christmas movies about young people who don’t like each other but then end up liking each other a lot weren’t considered; nor was Netflix’s movie featuring Kurt Russell as a hot Santa. (Apologies, hot Santa.) Not every title will be for everyone, but there should be something for each family here. In the spirit of the season, we erred on the side of generosity.

30. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a remarkable retelling of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s short story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” and Marius Petipa’s The Nutcracker, about a young girl who is gifted a locked egg from her deceased mother and sets out in a magical land to retrieve the key. After restoring peace and tranquility in the Realms, Clara promises to visit the Realms in the future and returns back to London, where time has hardly passed since she left. After she arrived, Clara took her father’s hand and opens her music box and the two of them danced the night away. Clara’s father becomes emotional and reveals that the music box’s song was the first song that he and Clara’s mother had ever danced to.

Disney’s take on the holiday classic is the story we all know; Alice in Wonderland mixed with some pieces of Tchaikovsky’s music and some ballet, courtesy of Misty Copeland and Sergei Polunin. The film has grossed over $150 million worldwide as of today against a production budget of around $120 million, and received generally unfavorable reviews from critics, who called the film “soulless” and “incoherent“, criticizing the slow pace and lack of dance numbers, although the visual effects is appealing.

29. Home Alone (1990)

Nostalgia and holidays both have a way of warping emotions. Combined, they’re hard to resist, especially when it comes to movies that won us over when we were younger. That’s why it’s impossible not to include Home Alone — the John Hughes–scripted, Chris Columbus–directed hit in which Macaulay Culkin finds himself unexpectedly left behind when his family mistakenly flies to Paris without him. But it would be unfair to rank it any higher. Have you watched it? Lately? As a grown-up? Like, watched it all the way through from the shrill opening filled with obnoxious kids to the leadenly staged slapstick climax? It’s a much rougher ride than you might remember. Still, Culkin’s charming, and the sentimental ending works every time. Just ask George Costanza.

28. The Great Rupert (1950)

A true Christmas oddity, this is the only holiday movie featuring Jimmy Durante as a down-on-his-luck vaudevillian forced to part ways with his trained squirrel as Christmas approaches. That’s the heartbreaking premise of The Great Rupert, but it’s all a set-up to a happy ending in which Durante is reunited with his four-legged friend, the poor get rich, and the rich learn a lesson (a story element that pops up a lot in the flood of Christmas movies released in the years immediately following World War II). The plot lags at times, but Durante’s always fun, and so is Rupert, the delightful creation of producer George Pal, the stop-motion wizard behind Puppetoons.

27. The Insects’ Christmas (1913)

Before The Nightmare Before Christmas, before Rankin-Bass specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, before even The Great Rupert there was The Insects’ Christmas, from Russian animator Ladislas Starevich. Starevich made a series of films using dead insects as his stars. His Christmas movie expands the cast to include Father Christmas and an animated doll. But insects remain, as the title suggests, front and center in an inventive, enchanting, if a little unsettling, look at how a bunch of bugs (and one frog) celebrate Christmas that climaxes with Santa, a grasshopper, and assorted other bugs skating on a frozen lake. счастливого Рождества to all!

26. The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

As Christmas approaches, all is not well for Henry Brougham (David Niven), a Protestant bishop trying to raise funds for the glorious new cathedral of his dreams — a project that’s led him to neglect his wife, Julia (Loretta Young), and daughter and cause him to lose sight of his roots as a minister to the needy. Enter Dudley (Cary Grant), an angel determined to set Henry on the right path. The only trouble: He finds himself increasingly wanting to spend time with Julia instead. The film’s a bit pokily directed at times, but Young and Grant’s chemistry smooths over some rough patches — particularly when Grant gets a wistful look in his eyes suggesting that he might call heaven his home but he knows he could find even greater happiness on earth with Young’s character by his side. (The Preacher’s Wife, the 1996 remake starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston, is also worth a look.)

25. Scrooged (1988)

What is Scrooged trying to say, anyway? You can watch the film over and over — easy to do if you have a cable subscription in December, when it plays all the time — and never quite figure it out. Is it a pitch-black comedy about the commercialization of Christmas? Is it a cynical send-up of our once-a-year celebration of kindness and selflessness? Is it a sincere depiction of a man being transformed by the holidays? It’s a tough film to pin down, probably because the darkly comic sensibilities of star Bill Murray and writers Mitch Glazer and Michael O’Donoghue often seem at odds with that of blockbuster director Richard Donner. But what makes this Reagan-era update on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol — in which Murray plays a cold-hearted TV network president visited by Christmas spirits — flawed also makes it fascinating, and Carol Kane is especially fun as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Worth noting: Dickens’s classic looms large over the Christmas-movie genre, making this just one of many A Christmas Carol adaptations to make the list. Others include …

24. Scrooge (1970)

For a more tuneful version of the Dickens tale, there’s this 1970 musical starring Albert Finney as the eponymous miser. Finney holds nothing back as Scrooge, truly living up to the moniker “the Meanest Man in the Whole Wide World” given to him in “Father Christmas,” one of many earworm-y songs written by Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory songwriter Leslie Bricusse. Highlights include Alec Guinness as a spooky Jacob Marley and a truly scary Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. It’s a big, occasionally tacky, but quite fun take on the familiar story.

23.. The Holiday (2006)

With her follow-up to Something’s Gotta Give, Nancy Myers seemingly set out to ask the question, If I cast four actors who really have no business appearing in a soft-edged romantic comedy in my next movie, could I make it work anyway? The answer: kind of? Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet play, respectively, a tightly wound editor of movie trailers and a British newspaper reporter who decide to swap houses shortly before Christmas. This leads Winslet’s character, now in L.A., to befriend an aging screenwriter played by Eli Wallach and (eventually) fall for a kindhearted composer played by Jack Black. Meanwhile, Diaz’s character, installed in Surrey, unwittingly hooks up with the brother of Winslet’s character, played by Jude Law. It’s a somewhat shapeless movie that goes on too long, but it also has an undeniable, nap-friendly, tryptophan-like charm as four beautiful people overcome the ridiculously small hurdles keeping them from getting together in two photogenic environments. (Also, Wallach’s a lot of fun.)

22. The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

Bob Hope didn’t so much play characters as variations on the Bob Hope persona, a wisecracking coward with a tendency to get in way over his head then make matters worse for himself. Hope’s not the most obvious fit for a Damon Runyon adaptation, much less a Christmas-themed Runyon adaptation with a deep sentimental streak, but their sensibilities end up meshing pretty well anyway in this 1951 comedy. Hope plays the eponymous character, a con artist who has to flee Florida for New York in order to pay off a debt to a gangster. The ensuing scam involves criminals dressed as Santa and a fake retirement home for “Old Dolls.” The inspired slapstick bits reportedly come from the brilliant animator-turned-director Frank Tashlin, but it’s Hope and co-star Marilyn Maxwell’s performance of the then-new “Silver Bells” that’s ensured the film its spot in the Christmas-movie canon.

21. Holiday Affair (1949)

Janet Leigh plays Connie, a war widow who unexpectedly becomes the center of a love triangle when her longtime suitor Carl (Wendell Corey) meets an unexpected rival in the form of Steve (Robert Mitchum), a veteran trying to figure out his place in the postwar world. Steve finds himself infatuated with Connie after they meet-cute in a department store — he’s a clerk, she’s a Christmastime undercover shopper — then starts a hard sell, asking him to dump Carl and take a chance on him. Mitchum’s tough-guy demeanor serves him well here, giving an odd energy to the love story. His character is sometimes written as too pushy, but the scene in which he declares his intentions over Christmas dinner, a moment where there’s no room for lies, is downright electric — and the final scene is a stunner.

20. Elf (2003)

Sometimes the right actor in the right role is pretty much all you need. This pleasant, goofy film stars Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human who’s grown up at the North Pole living under the mistaken impression that he’s an elf, despite developing into a lumbering adult with little skill for elfish endeavors such as toy-making. Eventually, he has to find his way in the human world when he travels to New York in search of his birth father (James Caan). As a cynical department-store employee, Zooey Deschanel provides a fun contrast to Ferrell’s wild-eyed enthusiasm. The film’s more winning the less it relies on wild antics, but Ferrell and others make sure it stays heartfelt throughout.

19. A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The first big-screen Muppet project after the 1990 death of Jim Henson, A Muppet Christmas Carol features some terrific Paul Williams songs, and smartly slots the always charming Muppets in the familiar Dickens roles. (Kermit and Piggy play the Cratchits, naturally, yet it’s details like the Swedish Chef as a party cook that make it a particular delight for longtime fans.) In the end, though, what makes the movies is Michael Caine’s performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. Caine plays it straight, as if he doesn’t even realize he’s surrounded by puppets, ensuring that the movie works as a moving Dickens adaptation first, and a Muppet movie second.

18. Arthur Christmas (2011)

Aardman Animations, the studio behind the Wallace and Gromit shorts and Chicken Run, brings its own particular whimsical sensibility to a holiday tale with this playful look inside the inner workings of the North Pole, where the latest in a long line of Santas (Jim Broadbent) seems reluctant to give up his post to one of his sons. Steven Claus (Hugh Laurie), who’s been running the operation for his dad with military precision, seems the obvious successor, but it’s the bumbling Arthur (James McAvoy) who best embodies the Christmas spirit, as evidenced by his mad rush to make sure the one kid who mistakenly got the wrong present doesn’t wake up disappointed on Christmas morning. The film mixes clever ideas — dig that high-tech North Pole! — with real warmth, making it feel like nothing less than the future of Christmas itself rests on Arthur’s shoulders.

17. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Neither Disney animation nor its biggest star, Mickey Mouse, were riding high in the early ’80s. Disney had suffered a string of disappointments and setbacks, and though he remained an inescapable icon, Mickey hadn’t been seen in movie theaters since the ’50s. But this adaptation of the Dickens story suggested there might be life in both yet. Running just 26 minutes — and originally serving as the opener for a rerelease of The RescuersMickey’s Christmas Carol offers a brisk, moving take on the familiar story. Scrooge McDuck (who else?) assumes the Scrooge role, but it’s Mickey and Minnie’s turns as the Cratchits that give the lovingly animated film its heart. After years of cutting corners and coasting on past triumphs, it provided an early sign that Disney was trying again — almost as if the studio has been visited by spirits reminding it what really mattered or something.

16. Remember the Night (1940)

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck famously co-starred in Billy Wilder’s 1944 noir Double Indemnity, but that’s just one of four films to pair them together. They first teamed up for this 1940 Christmas romance in which Fred MacMurray plays John Sargent, a hard-charging DA who, through a misunderstanding, comes to spend the days before Christmas with Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck), a small-time jewel thief he’s prosecuting. They start to fall in love during a road trip to Indiana, a sojourn that almost allows them to forget that John still has to try to send Lee to jail when they get back. Directed by Mitchell Leisen from a Preston Sturges script, Remember the Night begins as a broad, brisk comedy but shifts moods as John learns about Lee’s difficult past. In a classic holiday-spirit turn, he comes to realize the advantages his loving family have bestowed upon him once he sees how appreciative Lee is after sharing the first warm Christmas morning of her life with his family.

15. Reve De Noel (The Christmas Dream) (1900)

French cinematic pioneer Georges Méliès’s contribution to the Christmas-film canon offers little in the way of narrative, just an abundance of turn-of-the-century Christmas imagery as a pair of sleeping children imagine a winter wonderland filled with frolicking musicians, holiday revelers, and, of course, Père Noël himself. It’s a lovely, whimsical short film that captures the inventive director in a festive mood, and immortalizes on film ways of celebrating Christmas that otherwise might have faded from memory.

14. White Christmas (1954)

After leaving the Army after W.W.II, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) team up to become a top song-and-dance act. Davis plays matchmaker and introduces Wallace to a pair of beautiful sisters, Betty and Judy (Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen), who also have a song-and-dance act. When Betty and Judy travel to a Vermont lodge to perform a Christmas show, Wallace and Davis follow, only to find their former commander, General Waverly, is the lodge owner. A series of romantic mix-ups ensue as the performers try to help the General.

A song of yearning for holiday togetherness the singer suspects he’ll never find again, Bing Crosby’s recording of the Irving Berlin song “White Christmas” became a runaway hit in 1942 as America adjusted to the loss and separation of World War II.

13. Holiday Inn (1942)

When singer Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) finds out that his fiancée is in love with smooth-talking dancer Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire), he skulks off to milk cows and lick his wounds on the farm he now owns. While his pride heals, a swell idea occurs to him: Why not turn the farm into an inn that’s only open on holidays, with live entertainment and a homemade breakfast in the morning? A girl (Marjorie Reynolds) looking for her big show business break helps Hardy bring his daydream to fruition. Not only is his Holiday Inn a success thanks to her singing and dancing, he’s falling in love to boot. But trouble’s right around the corner. Hanover’s girl has dropped him, it seems, and his search for a new dance partner has him once again courting Hardy’s girl.

Holiday Inn is the better film by a good measure, but watching it means grappling with an ugly blackface number mid-film. (To make matters worse, skipping the scene altogether would result in missing an important plot point.) White Christmas, on the other hand, features fewer songs and a sleepy, low-stakes plot as Crosby and Kaye romance (sort of) a sister act played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. Still, its aggressive, Technicolor pleasantness has its own charms.

12. 3 Godfathers (1948)

Not unlike Scissorhands, John Ford’s 3 Godfathers similarly uses echoes of the story of Christ to tremendous effect. A rare Christmas Western, the film stars John Wayne as one of a trio of bank robbers who agree to care for a newborn child while fleeing the law in Death Valley. Ford’s biblical echoes aren’t subtle, nor are they intended to be, but Wayne keeps the film, and its themes of redemption and rebirth, grounded with one of his most sensitive performances.

11. It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)

A great Christmas movie that not enough people talk about, It Happened on Fifth Avenue opens with the homeless sage Aloysius T. McKeever (Victor More) moving, as he does every Christmas season, into the luxurious Manhattan home of vacationing tycoon Michael J. O’Connor (Charles Ruggles). From there the film keeps piling on the complications as it breaks down the divide between the haves and the have-nots. McKeever is soon joined by a displaced World War II vet (Don DeFore) and O’Connor’s daughter Mary (Ann Harding), who doesn’t let on that she’s loaded and knows the house even better than those squatting there. The house grows more crowded, new loves get kindled, old loves get renewed, and O’Connor is forced to do a Scrooge-like about-face when he gets reacquainted with those less fortunate than him. Directed by Roy Del Ruth, who took on the project after Frank Capra decided to make It’s a Wonderful Life instead, It Happened on Fifth Avenue earns its warmth honestly, tethering a tale of fresh starts and changed hearts to the real difficulties faced by those reaching for the American dream in a postwar era that was supposed to bring prosperity for all.

10. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

In a film as sexy as it is funny, Barbara Stanwyck plays Elizabeth Lane, a magazine columnist who risks being exposed as a phony if she can’t create the perfect Christmas at the Connecticut home she’s writing about as part of a PR stunt to reward recuperating GI Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan), who’s been dreaming of tasting her recipes while serving in World War II. The only problem: There is no Connecticut home, and she can’t cook. The farcical complications pile up from there, and Stanwyck deftly balances Elizabeth’s mounting sense of panic with wry humor as she reckons with her unexpected desire for Jones — a desire that has popped up just after she’s decided to give up on love in return for a marriage of convenience. Director Peter Godfrey keeps the action fast and light while trusting Stanwyck to excellently bring her character’s dilemma to life, even if it involves changing a diaper as if she’s never seen a baby before in her life.

9. Comfort and Joy (1984)

The end of the year can be a confusing time of reflection for those who feel they don’t have anything to celebrate. That feeling is captured beautifully in Scottish director Bill Forsyth’s tale of a Glasgow DJ (Bill Paterson), who finds himself unexpectedly alone when he’s dumped by his girlfriend shortly before Christmas. Adrift, he finds himself drawn into a turf war between two rival ice-cream vendors, a conflict that might offer him a chance to start over, or might drive him to the brink of madness. Paterson beautifully depicts a man who’s quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, experiencing a nervous breakdown as the world around him grows stranger and more absurd. That it all somehow builds toward a hilarious moment of reconciliation involving an unexpected new ice-cream product is just one of many little miracles in a Christmas movie that takes a roundabout way to celebrating the season’s possibilities of renewal and rebirth, but still gets there all the same.

8. Carol (2015)

Like Comfort and Joy, Todd Haynes’s Carol depicts the holidays as a time of possibility and peril as an intense, forbidden romance plays out against the backdrop of the 1952 Christmas season. The film stars Cate Blanchett as the eponymous unhappy housewife, a woman who unexpectedly falls for Therese (Rooney Mara), a store clerk. But their relationship seems doomed before it really begins once it threatens Carol’s ability to see her child, leaving her with an impossible choice. Inspired by Brief Encounter and adapted from a 1952 novel by Patricia Highsmith, otherwise best known for pitiless crime fiction like The Talented Mr. Ripley, Carol uses its holiday setting as more than a backdrop: Haynes bathes the films in Christmas lights, sure, but he also captures the spirit of a season through Carol and Therese’s relationship. The passing of one year gives way to a potential new beginning of the next — for those who can make it to the other side.

7. Bad Santa (2003)

A proudly mean-spirited black comedy seemingly at war with the Christmas spirit, Bad Santa somehow loops all the way back around to being a heartwarming Christmas movie about one man’s redemption. It’s a weird trick, pulled off in large part thanks to star Billy Bob Thornton’s performance as a hard-drinking con artist who uses his work as a mall Santa as a setup for grand larceny. Actually, “hard-drinking” doesn’t begin to describe Thornton’s Willie Soke, who spends much of the film in a near-stuporous state yet still manages to form an unlikely makeshift family with a misfit kid (Brett Kelly) and a bartender (Lauren Graham) with a thing for Santas. With able support from Bernie Mac and John Ritter, director Terry Zwigoff keeps the humor dark without losing sight of his characters’ humanity — however deep they might sink into a drunken haze.

6. A Christmas Story (1983)

Making his second appearance on this list with a much different Christmas movie, director Bob Clark’s venerable 1983 film adapts storyteller and radio personality Jean Shepherd’s tales of growing up in Hammond, Indiana, while cutting nostalgia and sentiment with just the right amounts of broad, occasionally dark, comedy. The episodic film follows Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) in the days before Christmas, when he wants nothing more than a Red Ryder air rifle — and seems destined not to get one. Narrated by Shepherd himself, it mixes big comic moments, like a kid getting his tongue stuck to a stop sign, with affection for family life and days gone by. Clark renders the memories of growing up in a particular time and place so well that Shepherd’s Hammond — its name changed to “Hohman” — becomes an idealized stand-in for any time and every place.

5. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

There are many great romantic movies set at Christmas, but somehow The Shop Around the Corner still stands above them all. Maybe it’s the irresistible premise: A pair of feuding co-workers don’t realize they’re falling in love with one another via anonymous letters. (If that sounds familiar, it’s because Nora Ephron drew on the same source material — the Miklós László play Parfumerie — for You’ve Got Mail.) Maybe it’s a cast headed by Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan and filled out with colorful character actors. Maybe it’s because few directors have balanced lightness and romance like Ernst Lubitsch. Whatever the case, it’s both a peerless romantic comedy and one of the great Christmas movies, weaving themes of forgiveness and second chances into a love story that reflects the season in which it takes place.

4. A Christmas Carol (a.k.a. Scrooge) (1951)

What makes an adaptation of A Christmas Carol great? Above all, it’s the actor playing Ebenezer Scrooge. There have been many memorable movie Scrooges (take a look at the multiple entries above), but few as memorable as Alastair Sim. He’s not just terrifyingly convincing as a pitiless miser in the film’s early scenes but also heartbreakingly affecting as a changed man in its closing moments. Not that Sim doesn’t get help from director Brian Desmond Hurst, who whisks the action along while surrounding his lead with lushly realized Victorian trappings and an able supporting cast. But the film rests on Sim’s shoulders, and it’s not hard to see why he’s yet to be supplanted as the definitive Scrooge.

3. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Here’s a question: What was going on that led to so many great Christmas movies being released in 1947? That year saw the release of The Bishop’s Wife, It Happened on Fifth Avenue (see above), and offered most viewers their first chance to see the greatest Christmas movie of all time (see below). It also produced this lovely story of a girl (Natalie Wood) whose mother (Maureen O’Hara) unwittingly hires someone who may be the actual Kris Kringle as a department-store Santa at Macy’s. What follows is part fantasy, part romance (as O’Hara’s character starts to fall for a charming neighbor), part indictment of commercialism, part defense of letting children be children as long as they can, and part legal thriller (well, sort of). Mostly, the film, written and directed by George Seaton, is an irresistible bit of Christmas whimsy made unforgettable by Edmund Gwenn’s turn as the man who might be Santa.

2. Tangerine (2015)

It takes time for a film to emerge as a Christmas classic, and while this one may not end up being shown in constant rotation alongside A Christmas Story and Home Alone, let’s stake an early claim for Sean Baker’s Tangerine, a film that follows the Christmas spirit into some unexpected corners. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor co-star as, respectively, Sin-Dee and Alexandra, a pair of transgender sex workers living on the fringes of Los Angeles. Released from jail on Christmas Eve, Sin-Dee is driven to frustration when she learns that her pimp/lover Chester (James Ransone) is cheating on her as Alexandra prepares for a musical performance. Chaos mounts as day turns into night in the hours before Christmas.

Baker’s film, co-written by Chris Bergoch, alternates laughs and shocks, but it keeps circling back to how this particular Christmas has become a crossroads for its central characters, and how much they need each other if they’re going to make it through another year. It all ends with an image that, in its own way, is as warm and generous as Charlie Brown’s friends reviving a seemingly hopeless tree.

You might have noticed that this list — some notable exceptions aside — is dominated by stories of prosperous white families. Among its other virtues, Tangerine serves as a corrective to that tradition, serving as a reminder that Christmas isn’t limited to the land of picket fences and neatly trimmed trees. It’s a film as vital, alive, and in touch with the holiday as more traditional entries — an invitation to other filmmakers to redefine what a Christmas movie can be, and as much a story about the importance of human kindness as the one that tops the list.

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

What else? Really, what other film could top a list of the greatest Christmas movies of all time? Frank Capra’s enduring classic stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, the unwitting savior of Bedford Falls, a man whose goodness and generosity has touched more people than he realizes. In fact, as one bleak Christmas looms, he doesn’t realize it at all and is ready to commit suicide — until an angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) arrives to show him the error of his ways.

Though it’s become synonymous with holiday cheer, Capra’s film works because of its willingness to go to some dark places, and because of Stewart’s ability to play a gregarious goof one moment and a man whose world comes crashing down the next. Curiously, the film didn’t go into wide release until after Christmas in January of 1947, which might have contributed to its underwhelming box-office performance. But it received a second life thanks to relentless airings on local television in the ’70s and ’80s, where its depiction of one man’s dark night of the soul (and a nightmarish vision of what unrestrained greed looks like without those interested in fairness and justice to stand in the way of the Mr. Potters of the world) connected with a new generation.

It’s not hard to see why. It’s grounded in details of the times that inspired it — the Depression, World War II — but its vision of holiday kindness, and of the sort of country most of us would want to live in and the values of kindness and generosity most of us share, remains timeless.



Advent & Christmas

We wish you a healthy, prayerful, and blessed Christmas and New Year as you prepare for the promise and fulfillment of His second coming!

Advent derived from the Latin word meaning “coming” is the 40-day Nativity Fast, which has practices different from those in the West and signifies the Second Coming of Christ. It begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year for all Christians.

This is a time of jubilee when all Christians prepare for, and anticipate, the coming of Christ. The first clear references in the Western Church to Advent is in the Gelasian Sacramentary, which provides Advent Collects, Epistles, and Gospels for the five Sundays preceding Christmas and for the corresponding Wednesdays and Fridays.

We remember the longing of the Jews for a Messiah and our own longing for, and the need for forgiveness, salvation and a new beginning. As we look back and celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ this Holiday Season, we also look forward to the promise and fulfillment of His second coming. At various ECWA churches around the world, we start observing Christmas season at sundown on December 24 (Christmas Eve) through Epiphany of the Lord (January 6). This period is popularly referred to as “the twelve days of Christmas.”

Christmas celebration and traditions varies from country to country. But regardless of which way you and your churches/family celebrate Christmas this Holiday Season; we wish you a healthy, prayerful, and blessed Christmas and New Year as you prepare for the promise and fulfillment of His second coming!



6 things you didn’t know about Jesus in Islam

by Jennifer Williams |  | “Madonna with the Book (Conestabile Madonna)” by Raffaello Sanzio, 1504.Sergio Anelli/Electa/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Image

Christmas, as everyone knows, commemorates the birth of Jesus and is a major religious celebration for Christians around the world.

But what many people don’t know is that Jesus is an important figure in Islam, too, even though most Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas (though some, especially some American Muslims, do).

In honor of the holiday, here are six things you may not know about the role of Jesus — and his mother, Mary — in Islam:

  1. Jesus, Mary, and the angel Gabriel are all in the Quran (as are Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and a bunch of other Bible characters).
  2. Muslims believe that Jesus (called “Isa” in Arabic) was a prophet of God, was born to a virgin (Mary), and will return to Earth before the Day of Judgment to restore justice and to defeat al-Masih ad-Dajjal (“the false messiah”), also known as the Antichrist. All of which may sound pretty familiar to many Christians.
  3. Mary (called “Maryam” in Arabic) has an entire chapter in the Quran named for her — the only chapter in the Quran named for a female figure. In fact, Mary is the only woman to be mentioned by name in the entire Quran: As noted in the Study Quran, “other female figures are identified only by their relation to others, such as the wife of Adam and the mother of Moses, or by their title, such as the Queen of Sheba.” Mary is mentioned more times in the Quran than in the entire New Testament.
  4. Just as with all the other prophets, including Mohammed, Muslims recite, “Peace be upon him” every time they refer to Jesus.

    The name "Jesus, son of Mary" written in Arabic calligraphy, followed by "peace be upon him." بلال الدويك

    The name “Jesus, son of Mary” written in Arabic calligraphy, followed by “peace be upon him.” بلال الدويك

  5. Muslims believe that Jesus performed miracles: The Quran discusses several of Jesus’s miracles, including giving sight to the blind, healing lepers, raising the dead, and breathing life into clay birds.
  6. The story of Jesus’s birth as told in the Quran is also the story of his first miracle, when he spoke as an infant in the cradle and declared himself to be a prophet of God. Here’s the story:

And remember Mary in the Book, when she withdrew from her family to an eastern place. And she veiled herself from them. Then We [God] sent unto her Our Spirit [the angel Gabriel], and it assumed for her the likeness of a perfect man. She said, “I seek refuge from thee in the Compassionate [i.e., God], if you are reverent!” He said, “I am but a messenger of thy Lord, to bestow upon thee a pure boy.”

She said, “How shall I have a boy when no man has touched me, nor have I been unchaste?” He said, “Thus shall it be. Thy Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me.’” And [it is thus] that We might make him a sign unto mankind, and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter decreed.

So she conceived him and withdrew with him to a place far off. And the pangs of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a date palm. She said, “Would that I had died before this and was a thing forgotten, utterly forgotten!” So he called out to her from below her, “Grieve not! Thy Lord has placed a rivulet beneath thee. And shake toward thyself the trunk of the date palm; fresh, ripe dates shall fall upon thee. So eat and drink and cool thine eye. And if thou seest any human being, say, ‘Verily I have vowed a fast unto the Compassionate, so I shall not speak this day to any man.’”

Then she came with him [the infant Jesus] unto her people, carrying him. They said, “O Mary! Thou hast brought an amazing thing! O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not an evil man, nor was thy mother unchaste.” Then she pointed to him [Jesus]. They said, “How shall we speak to one who is yet a child in the cradle?”

He [Jesus] said, “Truly I am a servant of God. He has given me the Book and made me a prophet. He has made me blessed wheresoever I may be, and has enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I live, and [has made me] dutiful toward my mother. And He has not made me domineering, wretched. Peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I am raised alive!”

That is Jesus son of Mary— a statement of the truth, which they doubt.

So although Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the son of God — an important distinction between Muslim and Christian views of him — Muslims do revere Jesus as an important prophet.



Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

by Joshua and Joanna Bogunjoko, SIM International Director | In joyful obedience, SIM workers continue to respond to Jesus’ invitation to “Come, follow me!”
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6.

Come!
Entering the season of Christmas, I am reminded of the words of the hymn, “O come, let us adore Him” and “Come, and behold Him!”, referring to the newborn King. Jesus would later speak the word come when he said, “Come, follow me.”

The invitation to Come!, available to us every day, is all the more poignant during the season of Christmas. Shepherds and foreign magi came to worship the incarnated Christ Child upon his arrival into human history. Through the ages, believers from numerous ethnic groups and nations have continued coming to worship and adore.

But this invitation is not heard by everyone on earth. Many are living and dying today behind barriers to the gospel that silence and block the come! And so we go to the ends of the earth so that many more may come to worship Him.

In 2018, SIM will celebrate its 125th anniversary. Our purpose and vision remains constant. Even as I write, many living in darkness are responding to the Christmas invitation to “Come, adore Him!” In joyful obedience, SIM workers continue to respond to Jesus’ invitation to “Come, follow me!”.

Thank you for your prayers, gifts, support, friendship and service with, and alongside of, us, our family and SIM. Come, let us adore Him together!

Purpose & Mission

Convinced that no one should live and die without hearing God’s good news, we believe that He has called us to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in communities where He is least known.

Therefore, compelled by God’s great love and empowered by the Holy Spirit…

  • We cross barriers to proclaim the crucified and risen Christ, expressing His love and compassion among those who live and die without Him
  • We make disciples who will trust and obey Jesus, and become part of Christ-centered churches
  • We work together with churches to fulfill God’s mission across cultures locally and globally
  • We facilitate the participation in cross-cultural ministry of those whom God is calling.

Vision

The vision of SIM is to see a witness to Christ’s love where He is least known, disciples of Jesus expressing God’s love in their communities, and Christ-centred churches among all peoples.

By faith we see…
in the world: A vibrant testimony to the gospel through character, word and action among communities where currently Jesus is least known. Followers of Jesus living out the gospel in unity and in the power of the Holy Spirit, making disciples who trust Him, obey him, and play a full part in church life. Churches serving their communities and reaching out with the gospel locally and globally.

in SIM: A community growing in faith, in obedience to Jesus, and in ministry competence. Workers crossing barriers with the gospel, being and making disciples of Jesus, expressing His love and compassion. Multi-ethnic and multi-skilled teams serving together in love and harmony. Courageous leaders investing in the development of others for life transforming ministries. Effective partnerships with Christ-centered churches and organizations facilitating the spread of the Gospel.

in eternity: The redeemed from all tribes, languages, peoples and nations worshiping the Living God.

 



What Is the Real Meaning of Christmas?

JesusOnline Ministries | But if you were to go back seven hundred years before the birth of Christ and ask the prophet Isaiah what it means to him, he would tell you Christmas is about the birth of a special child: Jesus.

Christmas means different things to different people. To most, it is a heartwarming time with family and friends. To many children, it’s about presents and Santa. To merchants, it means a season when many retailers finally begin making money.

But if you were to go back seven hundred years before the birth of Christ and ask the prophet Isaiah what it means to him, he would tell you Christmas is about the birth of a special child:

“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)

We hear these words each Christmas season during the singing of Handel’s Messiah. This profound message is that God Himself would come to earth as both King and Savior.

Most Jews were waiting for the Messiah to deliver Israel from Roman oppression. They were looking for a Messiah of power and authority. But God had a different plan. He chose to send His son as a humble servant whose primary mission was to die for our sins (see Philippians 2:5-11).

The writers of the New Testament present Jesus as both fully human and fully God. Isaiah had said as much when he foretold the Messiah coming to earth as both child and Mighty God. Confirming the words of Isaiah, the apostle Paul writes of Jesus:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17)

What would motivate the Creator of everything that exists to step down from his lofty position as the sovereign ruler of the universe to become one of us? Jesus tells us that he came because God loves us–each of us.

The wonderful meaning of Christmas is that Jesus came to rescue us from the death sentence caused by our sin, and to give us hope and peace with God. He did it because he cares for you and me, and wants to adopt us into his family–now and forever.

Why not take time this Christmas to reflect on God’s great gift to you? The one who created you is the same one who came to earth and died for you!

In a world filled with corruption and selfishness, there is tremendous hope in knowing that God cares. And he promises eternal life to all who believe in Jesus. Can you think of a greater reason to celebrate Christmas?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John3:16)



Christmas – It’s a Big Deal

by Michael Jolayemi | Christmas is about deliverance from Satan and from self. Let us therefore rejoice, make merry, eat good food but let us come to know the Lord our Savior intimately and let us worship Him. He is the reason for the celebration.

Growing up in a poor family and in a remote cocoa-plantation village many years ago, I and my peers looked forward to Christmas with excitement. The sound of Christmas bell was something of great delight. More importantly is the change in our mothers’ kitchens with great aroma of new menus which often put us in a wonderful Christmas  mood. Christmas celebration gave us hope for good and rare food on the table; special food and special drinks. Lunch and dinner tables at Christmas time were seen only once a year. Christmas was usually a big time of festivities. And it was good because delicious food is part of the great celebration.

But not only food, our parents were always saddled with additional expenses of new Christmas clothes. Parents would have saved money throughout the year in expectation of Christmas or they would be forced to borrow because it was an issue when all kids were on their way to church in new attires and your kids had none. I recalled that many houses were thrown into chaos with children crying because they had no Christmas clothes either for financial reasons or that the dresses were not ready because the tailors did not finish sewing the dresses for Christmas. In our local areas, tailors were usually busy at Christmas time and if your clothes or that of your children were not given to the tailor well ahead of time, they were often overwhelmed and could disappoint a number of customers. There could have been an avalanche of law suits for breach of contracts if it were in places like America or U.K.; but no court in those areas would adjudicate on such breaches. Besides this, we were a small community where everyone knew each other and no one wanted to go that far to resolve issues; hence we managed our differences without court interventions.

The point is that everyone looked forward to Christmas time with high expectations of good food, new attires and other festivities. But Christmas has always been with great expectation in the world, not just for food and dresses like children in my community. It held the expectation of the birth of the Savior, God’s show of love for humanity. The people God created in His own image had been separated from Him as a result of sin which Satan had lured Adam and Eve into. The world which is ravaged with sin and wickedness longed for a messiah who would deliver the people from sin and satanic oppression’s. It was a big deal because people were sick and tired of their sinful situation. It was a hopeless and helpless situation and people were eager to see the Savior come. Christmas is therefore about the birth of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the reason for Christmas. If He were not born, we would not have any Christmas celebration. If He did not die, and resurrect, we would have remained in our sins. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16

Among prophets who spoke about this great expectation was Isaiah. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” Isaiah 9:6-7. God did it uniquely for the world; the God who became man came as a baby and in the depth of His love for us, laid down His life to restore our joy and fellowship with the Father.

Little or nothing was known about Mary, a Jewish virgin, who became the mother of our Savior. The Holy Spirit had visited her, and the Lord had favored her. She was carrying a unique baby in her womb, which would bring the most needed relief to the world of sin. How can this happen to me when I have not known any man? Mary asked from the Angel of the Lord who had brought great news to her from God. And the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. Luke 1:30-33, 35

And the day came, over 2,000 years ago; the despondent world was turned into a place of jubilation. The shepherds who were out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night, were privileged to hear the great announcement, heralding the arrival of the long-expected King. “Fear not”, the Angel of the Lord said, “for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12. Heaven and earth shouted for joy “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” The jubilation in heaven and on earth was that the separation of man from God was being taken care of once and for all.

The shepherds did not just hear the good news, they believed it, and they made the personal choice to go to see the baby. “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.” Luke 2:15-17. There were also the wise men from the East who had followed the star which they had seen in the East till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.  And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Mat 2:10-11.

Christmas celebration with good food and new clothes is wonderful because something good had happened to us. But Christmas is not just about physical enjoyment of food and celebration. It is about joy for our freedom from sin, from sexual perversion, from hatred, lies, hypocrisy, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the likes. Christmas is about deliverance from Satan and from self. Let us therefore rejoice, make merry, eat good food but let us come to know the Lord our Savior intimately and let us worship Him. He is the reason for the celebration. What no one could do, He did for us. Also, remember that there are children without parents at this Christmas season, with no one to provide for them. You can act for Christ today in bringing joy to their hearts, and the hearts of the less privileged.

Michael JolayemiMichael Jolayemi is an author and Bible scholar. He has written few books on social issues: “Saving America: The war we can’t ignore”; and “Sheltered through the storm: the travails and ultimate triumph of the Church.” His next book is about the Sin issue and will be out by God’s grace next year. You can connect with Michael via www.conservativevoiceofreason.com or www.michaeljolayemi.com.

 



Looking to Wrong Places for Peace and Happiness: Jesus is The Answer

by Rev. Dr. Daniel ade’ Iselaiye | Chairman, ECWA USA DCC | Jesus Christ assures the world of what he has for all human beings. He says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (St. John 10:10). (image, YouTube).

From time immemorial, human beings have sought for ways to find happiness. Philosophers and religious leaders have talked much and written a lot about it.  Jesus came into the world with a mission, that is, to save life and he did it by presenting himself as the one and the only one who could give life in abundance to humanity.  It was critical for him to complete this mission because the more people turned away from God to look for happiness or satisfaction in wrong places the more they perish.  God wanted the world to know the realty of the need to save humanity.  The Scripture says in John in John 3:16, “For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son.  God gave His Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life.” Some today try to go around this simple truth by looking into wrong places for a life of prosperity or happiness. It is sad to know that many church leaders have misled their congregations to believe that money or riches can give happiness or satisfaction.

Wise men and women know that the material things of this world cannot give happiness.  These things cannot guarantee our happiness or satisfaction.  We need a better approach that will show that we understand how real happiness relates to one’s life.  Whether you are a Christian or not, you will indeed believe that life is ontological, that is, it moves towards a particular end which Aristotle (384-322B.C) called “eudamonia, which simply means “happiness,” “satisfaction,” or prosperity.  That will possibly explain why so many modern church leaders erroneously lay undue emphasis on amassing fleeting wealth and riches as if these temporary materials can satisfy restless souls.  There will be no satisfaction until one’s soul finds God who makes man in His own image.  Aristotle believed that happiness is an activity of the soul and to have this life of happiness or satisfaction, one must live one’s life according to reason.  It is this reason that leads us to a life of virtue. What we have become will then determine what we do.  The argument here is not about whether a wise man like Aristotle was a Christian or not.  He certainly lived before Christ appeared in the world. However, he discovered reason as a means of living a life of happiness and Jesus came to show the world that he is the reason, the one and only one that can satisfy our restless souls. When one’s sinful nature is changed he or she begins to live according to the life of Christ.  If that spiritual transformation is real, one will not be looking for happiness or joy that does not come from Christ. The life of virtue does not take place in a vacuum.  The full realization of the good life is guided by reason that is rooted in Christ who is the embodiment of God’s wisdom. No wonder then the prophet calls Jesus the “Wonderful Counselor,” and “Prince of Peace!”

The understanding of what has been written so far is very important to our spirituality. It confirms our belief in the fact that Jesus is the reason for Christmas.  Why then will people look in wrong places for happiness or satisfaction? Look at the world of commerce that celebrates Christmas without Christ.  God is both a spiritual as well as an intellectual Being.  Thus, He wants human beings to reason with Him.  This is stated directly in Isaiah 1:18 where God says, “Come now, let us reason together, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”  Everybody reasons but it is important to know that it is not everybody that reasons aright.  We are therefore invited to reason with God.  When that is done, we will see the futility of looking for happiness or satisfaction in wrong places. When we live fully according to reason, our spiritual life will be nourished.  Looking for happiness in wrong places will be unnecessary, because it is Jesus alone that can satisfy the needs of our souls.  He is the bread of life and the water of life. Know that Jesus wants Christians to rejoice not because of money or the materials of this world but because of their names that are written in the Book of Life (St. Luke 2:20).

The Testimony of King Solomon:  There are valuable things that money cannot buy, such as love, wisdom, and integrity.  Solomon chose wisdom which helped him later in his life to write his last book, Ecclesiastes.  He got all the money, including all the women, and the houses he desired.  He became the richest and wealthiest in the history of the world and it may seem to us that all his desires were fulfilled.  We may judge that he reached the peak but let’s look at his own assessment. Solomon knew that the search for heaven on earth based upon money and other material things is definitely an illusion.  He warns people of the insidious deception of riches.  Solomon reached the top by the grace of God but that top is indeed empty as it has failed to satisfy the continuous thirst and hunger of man’s restless soul. It has been the plan of Satan to make human beings run after vapor and things that do not last.  Humanity is hurt by this satanic deception. What can give peace to the soul has eluded many people in the world. There is a dial need to be led to a higher ground based on the truth behind the following assessment made by King Solomon:

I said to myself, “Let’s go for it-experiment with pleasure, have a good time!” But there was nothing to it, nothing but smoke.  What Do I think of fun-filled life?  Insane!  Insane!  My verdict on the pursuit of happiness?  Who needs it?  With help of a bottle of wine and all the wisdom I could muster, I tried my level best to penetrate the absurdity of life.  I wanted to get a handle on anything useful we mortals might do during the years we spend on this earth (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 MSG).

If nothing in the world cannot heal our sin-sick souls, then the world needs to look at the right person, Jesus the mighty healer. The angel who appeared at his birth knew what the gift of God means to the world.  So, he said, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (St. Luke 2:10-11).

There are many events in our lives that point to the evils of focusing on material things to give us peace and happiness. The love of money, as the Bible puts it, is the root of all evils.  Is very rare today in some churches for leaders to give this warning.  How we wish they could preach more about the beauty of the kingdom of God.  If people know about its power and beauty, it will not be difficult for them to find their ways to it and they will not need much of preaching, neither will they look to wrong places.  False preachers attempt to make their congregations happy through the use of gimmickry. Even though the gospel is not preached, people feel entertained momentarily.  Churches have been invaded by fake ministers through the use of spiritual and psychic sophistry.  They teach in such a way as to offer people false alternatives to the peace that Christ gives.  Beware of the use of modern pseudoscience and the so-called miracle workers who are now using electronic wizardry to deceive innocent people who still have some respect for ordained ministries.  Jesus calls all fake pastors and teachers thieves and robbers. They are used by Satan to steal and destroy souls.

It is a grievous mistake for young people to believe that such things as wine, dangerous drugs, alcohol and the likes can give them happiness.  This is a lie. The danger here is in the fact that when these things are taken in excess, it results into drunkenness which is a powerful spirit by itself.  The Bible makes an interesting comparison between the Holy Spirit and drunkenness. Just as God uses the Holy Spirit in human beings to do His will and conform to the life of a disciple, in the same way, drunkenness controls anyone who is drunk.   A drunkard loses his  or her power or will to control himself or herself because he/she has given his/her own reasoning faculties and all other abilities to alcoholism which does not give anything good to the body except to take away from it before destroying the body.  In order to keep ourselves under the right spirit, the Bible says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).  This is a very powerful analogy.  Don’t be deceived, there is no joy in drunkenness.  Jesus is willing to give us joy and peace.

Jesus Christ assures the world of what he has for all human beings. He says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (St. John 10:10).  Let’s beware of the thieves among us.  This includes anyone who teaches and encourages others to look for alternatives to the abundant life that Jesus Christ offers the world.  Let us look only to Jesus and live.  Jesus explained the realty of his claim to Nicodemus.  When God’s people were dying in the wilderness as a result of their disobedience, God asked Moses to raise up a brazen serpent.  Anyone who simply looked up to see the serpent became whole or healed. Jesus came and was lifted up on the cross.  Anyone who looks to him will live (St. John 3:14-15).  Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” {St. John 14:27).

The following song written by William A. Ogden in 1887 is used as the conclusion for this discussion:

I’ve a message from the Lord, hallelujah!
This message unto you I’ll give,
‘Tis is recorded in His Word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”

 

Refrain:
“Look and live,” my brother, live;
Look to Jesus now, and live;
‘Tis recorded in His Word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”

 

I have a message full of love, hallelujah!
A message, O my friend, for you,
‘Tis a message from above, hallelujah!
Jesus said it, and I know ‘tis true.

 

Life is offered unto you, hallelujah!
Eternal life thy soul shall have,
If you’ll only look to him, hallelujah
Look to Jesus who alone can save.

 

I will tell you how I came, hallelujah!
To Jesus when he made me whole –
‘Twas believing on His name, hallelujah!
I trusted and he saved my soul

May the joy of the Lord be our strength. Amen!

 



Holiday Family Movies

There’s no better way to hide out from the cold than by cozying up to a holiday movie (Rotten Tomatoes).

Holiday time is a great time for reflection and appreciation, and the holiday movies listed below is a way to take it easy and reflect on the good old days for the grown ups and a new beginnings for the young. The movies pick ranges from Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption in the adaptations of Christmas Carol  to the salvation of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. There is no better way to put yourself in the holiday spirit than with a classic holiday movie. Get the popcorn and drinks ready and relax to any or all of this classic holiday movies.

IMAGE  DESCRIPTION
Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: The classic Disney animated characters play the roles in this animated retelling of the Charles Dickens masterpiece. Ebenezer Scrooge. Nominated for an Oscar.
Starring: Wayne Allwine, Alan Young, Will Ryan
Directed By: Burny Mattinson
Rating: G
Genre: Animation, Kids & Family
Directed By: Burny Mattinson
In Theaters: Oct 23, 1983 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Nov 5, 2013
Runtime: 25 minutes
  How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1967)
Critics Consensus: How the Grinch Stole Christmas brings an impressive array of talent to bear on an adaptation that honors a classic holiday story — and has rightfully become a yuletide tradition of its own.
Synopsis: Chuck Jones’ animated version of the classic Dr. Seuss book How the Grinch Stole Christmas originally aired on television in 1966 and has since become a holiday family favorite. Voiced by Boris Karloff (who also narrates), the Grinch lives on top of a hill overlooking Whoville with his dog, Max. Each year at Christmas time, the Grinch’s hatred grows stronger toward those insufferably cheerful Whos down in Whoville. Content to exchange presents, eat large banquets, and sing songs in the town square, the Whos live in a blissful ignorance of the Grinch’s contempt. One year, he gets the idea to stop Christmas from coming by dressing up as Santa Claus. He cobbles together an outfit and makes his dog drag him around on a sleigh while sneaking into the Whos’ homes and stealing their presents, food, and decorations. After he has stolen every last thing, the Whos wake up on Christmas morning to sing in the town square, causing the Grinch to question the basis of his nefarious plan. Thurl Ravenscroft (the voice of kid cereal mascot Tony the Tiger) provides the vocals for the song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” This story was remade into a live-action movie in 2000 by director Ron Howard starring Jim Carrey as the Grinch. ~ Andrea LeVasseur, Rovi
Starring: Boris Karloff, June Foray, Thurl Ravenscroft, Eugene Poddany
Directed By: Chuck Jones, Ben Washam
Rating: NR
Genre: Animation, Classics, Comedy, Kids & Family, Musical & Performing Arts, Television
Written By: Theodor S. Geisel
In Theaters: Jun 1, 1967 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Oct 31, 2000
Runtime: 26 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
  Holiday Inn (1942)
Critics Consensus: With the combined might of Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin working in its favor, Holiday Inn is a seasonal classic — not least because it introduced “White Christmas” to the world.
Synopsis: Music by Irving Berlin, songs by Bing Crosby and dancing by Fred Astaire all add up to a really delightful musical that also just happened to launch the hit ‘White Christmas’.
Starring: Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale
Directed By: Mark Sandrich
Rating: NR
Genre: Classics, Comedy, Musical & Performing Arts, Romance
Written By: Claude Binyon, Elmer Rice
In Theaters: Jan 1, 1942 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Nov 2, 1999
Runtime: 100 minutes
Studio: MCA Universal Home Video
  Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Sally Benson’s short stories about the turn-of-the-century Smith family of St. Louis were tackled by a battalion of MGM screenwriters, who hoped to find a throughline to connect the anecdotal tales. After several false starts (one of which proposed that the eldest Smith daughter be kidnapped and held for ransom), the result was the charming valentine-card musical Meet Me in St. Louis. The plot hinges on the possibility that Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames), the family’s banker father, might uproot the Smiths to New York, scuttling his daughter Esther (Judy Garland)’s romance with boy-next-door John Truett (Tom Drake) and causing similar emotional trauma for the rest of the household. In a cast that includes Mary Astor as Ames’ wife, Lucille Bremer as another Ames daughter, and Marjorie Main as the housekeeper, the most fascinating character is played by 6-year-old Margaret O’Brien. As kid sister Tootie, O’Brien seems morbidly obsessed with death and murder, burying her dolls, “killing” a neighbor at Halloween (she throws flour in the flustered man’s face on a dare), and maniacally bludgeoning her snowmen when Papa announces his plans to move to New York. Margaret O’Brien won a special Oscar for her remarkable performance, prompting Lionel Barrymore to grumble “Two hundred years ago, she would have been burned at the stake!” The songs are a heady combination of period tunes and newly minted numbers by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin, the best of which are The Boy Next Door, The Trolley Song, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. As a bonus, Meet Me in St. Louis is lensed in rich Technicolor, shown to best advantage in the climactic scenes at the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Starring: Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Lucille Bremer, Mary Astor
Directed By: Vincente Minnelli
Rating: G
Genre: Classics, Drama, Kids & Family, Musical & Performing Arts, Romance
Written By: Irving Brecher, Fred F. Finklehoffe
In Theaters: Nov 28, 1944 limited
On Disc/Streaming: Apr 6, 2004
Runtime: 113 minutes
Studio: MGM
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Critics Consensus: Deftly directed by Ernst Lubitsch from a smart, funny script by Samson Raphaelson, The Shop Around the Corner is a romantic comedy in the finest sense of the term.
Synopsis: The Shop Around the Corner is adapted from the Hungarian play by Nikolaus (Miklos) Laszlo. Budapest gift-shop clerk Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and newly hired shopgirl Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) hate each other almost at first sight. Kralik would prefer the company of the woman with whom he is corresponding by mail but has never met. Novak likewise carries a torch for her male pen pal, whom she also has never laid eyes on. It doesn’t take a PhD degree to figure out that Kralik and Novak have been writing letters to each other. The film’s many subplots are carried by Frank Morgan as the kindhearted shopkeeper and by Joseph Schildkraut as a backstabbing employee whose comeuppance is sure to result in spontaneous applause from the audience. Directed with comic delicacy by Ernst Lubitsch, this was later remade in 1949 as In the Good Old Summertime, and in 1998 as You’ve Got Mail. It was also musicalized as the 1963 Broadway production She Loves Me. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Starring: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut
Directed By: Ernst Lubitsch
Rating: NR
Genre: Classics, Comedy, Drama, Romance
Written By: Samson Raphaelson
In Theaters: Jan 1, 1940 limited
On Disc/Streaming: Oct 1, 2002
Runtime: 97 minutes
Studio: MGM
Toy Story That Time Forgot (2014)
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: During a post-Christmas play date, the gang find themselves in uncharted territory when the coolest set of action figures ever turn out to be dangerously delusional. It’s all up to Trixie, the triceratops, if the gang hopes to return to Bonnie’s room in this Toy Story That Time Forgot. (C) Disney
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Kristen Schaal, Kevin Mckidd
Directed By: Steve Purcell (II)
Rating: NR
Genre: Action & Adventure, Animation
Written By: Steve Purcell (II)
In Theaters: Dec 2, 2014 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Nov 3, 2015
Runtime: 22 minutes
Studio: Disney/Pixar
 A Christmas Carol (1938)
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: One of the better versions of the Dickens classic features Reginald Owen as Scrooge, real-life relatives Gene, Kathleen and June Lockhart as the Cratchit family, and Terence Kilburn as Tiny Tim.
Starring: Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, Leo G Carroll
Directed By: Edwin L. Marin
Rating: G (nothing objectionable)
Genre: Classics, Drama, Kids & Family, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Written By: Hugo Butler
In Theaters: Dec 16, 1938 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Nov 8, 2005
Runtime: 99 minutes
Studio: MGM
Paddington (2015)
Critics Consensus: Paddington brings a beloved children’s character into the 21st century without sacrificing his essential charm, delivering a family-friendly adventure as irresistibly cuddly as its star.
Synopsis: From the beloved novels by Michael Bond and producer David Heyman (HARRY POTTER), PADDINGTON tells the story of the comic misadventures of a young Peruvian bear who travels to the city in search of a home. Finding himself lost and alone, he begins to realize that city life is not all he had imagined – until he meets the kindly Brown family who read the label around his neck that says “Please look after this bear. Thank you,” and offer him a temporary haven. It looks as though his luck has changed until this rarest of bears catches the eye of a museum taxidermist. (c) Weinstein
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Ben Whishaw, Julie Walters
Directed By: Paul King (VII)
Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)
Genre: Comedy, Kids & Family
Written By: Hamish McColl, Paul King (VII)
In Theaters: Jan 16, 2015 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Apr 28, 2015
Box Office: $85,879,985
Runtime: 96 minutes
Studio: The Weinstein Company
 Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Critics Consensus: Irrefutable proof that gentle sentimentalism can be the chief ingredient in a wonderful film, Miracle on 34th Street delivers a warm holiday message without resorting to treacle.
Synopsis: Edmund Gwenn plays Kris Kringle, a bearded old gent who is the living image of Santa Claus. Serving as a last-minute replacement for the drunken Santa who was to have led Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, Kringle is offered a job as a Macy’s toy-department Santa. Supervisor Maureen O’Hara soon begins having second thoughts about hiring Kris: it’s bad enough that he is laboring under the delusion that he’s the genuine Saint Nick; but when he begins advising customers to shop elsewhere for toys that they can’t find at Macy’s, he’s gone too far! Amazingly, Mr. Macy (Harry Antrim) considers Kris’ shopping tips to be an excellent customer-service “gimmick,” and insists that the old fellow keep his job. A resident of a Long Island retirement home, Kris agrees to take a room with lawyer John Payne during the Christmas season. It happens that Payne is sweet on O’Hara, and Kris subliminally hopes he can bring the two together. Kris is also desirous of winning over the divorced O’Hara’s little daughter Natalie Wood, who in her few years on earth has lost a lot of the Christmas spirit. Complications ensue when Porter Hall, Macy’s nasty in-house psychologist, arranges to have Kris locked up in Bellevue as a lunatic. Payne represents Kris at his sanity hearing, rocking the New York judicial system to its foundations by endeavoring to prove in court that Kris is, indeed, the real Santa Claus! We won’t tell you how he does it: suffice to say that there’s a joyous ending for Payne and O’Hara, as well as a wonderful faith-affirming denouement for little Natalie Wood. 72-year-old Edmund Gwenn won an Oscar for his portrayal of the “jolly old elf” Kringle; the rest of the cast is populated by such never-fail pros as Gene Lockhart (as the beleaguered sanity-hearing judge), William Frawley (as a crafty political boss), and an unbilled Thelma Ritter and Jack Albertson. Based on the novel by Valentine Davies, Miracle on 34th Street was remade twice: once for TV in 1973, and a second time for a 1994 theatrical release, with Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Starring: Edmund Gwenn, John Payne, Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood
Directed By: George Seaton
Rating: NR
Genre: Classics, Drama, Kids & Family, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Special Interest, Romance
Written By: George Seaton
In Theaters: Jan 1, 1947 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Oct 16, 2001
Runtime: 96 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
  Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Critics Consensus: Enchanting, sweepingly romantic, and featuring plenty of wonderful musical numbers, Beauty and the Beast is one of Disney’s most elegant animated offerings.
Synopsis: Walt Disney Animation Studios’ magical classic Beauty and the Beast returns to the big screen in Disney Digital 3D(TM), introducing a whole new generation to the Disney classic with stunning new 3D imagery. The film captures the fantastic journey of Belle (voice of Paige O’Hara), a bright and beautiful young woman who’s taken prisoner by a hideous beast (voice of Robby Benson) in his castle. Despite her precarious situation, Belle befriends the castle’s enchanted staff-a teapot, a candelabra and a mantel clock, among others-and ultimately learns to see beneath the Beast’s exterior to discover the heart and soul of a prince. — (C) Disney
Starring: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Jerry Orbach, Angela Lansbury
Directed By: Gary Trousdale
Rating: G
Genre: Animation, Drama, Kids & Family, Musical & Performing Arts, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Romance
In Theaters: Nov 22, 1991 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Oct 8, 2002
Box Office: $47,611,331
Runtime: 85 minutes
Studio: Buena Vista
   It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Critics Consensus: The holiday classic to define all holiday classics, It’s a Wonderful Life is one of a handful of films worth an annual viewing.
Synopsis: This is director Frank Capra’s classic bittersweet comedy/drama about George Bailey (James Stewart), the eternally-in-debt guiding force of a bank in the typical American small town of Bedford Falls. As the film opens, it’s Christmas Eve, 1946, and George, who has long considered himself a failure, faces financial ruin and arrest and is seriously contemplating suicide. High above Bedford Falls, two celestial voices discuss Bailey’s dilemma and decide to send down eternally bumbling angel Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers), who after 200 years has yet to earn his wings, to help George out. But first, Clarence is given a crash course on George’s life, and the multitude of selfless acts he has performed: rescuing his younger brother from drowning, losing the hearing in his left ear in the process; enduring a beating rather than allow a grieving druggist (H.B. Warner) to deliver poison by mistake to an ailing child; foregoing college and a long-planned trip to Europe to keep the Bailey Building and Loan from letting its Depression-era customers down; and, most important, preventing town despot Potter (Lionel Barrymore) from taking over Bedford Mills and reducing its inhabitants to penury. Along the way, George has married his childhood sweetheart Mary (Donna Reed), who has stuck by him through thick and thin. But even the love of Mary and his children are insufficient when George, faced with an $8000 shortage in his books, becomes a likely candidate for prison thanks to the vengeful Potter. Bitterly, George declares that he wishes that he had never been born, and Clarence, hoping to teach George a lesson, shows him how different life would have been had he in fact never been born. After a nightmarish odyssey through a George Bailey-less Bedford Falls (now a glorified slum called Potterville), wherein none of his friends or family recognize him, George is made to realize how many lives he has touched, and helped, through his existence; and, just as Clarence had planned, George awakens to the fact that, despite all its deprivations, he has truly had a wonderful life. Capra’s first production through his newly-formed Liberty Films, It’s a Wonderful Life lost money in its original run, when it was percieved as a fairly downbeat view of small-town life. Only after it lapsed into the public domain in 1973 and became a Christmastime TV perennial did it don the mantle of a holiday classic. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell
Directed By: Frank Capra
Rating: PG (for thematic elements, smoking and some violence)
Genre: Classics, Comedy, Drama, Kids & Family, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Written By: Frank Capra, Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett
In Theaters: Dec 25, 1946 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Sep 19, 1995
Runtime: 135 minutes
Studio: Liberty Films
  Frozen (2013)
Critics Consensus: Beautifully animated, smartly written, and stocked with singalong songs, Frozen adds another worthy entry to the Disney canon.
Synopsis: Featuring the voices of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, “Frozen” is the coolest comedy-adventure ever to hit the big screen. When a prophecy traps a kingdom in eternal winter, Anna, a fearless optimist, teams up with extreme mountain man Kristoff and his sidekick reindeer Sven on an epic journey to find Anna’s sister Elsa, the Snow Queen, and put an end to her icy spell. Encountering mystical trolls, a funny snowman named Olaf, Everest-like extremes and magic at every turn, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom from destruction. (c) Disney
Starring: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad
Directed By: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck
Rating: PG (for some action and mild rude humor)
Genre: Animation, Kids & Family
Written By: Jennifer Lee
In Theaters: Nov 27, 2013 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Mar 18, 2014
Box Office: $400,736,600
Runtime: 102 minutes
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures


Preparing for Christmas – The Matthew 6:6 Way

by Christy Fitzwater | For all the time I spend on my knees in front of paper sacks, doling out sweet treats and wish-list fulfillment, I spend a much longer, more precious time on my knees in front of the Father. Praying for this one and that one. Attending to the details of so many hearts and lives.

Only the mother may pass.

Behind the door of Jayme’s room (still hers in our hearts, even though she has a man and a mortgage now) lie growing mounds of Christmas treasures. Nondescript paper grocery sacks carry only a name on the outside but hand-picked stocking stuffers on the inside.

On the floor in the closet are a few folded, college-ruled papers that hold my nice list. (Not a naughty in the whole lot.) After my covert ops into town, I slip stealthily into the gift room and disperse the latest gifts.

Cross them off the list.

This is a work I do alone every December—poring over the names and the wish lists, stashing surprises and organizing delightful gifts we only splurge on once a year.

But that is only one of my two secret Christmas rooms.

The other is a place I slip into by myself as well, but in this room, the names are on note cards tucked into a plain paper mache box. So many names, and this Christmas I am poring over each one with secret prayer.

Sick people. Friends making decisions. Lost souls for whom I am fighting. Missionaries. Church family. Impossible requests that I’m just sure God is going to take care of quite nicely. Mental struggles. Emotional turmoil. Brothers in Christ overseas. Children. Parents. Grieving hearts. Empty pocketbooks. Hearts that need growing.

For all the time I spend on my knees in front of paper sacks, doling out sweet treats and wish-list fulfillment, I spend a much longer, more precious time on my knees in front of the Father. Praying for this one and that one. Attending to the details of so many hearts and lives.

Jesus says:

But you, when you pray, enter your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly (Matt. 6:6).

Go into your room, mothers.

Go into your room during the Christmas season, and do the secret work of tending to names. This is a meaningful, lasting, world-altering gift you give.

This article originally appeared at christyfitzwater.com.

Christy Fitzwater is an author and pastor’s wife living in Kalispell, Montana. She is the author of Blameless: Living A Life Free from Guilt And Shame and My Father’s Hands: 52 Reasons to Trust God with Your Heart. Find her devotional writing at christyfitzwater.com.



The Fight Before Christmas

by Regis Nicoll | The fight over Christmas has been raging ever since the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod. Yet the story endures—not only because it speaks to our greatest need and deepest longing, but because it is true.

Black Friday, 6:15 AM. The checkout lane was already twenty persons deep, but worse—it hadn’t moved in five minutes. As I scanned the other seven lanes, they were no better. Resigned, I took my place in line clutching the electronic gadgetry I had snatched up in my bargain-hunting frenzy.

As everyone knows, deep mark-downs await the deal-hungry consumer on the day after Thanksgiving. But the experienced shopper knows the real deals go to the “doorbusters”—those gritty individuals who forgo shaving, makeup, and even breakfast to be the first in the door. Of course the scarcity mentality of a disheveled and hungry horde can lead to some pretty uncivil behavior…

The lady behind me, also bothered by the slow lane, settled into the queue sighing, “Well, at least this is orderly—not like the first store.”

“First store? It’s only 6:15. What time did you start today?”

“Four. I tell ya, them folks was crazy … pushin’, shovin’, and grabbin’ stuff left and right. They even started fightin’ after a guy broke in line … two of ‘em rollin’ in the aisle … crazy folks!”

“You’re kidding.”

“It was ugly! I got no complaints now. Believe me. Them folks was crazy!”

As I listened, I recalled a scene from Jingle All the Way (1996) with Myron Larabee (Sinbad) and Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in an aisle-rolling melee on Christmas Eve. In their determination to grab up the season’s most popular toy, the warring duo resort to lying, stealing, wrestling, and even bomb threats. Why? As Howard’s son explains, “Johnny’s gonna get one. So is everybody else I know. Whoever doesn’t is going to be a loser.”

The “L” word seems to bring out the fight in us. While Jingle is hyperbolized for the sake of humor, there is much truth in its caricatures.

Marketing Christmas
Let me first say that Christmas is my least favorite holiday: not for what it represents, but for what it has become: a heavily marketed secular event in which the pressure to wow family and friends with presents, decorations, and Christmas dinner is enough to unravel all but the most determined Martha Stewart wannabe.

Indeed, for many folks the holiday’s months-long juggernaut can lead to post-Yuletide trauma, as the good news of “For to us a child is born” is buried in the rubble of discarded gift wrappings, turkey scraps, and unmet expectations.

For businesses, Christmas sales account for up to 50 percent of annual profits. Consequently, the season is a “make-it-or-break-it” time and retailers must be ever creative to avoid being a year-end “loser.”

One of the most prevalent schemes is “Christmas creep”—the continued expansion of the holiday season. If you’re like me, you barely recall the time when stores waited until after Thanksgiving to put out their Christmas merchandise. Today, many stores begin their retail campaign the day after Halloween and some shortly after Labor Day.

Not surprisingly, the resultant holiday overlap can lead to some awkward product placement. For instance, in Rite Aid stores Halloween merchandise was displayed across the aisle from Christmas items in symbolic tension.

Another strategy is to design obsolescence into products. How many of us have electronic or computer devices gathering dust which, although just a few years old, lack connectivity or compatibility with newer products and software? This tactic is optimized by introducing the latest techno wiz bangs during the Christmas season. Even the film industry gets in on the act by releasing their big wave of blockbusters and Oscar hopefuls after Thanksgiving.

Over the last several years, though, a new marketing ploy has been gaining momentum.

“Grinching” Christmas
What would have seemed lifted out of a Dr. Seuss story just a decade ago is a real life drama today. After generations of growing consumerism, Christmas has become a perennial target of those who are intent on stripping away all religious references and symbols from the public square.

The stories are familiar: city injunctions against nativity scenes, school bans on Christmas carols, plays, and cards with religious messages, the renaming of Christmas break to Winter break, and so on.

In the retail world, the “C” word is avoided in the belief that a welcoming atmosphere and healthy bottom line depend on a religion-free marketplace.

The “grinching” of Christmas—robbing it of its Object and true meaning—is necessary to make ever more space for commerce.

But as the push to co-opt Christmas as a season of partying and corporate profits continues, Christians should reclaim a vision of it in keeping with the highest ideals of Christianity: peace, good will, charity, and love—ideals at diametric odds with the indulgent consumerism that characterizes the season today.

Consider the tradition of gift-giving. What began in the fourth century as the charitable giving of essentials to the needy has become the exchange of non-essentials among the not-so needy. Thus, the outward emphasis of the original tradition has taken a decided inward turn: from unilateral charity to reciprocal gift exchange.

What’s more, driven by media hype and escalating expectations, too many of us end up spending too much, with money we don’t have for things we don’t need. Not only is that a bad exercise of Christian stewardship, it fuels the materialistic push towards a Christ-less Christmas.

That is not to say that Christians shouldn’t exchange gifts. It only means that the Christian ideal should be balanced toward true charity and that gift exchange should be well within the means of the giver.

Reclaiming a Christian vision extends to other Christmas traditions as well. Take the Christmas tree, for instance.

Despite its pagan origin, the Christmas tree points heavenward, inviting us to turn our gaze to Christ who was nailed to a tree to become the Tree of Life. It also evokes the Vine, through whom life courses out to connecting “branches.” Its red and white decorations bid us to rejoice as those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” And its piquant scent and evergreen color stir our senses, directing our thoughts to the life that is ever new and ever-lasting.

The fight over Christmas has been raging ever since the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod. Yet the story endures—not only because it speaks to our greatest need and deepest longing, but because it is true.

Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

∼ Charles Wesley (Hark! The Herald Angels Sing)

Regis Nicoll is a retired nuclear engineer and a fellow of the Colson Center who writes commentary on faith and culture. His new book is titled Why There Is a God: And Why It Matters.

 



Coping with Grief & Loneliness Over the Holidays

Handling grief or loss over the holidays by Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (iStock photo)

"This is my comfort in my affliction, for Your word revives me" (Ps. 119:50, MEV).

Christmas isn't a joyful season for everybody. Grief—whether from loss, loneliness or both—crescendos around this time of year for many, and the deep, emotional pain can seem like almost too much to bear.

Isaiah 53:4 states, "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." Jesus carries as much of the burden as we let Him. But in addition to falling into our Savior's loving arms, here are five suggestions to ease your personal Christmas blues or empower you to help someone else dealing with grief and loneliness:

1. Be kind to yourself. Billy Graham likens the death of a loved one to major surgery. But that can also be true regarding the death of a relationship, say a divorce. Healing from any medical operation takes time, and so does finding a new way of life after losing someone close. Leave the decorations in the attic this year if you need to. Find another family member to host Christmas dinner. Most importantly, perhaps, allow yourself to cry—or even scream—out to God as you process. David did in Psalm 61:2. Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died (John 11:1-44). Your tears aren't a sign of faithlessness. They're a natural and necessary response to your loss. Let God heal you (Matthew 11:28).

2. Adjust your expectations. Anticipate Christmas will be different without your loved one and be proactive about your emotional health. Don't live in fear of your emotions, but take stock of your heart, especially before logging onto Facebook or other social media. Feelings of loneliness have a way of intensifying when you're bombarded by social media posts of your friends apparently having a grand time. Sign off for now if you need to.

If you find yourself in the comforter role this Christmas, keep your words washed in love and extend grace. Whether Uncle John has been gone for seven days, seven months or seven years, your aunt still misses him. Don't wonder (especially aloud) how she can still be sad after all these years. "How are you holding up?" is typically a safe question when talking with someone who has experienced loss. Check out the Sharing Hope in Crisis course from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team if you're interested in in-depth training for these sensitive situations.

3. Reach out. Sometimes the best way to lift your spirit is by helping someone else. Isolation turns your focus inward. Instead, volunteer with a local church, serve dinner to the homeless or walk your elderly neighbor's dog. Do something to serve. Additionally, if you're aching to have Christmas dinner with others, ask to join a  family member, friend or someone in your church. Remember, it's never a bad idea to offer to bring a dish, supplies or help with cleanup. Alternatively, if you know someone dealing with grief or loneliness, do your part. Give the gift of your time (Galatians 6:2).

4. Say something. Memories linger in your loved ones' absence. Remember the funny stories. Share them. Laugh and cry with your family members and friends as you reminisce. Or don't. If there aren't good memories or it's just too soon, consider finding new traditions and ways to focus forward.  If you're on the outside looking in, don't feel compelled to change the subject if someone mourning brings up good memories about the deceased. Operate cautiously and with sensitivity but above all else be a good listener and don't mind the tears. Memories are precious gifts from God, and they are one of the few ways a loved one's legacy lives on.

5. Cling to the promises of God. Especially when you don't feel like it. Consider John 14:18, which says: "No, I will not abandon you or leave you as orphans in the storm—I will come to you." You might feel forgotten by people, but you aren't forgotten by our heavenly Father. God is here. He sees you grieving. He wants to comfort you. Remind others of that truth. If you aren't familiar with His promises, start by finding peace with God.

Some quotes from Billy Graham on grief:

  • "With Christ as your Savior and constant Companion, you, although alone, need never be lonely."
  • When we grieve over someone who has died in Christ, we are sorrowing not for them but for ourselves. Our grief isn't a sign of weak faith, but of great love."
  • "It is our Lazarus tomb dark and foreboding and drenched with bitter tears, but it is there that we meet our Lord who brings life from death and gladness from the very tomb of bereavement. Christ can give rest in the midst of sorrow."
  • "If there is something we need more than anything else during grief, it is a friend who stands with us, who doesn't leave us. Jesus is that friend."

For the original article, visit billygraham.org.

 

 

Let Christmas Be Complicated

We often overlook the tragic backdrop to Jesus' birth. (Photo: ECWA Archive)

I have always loved the color gray. All my favorite hoodies, sweatpants, and T-shirts are gray. One Christmas shopping trip, my fashion-savvy mother tried to get me to “please, pick some color besides gray—something bright!” As much as I try to branch out, there is something inexplicably comfortable and comforting about the color. I feel at home in it.

Much later, the world itself seemed to turn gray. After six months of struggling with depression and self-hatred in a country that wasn’t my own, I returned home to find my nicely packaged view of how the world works shattered. Gone was the God who did things “for a reason,” the God who, if he called you to a place, would give you a deep contentment, even if circumstances were difficult.

My relationship with God went through a fundamental shift then, and the way I see the world has never been the same. As I struggle off and on with depression, I live through seasons of lighter and darker shades of gray. Instead of rose-colored glasses, I see the world through a dimming and dulling filter.

But even as the world has turned gray, it has also become more complex. It is in some ways too simple to say that I’ve gone from seeing the world as “black and white” to seeing it as gray. Of course, as a Christian, I affirm that some things are black and white; there is both real evil and real good in the world. But beyond that, evil and good can become so entangled in this time-between-times that it can be difficult to see where one ends and the other begins. Seeing the world through the lens of Scripture demands we recognize this shades-of-gray complexity of our world.

The human minds craves simplicity. We tend to simplify otherwise complex situations so that solutions are clear to us. Whether it’s terrorist attacks in Paris or protests against racism on college campuses, we find comfort knowing what the response ought to be, not to mention why it happened in the first place. We simply need more air strikes and more surveillance. We need to stop accepting refugees. We need less war, not more. We need to stop coddling students with political correctness.

I see this simplification happen on a personal level too, with well-intended attempts to explain or answer our suffering. Think of the clichés: God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. Everything happens for a reason. It was just her time. Behind these sentiments, we find the good desire to affirm that God loves us and has our best interests at heart. But too often such simplifications—of individual suffering or suffering on a larger scale—belie our need to control the narrative. If we can oversimplify the situation, then we can understand it and protect ourselves. But in a world tainted by sin, circumstances are rarely that straightforward, as we learn from Scripture itself.

Many have recently invoked Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in their flight to Egypt as “Middle Eastern refugees,” in parallel to present-day refugees. And yet, their story—even in the pages of the New Testament—isn’t an isolated account of a happy-ending journey. What about the other babies and families of Matthew 2, those left behind to suffer the consequences of King Herod’s lust for power? What’s the reason for that? It is easy to see why this part of the story is often left out of our Advent retellings. In the midst of the joy and hope surrounding Jesus’ birth, we find the insertion of one of the most brutal acts depicted in the New Testament.

This detail doesn’t get included as a casual aside. Matthew tells us twice that Herod is fulfilling prophecy. First, Jesus’ family flees to Egypt, having been warned of the danger. This fulfills Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Second—and even more striking—is the “fulfillment” of the words of Jeremiah:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
Weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
And she refused to be comforted,
Because they were no more.

Imagine one of those Jewish mothers of Bethlehem. Her one-year-old son, having made it through those first few critical months of life, has been taken by her own king, his life snuffed out in the offhand chance that he might pose a threat. And she was powerless to stop it. She did not have the benefit of the warning that Joseph received. Perhaps she didn’t have the means to flee even if she had been warned. Now imagine had she been told that her suffering and loss fulfilled a prophecy, that it’s part and parcel of the sending of God’s Anointed One, part of God’s “plan.” It rings a bit hollow, doesn’t it?

The questions abound: What about Herod? Ultimately, his acts fulfill the prophecies. Or do they? Just because this is the way it happened, is this the way it had to happen? Could God have fulfilled the prophecies in another way? Let’s put it even more strongly: Did God want those babies to die? Is Matthew implying he did? Like any time we try to grapple with the hows and whys of God’s plan, these are tough questions. There aren’t easy answers. And perhaps that is precisely the point.

Too often we read Scripture expecting nice, neat packages. I suspect this is why some Christians struggle with the Old Testament, where it’s harder to grasp the “whys” behind the tough stories. But Scripture mirrors the complexity of the human situation it is meant to address. And Scripture often whispers, even when we would prefer that it shout.

This Advent and Christmas, I am challenging myself to pay attention to the silences of Scripture—the places where Scripture invites us to ask questions, to wrestle with the text, to wrestle with God, as Jacob did. In the shades of gray, I can listen for the Spirit to whisper in the details I might otherwise overlook.

John Calvin spoke of Scripture as “spectacles” that teach us to see God and the world rightly. As we allow Scripture to shape our vision, we may find that we no longer need the easy answers, the clichéd responses, the knee-jerk reactions. We may find ourselves able to sit and be silent.

Once upon a time, not far from Bethlehem, another prophecy was fulfilled: a strong empire executed a lowly criminal, with the religious leaders cheering them along the way. Many in that time thought they could see the distinctions between black and white. It took a resurrection to open their eyes. We too live in a time when “we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror.” Let us pray for eyes to see the world in all its complexity…until that time when “we shall see face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).

Mandy Rodgers-Gates is a Th.D. candidate at Duke Divinity School and a Wheaton College graduate. She wrote one of the winning posts in Her.meneutics' writing contest this summer.