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December 2020

The Christmas Story as a Three-Act Play: What Place Does Christ Have in Our Lives?

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I am always amazed and astonished by the Biblical story of the birth of Christ in Luke 2:1–39. I love to read it at Christmastime, plus I find myself reading it several other times each year. I love that account of Mary and Joseph’s trip to Bethlehem for the birth of the Christ Child. Humanly speaking, I am saddened that the birth of our Lord—the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Creator of the universe—took place in a manger and not in a grand and gorgeous palace. I can intellectually appreciate the role that prophecy played in that location, but my heart hurts because of the place that the world had for Him.

It is for that reason that I tend to look at Luke’s account of this event as a masterful three-act drama that culminates with the response by the shepherds to the angelic pronouncement of the birth of Christ. Imagine with me the unfolding of this magnificent production.

Act 1 – No place.

The text tells us that there was “no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). Not only did the Bethlehem “Holiday Inn” have no rooms available for Mary and Joseph, but the phrase also here actually means “no place” at all for the birth of Christ. The infamous innkeeper of this account didn’t have any place at all for them. No room in the lobby, no room in a hallway, no room in the courtyard, no room in the kitchen, no room at all.

It is interesting to me that this same terminology is used in Ephesians 4:27 concerning our adversary Satan. Paul wrote, “Do not give place to the devil.” His counsel to the Ephesian believers was that they were not to allow Satan any kind of foothold or opportunity at all in the lives or ministries. Paul’s language makes it very clear: do not give the Devil any place at all in our lives. No room. Do not give the enemy any place at all.

Therefore, back in Luke 2 it becomes clearer that the inn had no place at all for the Lord. That same thing seems to be very prevalent in so many people’s lives today. People appear to have room for gifts, Santa, the Grinch, partying, and commercialism; but no room for the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, the following examples of how our society is leaving Christ out of Christmas recently appeared in a press release from a leading news agency:

-Nothing religious was allowed in Denver, Colorado’s annual “Parade of Lights” celebration.

-All seasonal celebrations were canceled by schools in the Sarasota, Florida, public school system so that “Christianity” would not have a place there.

-The mayor of Somerville, Massachusetts, was asked to write a letter of apology for inviting children to a “Christmas party.” Instead, he invited them to a “City Holiday Party.”

-A newspaper in Akron, Ohio, issued an apology to readers for a reference to “Christmas cookies” and instead wrote about “Holiday cookies.”

It is so sad that even at the Christmas season our Lord is often left out.

Act 2 – A place.

The Luke 2 passage also tells us in verse 7 that our Lord was born in “a manger.” Mary and Joseph found “a place” for the baby to be born, but this certainly was not the place that He deserved. This baby was the Christ Child, the Son of God. He deserved better than what was probably a cave carved out of the Palestine countryside.

Today’s culture seems to have “a place” for Christ, but it is often not the place of prominence that He deserves. I was talking to a friend of mine about his kids’ singing in the Christmas concert at a local high school. This friend found it interesting that this school choir sang songs about winter, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus, Hanukkah, and even songs about Jesus. There was “a place” for Christ, but this place was right alongside other cultural elements of Christmas.

That attitude is so prevalent in today’s postmodern society. Religion and spiritual things have “a place,” but not the place that should be reserved for the Lord of glory. It is almost as if people in our culture will do everything they can to get the religious things out of the way so they have the time to do the things they really want to do. Sure, religion has “a place,” but not a prominent place.

Let’s make sure that we give the Lord the place that He deserves in our lives and in our schedules this Christmas.

Act 3 – First place.

One of my favorite aspects of the Christmas story is the reaction and response by the shepherds to the angels’ message, Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a [a]manger.” (Luke 2:10–12).

Verse 15 uses the phrase, “Let us now go,” and verse 16 says, “they came with haste.” It is thrilling to read that those shepherds left immediately to find the baby. They left their sheep; they left their pastures; they left their livelihoods for Jesus. Christ undoubtedly was first place in their lives, as demonstrated by these actions. It is also interesting to read in verse 20 about their response to seeing Christ: “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.”

Certainly, that should be our reaction as well, if indeed the Lord is in first place in our lives. We will want to glorify and praise Him, and we will take every opportunity we have to tell others about what the Lord has done in our lives. Actually, the Christmas season is probably the best time all year long to be bold in our witness for Christ. People are usually very open to the gospel and spiritual truth at this time of year. I know that this is a holiday that should be reserved for family time. But perhaps during the celebrations with family members we all can take specific opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with relatives, neighbors, and friends. After all, this is Jesus’ birthday. If He is in first place in our lives, we’ll take specific steps to worship and praise Him and tell others about Him!

Merry Christmas! May the Lord bless each of you during this very blessed holiday.

“Youth Ministry Heaven”?

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In June of 1974, the Righteous Brothers released their hit song, “Rock and Roll Heaven” which lamented the passing of rock stars such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Jim Croce, and Bobby Darin. The song imagined the gathering in “heaven” of these talented, but now deceased artists. With my apologies of the writers of “Rock and Roll Heaven”, Johnny Stevenson and Alan O’Day, I want to use their analogy to share my thoughts about the recent passing of one of the legends of youth ministry, Dr. Dawson McAllister.

Here is the link to a press release from “The Hope Line” which shares much more information about this influential youth ministry trend setter:

We lost another youth ministry “hall of famer” this week with the home-going of Dawson McAllister. Undoubtedly, every youth worker in America for over three decades used the materials or attended a conference written or led by this visionary and incredibly creative entrepreneur. I was one of those youth workers.

His bio claims that he spoke to over one million teenagers in a twenty-year span of his ministry, but he was also a pioneer of Christian radio. At the height of his popularity, his call-in show, “Dawson McAllister Live!” was featured on over 250 radio stations from coast to coast. He was also a prolific writer with 18 books to his credit.

Dawson McAllister was ushered into heaven this week where he heard his Lord and Savior proclaim, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” Dawson believed in kids and youth ministry – and he dedicated his life to pointing the next generation to Jesus.

When I heard of his death just today; my creative, but perhaps warped mind, immediately thought of that Righteous Brothers’ song.

I can imagine Dawson being heartily welcomed to a table where other youth ministry legends who had passed on before were seated reminiscing about the glory days of reaching kids for Christ.

Seated there were:

  • Jack Wyrtzen, who rented Yankee Stadium in 1944 for America’s first “Word of Life Rally”;  
  • Percy Crawford, who began the “Young Peoples’ Church of the Air” just a few years later;
  • Torrey Johnson & Billy Graham who helped launched what became “Youth for Christ” – also in 1944.
  • Art Rorheim and Lance Latham, who helped found the “Awana Youth Association” outside of Chicago in 1950.

Those guys had already been welcomed to the table by people like Francis Edward Clark, who established the “Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor” in 1881; George Williams, who founded the “Young Men’s Christian Association” in 1844, and Robert Raikes, who developed the first Sunday School back in 1780.

I can also imagine Mike Yaconelli being there – he helped found “Youth Specialties” in 1969. But he may have too busy being “Getting Fired for the Glory of God” or dancing on the “Jones Memorial Carpet.”

Others were there to be sure – men and women God used to create and develop what we refer to as youth ministry. These were visionary leaders all, people with a God-given burden and vision to impact lives of kids for eternity.

Dawson is welcomed to that table for sure because so many of us do what we do today in part due to his influence on our lives and upon our careers.

My imagination sees this make-believe “youth ministry heaven” and believes that the conversation around that table today has been enhanced and invigorated by Dawson McAllister joining in on that discussion.

Welcome to the band, Dawson. Welcome home!

(Disclaimer to Readers: This is may be my most sacrilegious post ever. I am not a fan of the language and message of the Righteous Brother’s song “Rock and Roll Heaven. I’m just using that song here as an illustration. Please don’t be offended.)

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