nativity scene and Happy New Year 2017 sign

Will We Go Into the New Year With Jesus Still in the Manger?

As I thought about heading into the New Year and leaving the Christmas season behind, it struck me that it is, indeed, easy to “leave Christmas behind.” That thought brought to mind an old Larnelle Harris song that describes a son helping his father put away the Christmas stuff. The son asks, “Do we store away Jesus, too?” A cute question posed in childlike innocence, but it prompted me to ask myself a related question as I head into the New Year.

The related question is this: “Will I go into the New Year having left Jesus in the manger?” Let me explain.

Of course, we Christians don’t believe that Jesus really remained in the manger. We believe He grew up, died, was resurrected, and ascended to Heaven where He now sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. This assertion is at the heart of the Apostle’s Creed, which rests on Scriptures that affirm this proposition.

What I realized, however, is that when we focus on the Advent without remembering the subsequent corresponding Ascension, we can be guilty of leaving Jesus in the manger. How do we do this?

We leave Jesus in the manger whenever we think of Him as only the Savior of our eternal souls and forget that Scripture says the ascended Christ Child is the presently reigning Lord over all things, including human government, and that He is in the process of bringing all things back under His rightful rule. Not to confess this or to try to soften its expression so as not to offend those who do not believe what we believe is another way to leave Jesus in the manger.

Given the work I do, I most often see Jesus left in the manger when Christians disengage from politics, as if civil government is somehow not subject to God. I see Jesus still lying in the manger when Christians in politics tell me that something they really know is wrong is “just politics,” as if that makes it all right or understandable. I see Jesus left in the manger when Christians allow civil government to curtail religious liberty without massive resistance.

To be honest, when it comes to politics, it’s easy to leave Jesus in the manger. Christian engagement in politics is messy and difficult. It can lose you friends and curtail your influence with the influential. To even come close to doing it right requires a great measure of Scripture study, prayer, and perseverance. It requires a very real trust in the goodness of God’s eternal provision when the world crushes down on us, as it will inevitably seek to do. The world likes a Jesus that stays in the manger, and they like the Christians who are willing to leave Him there.

As I head into the New Year, I know there will be moments and situations in which I will be tempted to disengage, when I’ll be tempted to go along just to get along, and I will need to ask myself, “Am I leaving Jesus in the manger?”

In those moments, I’ll need to remember not to leave Jesus where I found Him at Christmas. If you’re a Christian, I hope you’ll not leave Him there either.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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nativity scene with figure of Jesus emphasized

The Forgotten Part of the Christmas Story

Most Americans think they know the whole “Christmas story,” much like many Americans think of Thanksgiving as simply a time when the Pilgrims and Indians celebrated a good harvest season. They know Christmas celebrates Jesus being born in a manger, and many know that Jesus is God in some form or fashion. But it’s more than that, more than I even realized. Here is the rest of the Christmas story.

The theological word for what happened at Christmas is the Incarnation. Over time, the meaning of the Incarnation was fully fleshed out (pun intended). It meant that Jesus was both fully God, begotten from the Father, and fully man, taking His flesh and human nature from the Virgin Mary.

Most people, including me, tend to think of the Incarnation as an expression of God’s saving love for us. God came through the Gates of Splendor to earth that we might escape the Gates of Hell. In other words, we think of Jesus in terms of an individual’s personal redemption. Jesus being our personal Savior is part of the Christmas story, but just not all of it.

Until this Christmas season, I didn’t really appreciate the significance of the following statement in “Mary’s Song” to God in anticipation of Jesus’ birth: “He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble” (Luke 1:51-52 NASB).

Huh? What does this have to do with the Christmas story, and what on earth—literally—does this mean?

I believe it ties into one of the great philosophical questions of all time, “Is the universe we experience all there is?” Philosophers might put the question this way, “Is the universe a closed system?” Namely, is all that there is in the “box of the universe” and nothing outside the box exists?

The atheist says there is nothing outside the box. Others might concede that there may be a god outside the box, but the box is sealed off; that god doesn’t or cannot enter into the box. In our culture, awash in evolutionary thinking, that is the predominate view.

But if this view is true, then whatever power or authority we find in our experience—whether it’s the authority of a parent over a child, an employer over an employee, or rulers over the ruled—it comes from us. In the governmental realm, this belief gave rise to the notion that earthly rulers were divine, certainly a belief system at the time Jesus was born.

Jesus’ birth was a divine statement that this belief—that authority is found in man—was not true. There is a God “outside” the box of the universe and God can and has entered our existence.

It is in that sense that the Incarnation “scattered those who were proud,” proud in thinking that power and authority were found in themselves. And with respect to those “rulers” who took that proud thinking into positions of civil government, the Incarnation “brought them down” to size.

The Incarnation is God’s visible statement to us (the Word made flesh!) that there is a Presence among us, a God who transcends us and has authority over us.

Thus, the Incarnation gives meaning to the statement in Isaiah 9 that the “government will rest on the shoulders” of the “child” who would “be born to us.” It gives depth and breadth to the statement that “there will be no end to the increase of His government.”

The Incarnation explains why the Psalmist wrote:

I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD; He said to me, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance and the very ends of the earth as Your possession’” (Psalm 2:7-8 NASB).

And the Psalmist’s conclusion? “Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the LORD with reverence, and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way” (Psalm 2:10-12a NASB).

That fearsome message is not what we think of when we think of the Christ child, tender and mild, lying in a manger, come to save us from our sins. It’s the forgotten part of the Christmas story.

And, in a day in which many in the Church believe Christians and pastors should abstain from politics for the sake of the Gospel, perhaps it is because they, too, have forgotten this part of the Christmas story.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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manger scene

What Really Makes Christmas a ‘Feel Good’ Story

As I re-read the “Christmas story” in Luke 2 this week, I realized that the romantic, sentimental version of the story to which I had grown accustomed generated positive sentiments that are far different from the first sentiments actually recorded in connection with the birth of Jesus.

Instead, the first recorded sentiment was fear. The word in the original manuscripts is rooted in the word from which we get our word “phobia.” Fear was the reaction of the shepherds to the heavens opening and an angel appearing.

Unlike our modern understanding of phobia, there was nothing irrational about the fear the shepherds experienced! I dare say that each of us would be fearful if, in going about our daily work, the heavens suddenly opened and we saw an angel.

It is no wonder that the very first recorded words spoken to any person following the birth of Jesus were, “Fear not.”

When the reality of an unseen, spiritual world breaks forth upon us for the first time, a good and proper initial reaction is fear. When we see the holiness of God and see ourselves in light of that, we come “undone,” as Isaiah put it (Isaiah 6:5).

But what makes the fear go away is the “good news” that the Holy has actually come to save us from our lack of holiness. Jesus was God making a way for us, for how can the unholy have an audience and a relationship with the Holy except that the Holy make the way?

As I contemplated this, I thought of something else so familiar that I miss it it as easily as I miss parts of the Christmas story, and it’s the song “Amazing Grace.” I’d not thought of the fact that its not-as-familiar second stanza sums up the Christmas story:

“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.”

Think about that verse the next time you hear the song and may the joy of “fears relieved” birth in you the real Spirit of Christmas.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Santa, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville symbol, gender symbols and the question, Merry Holiday?

How to Shut Down the UT Inclusion Police

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion has been at it again. The same office that said we should stop using offensive personal pronouns like “he” and “she” in the fall recently rained a little of the Grinch spirit down on campus. And as before, UT will do nothing about it. But I understand why they won’t. In fact, maybe they can’t, at least not without some help from the legislature.

This time UT’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which I refer to as the Inclusion police, were afraid people would do Christmassy things on campus and offend those who are not of the Christmas spirit. They wanted to make sure folks on campus didn’t send invitations to parties that might contain offensive themes like “Secret Santa.”

To be charitable, perhaps the Inclusion police just wanted to shield people from thoughts of Santa because it might make them think of Christmas, which, in turn, might make them think of Christianity. After all, the Inclusion police probably think Santa is a major figure in the Christmas story found somewhere in the preamble to Second Luke. (Insert tongue in cheek.)

The Inclusion police were firm. Don’t try to “disguise” your Christmas Party!

This would all be just silliness if it weren’t so serious. The reason it is so serious is that these leaders of education do not know how to think. You really can’t think straight unless you think in terms of the law of non-contradiction. Don’t stop reading if you don’t know what this is. You apply that law every day.

The law of non-contradiction, stated philosophically, says something cannot be one thing and, at the same time and in the same relationship, be something else. Those are fancy words for saying that you can’t go up the stairs and down the stairs at the same time.

If UT had a philosophy department that wasn’t intolerant of those who believe in the law of non-contradiction (such professors would be too old-fashioned), then surely someone from that department would have told UT’s Chancellor, Jimmy Cheek, and the head of the Inclusion police that you can’t tell folks not to talk about Christmas and secret Santa parties and still include and make welcome on your campus those who do want to talk about Christmas and have secret Santa parties. Can’t do it. Impossible.

That UT’s leadership apparently doesn’t understand this is more than enough reason for legislators to demand that Cheek resign and the head of the Inclusion police be fired—not because they do embarrassing things that offend alumni and Tennesseans, but because they are not clear enough thinkers to be involved in educating others.

But here’s the downside. If the UT Board of Trustees did the right thing and fired them, then we’d probably have students holding sit-ins in the administration building, because everyone would assume that UT doesn’t care about inclusion and diversity.

So UT has created a mess by coddling a bunch of students and turning their agility-to-think button into the “off” position. And now it can’t help but step in it all the time.

To avoid student protests if UT’s Inclusion police are fired, UT is going to continue doing inane things that the public recoils at. After all, the Inclusion police have to do something if they’re going to get paid. They’ll come up with some more stuff like in the past. And UT officials will have to tromp down to the legislature every few months to apologize.

But that could stop if some legislative leaders would step in and do something to help them, such as telling Chancellor Cheek and the Inclusion police they can “voluntarily” resign or have their administration budget cut in half.

If that were to happen, then the administration might be too busy actually running the real business of UT to worry about who is being offended by whom. And there wouldn’t be any time or money for those offensive Secret Santa parties next year.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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painting of the nativity

The Greatest Recession in History

There is no doubt that we have and may soon again experience a recession in our nation.  Because of the recession, vast sums of wealth have been lost by many.  That wealth was lost through unemployment, foreclosures, and market losses, to name just a few of the means by which it was lost.  Understandably, those losses have been the cause of a variety of emotions, anguish, anxiety, fear, and depression being among them. But these losses don’t even compare to the greatest loss of wealth known to Man.  Yet that loss also brought the greatest joy and relief ever known to Man.

What loss of wealth might that be? And how could joy come to anyone from a loss of great wealth?  What kind of relief can come from any loss of wealth, let alone a great one?

Well, it’s actually a loss that a large portion of the World celebrates.  In fact, we’re about to celebrate it in the United States.  It is called Christmas.

We often think of Christmas as the story in Bible story told in the book of Luke and we think of baby Jesus in a manger.  But another verse describes the Christmas story this way:

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.   Phillipians 2:6-7

And there you have it. The greatest “loss” of wealth in the history of time, the second person of the Trinity that is the very essence of God, who is God, laying aside all the prerogatives and “wealth” of being God to become a Man.

So how does that bring great joy and relief?

When you soberly consider the fact that something in this world is badly wrong (and no one can really deny it), the heart would rightly despair if there were no realistic hope that things might some day be made right.  When we see ourselves doing things that we know deep down don’t even meet our own understanding of rightness and justice and mercy, how despairing to go through life with no hope that you could never change.

But that’s what Christmas announces:  God knows that things need to be made “right” and He came that, in time, He could “make things right” and by his resurrection demonstrate to us that the evil in this world does not have the final say.

There is a basis for hope.  Christ’s birth was the “announcement” that brought “joy to the world” and that joy extends “as far as the curse (of sin and evil) is found.”

So, as vast sums of wealth are exchanged between merchant and buyer over this Christmas season, let us not forget the wealth that was “lost” to purchase for us a Gift we could never have afforded.