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Discovering the Gift of Blessing

How we can help people in our congregations move into the holiday season as ambassadors of God's love.

by Jack Hayford

I was wonderfully reminded of something recently—oh, the power of it!—something that could change your Thanksgiving and charge your Christmas this year—and I don't mean on a credit card! The reminder came while I was completing my book—a book with "blessing" in the title. I had almost missed including one of the mightiest truths about that word.

Briefly, the book is titled Blessing Your Children: How You Can Love the Kids in Your Life. It's an eight-chapter piece born of hundreds of counseling sessions and dozens of parenting-seminar presentations and is designed for teachers, children's workers and all who have a place of potential influence on a child's life, as well as young parents, providing them with practical guidance and biblical wisdom.

With four kids, 11 grandkids and having pastored a lot of people for a lot of years, I was pleased when a publisher asked me to prepare a parenting tool that would be something other than the usual—something that also would be useful for anyone who had kids in his or her life, whether or not he or she were parents.

This isn't a book review column, so I won't describe the other seven chapters, but the following is adapted from the chapter titled "Speaking Blessings Over Your Children." I've adjusted it to broader application here, at an appropriate time, with both Thanksgiving and Christmas facing most of the people in our churches with family exposures—sometimes delightful, sometimes otherwise. It occurred to me that such "blessing" may have a redemptively dynamic potential in such seasonal settings.

Blessing in prayer and conversation I can't help but think of times people have described to me the holiday difficulties of being among family or friends with whom certain strain exists. Sometimes the cause is related to painful issues from the past, and other times it's that unbelieving family members resent the believers. (Sadly, on occasion, this happens when believers conduct themselves unwisely at family gatherings, seeking to "scalp-hunt for God" rather than simply showing love and respect to family members and letting the Holy Spirit take it from there.)

I also remember the testimonies we have received through the years in our own congregation—stories of family members ultimately won to Christ by being blessed rather than by being made to feel either "less than" or "disapproved by" their believing relatives. The strategy: Carry warmly expressed and lovingly worded blessings into your holiday gatherings.

"Could I please speak a blessing of love over all of us?" is an offer that is hard to turn down. This can be done at either a personal or group level—and it can be done in conversation just as well as in a formal bow-your-head prayer. It can even be presented to the family as a toast, a gesture that can be offered with water in your glass irrespective of whatever anyone else has in theirs.

Preparing 'blessors'. To help people toward this means of touching their families—especially at holiday times—I have done some special teachings on "The Power of Blessing." It is always amazing how God has conferred a capacity for our words to cause things to happen, and it is within the broader scope of this remarkable truth that the privilege and the power of speaking blessings function.

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The Truth About Santa Claus

What comes to mind when you think of Santa Claus? Probably jolly ol' St. Nick in his red suit, a snowy North Pole, a sleigh pulled by reindeer, gifts for Christmas or similar images. But there's more to "St. Nick" than just the nickname.

History tells us that an actual Christian saint by the name of Nicholas ministered in the fourth century. Mythologized and secularized though he has been, Nicholas' deeds of compassion were authentic.

Nicholas was born in the port city of Patara in Asia Minor around A.D. 280. When he was still young he came to faith in Christ, due primarily to an uncle who was a priest. When he was about 10 years old, a plague swept Patara killing many, including Nicholas' parents. His uncle placed him in a monastery, an act of kindness in those times.

At 19 Nicholas became a priest, and at 20 he became the bishop of Myra Lysia, now Demre, a city near Patara. He became known as a compassionate bishop who had a great love for the poor, disenfranchised and morally bankrupt.

Nicholas' acts of mercy soon became the stuff of legends. The most famous story regards his wealthy friend, a shipping merchant, who was reduced to poverty overnight. This man had three daughters of marrying age. In those days a young woman could not marry unless her father provided a dowry for her; without one, she was doomed to a lifetime of loneliness and poverty.

Nicholas had the resources to help his friend but knew the offer of such assistance would humiliate the man—who would never be able to repay the loan. The good bishop was jolted out of his dilemma when he learned the eldest daughter would sell herself as a prostitute to pay the dowries of her younger sisters.

Still, his plan would have to be done in secret so his friend would not be dishonored. On three consecutive nights Nicholas crept into town and dropped bags of gold where the family would easily find them. On the last night, he dropped a bag of gold down the chimney, where it landed in a stocking hung up to dry. After the third night, the daughters had their dowries, the merchant's family was rescued from poverty and the eldest daughter was saved from prostitution.

Nicholas was also a defender of the faith. He lived three centuries after Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, and church doctrine about the person of Christ was not yet fully developed.

A priest named Arius was teaching a heresy called Arianism, which stated that Christ was more than a man but less than God. To settle this, then-Emperor Constantine called a council of bishops at Nicaea. The result was the condemnation of Arius and his teachings and the development of the Nicene Creed, a Christian statement of faith.

It is believed that Nicholas was present at the council and became so enraged at Arius' denials of Jesus' divinity that he punched his jaw and sent him flying from the council hall.

Nicholas, who loved children, started a ministry akin to the original "Santa's workshop." He hired a cook and carpenter—the latter to supply wooden toys for poor children. He is credited with the original recipe for cinnamon rolls and gingerbread, invented as a comfort food for children.

Saint Nicholas is believed to have died in either 342 or 352, or some time in between, on December 6.

Should children be taught to believe in Santa?

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Catch Our Conference Call With Marriage Expert Jimmy Evans

You will want to catch the next Ministry21/Ministry Today conference call tomorrow with pastor, marriage expert and author Jimmy Evans. Join us for an hour of engaging conversation with the senior leader of 10,000-plus strong Trinity Fellowship Church in Amarillo, Texas, for the past 29 years on Tuesday, Dec. 13, at 4 p.m. EDT, 3 p.m. CDT, 2 p.m. MDT and 1 p.m. PDT.

Here is the call information: Dial-in number (712) 432-1001; access code: 467245262#. Listen in as we to talk to Jimmy about strengthening marriage, the theme of the November-December issue of Ministry Today, now available.

Jimmy is also the founder and CEO of Marriage Today, a ministry that is devoted to helping couples build strong and fulfilling marriages and families. You can read Jimmy's informative article about avoiding the traps of ministry marriages in the November-December issue of Ministry Today by clicking here.

You will want to get a copy of the magazine because the issue is full of good material by nationally respected leaders such as Dr. Doug Weiss, Gary Smalley, Dr. Tim Clinton, and Larry and Jonathan Stockstill—who were Ministry Today guest editors last year on the issue of "integrity." So there is plenty here to minister to you in your own brokenness, and to help heal those whom God has entrusted into your care as a leader.

Now is the perfect time to subscribe to Ministry Today—a great gift idea for Christmas. We're currently offering a special promotion that includes two free gifts—evangelist Reinhard Bonnke's "Full Flame" DVD series and the ESV (English Standard Version) Thinline Bible. Click here to subscribe to Ministry Today.

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Decoding a Christmas Carol

The 12 days of Christmas mentioned in the carol by this name refer to the 12 days of feasting and celebration originally designated in the sixth century as a time to commemorate the incarnation of Christ. The 12-day period began on December 25 and ended January 5.

The carol dates to the 16th century when Roman Catholics were experiencing religious persecution in England. From 1558 until 1829 it was illegal for them to practice or express their faith in any form in public.

In fact, to be caught in public with any material about the Christian faith brought imprisonment and death. Out of this intense persecution, "The 12 Days of Christmas" emerged as a kind of coded message affirming belief in Christ and in the Bible.

Each of the 12 days represents some important aspect of the Christian faith that the disciple was to learn and adhere to. Below is the hidden meaning behind this clever Christmas carol.

First day: The "partridge in a pear tree" represents the birth of Christ on Christmas day. Christ is portrayed as a partridge because of the instinctual habit of mother partridges to pretend to be injured in order to decoy predators away from their helpless young.

Second day: "Two turtle doves" refers to the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Third day: "Three French hens" stands for the three virtues written about in 1 Corinthians 13:13: faith, hope and love.

Fourth day: "Four calling birds" symbolizes the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Fifth day: "Five golden rings" points to the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Sixth day: "Six geese a-laying" stands for the six days of creation and the affirmation that almighty God is the creator and sustainer of all things.

Seventh day: "Seven swans a-swimming" represents the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Romans 11: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving and generosity, leadership, and compassion and mercy.

Eighth day: "Eight maids a-milking" stands for the eight beatitudes Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 5), each beginning with "Blessed are": (1) the poor in spirit;

(2) those who mourn; (3) the meek; (4) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; (5) the merciful; (6) the pure in heart; (7) the peacemakers; and (8) those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake.

Ninth day: "Nine ladies dancing" represents the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.

10th day: "Ten lords a-leaping" symbolizes the Ten Commandments (see Ex. 20:1-17).

11th day: "Eleven pipers piping" refers to the 11 faithful disciples. Because Judas Iscariot, the 12th disciple, betrayed Jesus, he is not included among the faithful.

12th day: "Twelve drummers drumming" emphasizes the 12 doctrinal points of the Apostles' Creed, which outlines the core beliefs of the Christian faith.

What Christmas carol is the most Christ-centered for you?

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Do You Hear What I Hear?

What do bells have to do with Christmas? For centuries, church bells rang all over the world, expressing the glad tidings of Christ's birth.

In medieval times bells somberly tolled an hour before midnight on Christmas Eve, warning the powers of darkness of the approaching birth of the ultimate Deliverer. In England, this was called "tolling the devil's knell."

At the stroke of midnight, which ushered in Christmas, the bells started ringing joyously, and continued every hour afterward. Christmas bells have played a major role in ancient Christmas traditions, warning the devil and his demons to flee, as well as calling Christians to joyous exaltation over the birth of Christ. This hope-producing Christmas tradition was referenced in the carol by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."

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Rediscovering the Beauty of Christmas

Tired of people bashing Christmas traditions? Here's how to reclaim the rich meaning behind the symbols of the season.

By Peter Bertolero

I love to celebrate Christmas because I love the Christ of Christmas. Yet we live in a day when celebrating "Christ's mass" is frowned upon by the secularists, who want to excise Jesus from the holiday, and surprisingly, by some Christians who want to exorcize Christmas from the calendar.

You have no doubt heard some of these more popular "Bah! Humbug!" criticisms from sanctified scrooges:

Christ wasn't born in winter, let alone on December 25.

Christmas comes from an occult winter-solstice festival.

Evergreen trees and holly and mistletoe come from pagan

customs and therefore are "of the devil."

Sound familiar? Let's see if I can help those "Christ-massers" among you celebrate the birth of Christ in a deeper, more meaningful and festive way, without guilt or condemnation.

Have you ever heard of syncretism? It means mixing, blending or incorporating different belief systems and their practices. Christianity becomes guilty of syncretism when critical, basic elements of the Christian faith are undermined or replaced by the religious elements of its host culture or the world around it.

However, to denounce a Christian tradition or practice as rooted in paganism simply because a similar practice appears in ancient pagan rituals is tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bath water. Such logic cannot be maintained consistently in every matter of faith and practice. Logic of this sort would result in surrendering all God's creation to pagans and atheists—leaving nothing for Christians to use in worshiping the God who created all things for His pleasure (see Rev. 4:11).

Christianity is the "new kid on the block" as far as belief systems go, so almost anything we use to remember Christ has probably been used by older religions first, including the days of the week. John Ankerberg writes: "We would be hard-pressed to find a day to celebrate that did not have pagan roots. Every day of our week, indeed our entire calendar is 'pagan'!"

Jesus didn't use such logic when deciding what His family could and could not use in celebrating Jewish festivals, such as the Feast of Tabernacles. If He had, they would have had to go without branches or booths, since other, older religions used tree branches in their idolatrous rituals, as the prophet Ezekiel noted (see Ezek. 8:17).

"Anti-Christ-massers" couldn't apply their rationale to Old Testament Jewish worshipers either. Scholars have found archeological evidence that the Egyptians and Assyrians worshiped ark-like structures made of gold with cherubim atop them, such as the one used in Moses' tabernacle.

William Barclay, in his commentary on the Gospel of John, pointed out similarities between pagan rituals and the baptism of John, as well as pagan lore resembling the Virgin Birth. He also called attention to an ancient Greek tradition in which a miracle similar to Jesus' turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2) was allegedly performed by Dionysus once a year in his temple.

Even the bull-worshiping pagans of Mithraism incorporated the re-enacting of death and resurrection rituals. Should this, then, eliminate any possibility of Christians re-enacting the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus?

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