This Christmas I Want To See Jesus Riding On His Horse

As I sat back in my recliner last night my four-year old son, Josiah, approached me. I was easing the pain of a newly inflamed slipped disc that has seemed to be playing the bongos on my sciatic nerve the past couple days. Almost everyone has noticed I’m walking with a sizable limp, less like a 29-year-old young man and more like an elderly arthritic woman with a plastic hip.

The daily news blared in our living room. As talking heads heralded shootings, fiscal cliffs, and injustices worldwide my little boy approached me. He was holding his “action” bible, an impressive work with DC comic illustrations peppered among Old and New Testament commentary.

Action-Bible-190x290

“Daddy, I want to see Jesus riding on his horse.”

It was from the Revelation portion, the end of story: a conquering warrior King wielding a sword riding atop his white horse while leading an angel army into a fierce battle with a snarling multi-headed red dragon.

“I do too, baby,”

I said as I took the book and strained to lift him up to my lap.

My son doesn’t understand the weight of recent news. And he has been taught the wonder of the incarnation, that Ancient-of-Days-arriving-into-human-flesh-Christmas-mystery (Isaiah 9:6).

But an innocent infant who poops himself and needs his mom doesn’t quite resonate with a wonder filled boy who sleeps with his Transformers and Spider Man toys.

He already has a baby brother.

He wants to know a conquering Cowboy King with a tattoo down His thigh who slays bad guys and dragons (Revelation 19:16).

I do too.

May our baby “Christmas Jesus” never be separated from the Sovereign one who wins forevermore. As we behold the nursing babe in cave, may we also see the horrifying cross, the breathtaking resurrection, and the only King who fights and conquers every injustice on our behalf.

Forget the “war on Christmas”, Christ is a fierce warrior who is well able to defend Himself.

And in a similar way, may our prayer this season be to our heavenly Father:

“Daddy, I want to see Jesus riding on his horse.”

Bryan Daniels

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The Utter Absurdity of The Baby God-Man

The historical-biblical Christian faith is a bit ridiculous.

Many basic doctrines have a built-in absurdity to them that offends the natural mind.

Don’t believe me? Just have someone tell the elementary tenets of the Christmas story back to you:

“So the God of the universe gets a young virgin girl pregnant, she gives birth to His infant divine Son in a stable in the middle of nowhere, angels rejoice and hardly anyone else in the world notices?”

and then

“thirty years later this same God Man all of a sudden starts walking on water, multiplying food, and healing all diseases while claiming authority over everything in the world. Despite all this most people reject Him and He goes to a Roman cross to die a brutal death that shakes the earth. Then he raises Himself up from the dead through a tomb, walks and talks with people for a few days, and finally floats back up to heaven to be with the God that sent Him down here. Oh yeah, and this dude’s gonna come back with fire and stuff a second time?….

And I’m supposed to believe all that and follow Him right?”

To which we say: “Amen!”

We could say, to blunt the force of the rejection, “Our modern sensibilities are conditioned to reject such claims because of strict scientific rationalism.”

But that’s not the total story. Watery new age Oprah-ism rejects biblical Christianity too, and it has nothing to do with a naturalistic worldview.

This is no modern phenomenon. The ancient polytheistic Romans rejected the Christian witness also, mostly on the grounds that it rejected all of the Roman’s gods and the Lordship of Caesar. Read the Roman scribes take and you almost get the snarky flavor of a Bill Maher commentary:

Lucian of Samosato said of Christians in 165 AD:

These deluded creatures, you see, have persuaded themselves that they are immortal and will live forever, which explains the contempt of death and willing self-sacrifice so common among them. It was impressed on them too by their lawgiver that from the moment they are converted, deny the gods of Greece, worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws, they are all brothers. They take his instructions completely on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods and hold them in common ownership.

In the fourth century the Roman Emperor, Julian, equated Christianity with atheism and lamented over its influence:

“Atheism [I.e. the Christian faith!] has been specially advanced
through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.”

Other scribes of that day call the primary Christian doctrines unfit for a child’s nursery rhyme or on par with the drunk “etchings” of an old mad woman.

And I say: This is how it should be.

The Bible predicts such chagrin. Paul calls the message of the cross “foolishness” to the world (1 Corinthians 1:18). Read the Roman accounts again: Self sacrifice, love for neighbor, good deeds, etc., was the mark of the early church and that still wasn’t enough to convince the Roman writers of Christianity’s validity.

These truths aren’t just absurd to the mind, they are flatly impossible for the mind to submit to apart from the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:7-8) A prerequisite regeneration of heart must occur before the attractional wonder of the cross becomes apparent (Titus 3:3-6).

Without the supernatural power of this heaven-sent “wind”, sharing the gospel would be akin to commanding a pile of fossilized bones to get up and file into army ranks (Ezekiel 37:1-14).

With man it is impossible/absurd/incredulous/laughable. But with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)

Blind men see.

Deaf men hear.

Dead men live.

And the ancient account of the baby God-Man can become absurdly beautiful.

Bryan Daniels

The Real Santa Claus: The Brawling, Persecuted, Abolitionist Saint

Folklore sometimes skews reality. Many times it keeps us from remembering that a particular “reality” ever even existed.

Saint Nicholas was a compelling church leader and historical figure before legend claimed that he ran an elf sweat shop.  Believe it or not, Saint Nick was not a jolly obese dude with loads of reindeer love and omnipresent abilities on the eve of  Christmas. As we often do with history, the subjects of our contemporary traditions are made too sanitary and domesticated.

Much is lost when this happens; in the case of “Santa Claus” almost everything is lost that is actually noble about the patron saint of children and widows.

James Parker, professor and associate dean of worldview and culture at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, points out some intriguing reasons to get acquainted with the real Saint Nick:

The story goes that Nicholas was born in A.D. 280 to pious and wealthy parents who raised him in the fear and admonition of the Lord and taught him “sacred books” from the age of 5. He was forced to grow up quickly upon the sudden death of his parents.

The first opportunity to do this happened when he heard about a father who, through an unfortunate turn of events, was left destitute with three daughters. Without marriage dowry money, the daughters would be condemned to a life of singleness and prostitution, so Nicholas threw some small bags of gold coins into the window of the home (some traditions say down the chimney), thereby saving the children from a life of misery.

Saint Nicholas was an advocate for human rights and the cultural “least of these.” He wouldn’t necessarily care if posh Western kids had the latest iPhone or game console, but he did care about little girls who would be subject to the demonic underworld of prostitution and human trafficking. Before he was even a notable church bishop Saint Nick practiced the pure and undefiled religion of James 1:27.

This Christmas, would we have a heart for the true religion the Father desires? Give to the forgotten and starving children of the third world here —> http://www.worldvision.org/. Give to those still enslaved by modern human trafficking (even in the United States) here—>http://exoduscry.com/.

As a young man, Nicholas felt called to become a bishop in the Monastery of Holy Zion near Myra.  His congregation accepted him gladly and admired his boldness to preach against the false gods of paganism and spiritual relativism. Such a radical confession ensured Saint Nick would be a target whipping boy for the religious and political leaders of the Roman Empire.

In A.D. 303, Emperor Diocletian directed the persecution of Christians. Nicholas was the chief Christian priest of his city and an unashamed emissary of the gospel; as a result he was seized by the Roman magistrates, tortured, and then chained and thrown into prison with many other Christians. Parker goes on:

Those who survived Diocletian’s purges were called “confessors” because they wouldn’t renege on their confession of Jesus as Lord. When Bishop Nicholas walked out of the prison (after Constantine’s Edict of Milan), the crowds called to him: “Nicholas! Confessor!” He had been repeatedly beaten until he was raw, and his body was the color of vermilion. Bishop Nicholas was also said to have intervened on behalf of unjustly charged prisoners and actively sought to help his people survive when they had experienced two successive bad harvests.

Saint Nick bore the stripes of his Savior on his own back. The inspired words of the maligned Apostle rang true with him: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12)

Instead of feeding the insatiable beast of consumerism, would we give to our persecuted brethren this Christmas? There are precious lambs being led to the slaughter right now for the sake of the Lamb of God (John 1:29) Go here to ease and share their burden —> http://www.persecution.com/

One of the most interesting stories connected with him was his role during the Arian controversy. St. Methodius asserted that “thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as death-dealing poison.” (Arius, of course, asserted that Jesus was a created being and had not existed from all eternity.)

One weak tradition has him actually attending the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, when Arian doctrine was rejected. The story goes that he got into a heated debate with Arius himself about whether there was a time when the Word (Jesus) did not exist. Nicholas strongly disagreed.

The debate ended suddenly when Nicholas punched Arius then and there on the floor of the council.

I know the particulars of this story may come from weak “tradition” but I assume such tradition would never have had early legs if one thing were not true: Saint Nick took biblical fidelity very seriously. What would this rendition of Saint Nick do to the contemporary sanitized version?

“No kids. Santa doesn’t want to eat your cookies. But he will give you a knuckle sandwich if you don’t have a biblical Christology.”

Saint Nick was a contender of the true faith and a passionate proponent of Scriptural orthodoxy. I’m not saying we should throw fisticuffs with our theological opponents, I am saying we shouldn’t have a limp wristed wishy-washy approach to biblical truth.

I am suggesting old Nicholas would despise the shrugging, doubting, hem hawing of postmodern Christianity.

Some of the links to the right, particularly under the “Theology” tab, do a stand-up job of contending for the faith once and for all handed down to the saints (Jude 1:3).

We should always be diligent to keep “Christ” in Christmas. But while we’re at it, it wouldn’t hurt to resurrect and demythologize the real “Santa.” The real Santa teaches us that real men protect the marginalized, prepare for persecution, and preach an uncompromising biblical gospel.

Maybe that’s a Santa worth inviting into your household this Christmas season.

Bryan Daniels

Our Awkward Christmas Photo Party Highlights and Unto Us A Band Is Born

If you want a quick Christmas chuckle, go to the “Awkward Daniels Family Christmas Photo” post I wrote last year. Sorry, I don’t have a hilarious story or thorough explanation for our Christmas card this year.

But I did want to share a few of my favorite photos from our “Awkward Family Photo Christmas Party” my wife and I had this past Wednesday night for our young adult group. The party was a tribute to the delightful site “Awkward Family Photos.”

Remember, the goal was to capture on camera the most awkward/tacky/zany moments we could. I think some of my friends went beyond the call of duty in that regard. I’ll let these gems speak for themselves:

Lastly, I would like to involve you, the reader, in the awkwardness of this post. My friends are starting a band and are having difficulty coming up with a name. They are going to use the following image as their album cover. With only that info in hand, please give me your suggestions on a band name. They have a folk/emo/electronic sound:

Merry Christmas and may God keep you and bless you this new year!

Bryan Daniels

The Real Santa Claus-A Persecuted Bishop, Abolitionist, and UFC Fighter?

Folklore sometimes skews reality. Many times it keeps us from remembering that a particular “reality” ever even existed. Saint Nicholas was a compelling church leader and historical figure before legend claimed that he ran an elf sweat shop.  Believe it or not, Saint Nick was not a jolly obese dude with loads of reindeer love and omnipresent abilities on the eve of  Christmas. As we often do with history, the subjects of our contemporary traditions are made too sanitary and domesticated.

Much is lost when this happens; in the case of “Santa Claus” almost everything is lost that is actually noble about the patron saint of children and widows.

James Parker, professor and associate dean of worldview and culture at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, points out some intriguing reasons to get acquainted with the real Saint Nick:

The story goes that Nicholas was born in A.D. 280 to pious and wealthy parents who raised him in the fear and admonition of the Lord and taught him “sacred books” from the age of 5. He was forced to grow up quickly upon the sudden death of his parents.

The first opportunity to do this happened when he heard about a father who, through an unfortunate turn of events, was left destitute with three daughters. Without marriage dowry money, the daughters would be condemned to a life of singleness and prostitution, so Nicholas threw some small bags of gold coins into the window of the home (some traditions say down the chimney), thereby saving the children from a life of misery.

Saint Nicholas was an advocate for human rights and the cultural “least of these.” He wouldn’t necessarily care if posh Western kids had the latest iPhone or game console, but he did care about little girls who would be subject to the demonic underworld of prostitution and human trafficking. Before he was even a notable church bishop Saint Nick practiced the pure and undefiled religion of James 1:27.

This Christmas, would we have a heart for the true religion the Father desires? Give to the forgotten and starving children of the third world here. Give to those still enslaved by modern human trafficking here.

As a young man, Nicholas felt called to become a bishop in the Monastery of Holy Zion near Myra.  His congregation accepted him gladly and admired his boldness to preach against the false gods of paganism and spiritual relativism. Such a radical confession ensured Saint Nick would be a target whipping boy for the religious and political leaders of the Roman Empire.

In A.D. 303, Emperor Diocletian directed the persecution of Christians. Nicholas was the chief Christian priest of his city and an unashamed emissary of the gospel; as a result he was seized by the Roman magistrates, tortured, and then chained and thrown into prison with many other Christians. Parker goes on:

Those who survived Diocletian’s purges were called “confessors” because they wouldn’t renege on their confession of Jesus as Lord. When Bishop Nicholas walked out of the prison (after Constantine’s Edict of Milan), the crowds called to him: “Nicholas! Confessor!” He had been repeatedly beaten until he was raw, and his body was the color of vermilion. Bishop Nicholas was also said to have intervened on behalf of unjustly charged prisoners and actively sought to help his people survive when they had experienced two successive bad harvests.

Saint Nick bore the stripes of his Savior on his own back. The inspired words of the maligned Apostle rang true with him: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12)

Instead of feeding the insatiable beast of consumerism, would we give to our persecuted brethren this Christmas? There are precious lambs being led to the slaughter right now for the sake of the Lamb of God (John 1:29) Here is a good place to do that.

One of the most interesting stories connected with him was his role during the Arian controversy. St. Methodius asserted that “thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as death-dealing poison.” (Arius, of course, asserted that Jesus was a created being and had not existed from all eternity.)

One weak tradition has him actually attending the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, when Arian doctrine was rejected. The story goes that he got into a heated debate with Arius himself about whether there was a time when the Word (Jesus) did not exist. Nicholas strongly disagreed.

The debate ended suddenly when Nicholas punched Arius then and there on the floor of the council.

I know the particulars of this story may come from weak “tradition” but I assume such tradition would never have had early legs if one thing were not true: Saint Nick took biblical fidelity very seriously. What would this rendition of Saint Nick do to the contemporary sanitized version?

“No kids. Santa doesn’t want to eat your cookies. But he will give you a knuckle sandwich if you don’t have a biblical Christology.”

Saint Nick was a contender of the true faith and a passionate proponent of Scriptural orthodoxy. I’m not saying we should throw fisticuffs with our theological opponents, I am saying we shouldn’t have a limp wristed wishy-washy approach to biblical truth.

I am suggesting old Nicholas would despise the shrugging, questioning, hem hawing of postmodernism in Christianity.

Some of the links to the right, particularly under the “Theology” tab, do a stand-up job of contending for the faith once and for all handed down to the saints (Jude 1:3).

We should always be diligent to keep “Christ” in Christmas. But while we’re at it, it wouldn’t hurt to resurrect and demythologize the real “Santa.” The real Santa teaches us that real men protect the marginalized, prepare for persecution, and preach an uncompromising biblical gospel.

That’s a Santa worth inviting into your household this Christmas season.

Bryan Daniels

The Reign of Christ at the Foodcourt

Overt public displays of Christ’s rule (present or future) are not a common form of expression during Christmastime.

Even when Jesus is mentioned in a public setting during Christmas it is more of a nod to his beatitude teaching or maybe to the precious baby in a dingy manager. The Messiah as an effeminate university professor or a blubbering babe who needs his butt frequently wiped doesn’t necessarily bring us trembling to our knees in awe. At least not if we want to keep him merely a man or babe.

I promise, this is not a “War on Christmas” rant. I don’t think it should shock the church when people feel more comfortable with a jolly fat man who gives them presents than with a bloody bludgeoned God-man who gives them forgiveness for their sins. The more glib our cultural icons the safer we feel in our self-justified sinful state. A sword is not meant to feel too pleasant when it crashes down on our relationships, dreams, plans and life as we know it (Matthew 10:34).

That’s why I am so intrigued by the recent resurgence of interest toward Handel’s Messiah this season. Messiah‘s lyrics are thoroughly biblical and glorious as they depict King Jesus and His incarnation, suffering, resurrection and coronation in song. It is a God centered Christ exalting bible saturated and emotionally moving piece of choral art.

In this video, a “Christmas Food Court Flash Mob,” busts out in the “Hallelujah” chorus portion of Messiah. The crowd seems a bit surprised but mostly pleased by this seemingly random performance. I enjoyed seeing the banner of Christ raised in this unlikely setting. The tribute made me long for the future reign of our perfect King, where every knee shall bow and every tongue confess His glories (Phill 2:11-12). Christ is alive and well, and He can get His glory, even in a mall food court where materialism is king.

Enjoy!