Wednesday, January 25, 2017

In the Fog

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 25, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

This winter there have been quite a few foggy days. I like a little bit of fog. I like the ethereal, otherworldly way the countryside looks in the fog. Too much fog is another story. One morning on my way to work the fog was so thick that I couldn’t see things that were right beside the road. That wasn’t fun. It can be unnerving to drive in that kind of fog.

One foggy drive that I made was quite memorable. Back in 2000, my wife and I made a trip to Nova Scotia to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We flew into Boston where we met my son-in-law’s uncle who took us on a whirlwind tour of the area including the Old North Church, the USS Constitution, and Buckman Tavern in Lexington. He had recently traveled to Nova Scotia and told us that we needed to be sure and visit Cape Breton Island. He told us that he had enjoyed driving the Cabot Trail and visiting the Fortress of Louisbourg. He told us to make sure that the day we drove the Cabot Trail wasn’t a foggy day.

In spite of his instructions, the day that we scheduled to drive the Cabot Trail turned out to be an extremely foggy day. I had seen pictures of the Cabot Trail, and it’s incredible views. It is one of the most scenic drives on the planet. I was looking forward to this amazing drive. We saw none of the spectacular scenery; we saw only dense fog. When we arrived at Louisbourg, we attended the Louisbourg Playhouse. In a bit if irony one of the songs they played was “In The Fog.”

I enjoy a bit of fog; it turns the world into a surreal landscape. But driving in a heavy fog can be frightening. It makes you slow down and be very alert. Faith is similar to driving in the fog. As we go through life, we don’t always see what’s right in front of us. Like a drive on a foggy day, life is revealed to us little by little. We can’t see into the future. God wants us to slow down and to make each action carefully and deliberately. He doesn’t want us to get in a hurry. That’s when accidents happen. We have to trust that we will get to where God wants us when His timing is right.

“Faith assures us of things we expect and convinces us of the existence of things we cannot see.” Hebrews 11:1 (NOG) When you have to drive in a heavy fog at night, it is so thick that your headlights can only light a few feet in front of the car. It creates tension and fear. What if there’s something I can’t see? What if the road turns and I miss it? High beams that help you to see far when it’s clear, only make the situation worse. You have to drive slow to feel safe. You have to take your time in getting to your destination. True faith is finding certainty in uncertain times. It is learning to trust God in the patches of fog that happen in everyone’s life.

Faith is believing that God is with you, whatever your circumstances are. Whether life is going smoothly, or you are experiencing the foggiest night of your life. When the foggy night comes, we are not alone. In Psalms 32:8  (NIRV) God makes this promise to you; “I will guide you and teach you the way you should go. I will give you good advice and watch over you with love.”

But why does God allow the fog in our lives? My daughter and her family are planning a trip to California this summer. On of the places they want to visit while they are there is Sequoia National Park. The park is famous for its giant sequoia trees. The Giant Forest in the park contains five out of the ten largest trees in the world.

These trees require fog to survive. The area has very little rain but often has dense fog. When fog hits, water drips off the tree needles, which point down to the ground. The fog is necessary for them to survive.

Gentle Reader, In our lives we need to stay constantly connected to God to survive. If we put our faith in God, we will be okay. The confusion of a foggy night may come, but we can trust that God will guide us through. Don’t panic because you can’t see into the future. Don’t let fear of the unknown unnerve you. God knows your future. He sees through the fog and has promised to guide you. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) Trust God to guide you through the foggy moments to get you where you’re going right on time. “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.” Psalms 119:105 (NAB)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Lift Up the Trumpet

When I was a boy, I learned to play the trumpet. Ed, a family friend, was an awesome trumpet player and I wanted to learn to play. Our pastor said that whenever Ed played for church, it made him nervous. He gave me lessons and taught me the basics. When I was a freshman, I started attending Boulder Junior Academy.  I joined the band and started taking trumpet lessons from Mrs. Carlisle.

Because I hadn’t been playing trumpet for very long, I played third chair in the band. On one particular piece, the first chair trumpet player thought it would be great fun if we would switch parts. I practiced and practiced and got to where I could play the first part fairly well. We decided to make our big switch during a concert. I never did well under pressure, and I can tell you that it was a disaster. Mrs. Carlisle was not amused.

The trumpet has a long and rich history. Trumpets were used as signaling devices in Ancient Egypt, Greece and the Near East. Pictures of a trumpet were found in King Tut's tomb. In the Roman era, trumpet-like instruments, though prominent in art and literature, are not known to have been used in music. They remained instruments of only a few tones for signaling, announcing, commanding, and ceremonial purposes.

The very first trumpets were made from animal horns. It is why we still refer to trumpets as horns. The word shofar in the Bible is used for an animal's horn. Most translations refer to the shofar or ram’s horn as a trumpet. The first mention of the shofar is in Exodus, where a very loud blast of the shofar heralded God coming down on Sinai.

“On the morning of the third day there were peals of thunder and lightning, and a heavy cloud over the mountain, and a very loud blast of the shofar, so that all the people in the camp trembled.” Ex. 19:16 (NAB)

Later, in Leviticus, the shofar alerts Israel to the Jubilee year and its laws: “sound a ram’s horn across the land in the 50th year on the tenth day of the seventh month. Sound the ram’s horn throughout the land on the Day of Atonement.” Leviticus 25:9 (VOICE)

The shofar in biblical times had several purposes. It was used in rituals and worship; it was used as a signal to send a message to the people or army and was sometimes used to accompany singing.

In Joshua 6:3-5 (NAB), God directs Joshua to, “have all the soldiers circle the city, marching once around it. Do this for six days, with seven priests carrying ram’s horns ahead of the ark. On the seventh day march around the city seven times, and have the priests blow the horns. When they give a long blast on the ram’s horns, and you hear the sound of the horn, all the people shall shout aloud. The wall of the city will collapse, and the people shall attack straight ahead.”

While it was the priests who blew the horns, this was actually a military use of the shofar. In Judges 7 we find shofars used as military weapons. I’m sure you remember the story of Gideon. He was fighting against a large army of Midianites with a force of only 300 men.

“He divided the three hundred men into three companies, and provided them all with horns and with empty jars and torches inside the jars. ‘Watch me and follow my lead,’ he told them. “I shall go to the edge of the camp, and as I do, you must do also. When I and those with me blow horns, you too must blow horns all around the camp and cry out, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon!’” So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after the posting of the guards. They blew the horns and broke the jars they were holding. When the three companies had blown their horns and broken their jars, they took the torches in their left hands, and in their right the horns they had been blowing, and cried out, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” They all remained standing in place around the camp, while the whole camp began to run and shout and flee. When they blew the three hundred horns, the Lord set the sword of one against another throughout the camp.” Judges 7:16-22 Can you imagine 300 shofars sounding all around the soldier’s encampment? I’m sure it was frightening.

Not all of the trumpets mentioned in the Bible were made from animal horns. The use of a metal trumpet goes back to the time of Moses and Israel’s wandering in the wilderness. God told Moses to, “make two trumpets out of hammered silver. Blow them when you want the community to gather together. And blow them when you want the camps to start out. When both trumpets are blown, the whole community must gather in front of you. They must come to the entrance to the tent of meeting. Suppose only one trumpet is blown. Then the leaders must gather in front of you. They are the heads of the tribes of Israel. When a trumpet blast is blown, the tribes camped on the east side must start out. When the second blast is blown, the camps on the south side must start out. The blast will tell them when to start. Blow the trumpets to gather the people together. But do not use the same kind of blast. Numbers 10:2-7 (NIRV)

God always sounds a trumpet of preparation and assembly before the trumpet to begin the journey sounds. Are we part of God’s assembly? Are we part of the preparation?

Trumpets have a very clear and pure sound which seems to be clearer and louder than most other musical instruments. The silver trumpets were used to alert the people to danger and battles. They were also sounded to let the Israelites know when it was time to journey on and follow the cloud, and sometimes that occurred during the night so they would have been awakened by the sound of the silver trumpets. But being awakened by trumpets can be a bit of a shock! Yet how necessary it is for us today to hear and know God's voice as a trumpet blast which wakes us from our spiritual apathy.

We have been given a message to give to the world. Joel 2:1 (NKJV) says, “Blow the trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; For the day of the Lord is coming, For it is at hand.” Are you blowing the trumpet? If so, what tune are you playing? We are to make the message plain.  We are to blow the trumpet clear. 1 Corinthians 14:7,8 tells us that, “Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played?  For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?

There are many uncertain sounds in Christianity today. The core message of the book of Revelation is that God is in control, even when things seem out of control. Not only was God in control of the past, not only is God in control of the present, Revelation tells us that God is also in control of the future. And if He is in control of the future, I can trust everything to His care.

The other day as I was going through the channels on my TV I saw that there was a baseball game on. The Boston Red Sox were playing the New York Mets. The score is tied at 5 in the bottom of the tenth inning with two out.  Without watching I know what is about to happen. Mookie Wilson is going to hit a slow roller to the first baseman Bill Buckner, who is going to miss the ball that would have been an easy out.  Instead, the Mets score the winning run, and the game is over.  I knew what would happen because I was watching a rebroadcast of a very famous game from the 1986 World Series. The game had already been played. I knew the outcome.

Just like baseball game I was watching; when it comes to the end of the world, I know who wins.  I have been reading my Bible, and it is very clear who the winner is. That is the trumpet that we are to be sounding. We know how this all ends. We need to share that information with others.

What I love about biblical prophecy is that with all of its weirdness and challenging symbols, there is an underlying sense of confidence that God can be trusted in everything, even in the future. He has promised to take care of his children. What about you?  Do you trust Him?

Our message is found in Revelation 4:1,2: After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”

We are to sound the trumpet. Jesus is coming again, and the book of Revelation shows us things which must take place. We have an obligation to let people know. Joel 2:2 “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near.”

It is a serious obligation. Ezekiel 33:6 “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.”

From my experience, it seems that the majority of us are not blowing the trumpet. Why do you think that is? I think that a big part of it is that we don’t know what sound the trumpet is to make. And when we do blow the trumpet, it is the trumpet of politics – or social change – or lifestyle, not the gospel. We blow a trumpet with an uncertain sound.

I think that Paul had the right sound when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:1,2 “So, my brothers, when I came to you, I did not come to tell you God's message in big or wise words. I made up my mind that I would talk about only one thing while I was with you. That one thing was Jesus Christ and his death on a cross.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


An Arkie's Faith column from the January 18, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

Recently my niece came to visit us for a few days. We enjoyed the visit even if the weather was snowy and cold. What we enjoyed the most was getting to know her little boy. He is just over a year old and a very busy little guy. During his visit more and more things kept getting put up out of his reach. He accepted the challenge and would find more things to get in to. He might be the busiest one-year-old I have ever seen.

Although he is very active, the thing that made the biggest impression on me is how personable he is. He wants to interact with everyone. He is a bubbly outgoing little boy who loves to laugh. He liked to take his great grandma’s hand and walk her around the house. He didn’t want her to stop but kept on walking with her. She said that she was going to get her steps in while he was here.

After potluck at church, his great grandpa was vacuuming the floor. He wanted to help, and even though his little legs were short, he held on to the vacuum and “helped” sweep the entire room. It may have taken quite a bit longer to finish the task, but great grandpa and little boy did a great job and were very cute while doing it.

A cute toddler with a big smile and a sunny disposition makes a lot of friends. Even strangers stop and comment when they meet this beautiful boy with dark hair and bright blue eyes. The few days that I got to spend with him brought to mind a Ty Gibson video that I watched recently titled, “Frederick’s Experiment.”

Frederick II was a man of extraordinary culture, energy, and ability. He was king of Sicily and Germany during the first half of the 13th century. He was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1220. Frederick is considered by modern historians to be the most gifted, vivid and extraordinary of the medieval Holy Roman Emperors.

Frederick’s court blended Norman, Arabic, and Jewish elements. He spoke six different languages, Latin, Sicilian, German, French, Greek and Arabic. He encouraged scholarship, poetry and mathematics, and original thinking in all areas, and was friendly with Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars.

Frederick’s openness to ideas made him unpopular with church leadership. His demands that the church renounce its wealth and return to apostolic poverty and simplicity did not sit well with the papacy and its supporters, who branded him as Antichrist. He was excommunicated not once but four times.

Frederick was an avid patron of science and the arts. He had an unlimited thirst for knowledge and learning and considered himself to be an equal of the scientific minds of his times. In the pursuit of scientific knowledge, he carried out cruel experiments on people. The purpose of one experiment was to discover what language children would naturally speak if they were never spoken to.

King Frederick took babies from their mothers at birth and placed them in the care of nurses who were forbidden to speak in the babies hearing. Along with the prohibition on speaking, the nurses were not allowed to touch the infants other than to clean or feed them. To his great dismay, Frederick’s experiment was cut short without finding out what language the babies would speak. The babies grew up to speak no language at all because they died. In the year 1248, an Italian historian named Salimbene di Adam recorded, “They could not live without petting.” The babies died for want of touch.

Modern medicine calls this phenomenon, “failure to thrive.” For some reason, we humans flourish under the influence of love and we gradually die without it. As I think about my great nephew and how much he thrives on the love of his family I can’t imagine what would have happened to him if he had been a part of Frederick’s experiment.

Dr. Dean Ornish in his national best seller, Love and Survival, presents study after study demonstrating that love is a chief influence for mental, emotional, and even physical health. He says, “The scientific evidence leaves little doubt that love and intimacy are powerful determinants of our health and survival. Why they have such an impact remains somewhat a mystery.”

The problem for many scientists is that they are trying to understand the human need for love within the context of Darwinian evolution. Evolution begins with a survival-of-the-fittest premise. It says that self-preservation is the highest law and the main factor in our survival. Love is self-giving rather than self-preserving. Therefore, love makes no sense in the evolutionary context. And yet, here we are; creatures who thrive on love and are utterly dependent on it. Every human has a desire to love and be loved.

Gentle Reader, why do we so desperately long for love? In 1 John 4:16 (NIV) the Bible tells us that “we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” Genesis 1:27 (NLT) states that “God created human beings in his own image.” Scientists may feel that the reason that love and intimacy have such an effect on our health and survival is a mystery, but I don’t. God made us to love and to be loved.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


An Arkie's Faith column from the January 11, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

How successful have you been so far in keeping your New Year’s resolutions? I have a track record of failed resolutions. I always resolve to get more organized and to keep better records, but I am not good at organization. I resolve to get more exercise, but January is not a good time of the year to try to be more active.

New Year's resolutions have a long history. Over 2,500 years ago in Babylon, people would make promises to their gods at the beginning of each year. Popular promises were things such as paying debts and returning borrowed items. It is fitting that we now make resolutions on January 1st because January is named for the Roman god Janus. The Romans traditionally made annual promises to Janus.

What about the God that you serve? Does He want you to make promises to Him? Is there a right and wrong way to make resolutions?

There is a story in the Bible about a very ambitious spiritual resolution. When God spoke the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai, the Children of Israel were frightened. The Bible story tells us that “when the people heard the thunder and the trumpet, and when they saw the lightning and the smoke rising from the mountain, they shook with fear and stood far away from the mountain. Then they said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we will die.’” Exodus 20:18,19 (NCV)

Moses then talked to God, and God gave him many additional rules and laws for living. In Exodus 24:7 (NKJV) the Bible tells us that Moses “took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.’”

That is quite an amazing resolution, but in just a short time these same people were dancing around a golden calf, breaking the first two commandments that God spoke to them from the mountain.

A friend recently posted his New Year’s resolutions on social media. They were -  1. Study my Bible. 2. Do what it says. It reminded me of the resolution made at Mt. Sinai, “all that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.” I agree that his resolutions are excellent and that we should all make those resolutions, but I hope that he will be able to keep his resolutions better than I have.

Have you ever broken a promise you very much wanted to keep? I know that I have. I’ll bet that you have too. Why do we do this? I recently came across a phrase that seems to explain it. In the book Steps to Christ, author Ellen White writes that “resolutions are like ropes of sand.”

It seems like New Year’s resolutions are hopeless. In the comic strip Peanuts, Charlie Brown says, “The best way to keep New Year’s Resolutions is in a sealed envelope in a bottom desk drawer.”

If we are so bad at keeping our resolutions, how can we ever expect to better ourselves? How can we hope to grow, and become the person Jesus wants us to be? I think that I have found an answer in the life of King David.

David was a very busy guy. He was the leader of a nation with the workload and responsibility that comes with the position of king. He had many personal and political goals. But he took these goals and made one simple resolution: “I’m asking the Lord for only one thing. Here is what I want. I want to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. I want to look at the beauty of the Lord. I want to worship him in his temple.” Psalm 27:4 (NIRV)

David knew that there was only one thing that could make him truly successful; time spent in the presence of God, looking at the beauty of God’s character. Why is it so important to spend time looking at the beauty of God’s character? Is it to make God love you more or earn spiritual brownie points. No, but quiet time spent with God and looking at the beauty of His character connects you with God.

Jesus knows you’re busy and cares about the many things you have to do. So He makes a promise to you that time in His presence will actually make you more productive: “But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 (ESV)

Gentle Reader, New Year's resolutions aren’t worthless. In fact, people who set goals are ten times more likely to succeed than those who don’t. Everything that we accomplish in life is because we resolved to do it. There is no need to be discouraged if you’ve failed before. We all will fail at some point in our life. Failing is a learning experience so we can do better next time. “A righteous person may fall seven times, but he gets up again.” Proverbs 24:16 (GW) This year, instead of focusing on personal performance, how about focusing on a relationship with God. Make a resolution to put your relationship with God first.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Fake News

One of the biggest stories of 2016 was fake news. More than 100 questionable websites featuring fake news about US politics were found to be based in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
During the final three months of the presidential campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook. During the same three months, the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook. Fake news was hugely popular. It was more popular than real news

The creator of the comic strip Dilbert, Scott Adams, weighs in with a question. "Does fake news matter in a world in which humans don’t use facts and reason to make decisions in the first place?" Why are facts so meaningless to so many of us? Why don't we care about the truth? 

To answer that question we have to ask ourselves, what is truth? The dictionary states that truth is “the quality or state of being true.” But as I looked at another definition that is listed in the dictionary I read, “A fact or belief that is accepted as true.” Fake news works because to most of us the truth is anything we accept as true.

When you ask a Christian what is the truth you will get some different answers but most of the time there will be something like this; "My church teaches the truth."

To answer the question, what is truth, I’m afraid that I have to tell you that no denominational doctrines individually, nor all of them collectively, constitute the truth. Did you hear me? None of them constitute the truth… unless they are centered in, informed by, and presented with the love of Christ.

In Ephesians 4:21,22 (NCV) Paul wrote, "I know that you heard about Him, and you are in Him, so you were taught the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught to leave your old self—to stop living the evil way you lived before."

I want us to go back to the dictionary definition. The one that I actually think most of us mean when we use the word truth. Truth is a fact or belief that is accepted as true. All humans believe in the truth….as long as we used that definition. Paul added a layer of meaning when he wrote, “you were taught the truth that is in Jesus.”

We as Christians should believe and teach the truth. Not the truth that is a fact or belief that is accepted as true, but the truth that is in Jesus. What exactly does that mean?

You may remember that Jesus once said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:32 (NCV) Then a little later in John 14:6 (NCV) He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me."

I hope that you see that truth isn’t just a bunch of abstract factual information to memorize, quote, and argue about. Truth is a person, and His name is Jesus. So what is the “truth” like when it is preached outside of Jesus? For one thing, truth apart from Jesus is merely raw data void of personality and character. It doesn’t have a face, a heart, or a personal desire for you. Secondly, truth apart from Jesus is emotionally brutal because all it can do is impose guilt and arouse fear. It cannot save, heal, or transform the heart.

As a matter of fact, preaching a list of doctrinal truths and behavioral standards while failing to preach Jesus as the Truth actually kills. I know that is a bold statement but I have seen it happen. In 2 Corinthians 3:6 (NIV) we read, "He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

Paul is telling us that the bare facts of the truth, preached without Jesus as the living, loving, compassionate center, have the effect of killing people on a spiritual, emotional, and relational level. Truth that does not magnify Jesus can only drive people away from God in despair or produce in them a spirit of condemnatory Pharisaism.

We read in John 1:14 (NCV), “The Word became a human and lived among us. We saw his glory—the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father—and he was full of grace and truth." Grace and truth! Why is that combination so important? Truth without grace can only heap shame upon sinners, but grace combined with truth brings healing.

We don’t merely need truth—the bare bones of doctrinal facts -- we need the truth as it is in Jesus—the living example of God’s love and grace.


An Arkie's Faith column from the January 4, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

As I sit at my computer to write this week’s column, it is only a couple of days until the New Year. I remember my first New Year’s Day in Arkansas, thirty-five years ago. A few days before New Year’s, someone from the auto parts store that I traded with stopped by my shop and gave me a specially labeled can of black-eyed peas. I took the can home to my wife who was puzzled by the strange gift from the auto parts store. 

I asked another bodyman if the auto parts store had given him a can of black-eyed peas. He said, “yes, why do you ask?” I told him that I thought it was a bit strange. He explained that it was a long-standing tradition to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. The only New Year’s tradition that I had heard of was making New Year’s resolutions.

Southern Living magazine says, “according to folklore, this auspicious New Year’s Day tradition dates back to the Civil War, when Union troops pillaged the land, leaving behind only black-eyed peas and greens as animal fodder. Rich in nutrients, these were the humble foods that enabled Southerners to survive.” Like most traditions, this one has many variations. Some say you should eat exactly 365 peas on New Year's Day. If you eat any less, you'll only be lucky for that many days. Others say you should leave one pea on your plate, to share your luck with someone else. I have also heard that if you don't eat every pea on your plate, your luck will be bad.

Traditions are a part of life no matter where you live. Traditions vary from place to place and from one family to another. Our family has many Christmas traditions. Christmas morning my wife has made the same breakfast for many years. The interesting thing about this special meal of egg, cream and sausage casserole and Christmas Coffee Cake is that we don’t eat those foods any other day of the year.

My daughter takes the Christmas traditions very seriously. This year we bought new living room furniture that didn’t leave enough room for the Christmas tree to be where it has been for over 20 years. I wasn’t sure my daughter was going to be able to handle the tree being in a different location. On our first Christmas together my wife bought a Disney paint by number ornament kit. She painstakingly painted the wood cutouts of Disney characters. They have hung on our tree for over 40 years. When my kids were teenagers, they wanted to know why we had to put those ugly old ornaments on the tree. They didn’t think they were attractive. Now it is traditional for my daughter to complain, tongue-in-cheek, about those old ornaments.

I think that we may have started a new tradition this year with my granddaughters, aged eleven, nine, and six. They were very curious about how their grandparents celebrated Christmas years ago. They were especially intrigued with my wife’s story of the artificial aluminum Christmas tree lit with a color wheel that was her Dad’s favorite. They had heard about making popcorn garland and wanted to try. We popped some corn and the girls spent the evening stringing popcorn and decorating Grandma’s tree. Everyone loved the way it looked on the tree. It was a special Christmas memory for the girls, and I’m sure that they will want to string popcorn again next year.

When two people get married, they have to blend the traditions of their families, or they have to create new traditions. My wife’s family always opened their gifts on Christmas morning. I grew up opening gifts on Christmas Eve. We compromised by opening our gifts on Christmas morning. My wife believes very strongly that Christmas morning is the proper time to open gifts.

I have noticed that many Christians believe very strongly in their traditions. Traditions are not inherently good or bad, right or wrong. Some people defend traditions because the church has practiced it that way for years. Other people dislike tradition and want change just for the sake of change. Invariably those people begin new practices, which soon become their new traditions.

Christians should be neither "traditional" nor "non-traditional.” They should neither accept nor oppose a practice simply because it is a tradition. It doesn’t matter how long we have practiced something or when it began. What’s important is what God’s word says about it. If God's word requires it, then we must do it. If God's word forbids it, then we must oppose it even if it is a tradition. If God’s word is silent, then there is no problem with tradition, but I can’t expect all Christians to follow just because it is my tradition.

In Jesus' day, tradition was a big part of religion. One day some Pharisees demanded that Jesus tell them why his disciples did not follow their tradition. Jesus answered them, “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Matthew 15:7-9 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, are you following the tradition of God, or are you following human traditions and doctrines that differ from His word? “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8 (NKJV)