Sermon:  Opportunities and Pitfalls

Summary:  There are opportune times to direct people's attention to Christ as he 
himself demonstrated during the feast of dedication, therefore it is appropriate 
to recognize opportunities to seize the "teachable" moments by starting where 
people are and directing them to the teaching of Christ, while recognizing the 
pitfalls involved with being in the world and not of the world.

Know:  In wisdom, we should look for opportunities to share the Gospel with those 
around us without blindly going with the flow of pseudo-religious activities 
around us.

Feel:  Excited about new and fresh ways and opportunities to share Jesus

Do:  Reflect and discuss the example of Jesus at Hannukah alongside the biblical 
warnings about syncretism and formulate ways to balance the two perspectives so 
that we can be faithful to God both in holiness and in mission

Text:  Jn 10:22-28

Scripture Reading:  2 Cor 6:14-17

1.  Coldest time of year, but yet also the warmest in some ways
	a.  This time of year, not usually focus on miserable cold, shoveling, 
	     scraping windows in the morning, etc.
	b.  This time of year often comes with fond memories and images
		- Fireplace, stockings, family together
		- Holiday dinners, gifts, singing, parades on T.V.
		- Life slows down for awhile, appreciate some simple things in life
	c.  Many are directing attention to 2000 years ago
		- Recite story of a baby in a manger
		- Reflect on glory in the midst of the mundane
		- Marvel at how heaven has touched the earth
2.  This is all elementary stuff right?
	a.  Everyone knows this stuff, heard it many many times
	b.  We all know that
		- Jesus was born on Dec 25 in a manger
		- 3 kings came to Jesus in the manger with gifts
	c. Wrong - not 3 of them, not kings, not in the manger at this time
	d. If can get this wrong for so long, what else can we get wrong?
3.  I think most of us can separate fact from fairy tale in all this right?
	a.  We know that Christmas is a man-made festival
	b.  We understand they associated symbols are also man-made
		- Evergreen trees, holly, ivy, candy cane, Yule logs
	c.  How do you react to man-made events such as this?  Options:
		- Go with the flow
			= Accept the flow uncritically is dangerous
			= We are not of this world
			= "Our jobs as Christians is to present the Gospel in modern 
			   dress, not accept modern thought in Christian dress, confusion 
			   here is fatal." - J.I. Packer
		- Participate secularly
			= I think most of us understand that secularism is not a 
			   worldview compatible with the Bible
			= There is no division of secular and religious in life
		- Ignore it
			= Certainly nothing wrong with doing this
			= Many do not do gifts, reject holiday bonus, time off, no 
			   decorations, they truly ignore it
			= I could ignore it in my preaching, but I think it is better to 
			   deal with it as Christians
		- Speak out against it
			= It is not something God has directed us to do
			= Many symbols and practices had pagan origins
			= Full of commercialism, reflects many worldly values
4.  Do have any guidance from God on any of this?
	a.  You will not find anything about Christmas celebration in scripture
		- It is simply not there
		- Observance of birth of Christ came about centuries after his birth
	b.  So, can we find any direction on how to respond?  Yes we do.
	c.  Three kinds of guidance from scripture
		- Example 
		- General principles
		- Direct warnings

I.  An Example of a Similar Situation
	A.  If we find similar situation in scripture, this will help
	B.  Look at the Feast of Dedication
		1.  What is it?
			a.  Definition in Hebrew - From the root, HNK
				-  Verb "Hanak" means to dedication
				-  Noun, "Hannukah" means dedication
				-  Feast of Dedication is Hannukah
			b.  Hannukah commemorates the Rededication of the temple
				-  Antiochus, ruler of Greek successor states, tried to 
			      	   Hellenize Israel
				-  Final straw, erected image in the temple. Offered 
				    pagan sacrificed on the altar
				-  Judas the Hammer (Maccabees) led a revolt
				-  Consecrated temple and rededicated it in 164 BC - 
				    began 100 years of Jewish independence
			c  It is not found in the Old Testament
				- Find Passover, Tabernacles (Succoth), but not this
				- Not commanded by God, it is man made
				- Like Christmas, it has cultural baggage as well
			d.  But Jews recognize this as significant religious event, so 
			     chose to commemorate it at Feast of Dedication
		2.  Is it anywhere in the Bible at all?  Yes
			a.  Wait, you said it not in the Old Testament
			b.  True, but it does appear in the New Testament
		3.  (Jn 10:22-28) - Feast of Dedication (Hannukah in Hebrew)
			a.  First, notice what Jesus did not do
				- Did not boycott it - He could have stayed home
				- Did not ignore it
					= There was no command from God to observe 
					  this religious holiday
					= There would have been nothing wrong, no 
 					   sin in simply ignoring it
				- Do not speak out against it
					= Did not condemn people for observing it
					= Did not speak out against the holiday itself
			b.  Notice what he did do
				- He attended festival
				- Used it as an opportunity to teach
				- On Jewish independence day, he teaches them he 
				  is the Christ and source of eternal life
		4.  This is instructive for us because Jesus is our example
			a.  Jesus didn't always condemn man-made traditions
			b.  In fact, tradition are good and commendable
				- They help root you in your identity
				- Often are reminders of significant events of the past
				- There are family, community, national, and church 
			c.  What Jesus condemned was elevating tradition to a 
			     divine command, Mt 15
				- Why?  Not just because it was self-made religion
				- They making commands of God where God did not
			d.  However, meaningful "traditions" can be quite powerful
	C.  There are two kinds of traditions
		1.  Divine traditions - Those that come from divine decree
			a.  Examples:  Festivals such as Passover and Tabernacles
			b.  Purpose: Reminders and teaching
				- Powerful tool to pass on your God-given heritage to 
				   your children
				- Reminder of your identity
			c.  We have some of these as Christians
				- Weekly communion a divine tradition
				- Sunday meeting to worship and edify
				- These traditions are not optional, from God
		2. There are also human traditions, like Feast of Dedication
			a.  These are traditions not from divine decree
			b.  You may have them in the family or even in the church
			c.  ILL:  Mother in law read Bible to children at holidays
				- Didn't want to blindly follow a custom
				- Wanted to get beyond cultural trappings, the 
				   consumerism, the glitter of hallmark
				- So she would go to the source, the Bible, and read
			d.  ILL:  Church in Vermont had a holiday tradition
				- Pack up food boxes for needy families to have nice 
				  meal together as a family
				- Did together with the children
				- Had a children's devo, learn about why we doing this
				- Served as a powerful teaching tool 
		3.  Right now, you may be thinking of some of the traditions you 
		     had have 
	D.  What did Jesus do?
		1.  Did not go with the flow, did not observe it secularly, did not 
		     boycott, did not speak out against it
		2.  He did use it as an opportunity to teach
		3.  By his example, it can be appropriate to do the same for us
		4.  **There are some general principles to guide us as well...

II.  A General Principle - Incarnation
	A.  There are some general biblical principles, specifically the incarnation
		1.  The incarnation of Christ is when he became flesh
		2.  Incarnation means to become flesh
	B.  The incarnational principle helps us to connect with others powerfully
		1.  (Jn 1:1-3, 14-18) - He came to us where we were, in the flesh
			a.  He "explained" God in a powerful way
			b.  Became human, provided an example in all things
			c.  Identified with us, met us on our 
		2.  (1 Cor 9:19-23) - This principle is exemplified in Paul's ministry
			a.  Became all things to all men
			b.  Became like them, not of them - connected with them
			c.  Why?  To share the Gospel on their level
		3.  (Acts 17:16-33) - Example of this on Mars Hill
			a.  Paul's starting point - A pagan altar
			b.  Even quoted from one of their pagan poets
			c.  Then he moved on to repentance, judgment, and the 
			     Gospel, particularly the resurrection of Christ
		4.  This is one of the many passages missions classes use in their 
 		    cross-cultural missions training
	C.  ILL:  Intro to Missions at Harding with Monte Cox, veteran missionary
		1.  Learned language, enculturated, relate on their level with their 
		     symbols, stories, and language
		2.  Often used pagan examples and symbols to teach the Gospel
			a.  One was the "Crow Cave" ***
			b.  One sermon began, "I am a child of the crow cave"
		3.  In ten years time, church grew from one family to over 2000 in 
		    over 70 congregations with elders, preachers, local leaders
		4.  Now, local church leaders have come to Harding to encourage 
 		    and teach missions students
	D.  So, we should look for ways to effectively understand and connect
		1.  Jesus was a master at this, made for many teachable moments
		2.  Paul used this method too, it was how he did ministry
		3.  We should try and look for those teachable moments too
		4.  **Holidays are one of them...but I need to issue a warning too...

III.  A Warning - The danger of syncretism
	A.  What is syncretism?
		1.  Definition: "The attempted reconciliation or union of different or 
		     opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or 
		2.  Related word:  Synchronize
			a.  When synchronize watches, same as another
			b.  They are said to be "in sync" with each other
		3.  This is the danger of syncretism
			a.  Danger is of becoming in sync with the world
			b.  If in sync with the world, become out of sync with God
	B.  Bible warns of this in many ways
		1.  Paul said he was "like" them but not of them
			a.  Always remember, you are not one of them
			b.  Our citizenship is in Heaven, not on earth
				- Are non-Christians your people?  No.
				- Christians are your people, your brethren
			c.  Remember who you are:
				- Your nationality is Christ, Career is Christ,
				- Your political party is Christ, ethnicity is Christ
				- Your calling/career is Christ
			d.  Christ defines who you are and your purpose
		2.  Examples of danger of syncretism in scripture abound
			a.  Condemnations of making covenants with foreign nations 
  			    to help them against enemies
				- In Isaiah, says "woe" to those who do this
				- May think, what is the big deal?
				- Covenants usually involved honoring deities of the 
 				  people you covenant with
				- Going to be friends with them, you going to be 
				  friends with their gods as well
			b.  Solomon is an example of this sort of thing
				- Married princesses of various countries
				- He honored their gods and worshipped them
				- Heart was drawn away from God
			c.  Children of Israel did not drive out pagans in Joshua
				- Later, these people became a snare to them
				- They began to worship all the baals (what the 
				   Canaanites called their pagan gods)
			d.  And there are many, many other examples
		3.  Also a positive example of Daniel
			a.  Taken captive to a foreign, pagan land
			b.  Changed his name to Babylonian: Belteshezzar
			c.  But Daniel resolutely remained faithful to God
				- Did not worship any pagan gods
				- Continued to observe the kosher laws
				- Continued to pray faithfully toward Jerusalem
				- Did not compromise
			d.  His integrity, honest work, reflected well on him and God
				- His superiors thought highly of him and his God 
				- Daniel is an example of living in a pagan place
		4.  So we need to have some sort of balance
			a.  2 Cor 6:14 - Do not be bound together with unbelievers
				- What does light have in common with darkness
				- These are not your people
				- Come out and be separate
			b.  Yet at the same time, we are called to engage the world
				- Christ identified with them on their level
				- Paul became all things to all men
			c.  Engage, but don't be overcome
	C.  ILL:  I had some friends at York College - Use Larry as an example
		1.  Went to devotionals, sang in Gospel group, from Christian family
		2.  Found each other online - No longer a Christian
			a.  At first, he started going to pentecostal churches
			b.  Then to these strange fringe churches
			c.  Then stopped all together, claimed to be spiritual, but not 
		3.  Problem - He was only nominally a Christian, a wanderer
			a.  He had no real clear sense of calling from God
			b.  Had no sense of purpose from God
			c.  Was susceptible to false religion
		4.  He typical of so many Americans, "spiritual" but not religious
			a.  Was in sync with the world
			b.  Terribly out of sync with God, and not even realize it
	D.  Need to recognize the constant danger of syncretism
		1.  Since we are called to engage the world, it is a real danger
		2.  How to avoid?  Not real complicated.  Need regular reminders
			a.  Reminded of our identity - comes from Christ
				- We were sinners without hope in the world
				- But Jesus died for us, and rose from grave
				- He renewed us and set us apart for God
			b.  Reminded of our purpose
				- Set apart for God, our purpose is to serve him
				- Not about my happiness, my wants, my anything
				- My job is to make God happy, not me happy
				- We are salt of the earth, light of the world, 
				  ambassadors for Christ
			c.  Reminded of our destination
				- We are Ambassadors because our in a foreign land
				- Our citizenship is in Heaven
				- We are on a journey there together
				- This place will end

1.  Question - Are you ready to go when he calls (inv)
2.  If you are ready to go, remember your identity and purpose
	a.  This is a season of opportunity and pitfalls
	b.  Don't blindly walk in sync with the world, be in sync with God
	c.  Ask family and friends, "do you know why Jesus was born?"
		- I will preach this message next week
	d.  Share the Gospel with them, it is the power of salvation


Small Group Notes:  Opportunities and Pitfalls
Summary:  There are opportune times to direct people's attention to Christ as he himself 
demonstrated during the feast of dedication, therefore it is appropriate to recognize 
opportunities to seize the "teachable" moments by starting where people are and directing 
them to the teaching of Christ, while recognizing the pitfalls involved with being in the 
world and not of the world.

- What is your best or funniest holiday memory?


1.  Read John 10:22-30. The Feast of Dedication (also called "Hanukkah," which commemorated 
the rededication of the temple in 164 A.D.) is not a Biblically commanded feast.  Where 
does Jesus go and what does he do during this feast?  

2.  What essentially does Jesus teach during the feast of dedication?  

3.  Like Hannukah, there are days on the calendar which have religious dress that will not 
be found in the Bible.  How does Jesus actions in this passage along with 1 Cor 9:19-23 speak 
to you about how to deal with these days?  (You might also look at Rom 14:3-6)

4.  How does one balance this with 2 Cor 6:14-7:1?  How can Christians be holy and yet engage 
the world as Paul described in 1 Cor 9?


5.  How have you dealt with holidays with religious dress in the past?  What, if anything, 
might you do differently or the same based on this study?  

6.  Do you think that holidays can be an opportunity to fulfill God's purposes for you?  In 
what way? 

7.  Discuss possible scenarios you might actually encounter as you engage people around you 
this time of year?  What are you anxious or fearful about?  What are you excited about? 

Meditate on Col 4:5-6 for your prayer