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Why Has Lent Become Cool with Evangelicals?.


Not the Thing that Comes from Your Dryer

Born in the Bible Belt and raised in an evangelical church, I didn’t know what Lent was until after I graduated from college. That was nearly ten years ago, and since that time I’ve seen an explosion of evangelical observation of Lent.

I’ve seen that surge in the church where I pastor, without any promotion from me. I’ve seen the same on social media, going hardly more than two minutes without bumping into a post by a friend describing what they are doing, reading, or giving up for Lent.

Of course, my congregation and my circle of friends is a limited sample. But I don’t think we need a national survey to see that among evangelicals Lent is more widely observed than ever before. As the great theologian Bob Dylan once said, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

But you might need a weatherman to know if this sudden gust of wind is a genuine move of the Spirit, or if it’s just the latest breeze blowing in from Zeitgeist Bay. So, what gives? Why the sudden trend among evangelicals? And what should evangelicals think about Lent anyway?

Trendspotting (or “How Lent Became Cool”)

Figuring out why anything becomes popular always involves some speculation, but the following factors seem to play the largest role in Lent’s growing trendiness among evangelicals:

1.The Internet

The Internet rapidly exposes us to new ideas and social media gives us a virtual window into the lives of others, putting names and faces on practices, like Lent, that once may have seemed strange to us. For better or for worse, this has had the effect of softening of the ‘harder edges’ of people’s beliefs.

2.An Unsettled Life

The average family will move almost twelve times in their life. Advancements in technology nearly double every year. And sociologists say that the cultural turnover rate may occur as quickly as every seven years! Because everything is so new and constantly changing, people have a subconscious desire to connect with something certain and unchanging—the long-standing tradition of Lent is an obvious fit.

3.Lovers of Experience

Our society has a double-love of experience. Economically, most people can afford the goods and services they need, so experience is ‘the last frontier.’ That’s why we pay top dollar for unique experiences—like floating diners in the sky, movie theaters that serve gourmet meals, Brazilian steakhouses that carve a king’s feast at your table. Philosophically, most people today believe that experience trumps reason. What we feelabout something is more important than what someone else says about it. In our experience-loving culture, is it really a surprise that Lent has become so popular?

Cause for Concern or Celebration?

None of this tells us what we should think of Lent. It its rising popularity cause for celebration or concern? Should evangelicals embrace the liturgical traditions?

One popular evangelical blogger says, “No.”

In a post titled “Young, Restless, and Reformed Homeboys on Lenten Fasting,”  Keith Miller of MereOrthodoxy.com registers his concerns with the growing trendiness of Lent among evangelicals.  In particular, he is concerned that evangelicals are so quickly embracing a practice that our theological forerunners staunchly opposed. Drawing from the likes of John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, he offers an impressive array of quotes that speak strongly against Lent as a harmful ‘tradition of men’.

But when it comes to ‘traditions of men,’ how is Lent any different from Advent, Christmas, or Easter? Are we really ready to dispose of every tradition? Is that even what God wants?

I don’t think so.

Christians today commonly speak of three different options for engaging ideas and practices in the world. We can reject them as inappropriate and unhelpful. We can receive them as good and helpful. Or we can “redeem” them by changing what is bad and reframing what is good. Reject. Receive. Redeem. (Others describe them as: abandon, accept, accommodate, but the meaning is essentially the same.)

I think that Lenten observance can be “redeemed” (or accommodated). The heart of Lent is a season of fasting, which Jesus seemed to expect for his followers to do. After all, he said “when you fast,” not “if you fast” (Matt. 6:16). In Lenten fasting we abstain from worldly pleasures to realize their power over us, to remind ourselves of our frailty and continual need of grace, and to rejoice that our appetite for sin has been forgiven and will one day be erased. I know of no Christian who would object to that!

And yet, Keith Miller joins with other evangelicals in offering a needed warning. The Reformers fought against the abuses of human tradition, which had been placed on part with Scripture and were being used to bind the consciences of believers. This explains their strong words against Lent, and I think they are highlighting a critical point: the grace of God—not the religious practices of men—is what forgives us and transforms us.

That is something all people, even followers of Jesus, are prone to forget. It is what led Martin Luther to say that religion is the default mode of the human heart. He knew that we are constantly tempted to rely on what we do for God, instead of relying what he has done for us in Christ.

This is why the apostle Paul said, “These [traditions] have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23).

Without focusing on the grace of God, all fasting—including Lenten fasting—is just self-made religious tradition aimed at making us feel righteous because of something we do. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Believers who observe Lent should remember that their fasting does not make them more righteous than those who do not observe Lent.  Similarly, believers who refrain from Lent ought to realize that not everyone who observes Lent does so believing that their efforts make them righteous in the eyes of God.

So this Lenten season, whether you eat or fast, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.

By Church Matters

Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.

 

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Give Up for Lent.


M. Jolaine Szymkowiak
Titus

When I was in grade school, as the season of Lent would draw near each year, the children in my primarily Catholic community would start asking what others had “given up for Lent.” I always thought it such a strange custom. I had been raised in a protestant home and giving up something for Lent, especially since the family income was stretched for the necessities as it was, giving up something that would not be attainable anyway seemed so ridiculous. We had what we needed and sometimes not much more. Giving up chocolates or candy, ice cream, potato chips, soda pop, Saturday movies, seemed too trivial for the season that was at hand.

As I grew older a truer meaning of the season came about. Along with church teaching, the dictionary states Penitence, as implying sorrow over having sinned or done wrong, but it is still too negative for me. Must it be? Yes, we are to be penitent, however, that should be an every day thing, asking forgiveness for the wrongs done during the day. What can we do to make Lent special besides giving up something and still be penitent in nature?

I agree change is needed, however, must we always reflect on what is wrong with us even after we have repented and asked forgiveness? If change for the better is needed, repentance of those wrongs is needed, then look forward. Jesus looked forward, always moved forward for Jerusalem and what was coming, good and bad. I too must look forward to what is coming and do what I can to make something good of the time spent at this particular season and also for my life. This should be a time of reflection, a time of repentance, a time of release, a time of going forward to something new and better. A change, if you will, of conscience and will, and the 40 days of Lent allow me the time to form new habits, new ways of doing things, that are not only better for myself but is to the betterment of those around me. And for those of you who think this is going too far the other way, think of it as giving up a bad habit for a good one. Does that make it easier to understand?

Titus, a young man and helpful companion during Paul’s ministry, is the one who accompanied Paul to Jerusalem: acceptance of Titus, who was a Gentile, as a Christian without circumcision was crucial to Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. Titus worked with Paul in Ephesus, and Corinth and at the time of Paul’s first release from Roman prison Titus met him at Nicopolis in Greece. Titus went on to Dalmatia (modern Yugoslavia) and when this letter was writte …

Chuck Lawless: Christmas Eve Memories.


Written by Chuck Lawless
Christmas eve

I’m 52 years old, but I remember well the Christmas eves of my childhood. Our grandpa spent the night with us, and he always slept on the couch in the living room. We needed him there to open the front door for Santa Claus.

Sure, Santa usually came down the chimney, but our fireplace was a fake one. We may have been young, but even we figured out there was no way for Santa to enter our house through that means.

Grandpa was also responsible for making sure Santa saw the milk and cookies we left for him in the kitchen. We always wondered if Grandpa actually ate the cookies, and he teased with us enough that we never really knew. I can’t remember all the gifts we received each year, but I vividly recall Grandpa’s delight in telling the stories of his encounters with Santa.

Seldom did we sleep deeply on Christmas Eve. I doubt we had “visions of sugar-plums” dancing in our heads, but I’m sure we had thoughts of Matchbox cars, army men, fishing gear, and bicycles—thoughts about “stuff.” I know we wondered just how early on Christmas morning we could head downstairs to the Christmas tree. Every Christmas Eve lasted only 24 hours, but the memories still linger for me now decades later.

After I became a follower of Christ at age 13, Christmas Eve took on new meaning. It was the reminder that God Himself had come to earth. He so loved us that he stepped into our story, paid the penalty for our wrong, and conquered death on our behalf. The Babe in Bethlehem would be the Teacher, the Healer, the crucified One, the Victor over death.

He would be my personal Savior—and suddenly the “stuff” of Christmas would lose some of its meaning. Living in the light of eternity does that, you know. The temporary things of this world lose their significance when we really know the God of Christmas.

I remember another Christmas Eve when I found myself sitting in traffic, stuck with others who had delayed their shopping until almost too late. While sitting in my car, I smelled a horrendous odor in the distance—so strong, in fact, that the stench worked its way through my closed car windows. What I could not see in the dark was a large garbage dump in the distance. Mounds of garbage piled high, and men working overtime continually dumped even more refuse on those piles.

The whole scene seemed odd, actually. Our cars lined up by the dozens, all of us on our way to buy “stuff”—stuff that would eventually wind up at the top of this same dump. We were spending temporary money to buy temporary stuff that would land on this temporary pile. And, frankly, most of us still do.

Please don’t hear me wrongly, though. I am not arguing against buying Christmas gifts. Christmas is indeed a time of giving. What I’m arguing for is making sure we keep our priorities straight.

Christmas is about God’s giving Himself as the present. It’s about remembering that the everlasting One gave all so we might live eternally with Him. It’s also about building memories with the people God graciously places in our lives. For me, the words of Michael Card beautifully capture these ideas:

“‘When God gives a gift, He wraps it in a person,’ Bill Lane [Card’s mentor] said. The true purpose of giving a gift is that in the giving, we give a part of ourselves. And so it is with God, the greatest of givers. The special people He gifts us with are another way He gives us Himself.”

This Christmas Eve, do give gifts. Even more importantly, though, be a gift to someone else. The “stuff” will all disappear, but the memories of life shared with others will last a lifetime.

Merry Christmas!

Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

For the original article, visit thomrainer.com.

 

Living a new reality….


By Pastor Bobby Schuller

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.”
-Isaiah 26:3-4

If you have the love of God in your heart, the affections and the attentions of other people just don’t matter as much, nor does the distress, the lack of meaning, or the worry. If God is protecting you, if God is on your side, if you’re living in God’s reality, those things still affect you but they lose their edge. If you truly know the love of God, you’re given strength to live in an imperfect world, a world that may hate you for no good reason, a world that gossips about you, a family that dislikes you, friends or co-workers that are always on your heels. You can abide with all these circumstances because there is this love that gives you strength.

You can be like Jesus. You can sit on a boat and take a nap in a storm if you really have that peace. You don’t have to worry about tomorrow. You live in a new reality.

And that reality was with Mary and Joseph in that stable. It was with those shepherds who followed angels to our Savior’s manger. That reality encourages you to become like the Magi, saying to yourself, “I will search and search and search for years. I will cross thousands of miles. I will take everything I have, and I will give it up if I can just see Jesus. If I can just kneel before him, I will gladly give away all of these things that the earth says are valuable, and I will not rest until I’m able to lay them before his throne.”

Peace is available today at Christmas, for Jesus came to be our Prince of Peace.

Prayer: Dear Lord, even this Christmastime when there is little peace in the people surrounding me, little peace being reported in the news, little peace in the workplace, I will find my peace in you. Amen.

Devotion: How do you find peace amidst a disquieting world?

Let it begin with me…


By Pastor Bobby Schuller

“So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”
-Romans 8:6

On Christmas Eve, I think about the shepherds. They’re out on this cold night tending to their flocks when the angels come to them and tell them the Good News. From scripture, we read that, despite the enormity of their experience, it is very peaceful as they come to see Jesus and bow before him.

In the Nativity scene, itself, we see the Prince of Peace. Even though he’s in a manger in a place not designed for newborn babies, where injuries could happen and the environment is dirty, there’s a sense of real peace, tranquility, and even joy and celebration.

Something is different. The peace that surrounds what could have been a very horrible situation in this stable creates hope that maybe peace won’t just stop there. Maybe it’s not an event in and of itself, mutually exclusive of the world around it. Perhaps, just maybe, this baby boy will bring shalom, will bring peace to the people, to Israel, to Syria, to the uttermost parts of the world. This peace that is right there in this manger, maybe it will enter into the hearts of broken and hurting people everywhere.

That’s exactly what the Christmas story is about – peace – and it begins with you, and with me, right in our hearts. With the arrival of baby Jesus, he was able to enter our very angry, broken, chaotic lives, causing us to live in peace, in shalom.

Peace is available to each one of us through Christ in us. At Christmas, Jesus came to be our Prince of Peace.

Prayer: Dear Lord, on this Christmas Eve, despite what is going on around me, let me feel your peace. And, as I interact with the people around me, let your peace begin with me. Amen.

Devotion: How will peace be a part of your Christmas Eve celebration?

Miracle and Mystery.


“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
Matthew 1:23

Recommended Reading
Isaiah 7:10-14 ( http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah%207:10-14&version=NKJV )

Dr. G. Campbell Morgan said of Christmas: “Here is the Ancient of Days becoming a babe in Bethlehem. Here is He who thunders in the Heavens, crying in the cradle. Here is the One who made all flesh now being made of flesh. Here is He who could summon the legions of angels and He’s wrapped in swaddling clothes … the Mighty God becoming a helpless child.”

Listen to Today’s Radio Message ( http://www.davidjeremiah.org/site/radio.aspx?tid=email_listenedevo )

This is the marvel and mystery of the virgin birth. Without the supernatural conception of Christ, there is no Christmas and no Christianity. We believe Jesus was miraculously born through Mary without the agency of a human father, having been conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit. This explains: (1) our Lord’s dual nature as both God and man; and (2) His pure and sinless life. Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). He is the preexisting, self-existent, everlasting God whose goings forth are from old, even from eternity.

That’s why we sing His praise and worship His name. That’s why we say, as they did of old, “What manner of man is this!”

Read-Thru-the-Bible
2 John 1-3 John 1

By David Jeremiah.

The Stigma of Jesus’ Virgin Birth.


Mary and Jesus

The discussion I had with the late Yasser Arafat during my first visit with him in Ramallah in 2002 was almost entirely theological. I stressed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died on the cross for our sins. Arafat reached for his Quran to show me something he thought would impress me. Pointing to a certain passage (as if I could read Arabic), he said, “Did you know that the only woman mentioned in the Quran is the Virgin Mary?”

“Well, how interesting, Rais [Arabic for president],” I replied, “it sounds as if the Quran is proving that Jesus had no earthly father and therefore must be the Son of God.”

Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth was born of a virgin and had no earthly father? Muslims do. In fact, one of the most successful evangelistic approaches when talking to Muslims is to focus on the virgin birth of Jesus. They are committed to the Quran, which teaches this truth.

And yet Muslims say they do not believe Jesus is the Son of God. Noting the contradiction in their beliefs, you can lovingly point out to them that if Jesus had no earthly father, it can mean only one thing—that God Himself is His father, and Jesus is therefore God’s Son.

The virgin birth of Jesus is one of the clearest teachings in the New Testament. The accounts in Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38 are unambiguous and leave no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth had no earthly father but was born of Mary, who had never known a man.

Why is this fact significant? Primarily because it is in the Bible. But there are other reasons for exploring the truth of the virgin birth.

First, it shows the stigma, or offense, Christians must bear in upholding this truth. The word stigma is a Greek word. It refers to a mark or tattoo on the body, often used on a runaway slave in the ancient world so he would be easily identified. Paul used the word to show he was unashamed of being a slave of Jesus: “I bear in my body the marks [stigmata] of the Lord Jesus” (Gal. 6:17, NKJV).

The stigma of the virgin birth is made clear in the New Testament. Consider what an offense it was for Joseph to accept Mary after she disclosed to him that she was pregnant. It was a horrible moment for him—and for her.

Why should he believe her when she assured him that she had been faithful to him, knowing he had never slept with her? They were engaged, but “before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18). Joseph’s immediate reaction was to break their engagement quietly.

To have remained engaged would have demanded that he bear a stigma of incalculable proportions. Being pregnant out of wedlock is no big deal today. But in Joseph and Mary’s day, having sex before marriage was possibly the worst thing a couple could do. Everyone would assume this is what Joseph and Mary had done. The couple knew they hadn’t, but who would believe them? And why should Joseph believe Mary?

This is the reason God graciously stepped in on Mary’s behalf. “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit’” (Matt.1:20). That was news to Joseph, but it made sense in the light of what Mary had claimed. It meant she had certainly not been unfaithful to him.

But it also meant that he had a major decision to make—namely, whether to leave her entirely and let her bear the stigma of being a single parent, or to stay with her and be seen for the rest of his life as the man who got Mary pregnant out wedlock. If he stayed with her, they would bear the offense together. They alone would know the truth and would be able to comfort each other in this sublime knowledge—that it was a miracle of God.

Could they tell anyone? No. For one thing, nobody would believe them. But also they would not tell because they had to be willing to suffer for the glory of God.

This unseemly situation meant the loss of their reputations, a stigma for which they suffered the rest of their lives. They would never outgrow it.

As a matter of fact, more than 30 years later, people were still talking about it. As long as Jesus was performing miracles and feeding thousands with the loaves and fishes, the people appeared to be willing to overlook the rumor that He had been born an illegitimate child.

But the moment Jesus said things such as, “‘I am the bread which came down from heaven,’” they resorted to the gossip of the day: “‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?’” (John 6:41-42). This comment shows that the followers of Jesus probably suspected Jesus was illegitimate but let their suspicions surface only when His message became a stigma too.

In any case, Joseph made the hardest decision of his life. When he woke up from the dream, he “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son” (Matt.1:24-25). Joseph determined to live with his decision and became the unsung hero of the Christmas story.

An Untold Mystery 

There is another reason the virgin birth of Jesus is relevant; it shows the importance of being able to keep God’s secrets. Consider this comment by Luke: “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). There is reason to believe that Mary never told the miracle of Jesus’ birth until years after He had died and ascended to heaven. At that point she apparently broke her silence and told Luke what had happened.

In the very first chapter of his Gospel, Luke records the occasion when the angel Gabriel came to Mary unexpectedly and said, “‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you’” (Luke 1:28). Mary was puzzled by the angel’s greeting, but the angel said to her, “‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus’” (v. 31).

Mary questioned the angel: “‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ [The NIV translates the last part of Mary’s question, “since I am a virgin?”] And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God’” (vv. 34-35).

Imagine having an experience with God like this and keeping quiet about it for many years! Yes, she did stay during her pregnancy with her cousin Elizabeth, who discerned Mary’s condition by the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:39-45). But there is no indication that anybody else knew, not even the disciples of Jesus.

Mary must have been tempted to reveal this extraordinary secret a thousand times, but she didn’t. Why? First, she would have been doing so largely to clear her own name. She chose instead to bear the stigma. Second, it might have been like casting a pearl before swine (see Matt. 7:6). The enemies of Jesus would not have believed her, and the news could have been counterproductive. So Mary did not tell it until she revealed it to Luke before she died.

There’s a good possibility that the followers of Jesus were willing to follow Him not knowing what Mary knew and very possibly assuming that Jesus really was an illegitimate child, as implied in John 6:42. What would have been their thinking in following Jesus if indeed they believed He was born out of wedlock?

Peter could answer: “‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (John 6:68-69). And yet it must have been a sweet consolation to their souls to have the word spread among the church many years later that Mary was in fact a virgin when Jesus was born, showing that He was truly the Son of God.

The virgin birth of Jesus reveals our helplessness in the face of God’s commands and our need for His power to fulfill them. When Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her what God wanted, she had a significant question: “How can I have a child since I am a virgin?” (see Luke 1:34).

“‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you,’” the angel replied, and added, “‘For with God nothing will be impossible’” (vv. 35,37).

An Essential Truth 

The virgin birth lays the foundation for the most essential truth of all—that Jesus was and is the God-man; He was man as though He were not God, and God as though He were not man. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” the apostle John tells us (John 1:1,14, emphasis added).

Only God could have performed the miracle of His Son’s conception. He caused the Word to enter the womb of Mary and become a seed. At that moment, the Word became flesh. Even as an embryo, He was fully human as well as fully God. The God-man lived in Mary’s womb for nine months and then was born.

God chose a virgin from the tribe of Judah living in Nazareth to be the mother of our Lord. She had the genealogical credentials to qualify, being in the line of David. God chose a virgin to prove that only He could have been Jesus’ father.

The virgin birth of Jesus further demonstrates that salvation is ultimately the work of God. It was His idea alone and was brought about solely by His initiative. God had promised that the seed of the woman would ultimately destroy the serpent’s head (see Gen. 3:15).

The virgin birth of Christ shows that salvation can never come through human effort; it must be by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. In His perfect timing “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). The purpose of Jesus’ coming was for Him to save His people from their sins (see Matt. 1:21). He was born to die.

If God had made Jesus a complete human being in heaven and then sent Him to earth without any human parent, it would have been impossible for Him to be human as we are. If, on the other hand, God had brought Jesus into the world with two human parents, both a father and a mother, it would have been impossible for Him to be fully God.

Besides the supernatural component of God’s sending His Son to earth, there was a natural one that was essential for Jesus to be born: Mary had to agree to God’s plan! She might have said “No,” or perhaps, “Let me think about it.” I fancy that all heaven waited with baited breath for Mary’s consent.

That consent came immediately. “‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word,’” was her reply to the angel (Luke 1:38). In that moment the eternal Word left His glory with the Father and the Spirit and became flesh, to be the God-man forever and ever. It was the greatest moment in heaven and earth since creation.

Do you believe in the virgin birth? Will you accept the stigma of being a follower of Jesus, especially in this day of pluralism when His words, “‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6) are a tremendous offense?

Will you bear this stigma? Joseph did. Mary did. Let us follow in their steps and be willing to let our vindication come long after we are gone, in order to prove to the world that Jesus, born of a woman, was indeed the Son of God.

Source: CHARISMA NEWS.

R.T. Kendall was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years. He is well-known internationally as a speaker and teacher and is the author of more than 50 books.


IS CHRISTMAS BAD?

Tired of people bashing “Christ’s-mass”? Go to christmas.charismamag.com to find out the rich meanings behind the symbols of the season.

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