After Christmas

Nativity scene, Christmas star on blue sky and birth of Jesus, illustration.

When I was in Navy boot camp, we had an Easter service in a large drill hall. None of us were thinking about Christmas. All the recruits at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center were lined up by company. Hundreds of young men standing at ease as the Navy chaplain began his sermon.

I will never forget how he began. It’s as vivid now as it was when I heard it. “Now here it is Easter,” he grumbled, making it sounded like he’d much rather be somewhere else. “Most of you guys haven’t been near a church since Christmas, so how the hell are you supposed to know anything about Easter.”

That’s what he said. I really cannot tell you one word that followed because I immediately turned him off. If that’s the way God is going to talk to me, why bother? A couple of years later, I heard the message of the Bible from friends and a truly remarkable pastor. They got my attention.

As the years passed, I thought about what that chaplain had said. Although I completely disagree with his choice of words and his entire approach, the fact that many people go to church only on Christmas and Easter is worth thinking about and writing about.

The guy wasn’t entirely wrong. The Christian faith sounds nice when we hear about the birth of Jesus and learn of His remarkable life here on earth. The whole idea of Christmas presents, a baby being born, and singing carols is traditional and pleasant. But for so many it really does end there because they have not yet explored their faith. That process is called discipleship and simply stated it’s just learning the Bible.

Learning what’s in the Bible is discipleship

Think of discipleship this way—you receive a piano keyboard for Christmas, with an instruction book, but you never play it. Maybe you tinker a little, but you never learn how to play. You tell yourself it’s because the piano isn’t for you.

Many Christian believers get that wonderful, initial taste of the faith but never go farther. My wife and I went to one of those mega churches. The place sat 7600 people. They had over 10,000 members. The pastor’s sermon that day was about how they brought people into the faith, but they did a poor job in discipleship. People became “Christians” but they weren’t growing in the faith, there was no discipleship.

My mother never understood her Christian faith

My mother was a devoted Episcopalian. Cradle to grave, she never missed a Sunday. I have Bibles from her childhood church that had little commemorative notes hand written on the inside cover. She had perfect attendance.

But she was never discipled. She never spoke of her beliefs, nor did she talk to me about Jesus, or the Bible. When I came to faith as a young adult, I quickly realized that her knowledge of the Bible was extremely limited.

When I would quote from the Bible, or talk about stories from the Gospels, she didn’t believe me. It’s not that she wasn’t listening. It was just that she had no foundational frame of reference. She just assumed I must have been wrong.

I really never could discern her true, core beliefs. Even when I went through confirmation classes at our church, I didn’t learn about Jesus. I learned about the church. It wasn’t her fault. That’s the way she was raised and that’s what she knew.

My dad only listened later in life

My father grew up in a Methodist home and had strict parents. As a young man, he had his snoot full of religion and turned it off. In his last years, we really connected and he opened his heart to listen to God’s Word.

Unlike my mother, dad became convinced that I knew what I was talking about. He came to that position with the help of a local pastor where he was living. Dad used that guy to verify what I was telling him. Like my mother, his knowledge of Scripture was very limited. He was never discipled either and never went to church with us. It wasn’t his fault. That’s the way he was raised.

Faith is personal

Faith in the Bible is a personal thing. In previous posts I talked about not being able to prove the Bible, so God wants us to accept Him on faith. We are saved by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus. Simple message.

Who is the baby born on Christmas? Who is this Jesus? That’s why we need discipleship. Coming to faith is great, but that’s just the first step in a long and exciting journey.

But that leads to a big problem. Once we understand who Christ is, and what He is, we are accountable to God. Now what do we do? We can put it all aside, just like laying a book down on the coffee table. Or we can explore, ask questions, question answers and argue about what the Bible really says. It just reminds me of the old Gospel song, “His love is richer, deeper, fuller, sweeter, sweeter as the days go by.”

What comes AFTER Christmas is the best part.