Sunday, November 25, 2012

The 3 - November 25, 2012

The Thanksgiving week edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, includes a court ruling on an almost 60-year tradition involving multiple Nativity scenes in Santa Monica, CA.    Also, just before the start of the week, the National Bible Bee crowned champions in three divisions.  And, the top story, the celebration of Thanksgiving, which provides Christians with opportunities to serve, as we thank the One who gave Himself for us.

3 - Court rules against Santa Monica Nativity scenes

A Christmas tradition in a California city has been drastically altered, to the extent that it no longer is a reverent or meaningful celebration of the birth of Christ.  According to CitizenLink, the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes annual event dates back to 1953, in which booths with life-sized figures depicting the events surrounding the birth of Christ have been displayed in Palisades Park from the second Sunday in December through the end of the year.

Three years ago, a man named Damon Vix applied for and received permission for a booth in the park, according to Fox News.  Vix hung a sign quoting Thomas Jefferson that read: “Religions are all alike — founded on fables and mythologies.” Another one of his signs read: “Happy Solstice.”

Last year, he encouraged others to apply for a booth in the Nativity Scenes event, resulting in 18 of the 21 booths being represented by a secular person or group, according to Fox News.  One of the secular displays included a tribute to the “pastafarian religion,” which showcased an artistic depiction of “the great flying spaghetti monster,” a mockery of Christianity.   There was a display of pictures of Poseidon, Jesus, Santa, and the devil, which read: “37 million Americans know myths when they see them. What myths do you see?The remaining three booths were Christmas and Hanukkah displays.

On October 9th of this year, the Nativity Scene Committee (NSC), comprised of 13 Santa Monica churches and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association, filed a lawsuit in Federal court against the city, seeking to restore the nearly 60-year-old Nativity Scenes display in Palisades Park.

In a hearing this past Monday, the committee asked the court for a temporary reprieve from the ban while the case proceeds. The court ruled against the NSC, meaning there will be no Nativity Scene event until a final ruling is issued in the case.

“The city of Santa Monica decided that they didn’t want to have anything to do with it anymore — it was creating more work for their staff and they made up some additional excuses,” said William Becker, attorney for NSC.

The next step: a hearing on a motion by the city to dismiss the case.

No doubt, this Christmas season will give rise to more court action concerning the celebration of Christmas.   Municipalities are confused regarding what constitutes acceptable religious expression, and some have taken measures to eliminate Nativity scenes and other Christian expressions of our Savior's birth.   Some have even removed references to Christmas in deference to a non-specified holiday.  But, in a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles, it is somewhat odd that Christians are being restricted from expressing the age-old traditions of Christmas. 

2 - National Bible Bee winners celebrate achievement

I am taking just a bit of latitude on the timing of this story, which involves young people across America participating in a competition based on their knowledge of the Bible.  The announcement of the winner of the National Bible Bee occurred on Saturday, November 17th in Sevierville, Tennessee.  According to a report in The Christian Post, the top three Senior division students in the National Bible Bee finals took turns quoting passages of Scripture from memory for over an hour without making a single error, causing the contest – and the winner of the $100,000 grand prize – to be determined by a tiebreaker.

Officials of the fourth annual event, turned to the students' preliminary challenge scores, including their written tests, to determine the winner after a deadlock in the final round.  Sophie Haire of Havre de Grace, MD was eventually declared to be the winner in the division, which includes 15- to 18-year olds.

Around 7,000 young people nationwide participated in the Bible Bee program in 2012 – a 20 percent increase from last year.  Tom Widdoes, vice president of operations for the Shelby Kennedy Foundation, the organization behind the Bible Bee, expects participation numbers to continue to climb, he says, due in part to the competition's new format.

In years past, Bible Bee organizers provided students with hundreds of memory verses at the beginning of the summer. The contest was meant to be a family discipleship program, but it became intellectually intimidating.

This year, organizers cut back on the amount of information students were required to study in preparation for local competitions. With the help of special guidebooks, parents can now effectively lead their children in their Bible Bee studies in about 20 minutes per day.

Those who qualify for nationals, however, are eventually faced with much greater intellectual challenges, including the memorization of several hundred verses of Scripture.

Other winners included:  Rionna Flynn of Cupertino, CA in the Junior division (11-14 years old) and Olivia Davis of Salem, OR in the Primary division (7-10 years of age).   This was Olivia's third consecutive year as top Primary, and she will move to Junior in 2013.
And, while on the topic of Bible-related competitions, auditions are now being held for the second season of the American Bible Challenge, where teams of 3 people test their Bible knowledge and play for money to be donated to their favorite charities.  According to, tryouts are ongoing in Los Angeles, and next weekend, casting directors will be visiting Atlanta and Dallas.  The Atlanta auditions this Saturday, December 1st will be taking place from 10am-4pm Eastern at The Spring4th Complex, 714 Spring Street Northwest, in the main building.  Click here for more information

1 - Christians give thanks, give of themselves on Thanksgiving Day 2012

This past Thursday was Thanksgiving Day, and while many regard it as a day to be thankful for our families, maybe our nation, or on the more insignificant side, football, or even shopping, we as Christians recognize it is a day set aside to give thanks to God, the One Whose hand was involved, I believe, in the establishment of our nation, the furtherance of the freedoms that we enjoy, including freedom to practice our faith, and Who daily calls us to walk in a relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.

And, as we fall deeper in love with Him, He provides opportunities for us to share that love.   Thanksgiving Day has become a time, part of a season, when we can display the love of God in our hearts to people in need.  The churches of the greater New York City area, as well as national ministries, are still on the job in reaching out to those victimized by Superstorm Sandy.   And, ministries across our area and our nation have been involved in reaching out.

The Christian Post featured a number of those ministries in a recent story.   For instance, twice during the week before Thanksgiving Day, a church in Los Angeles, One Church International, held an outreach to the people of Skid Row that includes providing food, clothing, and prayer at a comedy club in a North Hollywood location.

At Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC, Pastor Steven Furtick's wife, Holly, met with 40 women on Monday to pack 200 grocery bags with meals for families in need near the church's Matthews location. The meals went to serve 561 people in the community by way of outreach partner Matthews Help Center.   That was just one of many outreaches to serve a combined over 1,000 people in the Charlotte area.

On Thanksgiving Day, in addition to several other projects, more than 200 volunteers led by a motel (families in transition) ministry from Saddleback Church in California were planning to serve 700 meals at nine locations throughout Orange County.

More than 1,500 shopping bags were filled with items from a Thanksgiving "grocery list" by members of Longhollow Baptist Church in the Nashville area.  The bags were reportedly filled with holiday dinner ingredients and cash for turkeys.

And, in the Auburn/Opelika area of East Alabama, as perhaps you heard on Faith Radio, Harvest Evangelism had plans to serve 1,200 meals on Thanksgiving Day.   The Opelika/Auburn News estimated that meals were served to around 1,500 people.

Because we are thankful for what Christ has done for us, we reach out to people in need with the love of Jesus, recognizing that just as He came to serve and give His life to set us free, He calls us to be involved in works of service, as we are directed by the Holy Spirit.   As an act of worship, an act of thanks, we get involved in ministering to others.

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