A Mediocre Merry Christmas Message
by Mike Oppenheimer
Let Us Reason
At Christmas time, Lauren Green on Fox News hosted Rick Warrens Christmas service called “Christmas with Rick Warren.” This is an opportunity most pastors would love to have- a large captive audience at Christmas time to give the saving message of the gospel to millions of people. But was the gospel presented?
The following are highlights of his sermon with an observation, analysis and biblical assessment.
The Christmas special began not a praise or worship song but with the song Feliz Navidad (I want to wish you Merry Christmas). Warren’s message began with “Have you ever received a Christmas gift that you were disappointed in, he then went into illustrations using himself as an example. He wanted a Satellite dish (from his wife) and he gave h his wife all these hints. Instead, he got another barbecue, so he was disappointed.
Today were are going to talk about a Christmas you will never be disappointed in- its God’s Christmas gift to you” it’s the first gift and when you understand it will change your life. “God gave you this gift its personal, its practical gif, its useful it will never wear out, its eternal and its extremely expensive.
There are four benefits of God’s Christmas gift to you”¦ and how you can unwrap God’s Christmas gift to you this Christmas.”
Asks to sing happy birthday to Jesus- (Joy to the world).
2000 years ago God split history into BC and AD.
He stated that every time you write a date it is from Christmas his birth. Not that this is a large point of contention as many will use this as an illustration but Jesus was not Born in 0 AD most date it to 4-7 BC. So this is inaccurate.
God “sent Jesus to put my spirit inside of you” He is Emmanuel God with us. “In you and with you at all times”
When God gives Jesus Christ there are 4 benefits to it- here they are-
1) you lose your loneliess, because when God is with you, you are never alone.”
As a pastor Warren states he has talked with thousands of people- and found loneliness is a universal problem”¦everyone has a tough time dealing with loneliness.”
(One would think guilt of sin and forgiveness would be a top priority but it is not.)
He then shared about his brothers death that year and explains how he was very lonely for a couple of months. I understand the loss but how can he convince people that God would be there for them when he said he was very lonely for months, seems to be an apparent contradiction of what he was trying to communicate. Was it noticed? Hardly”¦
Warren- Jesus said in the Bible “I will never leave and I will never forsake you” “If your feeling abandoned, If your feeling lonely, If your feeling forsaken this Christmas-I want to say this to you- God is with you.” Jesus said, I will never leave and I will never forsake you” Now when you accept this gift of God’s presence, it is the first gift- God’s presence is your first present.” Now when you accept that presence He helps you in all kinds of situations and you know it immediately.”
“When you accept the gift of God’s presence you’ll loose your loneliness.”
He refers to Isa.41:10, Ps.48.
Is God’s presence the first gift? Or does God need to deal with our sin nature and have it crucified and forgiven to receive his presence.
Warren- the Bible says, “nothing can separate us from the love of God”
Warren continually spoke without qualifying the promises which are to believers not unbelievers. Throughout his sermon one could not tell if he was speaking in the now or what he is describing would be future. If one is unsaved they are loved by god but they are not in the love of God but God’s wrath abides on them (Jn.3:36)
“The reason Jesus came to earth is so we would know what God is like” ‚ (this is true but not the main point of why).
He then gave the ant analogy- “If God wanted to communicate to ants he would become an ant- If God wanted to communicate to cows he would become a cow- If God wanted to communicate to a monkey he would become a monkey. “But he wanted to communicate to human beings so he became one of us.” This does not make sense, since God came into the garden each day and talked with Adam, He spoke to numerous people throughout history ““ Noah; in Job there is recorded a long speech and conversation with God before He became man. So it is inaccurate to say He came to earth to communicate to us but instead it is more accurate to say- to reveal what God is like and to die for us- for our sins.
John 6:38: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” What is the will of the Father is further explained in his words of why he came to earth. John 12:46-47; “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.
John 9:39-41: “And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.
John 18:37: “for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.
John 12:27-28: “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.”
Mark 14:41: “The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.”
Matthew 18:11-14: “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (also Luke 19:10.)
Warrens sermon was about God coming to earth. I give Warren credit that he did proclaim the deity of Christ which is important to know but that still is not the gospel by itself.
Ps.16:11 (Tev) God says I am with you and that’s the first gift of Christmas”
His Christmas sermon was broken up with singing numerous times- at least 7 songs (only a few would be considered worship) I’m not sure if this was for TV or if this is how it is always conducted, either way, it mixed the entertainment aspect with a what should have been a sobering yet joyful message.
“At the very first Christmas God gave the first Christmas gift- his own son, that’s why we give gifts today.” The first gift is that you never need to be lonely
2nd gift ) God’s pardon.
He tells his audience- “He gives you a second chance” “I want to give you a second chance this christmas” He asks the audience to raise their hands on how many would do things differently in their life, “theres a word for those of you who didn’t raise their hands- its liar.” We all like to have do-overs in our lives” and than gave a number of examples of do-overs -for him its golf. Mulligan, it means in golf “when you do a bad shot you get a second chance you get to do another shot and they don’t count the first one against you.” I like that- what if we has mulligans in every area of life- Financial mulligans, relational mulligans, health mulligans, you know I’d like to just do that one over”
(this is a worldly appeal to starting over, nothing is mentioned about our sin and it severing the most important relationship we can have.)
“Did you know that God loves to give second chances, that he loves to give mulligans.” “Its why he sent Jesus Christ to earth at Christmas.” In fact the Bible says before God created you He already know the worst things you’d do with your life.” He still made you, He still loves you. He made you to love you, and God says I know
All your sins, all your mistakes, all your faults all your failures, even the ones you haven’t done yet God already knows those.”
“I offer you a chance to be forgiven and be completely wiped out. Right thinking and right living a clean slate and a fresh start all come from God by way of Jesus Christ.” Let me read you another one
[He is quoting from the Message Bible, the New living Translation, the Living Bible]
Rom 3:24 “God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.”
The first gift of God is his presence- I’ll be with you. the second gift is his pardon I’ll forgive you, I’ll give you a second chance, (reads a letter of someone’s testimony of praying and how their life changed).
The Bible says this- God forgives all your failures and all your sins he did this by erasing the charges that were brought against us by the laws of God and God took those charges away by nailing them to the cross.” Jesus wants to give you a mulligan in your life. “¦ He says I’m going to give you a new life. He does this “simply because I love you.”
All this is wrapped up in what is called the new life, it says this anyone who belongs to Christ becomes a new person the past is forgotten and everything becomes new”
Throughout this Warren does not point out what we must do. Repent, or believe the gospel to be saved from the penalty of their sins is not mentioned even though he is on the topic of ones faults and being pardoned. He does not name the charges or the laws- It’s as if it’s a done deal without your doing anything.
“Do you understand now why Christmas is such a big deal where all around the world billions of people will celebrate Christmas ““ mentions the date of BC and AD again 2007 years 2008 years 2009 years from what? From Christmas ““ when God invaded earth– Repeats the ant analogy.
You see, I have hard time relating to that big spirit in the sky “may the force be with you Luke” No, no I need something with skin on it (this seems confusing to me, The Holy Spirit lives in us and Jesus is not on earth physically any longer, so how can you have skin on him/).
I need something to relate to and Jesus Christ is God in human form and he says when you accept me into your live, not rules not relationships, not rituals, not religion when you accept me a person into your life ““ my presence and you get my pardon and that’s why we celebrate Christmas.”
“And when you accept God’s Christmas gift to you, his son Jesus christ there’s a third benefit- you find out who you are”¦ who you were meant to be” Not only do I want to give you my presence, my pardon ( gives more do over examples) “I want to give you my purpose for you”
Then you learn what you are here for
Col 2:13: “When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive–right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven””
This is the only time I caught the word sin mentioned.
His notes were on top of the bible that he held in his hands- the Bible was never opened.
He gives you a second chance. Gives the examples of do-overs the message is quoted
“Not only do I want to give you my presence, not only do I want to give you my pardon I want to giver you my purpose for you”
Then you will learn what you are here for Eph.1:11: “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ, he had his eye on us, and designed us for his glorious living.” Did you know that before you were born God already thought you up, he designed you, in fact you were shaped in your mothers womb. God planned everyday of your life before you were born”
Frankly, I find the Bible disagreeing on this fact that he planned our everyday, especially when we have something tragic happen or evil take place. He may know of it but to plan it makes him the author of it. I don’t think so. Warren is giving a calvinistic point of view that I do not find substantiated in Scripture.
“And the Bible says God is uniquely made you for a purpose on this planet. Here’s the problem most people start off as originals but end up as carbon copies. We start being clones of other people around us. And we allow other people to shape us and reshape us”¦he mentions parent, peers and partners, professionals and even mentions culture.
This is ironic that he would say this when he promotes his methods to thousands of churches, has thousands of people copying his ministry- his pastor sermons etc. Either this is okay by him or he is not aware of what he stating.
Warren- “”¦I have a plan and I have a purpose for you life, in fact Jesus said this I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly” In this portion Warren gives some good insights on living the good life or the better life (in Jesus).
Again, this is not explaining the gospel but what happens to a person from their believing the gospel, which he never focuses on.
He has a few good applications about living the good life that is not good enough I guess “get a life” is a Biblical application, but again how to get this life through the gospel was not mentioned. It was a purpose driven message more than a gospel driven message.
He mentions other religions names “It does not matter what your religious background is, you may be Baptist or Buddhist or you may be Muslim or Mormon or you may be Christian or Jewish or you may be catholic or Protestant or orthodox or you may have no religious background, Jesus didn’t come to give you religion he came to give you a life.”
Regardless of what your religious background is Jesus still died for you, and it split history into AD and BC.”
I find it counter productive to mention other religions along with Christian denominations who already know and accept Jesus’ death for their sins. Using Christian alongside Buddhist and Islam in the same sentence diminishes the point.
“And God says I want you to know my presence, my pardon and my purpose, for your life.” One must have God’s pardon first before they can have God’s presence and know his purpose for their life.But Warren never explained what we are pardoned for and what this is really about.
In fact the Bible says this, “because Jesus was raised from the dead we’ve been given a brand new life and we have everything to live for including a future in heaven, and that future starts now”
“Part of what’s wrapped up in God’s Christmas gift to you is this your past is forgiven you get a purpose for living and you get a home in heaven. Nowhere are gonna get a gift like that.” Nobody else can give that gift”
Warren Asks: “How do I unwrap the gift that God has given me at Christmas? You just say yes”
“listen to this give yourselves completely to God to be used for his good purposes. You just say God I’m giving you everything, the good the bad the ugly. Its all yours I’m saying yes to you.
He then talks about his wife Kays new book on what happens when you say yes to God it called “Dangerous Surrender” and his church will be going through it in the month of February.
Warren then talks about the California fires and how people lost everything
“One of the people that lost everything was Ken Blanchard my friend and successful author of 20 business best sellers including the one minute manager. And I asked Ken how did you have the strength to go on after everything in your house burned down?
Using Blanchard as an example is disingenuous (He put up a video of Ken standing over the foundation of his lost home as someone who lost everything in the California fires.)
While Blanchard speaks of having treasures in heaven not on earth, he is hardly a good example of losing everything ““ (would he not have insurance). Blanchard is very well off as a successful business man. In fact, Blanchard makes more money in a few hours than average people make in a year. Ken Blanchard is listed on BigSpeak, ‚ His Fee Range is currently listed at $40,000+. ‚ BigSpeak was called on January 28, 2008 by Christian Research service. According to spokeswoman, Ken Blanchard’s Fee Range has increased to $70,000 for a one day conference.
Though he had valuables in his house, I hardly think that losing his house set him back as it might have other people, so to use Blanchard as an example of losing everything is fallacious.
Warren- Jesus- I knew everything about you and I want you to know me. That’s why Christmas happened- God came to earth to personal, the difference that you need in your life to live the life he meant you to live.”
“After this next song I’m going to come back and I’m going to explain to you how you can unwrap God’s Chistmas gift to you. It starts with a simple prayer where you say yes to God, you say yes Lord I want you to replace my fear with your peace and I want you to replace my loneliness with your presence and I want you to replace my confusion with your purpose.
Herein is the error of today’s modernized evangelical messages. A prayer without faith-without knowing the message will not save you. It may make you more open to hearing about Jesus but it will not lead you to being born again of the Spirit of God through His glorious gospel.
To do this one must admit they are sinners not just hearing they were pardoned.
This may come close to the gospel message, but he is not telling anyone why and how, he is piling on the promises that are given to those are saved; you can say he has the cart before the horse.
Warren- “It doesn’t even matter what you say as much as the attitude of your heart.Bow your heads with me, I’m going to pray a Christmas prayer”¦ regardless of what religion you are–Dear God I don’t understand it all but as much as I know how I ask Jesus Christ to come into my life, please make yourself real to me I want to believe in you and give me your presence and your pardon and your purpose and your powering my life. Help me to understand it more, I want to live for you, I want to learn to love you and trust you in your name amen
It is a wonder they understand anything about his death and resurrection from Warrens Christmas message when it was only mentioned in passing. I want to believe in you is not the same as confessing I DO believe in you. Come into my life is not the same as a confession of faith- I believe in you and what you did on the cross for me.
And what of those who have another religion? Will they be told they are no longer in need of it and are not to practice it? He then congratulates those who prayed this the very first time.
When I started to think about his sermon I had wondered if it was necessary to critique it, after all he is preaching Christ. But I looked further and could not find where faith is in all this- where is the death burial and resurrection of Jesus is preached and explained for Jesus to be ones sin bearer? Since when is talking about Jesus or his birth the same as the gospel which concentrates on what he did at the cross, his death and resurrection.
This is the type of modern day soft spoken appeal that comes across the freindly pulpits. One must wonder if Warren purposely avoids the Biblical message or he just does not fully understand why it is necessary to preach it. Either way, the audience, the very ones he is trying to reach becomes the ones who lose out.
Application driven messages are in vogue today, but they lack any Biblical basis (theology), because of this inherent deficiency they do not make the impact that one would like to see. The reason is – Jesus said my word is light, not an illustration. Illustrations are the windows into that light but not the light itself. This kind of preaching can even diminish the power of the Scripture that may be contained throughout the sermon. Because it is not expository preaching but a human centered appeal.
Is everything Warren said wrong? No, in fact a good portion was right. But it is not what was said that is wrong but what was not presented, what is missing. If one thinks they are preaching a message people will be saved by- this misses the mark. The Good news- He died for your sin is not explained, sin is mentioned is barely mentioned in passing but not explained.
We are able to know if our preaching is on target by those that gain understanding from it to be fruitful, as described in Matthew 13:23 he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty”
Or will it be of the first soil (God only knows) Matthew 13:18-20 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.”
If we are looking to preachers like Warren to be examples we are not going forward or more in depth but slipping backward and becoming shallow. Let me give an human illustration – Anyone who learns how to swim eventually ventures out in to deeper and more wide open water, they do not stay where it is shallow where the children learn to swim. Learning the ABC’s may be necessary but one does not stay on that to grow and mature in the English language, and neither do they in their Christian faith.
That is why Paul admonished young Timothy to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2-3).
Can someone really understand the gospel when the one telling the message avoids explaining it. Does one really understand the power in the gospel that can give life, if they substitute the preaching of it with the promises that come from believing it.
Some may say- your splitting hairs. Let’s consider this carefully- is speaking about Jesus the same as giving examining our sinful condition to explain why he suffered on the cross so that He can take away our sins and give us life? If Jesus was born as the savior of the world would it not be important to mention what He came to save us from before you tell people all the benefits?
If this is what we can expect from the new influential leadership in the church we will continue to be anemic until we have no strength left and fade into history like a foggy day.
The gospel is about love- sacrifice- reconciliation- new life as Warren mentions, but having a message about love and new life only, certainly eliminates the most important facets that make it a gospel that saves. Here is what Paul says is the gospel he preached- 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,”
Paul says”I preached the gospel of God to you-2 Corinthians 11:7 (Acts 14:21)
In the end this is a mediocre message that is void of declaring the important points of the gospel that can save.