Nicholas the Generous

stnicholasicon-1When it comes to church history, the average church member is unfamiliar with many of the individuals God has used to shape His people throughout time. There is one ancient Pastor, however, that is spoken of frequently in christian homes. The legend behind Santa Claus is the fourth century Bishop Nicholas of Myra.

Nicholas was born March 15, 270 AD to a Greek Family in Patara, a village in what is now Turkey. He became the Bishop of Myra in Lycia. Incidentally, both Patara and Myra were visited by Paul during his missionary journeys.

Although he was born into a wealthy family, Nicholas lost his parents to a plague when he was a young child. During a trip to Jerusalem, Nicholas was converted and ultimately leveraged his inherited wealth on behalf of the poor children of his homeland.

According to one source, “He was known to frequently give gifts to children, sometimes even hanging socks filled with treats and gifts. Perhaps his most famous act of kindness was helping three sisters. Because their family was too poor to pay for their wedding dowry, three young Christian women were facing a life of prostitution until Nicholas paid their dowry, thereby saving them from a horrible life of sexual slavery.”

Nicholas lived during days of great persecution for Christians. Roman Emperor Diocletian, who reigned from 284–305, hated Christians and filled the Roman jails with them. Since Bishop Nicholas served during one of the great persecutions of the church, much of his adult life he was in jail, where he frequently faced routine beatings. But then something unforeseen happened once Constantine became emperor which has proven to be a pivotal moment in church history.

On Oct. 28, 312 at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, the Roman Emperor Constantine was battling to become the soul ruler ofraphael1 the Roman Empire. According to historians, at a decisive point in the battle, Constantine looked up to the sun and saw a cross of light above it, and with it the words “by this, win!”, Constantine commanded his troops to adorn their shields with a Christian symbol, and thereafter they were victorious.

At the Edict of Milan, Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire. Later in the Edict of Thessalonica, Christianity became the official state religion. From that point on, the Church was less influenced by Jerusalem and Judaism and it now fell under the influence of Rome and its pagan religion.

Constantine sought to establish unity of faith and practice throughout the new “state” church. The First Ecumenical Council was held in 325 at the summer home of Constantine in the city of Nicaea. It is said that there was hardly a man in the room that didn’t have the scars of persecution.

Hundreds of Bishops gathered there to refute the false views of Arius, a presbyter from Alexandria. Arius denied Christ’s deity. Among the Bishops gathered for the Nicene Council was Nicholas of Myra. He was among those in favor of affirming the Deity of Christ.

The Original Nicene Creed of 325 AD (popular version) 

nicene-creed-1We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth]; Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; He suffered, and the third day he rose again ascended into heaven; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost.

At one point while Arius was addressing the council, Nicholas’s rage got the better of him. According to some of his biographers, Nicholas stood up, crossed the floor to Arius, and promptly punched him in the face. Maybe Santa wasn’t always so Jolly?

The Legend- 

Because he Pastored in a seaport he became most popular among the Greek and Italian Sailors. He was their Bishop or Pastor. Keep in mind that most of these sailors had worshiped the Pagan Roman and Greek gods — so they were accustomed to praying to Poseidon prior to conversion. It was very common for converted Christians to replace their pagan traditions with Christian substitutes. Nicholas became the replacement for Poseidon and a type of Patron Saint for Sailors.

The year of Bishop Nicholas’s death is uncertain, but the month is firmly believed to be December. As the story of his generosity spread, the stories of his life grew and grew. He was becoming legendary. In the sixth century, a church was dedicated to him and named for him in Constantinople. His image was depicted more in the Middle Ages than any other except those of Christ and of Mary.

In the late 1100s the Catholic Church began to officially recognize Sainthood. It was after this that Nicholas was officially declared a Saint. December 6th became the day when the Catholic Church celebrated St. Nicholas. It really had nothing to do with the birth of Christ, but rather a celebration of this man, St. Nicolas the Bishop of Myra.

December 6th was a kid’s favorite holiday. That is when parents would hide toys in the kids wooden shoes if they were Dutch and in their Stockings in Germany. They got candy, it was great and very popular.

To reflect that legend, images of him carrying bags bulging with gold coins began to appear. As this legend moved northward, the story takes an even more interesting turn. In Germany, the tradition arose of giving gifts to each other in the name of St. Nicholas. This also became a tradition in the Netherlands.

The Dutch word for St. Nicholas became Sinterklaas. The German word eventually became Santa Claus. 

These celebrations of gift-giving occurred on December 6, the anniversary of his death. The gift of a gold coin was highly prized and showed great favor.

In the midst of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther wanted a Protestant alternative to the Roman Catholic practice of celebrating the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Instead of giving gifts in the name of Santa Claus on December 6, Luther started the tradition of giving gifts in the name of the Christ child, Christkindl, on Christmas Eve.

The word Luther coined, Christkindl, also evolved over the centuries. It would become Santa Claus’ other name, Kris Kringle. This effort of Luther’s to move away from the Santa Claus tradition inadvertently veered right toward it.puritanchristmasban

As the Reformation continued to mature, St. Nicholas fell out of favor with Protestants, who did not approve of canonizing certain people as saints and venerating them with holidays. Yet, over the next few hundred years, the people’s desire to celebrate St. Nicholas didn’t go away. The protestant church was divided on whether or not to celebrate Christmas.

As a result, the Puritans in America began to combine St. Nicholas Day and Christmas, but they would often celebrate on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day.

Preaching to Men

Jesus became a man.  He called and discipled men. As a matter of fact, under his influence some of those men went from being weak, self-centered individuals to strong, courageous world changers. Why then do so many modern churches have a noticeable gender gap of 60% or more in favor of women? There are many factors that contribute to this and all are worthy of examination. (For more information listen to “The Art of Manliness Podcast, Episode #253.) In this post, however, I want to address the role of the sermon in reaching men.

Let me be clear – women have played a vital role in the history of the church. Christianity honored and lifted women to positions of prominence that were unknown in first century Judaism. This article isn’t meant to define the roles of men and women. (My position on the role of men and women is articulated well here.

I do want to mention a few things worthy of consideration if we are to reach and disciple more men for Christ. As I see it, there are at least seven areas that we need to consider when attempting to disciple men from the pulpit.

      1. Illustrations – Jesus employed illustrations that resonated with both men and women. He talked of the kingdom in terms of marriage, but he also talked of it in terms of farming and fishing.I challenge you to look through your illustrations and evaluate them. How many were more appealing to women than men? I often think to myself, “If William Wallace (of Braveheart) were in my congregation would this sermon move him?”.
      2. Attire – Some preachers seem to think more about their hairstyle than they do the content of the sermon; many men find that problematic. Men are accustomed to looking to coaches for direction, not pop stars. Spend less time in the salon and more time in the woods if you want to resonate with guys.

         

      3. Emphasis – When you approach a text, what angle do you typically emphasize? For example, when preaching on “Peace with God” take advantage of a marvelous opportunity to talk about how we were at war with God. Show the men that God doesn’t loose wars. Present Jesus as a Warrior, Prophet, Priest and King worthy of their worship.


      4. Challenge – It resonates deeply with a man when an accomplished brother challenges him. Let him know that you expect a lot of out of him and so does God.
      5. Tribe – Men are tribal by nature. That is why fitness tribes like Cross-Fit have resonated so deeply with men. Consider swapping your terminology from emphasizing “community” or “family” and talk more about your “tribe”.
      6. Content – The way to a man’s heart is through his mind. At all costs we must avoid serving a regular diet of “chicken soup for the christian soul”. If men are to be resurrected as godly leaders of the church, home and nation – they must be men who think deeply.
      7. Example – Men want Pastors they can personally respect – therefore, it is essential that the Pastor embody the message he delivers. That doesn’t mean sinless perfection – but it does mean transparency about your struggles and a legit attempt to live for Christ.

These are some of the things that resonate with me as a man – what sort of things would you add to the list?

Types of Preaching

How a Pastor Should Approach a Text

chuck-in-pulpit-440x300-copyI came to Christ in the mid 90’s through the influence of several radio ministries. I had arrived early on my first day of college and had nothing to do so I began to browse the stations.  I “accidentally” came across WBTG, the local Gospel music station. Between the hours of 8:00AM and 11:30AM they would broadcast various Bible teachers from around the country. Men like Adrian Rogers, Chuck Swindoll, and J. Vernon McGee not only shared the Gospel, but they discipled me for the first few years of my Christian journey. It occurred to me at some point that not only had they taught me the Bible, but they taught me how to approach the Bible.

These men were teaching me theology, exegesis, and hermeneutics by faithfully expounding the text of Scripture.

Most people do not have a plethora of sound Bible teachers speaking into their lives.  They hear one man preaching the word once or twice a week. That one man exerts great influence over how his listeners will approach God’s Word.

Here are a few common ways preachers approach the text and the corresponding dangers:

  • Book Report – This is the man who is reading one of the latest best selling business or self help books. He has found the content helpful and he really wants to teach it to his congregation so he seeks a Bible verse that says, in some measure, what the book said. Over time people begin to assume that the real words of life are found in the latest best seller and they go there for wisdom rather than the pages of Scripture.
  • Proof Texting – This is when a person comes up with an idea that they want to communicate and then seek out a variety of verses to “prove” their thought. Not only is this, at times, dangerous because it assumes infallibility on the part of the preacher, but it teaches the congregation to think the same way. They begin to go to God’s Word to prove their current line of thought rather than allowing it to shape their thinking.
  • Micro Exposition – This is when a preacher seeks to mine out every potential thought that is in a text of Scripture. This approach is favored by those who are accomplished academically. Typically, it is accompanied with a very high view of scripture. The danger to this approach is that it looses the overall message of text and forces the preacher into doing more systematic theology than truly conveying the message of the text.

    I’ve heard of one man who spent multiple sermons on John 3:16. He preached one sermon on God, another on love, another on giving… you get the idea. Each sermon was true and accurate; however, it lost the essence of the conversation Jesus was having with Nicodemus. There is a benefit to teaching systematic theology, but if it is the regular diet of the pulpit, the people will begin to approach the text as a springboard to some theology textbook rather than a superior text in itself. Beware to taking many, many years to exposit what was meant to be read in a single setting.

  • I believe that the healthiest way to approach the text as a normal diet of preaching is what I call Macro Exposition. It typically tries to break a book of the Bible down into a logical series of thoughts that build to a single point. It honors the argument of the human author so that a successful sermon seeks to convey the same thoughts conveyed by the human author rather than something that would seem strange or unintended by them.

    It will prefer larger steps through the text – large enough to cover a complete line of reasoning of a particular book. One of the dangers to this approach is that it may not be possible to speak fully to every word of every verse.

    This allows the preacher to honor the immediate context of a particular passage and it also allows him to easily zoom out and catch the context of the Bible as a whole. Since he is focused on a single large thought, it is much easier for him to ground that thought in the meta-narrative of Scripture.

Preachers need to be have a variety of “styles” that they are able to employ; however, Macro Exposition as a regular diet is both healthy and replicable for the average church member.