Happy 2016


Happy 2016

New years aren’t always easy. Sometimes we’re facing some unknown. Perhaps we lost someone we love and thinking about going forward without them is hard. Sometimes we have little to look forward to. Or so we think.

Many times we simply have put our eyes on the stuff around us. Like Peter stepping out in faith to walk across the water to Jesus, he looked around and started to sink. Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith seems like the best way to start a new year.

May each of you reading this be blessed by God’s abiding faithfulness. He does not grow weary and is never inattentive.

“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Lyrics by Thomas Obediah Chisholm (1866-1960)

Published in: on December 31, 2015 at 7:34 pm  Comments (3)  
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Church: How?


St._Paul's_Baptist_-_west_sideHow do we conduct church in the twenty-first century?

Above all, I think we should look to the Bible to show us what we are to do. Sadly, in western society, our church services are too often run as if they were a slick entertainment-style program. Everything is planned out ahead of time and fit into a slot, and horrors if someone should run over or go off script.

And yet, our former pastor said repeatedly that his sermon wasn’t entertainment, that we weren’t an audience sitting back and determining whether we’d been properly entertained. We were participants, he said, active agents in the process, not passive judges.

So which is it? A slick program or a vibrant interaction, believers with each other and with God?

I don’t think the Bible indicates anywhere that Christians assembling together should be a slick program. There isn’t support for such a notion in Scripture.

We are to do things orderly, but even in giving that admonition, the Apostle Paul left room for the spontaneous.

I am a teacher though, and spent the majority of my working life in a classroom. To be an effective teacher, a person needs to prepare, so the idea of just showing up and letting the Spirit move, which denominations like the Quakers once upon a time believed, doesn’t seem wise.

Perhaps, like so many other things, we’ve become so dependent upon our own abilities or ideas or inventions, we no longer see the wisdom in trusting God. Be that as it may, I don’t see churches going back to a “no pastor” system where they meet together and wait quietly for someone in their midst to receive a stirring of the Spirit and share what God has “laid on their heart.”

I can’t say that I’d want to return to that type of church service either. I believe we are to love God with all of our mind, as well as with all of our heart and all of our body. I see great value in learning from a teacher who has done his homework, who has studied and prepared.

Our interaction, then, is with the content the preacher presents. We should not be caught up in whether he’s told us a good joke or a touching story, whether he has a good video clip to support his point or includes information flashed on the screen via his PowerPoint.

None of those things is wrong, just like it’s not wrong to quote a passage from a novel or include a short drama. These are methods, they are not content. The method should not be The Thing.

What church needs to do is involve people. The assembling of ourselves together should be for edification—that is, “the instruction or improvement of a person morally or intellectually” (Oxford American Dictionary). Paul spent long hours instructing believers on his way from church to church. See for example Acts 20:7b—“Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.”

In that instance, of course, the young man Eutychus wasn’t as involved in the teaching as he should have been because he fell asleep. But the point here is, Paul wasn’t prepared with his thirty minute talk that he’d polished to a well-rehearsed shine. He was teaching what the people in Berea and Troas and Thessalonica and Colossae and Philippi needed to hear.

This instruction actually follows the model Jesus gave to his disciples after his resurrection. He spent chunks of time opening up Scripture to them about Himself.

The issue of the edification of believers becomes clear not only by example but by instruction. In one of his letters to the church in Corinth, Paul addressed the topic of using gifts in the church. He included what many today call the ecstatic gifts—prophesying, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, healing. Whether a Christian believes those gifts came to an end after the first century or where he believes they are on going, is immaterial for this discussion. The point here is what Paul says about preaching, or instructing the body of Christ:

For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Cor. 14:7-9)

The priority, in other words, was to be the people in the congregation learning from the teacher—whether that was instruction in the word of God or praise and thanks. None of it was to be a solo effort. All was to be done for the edification of the others.

Church also fulfilled other important functions, not the least of which was to provide communion—the remembrance of Christ’s death by the breaking of bread and drinking from the cup. Jesus had commanded His disciples before His crucifixion to “do this in remembrance” because our relationship with God the Father hinges on our relationship with the Son.

What He did at the cross is central to the Christian faith. Without an understanding of His death as an atonement for our sins, Christianity is an empty religion, not a means of rescue from the kingdom of darkness.

The Church is tasked to pass on from person to person and generation to generation the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection. This too, of course, is interactive, as is all of church—at least, as it played out in the first century.

No slick programs. Just preaching and taking communion, helping the needy and singing.

Yes, the church also took care of the poor in their midst. I don’t see them giving to the poor outside their fellowship. though perhaps they did, and undoubtedly individuals did. But the church itself set up a plan and a program to take care of the needy, particularly the needy widows who had no other means of survival.

In their day, they were at the mercy of others. There were no pensions or social security, and an elderly woman without a husband had no means to provide for herself. God in His great love for the least directed the church to care for them.

Another “how did they do church”—they sang. I’ll need to elaborate on singing in the church another day because it’s become a much more complex issue than . . . well, I suspect than any in the first 1900 years of the church ever dreamed it would be.

Suffice it to say, that first and foremost the church is to edify believers. That’s pretty much a non-negotiable.

Published in: on December 30, 2015 at 6:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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Church: What And Why?


St-Damase-Eglise_churchMy church is in transition, which is a nice way to say, we are foundering. We are a church that had, for fifty years, been known for the teaching of the word of God. We conducted what would be considered a traditional worship service. We prayed, read Scripture, passed the offering plate, sang—some hymns, some choruses, some contemporary songs—but mostly we listened to expository preaching.

From the instruction of God’s word, we slowly began to reach out. As long as I’ve been at that church, we’ve been actively supporting missionaries, but we also began to involve ourselves more directly with the community. We do various things for the homeless. We’ve started a tutoring program in a nearby school which ended up leading to a church plant. We’ve had a prison ministry and involvement with international students at a local university. We have participated in programs for unwed mothers and have a vibrant ministry for the disabled.

In short, God’s word faithfully preached has spilled out of the church building and become active, alive.

Some years ago, however, a new “movement” started in America, a type of push back against the traditional Church. As so often happens, the movement itself faded from prominence, but some of the ideas remained and even began to be incorporated within churches at large, our own included.

Meanwhile, there was the megachurch phenomenon that offered another model for churches to follow, and suddenly “church” in America seems to be more about style and keeping up with the Joneses than it is about doing what the Bible sets down for people who believe in Jesus should do.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the subject. First, what is the Church? It’s not an institution set up by humankind, though we operated as if it were. We choose leaders and have boards (or teams) pay bills and build buildings and hire people and act in many ways like a business put together by a group of people.

In fact, the Church is the body of Christ, who is our head. The Church is Christ’s bride. The Church is the family of God. All these metaphors portray the close relationship the Church has to God. He is the leader, we are His servants, His functionaries, His intimate partner.

But that’s the Church, not a church. A local church is part of that Body, part of that Church universal.

The local church exists as an arm (or a hand or a foot or a liver) of the Church universal, though many denominations make up that Body. And believers as we assemble ourselves together, in obedience to Scripture, are unique parts of the local body—the fingers, the toes, the nose.

Our coming together is an act of obedience, but it is also an act of need. It is in church that we both receive and give. We receive encouragement and instruction in the word of God so that we can go out into the world and serve. We also give according to the giftedness God has equipped us with, so that the entire body grows. Those who are equipped to teach, do that. Those who serve, find places where they can serve in the church, and so on.

But God set this all up, not people.

Our challenge today is to ignore the whims of society and the cool new trends in order to be what God intends the Church to be. I don’t think a church should lose sight of what the Church is supposed to be and do.

If the local church doesn’t equip the saints to be people who live out the word of God, where else will believers receive such instruction? From Scripture, true. But I don’t know about other people, I first heard I was should regularly read God’s word from someone in church.

Churches aren’t perfect—that should be a given since they are made up of sinful people, redeemed though we are. Nevertheless, they serve as the gathering place for believers. This false teaching that has been introduced about “seeker friendly” churches needs to be held up to the light of Scripture.

Clearly no one should be turned away from church. Everyone is welcome. But churches don’t exist to evangelize. They exist, or ought to, in order to equip believers. If nonbelievers want to come and learn what believers are learning, it’s possible God will use His word to open the eyes of their heart. Praise God if that happens.

But the purpose of church is preparation for those who already believe. It’s not up to the “professional class of ministers” to give the gospel to “seekers.” It’s up to our teachers to prepare us to serve God day in and day out. We who believe need to go out into the world and share Christ, love our neighbor, love our enemy, do good to those in our world. Church prepares us to do what we’ve been called to do. Or it should.

Published in: on December 29, 2015 at 7:06 pm  Comments (5)  
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Christmas And Our Culture: A Reprise


I wrote the following article four years ago. I don’t think the changes in our society have done anything to change the illustration I used or the point I made. Rather, what has happened in the US and western society in general in the four years, sort of prove the truth that’s there.

One of the latest “firestorms” that you may have heard about centers around something that happened at Wheaton College, a Christian institution in Illinois and, as it happens, the “sister school” of my alma mater, Westmont College.

A recent e-newsletter from RZIM (apologist Ravi Zacharias’s ministry) summarized the situation:

On December 15, 2015, Wheaton College, a flagship of evangelical educational institutions, placed one of its professors on administrative leave for “theological statements that seemed inconsistent with [their] doctrinal convictions.” Five days prior, donning a hijab and staking her position on a variety of controversial matters, Larycia Hawkins had stated on Facebook, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” (“Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?” by Nabeel Qureshi)

The controversy has begun.

In light of this topic, the racial unrest in parts of the country, the reaction to Syrian refugees coming to the US and Europe, lawsuits and legal moves connected with the liberal direction the current Presidential administration has guided the US toward, this article seems more relevant than ever. So, without further introduction, the reprise.

– – – – – –

Should Christians be dismayed at the way our culture treats Christmas? For example, when the high school down the block from my place was about to let out for vacation, they held a party. The music playing over the school loud speakers, which would suggest it was sanctioned by the administration, wasn’t related to Christmas in any way, let alone focused on or pointing to Christ.

Of course there’s the whole “Happy Holidays” thing—a catch-all phrase that used to mean Christmas and New Year but in many people’s minds now encompasses Hanukkah and Kwanzaa (an entirely made up holiday, not related to any African commemoration of any thing). And we’re all aware that “religious expression,” including nativity scenes, has been curtailed in many public places funded by public moneys because of the new interpretation of “separation of church and state.”

Are these fires Christians should be rushing around to put out?

As I wrote that last line, I couldn’t help but think about a devastating fire here in Southern California a few years ago. Unlike many of the fires we contend with, this one started in an urban center and the chief fuel was people’s homes. The thing was, it could not be contained because embers — not nice little ones as you see coming up from a camp fire, but huge chunks of burning matter — driven by hurricane-force winds, ignited new hot spots miles apart. Essentially the fire department looked like a dog chasing its tail, only less organized. There was no way to get ahead of the fire line for the simple reason that there was no fire line. There was a massive outbreak of fire all over. It was devastating and terrifying.

So I ask again, should we Christians play the part of the over-matched firefighters and chase each new outburst, trying to contain the damage and minimize the spread of the flames? Or is there a better way for us to handle this cultural collapse — because that’s exactly what we’re seeing.

The older generation—the baby boomers—were raised in a religious environment. Characters on TV dramas and comedies prayed, for example, and this was normal. Their children grew up in religious ignorance. Today’s children are growing up in an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile to Christianity and some Christian values.

Do we try to fix the culture? Make it less hostile? Force it to accommodate our values as well as the ones in opposition?

Sadly, or perhaps happily, we’re losing the culture wars as surely as those firefighters years ago were losing the battle against the wind-whipped fire.

The thing about fire—it purges, purifies, refines. Could it be that the religious trappings of our culture that made us look Christian-y on the outside, needed to burn up so we could see what is at the heart of people, even people in a Christian nation?

Now true believers in Jesus Christ have a much clearer choice. Do we play the part of firemen, running hither and thither, to stop the spreading flames? Or do we evacuate to our safe corner of the world, stick our fingers in our ears and close our eyes?

Or do we get on our knees and start praying for a change in the wind? Do we set up rescue centers to help those who are losing everything? And do we think long-term about setting up wind breaks that will prevent future firestorms?

So I wonder, what would happen if a group of Christians started praying weekly for our culture—not that we could have more manger scenes or the Ten Commandments would be allowed to return to public land or even that the Marriage Act might finally become law. Instead, what if we prayed for two people to come to faith in Jesus Christ in the year 2012? Just two (knowing that God does far more than we ask or think 😉 ) for starters. I mean, sometimes we don’t begin a project because it seems too overwhelming. We don’t feel we can pray for God to save everyone in Los Angeles, so we pray for revival—a good request and nebulous enough so that we have no idea if He is answering our prayer. Why not start with something we believe is reasonable, and if we pray for two specific people we know, something we can actually see God answer.

Paul told the people in Colossae to devote themselves to prayer, and in so doing to pray for him and Timothy too so that God would open up for them a door for the Word. And at the time, Paul was in prison.

He didn’t see his cultural situation as the problem (and pray for me that I get out of prison). Instead what he wanted was opportunity to speak forth the mystery of Christ, making “it clear in the way [he] ought to speak.”

Perhaps we should start by devoting ourselves to prayer.

Published in: on December 28, 2015 at 5:25 pm  Comments (4)  
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Merry Christmas


holly-641601-m

Today we celebrate Christ Jesus, God’s Son, coming into the world as a man. The story of Christmas is part of the story of Easter, encapsulated in this passage from Phil. 2:

Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (vv 5b-8)

God’s grace, love, and forgiveness be yours.

Published in: on December 25, 2015 at 12:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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‘Twas The Night Before Christmas


Christmas_Mary_and_Baby_Jesus011It was the night before Christmas, and Mary’s back hurt worse than at any time since she got pregnant. She felt as big as a house, and tired. Oh, so tired. The trip from Nazareth had been long and hard, and then when they finally got to Bethlehem, they couldn’t find a place to stay.

All their relatives had given their guest quarters to others. The only place available was with the animals. It gave them some protection from the elements, at least, but sleeping on the hard floor wasn’t going to help her sore back any.

But then her baby kicked. This little miracle who she was to name Jesus. He would come into this world and become know as Immanuel—God with us, or so the angel had said.

Angel. She could hardly believe an angel had actually talked to her, told her she had found favor with God, that she’d get pregnant without having intimate relations with a man, that her baby would be called the Son of God and would take the throne of David and reign forever. Forever?

The amazing thing was, her betrothed also had an encounter with an angel. She didn’t find out until she got back from visiting her cousin Elizabeth. She’d dreaded talking with Joseph. How could she explain about being pregnant? She saw how people looked at her, heard the whispers. Her own family argued about what would become of her. They knew Joseph, being an honorable man, would not want anything to do with her now.

But he did. Later he told her he’d made up his mind to divorce her quietly. He was so kind. Though he thought her unfaithful, he still wanted to spare her as much public humiliation as possible. But before he could act on his decision, an angel came to him in a dream, he said. Everything he learned verified everything Mary had heard from her angel.

Gabriel, his name was. Joseph didn’t remember his angel’s name or even if he’d given a name. He didn’t need to because there was no question he was from God and the message was God’s. Everything he said pointed to the fact that her son, the son she and Joseph would raise together, would be special. How could he not be?

And here he was, kicking inside her. It was all so scary. The angel had told her not to be afraid, but he’d been talking about a different kind of fear than what she was feeling now. How could she be a mother? She didn’t have her own mother or Elizabeth or any of the women in Nazareth to go to for help. Who could she talk to when she had to nurse her son for the first time or when he got sick or woke crying in the middle of the night? How was she to know what to do?

Then there was the actual birth. It couldn’t be long now. She’d be so glad to have this baby out. Except she knew enough about births to know she was in for hours of pain. Most likely. In all her fourteen years, she’d only heard of one birth when the baby came quickly. Most of the mothers were in agony for hours, crying out against the pain over and over. And some of the babies didn’t survive the ordeal. Some of the mothers didn’t either.

But her baby would make it, that she knew. He had a destiny, foretold by angels. Jesus. What kind of a boy would he be? What kind of a man would he become? How could he who would grow up as a carpenter’s son become a ruler of his people? Yes, he was of the ancestral line of the kings, physically through her and legally through Joseph. But no king had ruled over Israel for, what, hundreds of years. Why would anyone think her son would be any different from the many other descendants of King David?

Would he have to fight to take his rightful place? Would he be a brilliant orator and win the people to him? Maybe he’d be like Moses and show the people signs to convince them that he was of God—the son of God—so that they would follow him.

Maybe . . . but now more than her back hurt. These pains . . . weren’t just from Jesus kicking . . . She needed to talk to a midwife. Could Joseph find one in this city? If not, he’d have to help her. She couldn’t do this alone. What could she use to put around her baby’s little body? Where would she put him? Someplace where she’d know he was safe when she slept. And, oh, she needed to sleep.

But this pain . . . should she wake Joseph and send him to look for a midwife? She should have thought of that when they first arrived, but they’d been so focused on finding a place to stay. Another . . . pain. Stronger. Harder. Was this what labor felt like? Was Jesus on his way?

Published in: on December 24, 2015 at 6:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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Wise Men And The Seeking Thing


Christmas_The_Wise_Men014“Wise men still seek Him,” the signs say. I saw one just last night as a friend and I cruised through a community lavishly decorated with lights and Santas and candy canes and an occasional nativity scene. Years past when I was a teacher, I even had those words as the title of a Christmas bulletin board in my classroom.

The phrase, layered with meaning as it is, sounds sort of profound. And Christ centered.

But here’s the thing. In my experience, it doesn’t seem like we seek God so much as God seeks us.

First, God isn’t hiding. He has purposefully and dramatically made Himself known. That’s what the first Christmas and the ensuing thirty-tree years were all about. Jesus came to show humankind the Father.

Secondly, people seem to be more interested in dodging and ducking and hiding from God than in seeking Him. Of course many flat out deny and reject Him. C. S. Lewis wrote of his reluctance, his fight, actually, against God. He called Him his adversary once and wrote this of his conversion:

That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. (Surprised by Joy)

It seems to me, the people who fall into the category of “seeker” are more apt to be hiders, ducking behind the quest for the spiritual in order to avoid God and His claim on their lives. Scripture says clearly that anyone who truly seeks, finds.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (Matt. 7:7-11)

Consequently, it seems to me the seeking process isn’t some protracted, drawn out, involved study of world religions or long nights of deep meditation. Those kinds of things are hiding tactics, more likely to obfuscate than to reveal. God has told us what we need to do to find Him: look at His Son Jesus.

Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

So there’s Christmas in a nutshell. When we look at Jesus come down from Heaven, we are seeing the Father: His love for the lost, His sacrificial heart, His generosity, His mercy and grace, His forgiveness, His humility, His desire for reconciliation and peace, His goodness.

Do wise men seek Him today as they once did over two thousand years ago? Those ancient magi thought they were going to find the King of the Jews, and they did. But they also found the Creator of the world, the Redeemer of Mankind, the Friend of sinners.

Whoever seeks Jesus on those terms is bound to find Him.

Published in: on December 23, 2015 at 5:43 pm  Comments (1)  
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God’s Great Christmas Gift


Nativity_Scenes004My guess is that nine out of ten Christians would identify God’s great Christmas gift as His only Son, Jesus Christ. That’s not a wrong answer. After all, the Bible spells it out in John 3:16—“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .”

The thing is, God’s gift of Jesus was a means to an end, and it is this end that I think is the true Great Christmas Gift which God gave. The end I’m speaking of is reconciliation with God provided by God’s great grace which caused Him to send Jesus, to sacrifice Jesus, to accept Jesus and His death as payment for the insurmountable debt we owe because of our sin.

In that regard, I can hardly write about Christmas without also writing about Christ’s death and resurrection. His coming was not the end of the story. It wasn’t even the beginning of it since God Himself foreshadowed Jesus’s role in setting to rights the devastation sin introduced into the world:

“And I will put enmity
Between you [Satan, in the guise of the serpent] and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

God followed that first hint with promises and prophecies and types—people and sacrifices symbolizing the savior role. At the time of Jesus’s birth, then, the people of Israel—those who were faithful—were watching and waiting expectantly for Messiah.

I suspect John the Baptist’s dad, Zacharias, had been praying for the coming Messiah. An angel of the Lord appeared to him and began his message by saying, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard” (Luke 1:13b). He went on to explain that his wife would give birth to a son who would be the forerunner of the Messiah.

Many think Zacharias’s petition was for a son, but his response to the angel makes me think he was actually praying for the Messiah to come. The part about having a son, he doubted: “I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years” (Luke 1:18b). Why would he pray for something he didn’t think could happen? More reasonable, I believe, is to understand his petition, and the answer Gabriel was announcing, to be for the coming of the promised Savior.

Without a doubt the prophet Simeon had been waiting for the Messiah and had apparently received God’s promise that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Christ with his own eyes:

“Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES,
And the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

So the first Christmas, the day we remember and celebrate as God come down in human form, is actually the middle of the story, the second book of the trilogy. Everything we identify as “because of Jesus” actually had its inception before the beginning of time. God purposed to save the lost by the means of the Incarnate Christ taking on the sins of the world.

Why?

Because of His love and grace. Jesus come down from the throne of glory is the tangible representation of that love and grace.

It’s sort of like parents giving their kids a Glo Wubble Ball or a Legos Jet or a Video WalkieTalkie or an art case or a knitting studio for Christmas—they give those gifts as an expression of their love.

God’s gift of Jesus, of course, was more than an expression of love because He was also the means of His grace.

Our relationship with God was irrevocably altered by sin. We could no longer enjoy God’s presence and friendship as before. Sin was and is this contagion that prevents fellowship with Holiness.

As many non-Christians will tell you, they don’t even want to be around so much “goodness.” They think an eternity with God—and without their favorite sinful behaviors—is abhorrent.

God in His grace knew what we needed. Even though many will deny they’re lost and disdain the idea of salvation, God knows what awaits us and what will satisfy the deepest longings of our heart.

He has communicated His love through so many means. He demonstrated His love and grace through Noah who spent a hundred years preaching and building the ark that would save him and his family. That no one else responded is a human tragedy—one that could have been prevented if those people had only believed.

God made a covenant with Abraham and promised to bless the world through his “seed,” his Descendant. God provided a way of escape from slavery for the whole nation of Israel. He raised up judge after judge to free the people from oppression brought on by their disobedience to Him. He established kings and inspired prophets, all because of His love and grace.

God wants to be know, He wants us to know Him, He wants us to be in relationship with Him. That’s the end, the real gift: God Himself. His love and grace are gifts; Jesus is the great gift the first two initiated. But the real gift God wants us to have is the restoration of that friendship, that “knowing as we are also known” intimacy with God which sin interrupted. He wants us to be as we were intended to be—with ultimate and everlasting purpose and security and closeness to our Creator and Redeemer.

Jesus came as a gift, yes. But He is a gift given because of the gift of love and grace; and He is the gift by which we may enjoy the end-game gift: God Himself.

Published in: on December 22, 2015 at 5:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Christmas Spirit


Christmas treesChristmas is a cherished holiday with any number of traditions. Consequently, the “Christmas spirit” has been fashioned out of the best of the season. In fact, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, his well-loved story about this season, takes to task those who disparage the qualities we most associate with the Christmas spirit—generosity, love, and joy.

Noticeably missing is fear. Odd, since fear played a great part in the first Christmas. Joseph was afraid to go through with his planned marriage because Mary turned up pregnant. He and she both were afraid, at separate times, when an angel visited them. So were the shepherds. Joseph again, having moved his new family to Egypt to keep Herod from killing their baby, was afraid to move back to Judea.

In other words, the first Christmas wasn’t about the warm and fuzzy, the beautiful lights and winter-scene cards or a warm fire with stockings all hung by the chimney with care. In fact, no presents showed up that first night. Some gawking strangers smelling like sheep did, parroting something about good tidings of great joy. All Mary could do was to file their words away to think about later. After all, she had a baby to feed—her first born, and what did she know about being a mother? Might she have been just a little fearful?

Appropriate to this topic are words Jonathan Rogers quoted in his blog some years ago:

I love Andrew Peterson’s song “Labor of Love,” sung like an angel by Jill Phillips on Behold the Lamb of God, my favorite Christmas album ever. Here’s the first stanza and chorus:

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David’s town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother’s hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love.

But not without fear.

In fact, fear followed Jesus throughout His life. He provided a miraculous catch of fish for Peter and he was afraid. He healed the guy who couldn’t walk, and the whole group of witnesses were afraid. He walked on water and His disciples were afraid. He raised a young man from the dead and the whole crowd was afraid. He kicked out the demons from a possessed man, and everyone in the entire district was afraid.

Actually Jesus seemed to validate their fear. At one point He said, “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5). As it turns out, Jesus is that One.

Yes, He is the Judge. Granted, His first appearance as a baby wasn’t to bring judgment. That will come when He returns. Isaiah says the government is on His shoulders. In Revelation it is the Lamb Himself who breaks the seals issuing in the final judgment of the world.

What’s my point. Only that the true Christmas spirit should include reverence. Love, sure. Generosity, joy, gladness, definitely. But worship—the bowing down part of Christmas—shouldn’t be neglected. The events surrounding Jesus’s birth created awe in those who witnessed them. In the same way, I’d do well to look with awe on our Savior. After all, fear is part of the Christmas spirit.

Published in: on December 21, 2015 at 6:46 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Lesson Of Christmas – Love Shares


Christmasnativity

This video performed by Kristyn Getty says it all. Enjoy.

Published in: on December 18, 2015 at 6:21 pm  Comments (21)  
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