By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone


A significant anniversary for Christians is approaching. On October 31, five hundred and two years ago, the grace of God once again took its rightful, prominent place in Christianity. Consequently, I’m re-posting this article from three years ago, with revisions, in commemoration of what God has done.

Part of my growing up included a spiritual education, so I learned early on that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. I understood that I could not do enough good things to make up for the bad. And I understood that no one could help me because they had their own sin problem. No one, except Jesus. His being the only sinless person who ever lived, qualified Him to be the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world for those who believed.

So nothing I did or could do would merit me to be acceptable to God. Only Jesus, standing in my place, taking the punishment I deserved, solved my sin issue.

Because I understood the basics of salvation at an early age, I have never grasped what it would be like to live any other way.

I’ve heard Jews and Catholics and Greek Orthodox joke in a knowing way about the guilt instilled in them by their religion, or more specifically, by someone who was holding them to a strict adherence to their religion—a parent, a priest, a teacher. I’ve also heard people refer to Christians as bound by guilt.

That thought seems odd to me. I don’t recall a time in my life when I’ve felt guilt-driven.

So I’ve been spoiled because I’ve believed from my youth that I’m forgiven because of God’s grace.

Christians haven’t always had this understanding. There was a period of time when grace took a back seat to doing good works, as the Church defined them. No doubt some people who were saved, gained that right standing with God because of His grace, but they were perhaps less aware of His free gift.

All that changed when Martin Luther went public with the results of his own doubts, questions, and struggles to understand God. On October 31, 1517, Luther sent a paper he’d written to his bishop: “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” This document became known simply as the Ninety-five Theses. Whether Luther ever attached a copy of the document to the door of the church at Wittenberg is a matter of contention, as was the document itself, when it first appeared.

But from the thoughts, question, and issues Luther looked at, grew the bedrock of Protestantism and a reformation (though more slowly, it would seem) of the Catholic Church, which is what he intended. Luther challenged the practice of selling indulgences, by which the priests grew richer because of the desire of the poor to do what they could to insure the salvation of their loved ones.

Luther contended that salvation depended on God, not on humans:

The most important [truth of Christianity] for Luther was the doctrine of justification—God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous—by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah. “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.” (see “Theology of Martin Luther,” Wikipedia)

Luther had much Scripture to support his position, not the least of which is Ephesians 2:8-9—“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The work is God’s, Luther proclaimed. A worker giving his copper to the church would not save the soul of his dead brother.

When I was growing up, I’d never heard of indulgences or even doing something to help a dead person reach heaven. The works I knew about were the kinds of things people did to make themselves acceptable to God. And these works included good things: going to church, reading the Bible, giving money to the poor, going on a short term mission trip, and so on. Good things.

But just like Paul’s list of good Jewish things recorded in Philippians, this Christian list of good things amounts to rubbish if its considered the means to a relationship with God. Paul’s birth status, circumcision, religious affiliation, and even his personal righteousness, were nothing in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3).

Essentially Martin Luther discovered and proclaimed what Paul had learned through his own quest. The two men were similar. They both wanted to please God, and they both went about it by trying to be good enough for Him based on the good things they did. Both eventually realized that there weren’t enough good things in the entire earth to make them good enough, but that God had given right standing with Himself as a free gift through Christ Jesus.

That’s grace.

Nothing earned here.

A free gift.

Undeserved.

I know that rankles American minds—perhaps the minds of others, too. But in this culture today we have two competing philosophies—an independent, “earn your own way” mentality, and an entitlement, “you deserve it” belief. God’s free gift is an affront to both of those positions. We humans don’t get to take credit for salvation, no matter how you look at it. We didn’t earn it, and we aren’t so wonderful that it ought to have been handed to us based on our incredible merit.

Luther did the hard work of sussing out from Scripture this truth, and I’m incredibly grateful.

Thanks be to God for His free gift of salvation, and thanks be to Him for teaching this truth to Martin Luther so that he could make it widely known.

So, Fishing It Is, Then


Peter015You’d think that after the resurrection, once Peter and the other disciples really grasped the fact that Jesus was alive, they’d be ecstatic. Coronation plans back on. Messiah, about to plant His kingdom. Disciples, next in the chain of command.

Except, apparently the crucifixion had done a number on their thinking. Maybe the fact that Jesus had not stood up against the Romans but actually, in His dying hours, called on God to forgive them—maybe that fact upended their old plans. This rule of Messiah, if it was even going to be a rule, would have to be different from what they expected.

And if truth be told, Jesus was different from what they expected. I guess death and resurrection can make a person change like that.

Apparently at some point, Peter said he’d had enough. He’d done the evangelist/healer thing, and it hadn’t worked out. Not the way he wanted. So it was time to get back to what he knew best—fishing.

Since he apparently had some natural leadership ability tucked inside him, the other disciples did a “yeah, me too,” and off they all headed for the boats. Except the great return to fishing didn’t go so well, at least at first.

The disciples spent all that first night fishing and caught nothing.

I can imagine what Peter was thinking:

Wouldn’t you know it? First the Great Teacher I followed as the promised Messiah—the Son of God—gets arrested, and instead of defending Him, I deny I know Him. Not once, but three times! Which maybe kept me alive that night, though I’d told Him I was willing to die for Him. Instead I stood helplessly by and watched the Romans execute Him. Their governor said He wasn’t guilty of any crime, but they killed Him anyway.

For three days I couldn’t think of anything except my awful words. I didn’t know what to do, how to go on, because my purpose in life no longer existed.

When the women came back from the tombs with a crazy story about the rock rolled to the side, men in white, grave clothes in place, and no body, that Jesus is alive, I thought they were nuts.

John and I went to check out their story. Sure enough, just like they told us—no body. None of it made sense.

Until that day Jesus stood in front of us. He didn’t knock or open the door and walk into the room. He was just there. I couldn’t believe my own eyes, but it was Him. He had the nail-print scars from His crucifixion, and . . . He knew Scripture. Like old, He started teaching what the Law and the Prophets actually said about Him. Not what people thought the Scriptures said, but what they actually said and meant.

For a few days, I thought things would be like they had been before—except, I could hardly look Him in the face. I’d let Him down. After I’d claimed I’d follow to death, I’d sworn I didn’t know Him.

But now Jesus was back. Except, not like before. He pretty much came and went in a blink of an eye, when and wherever He chose. No following Him now.

I couldn’t hang around doing nothing, so fishing seemed like a good idea. After all, I’m a good fisherman. Or used to be. All night we stayed out and fished. In the end, we caught nothing. Figures.

How gracious and kind of Jesus to come to Peter when he had to be at his lowest point. By His omniscience He directed the men where to find a catch—or perhaps it was by His omnipotence that supplied the fish for them to catch. At any rate, He’d done that once before, and John immediately recognized Him. As they brought in the fish, Jesus sat before a fire cooking breakfast. They joined Him and ate. I wonder what the conversation around that meal was like. At some point, Jesus singled Peter out for some one-on-one time.

He asked Peter three times, do you love Me: Do you love Me more than these, do you love Me with self-sacrificing love, do you love me with brotherly affection? The declension grieved Peter, but he had at least learned one lesson—no more was he going to inflate his devotion to Jesus. He faced the truth that of himself all he could claim was a fond affection for this man He knew to be the Son of God.

Yet Jesus persisted in telling Him to shepherd His sheep and feed His lambs. He brought it home and said as He had three years earlier, Follow Me (see Matthew 4:18-20). This time, though, Peter knew what Jesus was asking and what it would cost him.

It all may have seemed like an impossible task. The one thing Peter didn’t yet know was that God would fill him with His Holy Spirit, and in His power he’d be able to do what heretofore he’d been incapable of doing. He was just beginning to learn about this gracious Christ he served.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in April, 2013.

The Triumphal Entry


This coming Sunday is commonly referred to as Palm Sunday, the day Christians commemorate Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. He rode on the colt of a donkey, something associated with the kings in Jewish culture, and his followers spread their cloaks before him, waved palm branches, and shouted Hosanna!

Those who went in front and those who followed were shouting: “Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10)

According to some the translation of hosanna is, save, I pray. The term is linked to Psalm 118:25 which says,

O LORD, do save, we beseech You;
O LORD, we beseech You, do send prosperity!

Hosanna.

Most likely, in the eyes of Jesus’s followers and the Jews in Jerusalem suffering under Rome’s oppressive rule, Jesus was coming to the nation’s capital to establish His kingdom. They might well have been planning a coronation rather than a funeral.

Looking back through the lens of history, we know that Jesus did not take over the government of Judea. From a political standpoint he was hardly experiencing a triumphal entry, so why do Christians persist in calling it by that name? Why not, fated entry or doomed entry?

I don’t know what others think, but as far as I’m concerned, Triumphal Entry fits–not in the way those in the first century running ahead of him or coming along behind shouting Hosanna intended it, but in the way Jesus planned to fulfill His own purpose.

He had not left Heaven to come to Judea to establish a temporary earthly kingdom over that one small country. Rather, He had His sights set on the World.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Jesus entered Jerusalem, triumphant in the knowledge that the plan established before creation was nearly completed. He was on the last lap, coming down the home stretch with the cheers of the crowd echoing in His ears. No, they didn’t understand what His job was or what He yet had to face. They cheered from their ignorance for the hope of something temporal; He came to offer an imperishable, everlasting inheritance by triumphing over death and hell, over sin and guilt, even over the law.

So, yes, this step toward His crucifixion was His triumphal entry. His triumphal exit, when He broke free of the tomb, was still a few days away.

This post is the third reprint of an article that appeared here first in March, 2013, then again in March, 2016.

Published in: on April 9, 2019 at 5:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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Easter Starts With Sin


In many respects, sin is a pivotal moment in all of history, but certainly Easter starts with sin. No sin, no need of a Savior—no Christ, no crucifixion, no resurrection. No Easter.

As western culture moves more and more toward the secular, fewer people celebrate Easter as a day of remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus. Now we have schools that take Spring Break, not Easter Break. We have a holiday that is known for Easter eggs and flowers and bunnies and pastel colors, especially pink and yellow and green. Yes, falling as it does after the spring equinox (officially Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox), the secular version of Easter has become a celebration of spring.

But even such an understanding recognizes the end of the bleak winter months—the cold, the gray days, the bare trees, dead grass, flowerless gardens. Spring signifies life after death.

And of course the ultimate life after death took place that first Easter morn when Jesus took on His resurrected body and came out of the tomb. I’d say, walked out of the tomb, but I don’t think He necessarily did walk. But more on that another day.

For now, I want to focus on the truth that so many people don’t like—we all, every one of us—have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

I’ve been shocked by a number of people who don’t want to accept this fact, even as they will whole-heartedly agree that nobody’s perfect. As I see it, that’s just another way of saying, Since we can’t be perfect, we’ll accept close enough, and God should do the same.

Because most of the “nobody’s perfect” crowd see themselves as a little better than most of the others. Or at least on average. Sure, the rapists and murderers might be sinners, but not the adulterers or people fudging on their taxes.

That perspective is not one God shares:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (James 2:10-11)

Sin is simply not a minor offense with God, even if we look at it that way. Later in James He says, “Whoever knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17). So even neglecting to do what we know we should do, carries the same weight of guilt and lawbreaking as any of the “thou shalt not’s.”

I remember a time or two when I was a child waking up to a blanket of new snow covering the yard. It was so perfect . . . until my dad walked out and began shoveling the sidewalk. Of course we needed him to make the way clear, but every step on the pristine white coating our property, marred it, spoiled it, left a blemish, a mark that could NEVER be removed.

Sin is like that. It simply can’t be undone. And no matter if a dog left a little trail across the snow, or we had a roaring good snowball fight that left pits and ditches of chewed up snow, that yard was never going to look as it had in the morning right after the snowfall.

Sin is like that, too. One little disobedient act. One bit of defiance, or multiple acts of waywardness. Makes no difference.

There is One and only One answer to the problem of sin. And it isn’t by doing multiple acts of kindness, as helpful as those are and as grateful as many may be for them. The acts of kindness can’t erase the acts of disobedience.

But there is hope:

“Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18b)

Only the cross can do that. Which comes before the resurrection.

So Easter, to be understood properly, must be seen in the light of humankind’s fall into sin.

I suppose the term “fall” comes from the idea of falling from grace or from a favored position in God’s eyes. But it really is a little misleading. I mean, generally when people fall, they do it by accident. They didn’t actually mean to fall down the stairs, but they slipped. That sort of thing.

But this fall was more of a walking away. Adam, who was not deceived as his wife was, purposefully and willfully chose against God. Yes, he knew what God had said. Yes, he understood the consequences. He was going to do what he wanted anyway. That’s rebellion, in a nutshell.

Because of this willfulness, humankind has been separated from God, and only because of God’s persistence and His desire to fix what was broken, to bring life to what was dead, is there any hope in the world, any Easter to look forward to.

Published in: on March 18, 2019 at 5:06 pm  Comments (9)  
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So, Groundhog Day


For whatever reason, I didn’t hear much about Groundhog Day this year. Until I looked it up today, I didn’t even know exactly when it was. Apparently I’m on an island. Deserted. Alone. Because thousands of people turned out this past Saturday to watch the most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, look for his shadow. What’s more, these folks had to be up at the crack of dawn because the event took place at 7:25 AM. On a Saturday morning. In the dead of winter. During a cold snap—or polar vortex as the weather people all call it now. What’s more, the “event” was live-streamed.

It was more like a non-event from what I could tell. I mean, the guy in charge of the overfed rodent, set him down on a tree stump for maybe 10 seconds, declared he couldn’t see his shadow, then read from the scroll that said spring would make an early arrival.

We all know this is a lot of silliness, don’t we? I mean, Phil has only a 40% success rate over the last ten years. People would do better if they simply flipped a coin. And he isn’t really 133. He’s not the same groundhog from those early days.

Then why do people get so caught up in the spectacle? I mean, there’s no alcohol involved that I could detect. No commercialism. No one selling tee shirts or Happy Groundhog Day cards. No bumper stickers or commemorative hats. So why do people care?

I’ve never talked to a single person who is out there in the freezing cold waiting for the faux prediction about the coming of spring, so all I have is speculation.

Could be they’re bored. But that’s a bit of a stretch when there’s entertainment at every turn, and much of it indoors where the temps are some 60° higher.

Perhaps some actually believe in Phil. Maybe they’re driven by that need to know, and particularly the need to know before it actually happens which has driven the news industry for far too lon.

Do they want spring to come early so badly that they are willing to put their faith in a groundhog? An overfed rodent covered in straw?

Could there be something deeper here? Do people want to believe so badly in something these days so that they are willing to pretend to believe in Phil’s ability to predict the length of winter?

For whatever reason, the folks who show up, who belong to the club, who care for the groundhog all the year round, think this is fun.

But I can’t help but compare their “faith” with the real deal that Christians have.

One thing that jumps out at me is that the superstitious faith in Phil doesn’t depend on anything. Not whether he’s right, not whether the person shows up the following year, not whether any other groundhog agrees with his outcome. It’s sort of like playing the lottery.

Saving faith, based on the work of Jesus Christ at the cross, is lived day in and day out. It’s transformative and dependable.

Superstitious faith in Phil doesn’t cost a person anything, takes no commitment, except getting up early on a cold winter’s day.

Saving faith is an all-in proposition. Jesus said if we want to come after Him we must deny ourselves daily, take up our cross and follow Him.

Superstitious faith in Phil is not life changing. A person can “believe” in the ground hog and still believe in the weather report on their phone app.

Saving faith, well, saves. It transforms a person from death to life. It begins a relationship with the living God. It ushers us into the kingdom of God.

In short, superstitious faith in Phil is meaningless. Nothing changes if he’s right or if he’s wrong, other than the guy from his fan club reading a different little scroll.

Saving faith, on the other hand, is the most meaningful decision a person can make. So it ought not be made lightly. It should be informed.

Superstitious faith in Phil is closer to guess work and not quite as accurate.

Saving Faith brings forgiveness of sin, freedom from the Law, from guilt. It gives believers peace within. Comfort. Help in time of need. Joy. Purpose. But above all it brings assurance. No guess work!

There’s more, but the point is clear. False faith—whether in Phil or in a Hindu god or in a cult or anything else that is not true—is markedly different from saving faith.

Published in: on February 5, 2019 at 5:56 pm  Comments (4)  
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Happy New Year – 2019


Do you realize that at this time next year we’ll be staring 2020 in the face?

2020!

Where has this year gone, some say. I say, Where has this century gone?!

At any rate, I do wish you all a blessed New Year. May God’s grace be yours in abundance. May His kingdom and His righteousness be your guiding principle, your mission statement in 2019.

Published in: on December 31, 2018 at 4:52 pm  Comments (2)  
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Wise Men And The Seeking Thing


“Wise men still seek Him,” the signs say. I saw one the night my 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.

This article is a re-post of one that has appeared here twice before: originally in December, 2013, then again in December, 2015.

Published in: on December 21, 2018 at 4:01 pm  Comments (3)  
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Have We Made Christmas Too Beautiful?


I think it was a message on the radio by Pastor Greg Laurie that got me thinking about the beauty of Christmas. In some ways Christmas should be beautiful because we have a beautiful Savior whose birth we are commemorating. It’s sort of like the now-ignored idea that when we go to church we wear our “Sunday best,” because God deserves our best.

But that idea morphed into an unhealthy tradition that actually kept some people away from church. So I wonder, is our beautiful Christmas doing the same?

First, the original Christmas was far from beautiful. Even the glory of the Lord that shone upon the shepherds caused them to be terrified. Not just a little disturbed. Not just mildly agitated. Terrified! That’s not so beautiful. These were men who stayed with their sheep during the night so that they would be in position to protect them. From robbers. From wild animals. From wandering into the dark. They likely were prepared to face all kinds of danger. But God’s glory terrified them.

Of course the message the angel delivered to them was beautiful. Joy. A Savior. The long expected King, born today! But that meant He was a newborn. Who couldn’t yet focus His eyes. Who had no bladder control. Who couldn’t eat solid food. Who needed to be burped. Who had a feeding trough for a bed. He couldn’t sit up or crawl or smile or speak or do anything king-like. He could sleep and cry and breast-feed and not much more. Not so beautiful when you think about it. But there is something beautiful about babies.

But they were in a stable, or wherever the manger was located. Not a clean hospital or a nicely decorated nursery. No cute matching outfit, not even a soft receiving blanket. Just strips of cloth wrapped about Him to protect Him from whatever was in that manger. Straw? Or had Joseph cleaned it out as best he could and the Christ lay with his step-dad’s cloak beneath Him? Had Mary the help of a midwife to cut the umbilical cord, to take care of the afterbirth? Was she able to get a quick bath before the shepherds showed up? Whatever. We can be fairly certain that Jesus’s surroundings weren’t so very pastoral as we often picture them. Not so peaceful or so beautiful.

In spite of this, the shepherds believed the message the angel had delivered. This was the Christ, born to be the Savior. Their Savior. They determined to go see this thing “that had happened,” not because they were skeptical and wanted to see if what the angel said was really true, but because they believed it was true. Their faith was beautiful.

Maybe the least beautiful part of the original Christmas was the fact that Jesus came to earth to be the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world. That meant He was destined for the cross of Calvary, that the red of Christmas is His blood, shed for all who believe in Him.

The green? Perhaps the evergreen of eternal life that is ours because of Christ.

So the red and green of Christmas is truly beautiful, but not that first Christmas. The suffering of death was still ahead for the baby as He lay in the manger. And the thing about shed blood, about sacrifice, is that it’s not beautiful as it is happening. It’s painful and messy and full of loss and sorrow and, in Christ’s case, betrayal, rejection, disappointment, confusion. Not beautiful.

But after the fact, the wonder of His love is proven by the nail prints in His hands, the hole in His side, the red wine that represents His blood, the broken bread that represents His body. All the evidences of Christ, alive are beautiful, sacred, filled with such meaning they cause us to weep even today.

So which is it? Is Christmas beautiful or not?

I suppose it depends on whether or not we scratch the surface. Today we make all the outside trappings beautiful—decorated trees, Christmas wrapping, music, light displays, special Christmas cookies, cozy and warm settings with snow falling outside. You know, the Kincaid picture (the kind I love so much).

But what’s underneath? If we don’t get to the Savior who brings joy and peace, who solves our sin problem, who gave Himself as God’s gift to the world, then all the external beauty we manufacture stands in stark contrast to the reality of that first Christmas. I guess it’s up to each of us to make Christmas beautiful indeed.

Published in: on December 20, 2018 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  
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Putting Christ In Christmas?


Call me cynical, but I find the call to put Christ in Christmas to be a suspect cause.

I do think there’s a legal issue at stake—the US Constitution guarantees the freedom to express and practice our religious beliefs, but that freedom is slowly being squeezed out of the public arena. The ban on such expression is just one more instance.

And yet, I can’t help but think too many Christians are willing to fall on the wrong sword.

Was Paul beaten because he wanted to put up a manger scene? Was Stephen stoned because he insisted on saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy holidays”?

I’m not suggesting we should roll over and go the way of the world just to get along. But I think we too often draw a line in the sand over the symbolic rather than the significant.

First of all, Christ should not be in Christmas only. Christ should be part of our lives, and I don’t think we should approach Christmas in a way that is particularly different from any other day as far as our witness for Christ is concerned. Hanging up a “He is the reason for the season” sign falls short, in my way of thinking, because He is the reason for EVERY season, for every breath I take—or He ought to be.

Then, too, becoming angry at and hateful toward those who disagree and who want to eliminate the religious from Christmas seems to contradict much of the Christmas message. Joy to the world, not anger. Peace on earth, not enmity. Of course, joy and peace come through knowing Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior—no other way. But when Christians treat non-Christians as the enemy, as the ones against whom we are to fight, then we’re missing an opportunity to take them the message of redemption that first manifested to the world in God’s incarnation as a little baby.

If we can no longer put up a symbol of God come down, perhaps we need to think more creatively and see how we can show that message ourselves. When was the last time we served in a soup kitchen or made a blanket for a homeless person? Have we ever volunteered to teach English as a second language or tutor at our local public school . . . for free? Have we encouraged our church leaders to reach out to the needy in our community—families of those in prison, unmarried women who chose to give birth to their babies.

The point is, God did come down. And because of His redemption, each person who believes in Him and accepts the forgiveness He made available through Jesus, is now a Christmas tree ornament, a bright light announcing Emmanuel.

So do we need to fight to keep Christ in Christmas? As long as His followers live for Him, there’s no way anyone can keep Him out of Christmas, or any other day, for that matter.

This post is a revised version of an article that first appeared here in November, 2012.

Published in: on December 19, 2018 at 4:54 pm  Comments (8)  
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The Christmas Love Of God


Isaiah 7:14
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.”

Isaiah 9:6
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

A child born, not a son born. The Son is preexistent, the I AM, and did not come into being that day when Mary gave birth. God gave us His Son. He left heaven, emptied Himself, took the form of a bondservant, and was found in the likeness of Man.

He who fashioned Man in His image, took the likeness of the one He had fashioned. And as a child, He was born—the humble relinquishing of His place at the right hand of the Father in order to secure for us a place at His heavenly banquet table.

I can’t conceive of a greater example of love. The Father giving His beloved Son. The Son obeying the Father and leaving His heavenly home to come to earth. The Triune God expressed His love for us in giving Jesus and in His coming in the form of Man.

In that one act God showed His generosity, His self-sacrifice. But He also showed what His love means: it’s not sentimentality or warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s not tit for tat or “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” It has no limits and is freely given. Further, God’s love “has legs”—it’s not just an emotional expression but it has action to back it up.

God’s love is not about God spoiling us. He doesn’t treat us like a sugar daddy. His love has our best in mind—a spiritual and eternal best. Consequently, God doesn’t hesitate to correct us as part of His love for us. He will not withhold discipline for fear that we might not like Him as well any more. He’s also not concerned about people concluding that they might be nicer than He is. He knows the truth and His love doesn’t compromise the truth.

In fact, God’s love is an extension of His character. He can no more stop loving than He can stop being God.

What did it mean for Immanuel, God with us, to take up residence outside of glory? He was subject to all the stuff of Mankind—the passions and joys and hopes and successes, but also the dreams cut short, the sadnesses, the temptations.

Indeed, the temptations. Scripture says He was tempted in every way we are, yet without sin:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15)

Impossible, some may think. How could He be tempted to OD on computer games or look at dirty pictures?

We know He lived life among us for over thirty years. At different junctures during His public ministry, the religious leaders laid traps for Him, trying to trip Him up so they could catch Him in an offense they could prosecute by law.

But what about those years before He began preaching and healing? Isn’t it likely that the strains of His blended family created temptations? Perhaps He also faced noisy neighbors during those years or the abuse of a bully. Because of the wedding in Cana, we know He had to deal with the expectations of His mother. Perhaps He also dealt with jealous brothers.

Later He may have had to deal with the temptation to abandon His life work to fit in with the role His family likely expected Him to fill—that of elder brother, settling down, marrying, and caring for their widowed mother.

Unfortunately we too often reduce Jesus’s temptations to three—the notorious ones recorded in the gospels for us where Satan entices Him to made bread from stones, to swap worship for power, and to test God’s promise. Lots of people have lots to say about these temptations—the kinds, the depth, the significance. Meanwhile, we’re overlooking a little clause in Mark 1:13.

And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him. (Emphasis mine)

So on top of the thirty years of temptations Jesus encountered by living life among us, he also had an intense forty days of Satan throwing whatever he could at Jesus. Whatever we face today, Jesus faced a comparable temptation.

But His coming among us served two greater purposes than offering us an understanding heart to turn to when temptations crowd in upon us.

First, He showed us God. If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father, He told His disciples. Paul said, “He is the image of the invisible God,” and “In Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form.” We look at Jesus, we see God—which makes sense, of course, because He IS God.

However, without the second reason, His coming would have amounted to cruel taunting. Here’s God, a-ha-ha-ha-hah, you can see but you can’t approach. Jesus came precisely for the reason that we needed what only a perfect man could give—His blood, for the remission of sins. Not for His own sins, because He had none. He poured out His life’s blood so that our sins could be forgiven.

In so doing, He opened up the way for us to be reconciled to God:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16, emphasis added)

A Child come and a Son given as an expression of God’s love!

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in December, 2014.

Published in: on December 18, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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