Christmas

A Christmas Devotional from Spurgeon

disk-04-15-117.jpgIt is a sweet thought that Jesus Christ, did not come forth without his Father’s permission, authority, consent, and assistance. He was sent of the Father, that he might be the Saviour of men. We are, alas! Too apt to forget, that while there are distinctions as to the persons in the Trinity, there are no distinctions of honor; and we do very frequently ascribe the honor of our salvation, or at least the depths of its mercy and the extremity of its benevolence, more to Jesus Christ than we do to the Father. This is a very great mistake.

What if Jesus came? Did not his Father send him? If he was made a child did not the Holy Ghost beget him? If he spake wondrously, did not his Father pour grace into his lips, that he might be an able minister of the new covenant? If his Father did forsake him when he drank the bitter cup of gall, did he not love him still? And did he not, by-and by, after three days, raise him from the dead, and at last receive him up on high, leading captivity captive? Ah! Beloved, he who knoweth the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost as he should know them, never setteth one before another; he is not more thankful to one than the other; he sees them at Bethlehem, at Gethsemane, and on Calvary, all equally engaged in the work of salvation. “He shall come forth unto me.”

O Christian, hast thou put thy confidence in the man Christ Jesus? Hast thou placed thy reliance solely on him? And art thou united with him? Then believe that thou art united unto the God of heaven; since to the man Christ Jesus thou art brother and holdest closest fellowship, thou art linked thereby with God the Eternal, and “the Ancient of days” is thy Father and thy friend. “He shall come forth unto me“. Did you never see the depth of love there was in the heart of Jehovah, when God the Father equipped his Son for the great enterprise of mercy?

There had been a sad day in Heaven once before, when Satan fell, and dragged with him a third of the stars of heaven, and when the Son of God launching from his great right hand the Omnipotent thunders, dashed the rebellious crew to the pit of perdition; but if we could conceive a grief in heaven, that must have been a sadder day, when the Son of the Most High left his Father’s bosom, where he had lain from before all worlds “Go,” saith the Father, “and thy Father’s blessing on thy head!”

Then comes the unrobing. How do angels crowd around to see the Son of God take off his robes He laid aside his crown; he said, “My father, I am Lord over all, blessed for ever, but I will lay my crown aside, and be as mortal men are.” He strips himself of his bright vest of glory; “Father,” he says, “I will wear a robe of clay, just such a men wear.” Then he takes off all those jewels wherewith he was glorified; he lays aside his starry mantles and robes of light, to dress himself in the simple garments of the peasant of Galilee. What a solemn disrobing that must have been!

And next, can you picture the dismissal! The angels attend the Saviour through the streets, until they approach the doors: when an angel cries, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lifted up ye everlasting doors, and let the king of glory through!” Oh! Methinks the angels must have wept when they lost the company of Jesus—when the Sun of Heaven bereaved them of all its light. But they went after him. They descended with him; and when his spirit entered into flesh and he became a babe, he was attended by that mighty host of angels, who after they had been with him to Bethlehem’s manger, and seen him safely, laid on his mother’s breast, in their journey upwards appeared to the shepherds and told them that he was born king of the Jews.

The Father sent him! Contemplate that subject. Let your soul get hold of it, and in every period of his life think that he suffered what the Father willed; that every step of his life was marked with the approval of the great I AM. Let every thought that you have of Jesus be also connected with the eternal, ever-blessed God; for “he,” saith Jehovah, “shall come forth unto me.” Who sent him, then? The answer is, his Father.

— Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

The Incarnation and the Birth of Christ

Preached on December 23, 1855

New Park Street Baptist Church, Southwark, England

We wish all of you a Christ-filled Christmas and a blessed 2014! 

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Where the Spirit of Herod Pervades: Christmas is About Life in a Culture of Death

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod.This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
(Matthew 2:13-18)

So many say that we are in the land of the living, but in all honesty we are in the land of the dying. The moment we are born, we move toward death—it’s inevitable, unpleasant to think about, but it’s honest.

We live in a time where many work in maternity wards to help bring life in to the world. We have hospitals that seek to heal life. We have assisted living places that by and large help during the more seasoned times of a life. This country especially has been amazing in taking care of the human body.

We also live in a culture of death as well. Homicide and suicide rates skyrocket; the abortion industry takes the lives of 1.3 million unborn children each year; and controversies over end-of-life, quality-of-life issues have a significant part of the cultural discourse. These among many other issues in regards to life.

There is nothing new under the sun.  The most  autocratic rulers come into power with the notion that they are able to determine which life has value and which doesn’t.  Such is the case with Herod.  Wise men from the east show up and ask, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?  For we saw his star when it rose and  have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).  Herod and the Jews were troubled.  Herod called the scholars to search the OT Scriptures to ascertain where he would be  born–and they knew the  answer:  Micah 5:2 said, “Bethlehem.”  Herod wanted to eliminate the competition, so he ordered the infanticide–one prophecied back in Jeremiah, about 600 years prior to this event.

Our culture has the spirit of Herod.  So often life is not valuable in an absolute, intrinsic sense–for so many, life is only valuable as long as our particular quality of life is what we believe it to be, or if that life is convenient to us and doesn’t interrupt our goals, desires, and yes rule over our lives.  Our fallen flesh believes that we are lord of all we survey, so no one should try to offer any competition.  

But our lives matter to God.  This is not how God created His world–He created life and sent His Son into this world to rescue life.  Life matters to Him.  God created us to bear His image in this world.  But the temptation, as first brought to light in Genesis 3, is that we “want to be like God, knowing good from evil.”  But we are not like God in that God is always holy and right in what he does.  We are creatures who are in need of rescue–fallen and sinful.  We are not wired to be kings.  We are wired to have a King.  

No king will do aside from Jesus!

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Why God Sent His Son—An Excellent Sermon

My good friend, John Divito, preached a sermon at Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY on Sunday night, December 23 on Why God Sent His Son, based on Galatians 4:4-7.  It’s an excellent sermon that I highly commend to you. 

I pray you have a Christ-filled Christmas!

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Christmas is about Adoption in a Culture of Abandonment

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

There is a core of people here who believe that parenthood should be planned (for the sake of discretion, I’ll refrain from using the actual name of these organizations). Our culture is about convenience and what Tim Keller calls “Self-actualization.” So many have their lives planned out and have a plan to improve their lives the way they see fit. If anything interrupts that plan, then steps need to be taken to fix that. Many divorces happen because the marriage didn’t do what they thought it would do, so they break it off for a fresh start.

Put yourself in Joseph’s situation. What would you do if your fiancé informed you that she was with child—knowing full well that you both had remained pure with each other throughout your entire relationship? How would you feel? Betrayed? Devastated? Vengeful? We may believe that things were so different in Bible times—but Joseph likely reacted at first the same way you would have.

Notice he wanted to “divorce her quietly.”  Why?  You see, this was a betrothal, not like our Western, American engagement.  Betrothals in that time carried a legal binding, and thus a legal hearing would be needed to end this betrothal.  This would have been a very public, very scandalous spectacle that would have ruined Mary’s life for good.  For fear of putting her to shame.   Even in the midst of this scandal that shook him to the core, he was ready to call off the betrothal, but to do it in a way that would not harm her nor shame her—after all, the penalty for such was death.  Granted, a physical examination was all that was needed to prove that she  was telling the  truth about not knowing another man, but  that could have been explained away as well.  

Joseph was like the rest of us—and needed convincing to take another track.  He had remained pure, he was a ‘just man.’  An angel appeared and told Joseph not to fear!   The angel verified Mary’s story–especially since an angel was the one who explained it to her.  She had remained faithful–to God, to Joseph–and was thus ‘highly favored.’  She would still be taken as his wife.  He would be called Jesus.  And notice the obedience in verse 24:  “He did as the angel commanded him.” He took Mary as his wife, left her untouched until Jesus was born, and Joseph was the one to name him. 

Even here, Christ recognizes we need rescuing.  Joseph could have said, “That’s enough!  This is too much!  The cost is too high!  What will people think?  He would have been within his cultural right to abandon, but instead, he adopted  that  child.  In our  day, what advice would some of these organizations have given Mary or Joseph in these circumstances?  But when God spoke to Joseph about the value of that life in the womb, regardless of the sacrifice, he got up and said, “Yes, I marry you, Mary!  Yes, I will adopt this child and raise him as my own.  Yes, I know that this who is born is Immanuel, God with us… who  came to save his people from their sins.”  

This is a picture of the gospel.  Galatians 4:4-7 says:

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Christ came to redeem us lawbreakers, sinners against a holy God–so we might be adopted as sons.  When this happens, he seals us in Him by sending His Spirit to secure us in Christ.  Joseph in his relationship to the infant Jesus gives an incredible picture of this!  He did not abandon his wife and Child when things became inconvenient and times were difficult!  He loved his wife and stayed with her and the Child through it all! 

My, how this mirrors the incredible faithfulness of God who adopts us as His children through the atoning work of Christ! 

(To listen to this sermon in full, click here. This was preached on Sunday, December 23, 2012 at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, Centennial, CO.)

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Don’t Leave This Item Off Your Menu This Christmas—Bread!

During his children’s sermon last Sunday, Larry brought to mind something of which each of us are aware:  the peripheral issues of this time of year can blot out the main reason for why we celebrate this  season in the first place.  Christmas dinner can fall under that category.  Some of you are not only planning this, but stressing about it.  Some of you shared with me in regards to Thanksgiving that you like mixing up the menu a bit, where others of you do not feel you’ve had a Thanksgiving meal unless you have had turkey with dressing with all the trimmings. 

What would you do if I simply put a loaf of bread before you for Christmas dinner, how would you feel?  Granted, in some parts of the world, this would be a feast and we must always keep that in mind before we as Americans complain.  But in your context, how would you feel if for Christmas dinner, I simply put some bread before you, would that suffice?  You  may be polite and say, “Um, thank you so much.”  Others of you might be like Peppermint Patty off a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving–“What is this, Chuck?  Where’s the turkey and dressing?”

I submit to you that there is a type of bread that is  enough for Christmas.  I’ll go so far  to say that if you haven’t dined on this bread, you will miss not just the essence of  Christmas, but of eternal life!  This bread is that important.  We will spend the next two Sundays  looking at this bread.  For now, join me as we look at John 6:35-40:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.  But I  said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.  All that the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever  comes to me I  will never cast out.  For I have come down from b heaven, not to do my  will but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

This is some potent bread!  All of us who have eaten a sandwich or a roll know that by the time the next meal rolls around, you are ready to eat again.  What kind of bread is Jesus talking about?  Is this just a nice metaphor, or is there something  deeper?  I believe you know the answer to that question.

Whereas Jesus dealt with the religious leaders, the Pharisees, who were the keepers of the law (interpretations and all) and served as the conservative watchdog group of that day–in  this case, Jesus was talking to “the crowd,” that is, the crowd that Jesus just fed.  The crowd of 20,000+ whom Jesus fed with five barley loaves and two fish (John 6:9).  He blessed it, then he passed it out, they all ate and were fed, even to the point of gathering up twelve baskets full of fragments.  They were ready to make him king (6:15). 

When the crowd caught up with him after he cut across the sea of Galilee toward Capernaum (walking on the water to meet the disciples who had rode ahead), they couldn’t figure out how he got there before they did (since they had to go all the way around the perimeter of the lake).  What does Jesus mean?

First, be sure you’re feasting on the right bread.  Do we simply love God because of the material blessings we believe he will give us?   The miracle of this Feeding of the 5000 was not to simply show that God will provide for our needs, but it had a deeper significance: Jesus was fulfilling the copy and shadow of Moses in the wilderness, when God sent down bread from heaven (manna) to his people who had no bread. 

Jesus called their bluff:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you at your fill of the loves.  Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.  For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:26-27). 

How true is this?  We work and work to put food on the table, and yet we still have to go to the grocery because we run out of food and keep getting hungry every 3-4 hours or so.

And does this not mirror our spiritual lives?  We see this around this time of year.  Millions stand in line on Black Friday for the great deals on stuff they believe that will satisfy.  Children all over the world make Christmas lists of things they just ‘have to have.’  If I don’t get this for Christmas, then I will die.  Within  two weeks, do those gifts truly satisfy?  No–in fact, when they see what someone else has or see the commercial on TV, they suddenly want that.  This is nothing new.  King Solomon said, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).  So Jesus echoes the inspired insight of King Solomon:  “If you are going to spend your energies on something, spend it on something that will last.” 

So they ask “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  A legitimate  question.  In essence, they are saying to Jesus, “You are telling us what NOT to do–now tell us what to do!”   So Jesus answers, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29).   That’s right: believe in the one whom he has sent.  This is the message of Christmas.  Believe (that is, surrender, give full allegiance to) Christ–the one who labors on your behalf.  The phrase “This is the work of God” could mean, ‘this is the work God would have you do.’  But it could well mean something else, something very significant.  It could mean, “Your ability to believe is the work of God.” 

This leads us to the second point:  know who places the bread on your table.

The crowd needed some answers about this, as do we.  But we will see that it is not any mere man that makes belief possible, but it is solely the work of our sovereign God.  Look at verses 30-34 for now:

30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

They wanted proof that what Jesus was saying was true.  They wanted a sign to authenticate his work, even though Jesus did say that the Father put his seal on him.

But also keep in mind this: wasn’t this the same crowd who saw and experienced Jesus feeding the “five thousand” with five loaves of bread and two fish (read John 6:1-15).  They had seen this to such a degree that they were ready to install him as king, even saying, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  Why is this important?  Because Moses prophecied about him.  Moses held great esteem among the Jewish mind.  God used him to deliver the people of Israel from Egypt into the promised land.   During this time, God provided food in the desert called manna, and also quail to provide.  This is why Jesus made it clear that it wasn’t Moses who provided this, it was “my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.”   It was a life-giving bread.  And they asked for this bread.  

The Father is the one who puts the bread on the table.  “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.”  You do not labor for it; no one gives it to you, no matter how influential or powerful.  This bread is given from heaven by the Father.  He not only gives the menu of the Feast, but he also sets the Feast before you.  

Growing up, we would often receive little nuggets that attempted to motivate us to do for ourselves rather than expect others to do for us.  In one case, it was food.  I saw on a cartoon when I was little that “Food always tastes better when you cook it yourself.”  In some respects that’s true.  As children (or even adults), on an earthly level, this is true.  God does expect us to work.  He says in Proverbs 6:6-10:

Go to the ant, O sluggard;

Consider her ways, and by wise. 

Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,

She prepares her bread in summer

and gathers her food in the harvest.

How long will you lie there, O sluggard?

When will you arise from your sleep?

A little sleep, a little slumber

a little folding of the hands to rest,

and poverty will come upon you like a robber,

and want like an armed man.

God expects us to be diligent and work to provide for our family, giving glory to him that He gave the strength and the smarts to be able to work, and that he gave us things to work for and toward. 

But in this area, there’s something different.  What if we do not have the ability to work for it, to attain it?  What if we didn’t even know where to start?  And if we did, what happens when we do not have the strength to move one inch toward it all?

This is our situation!  At the beginning of the Beatitudes, Jesus starts off with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3).  We are spiritually destitute.  We have nothing spiritually in which to offer to God spiritually.  We are sinners, who only seek self–and we are in need of rescue.  The apostle Paul even says this:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). 

Outside of Christ changing our hearts, we may even try to seek after God, but it will be on our own terms and for our own selfish desires.  In other words, we make our own menu and then work for the food on the menu, then when we’ve partaken, we believe we’ve made a good enough meal for God to be pleased with our efforts.  But if we cannot, then what’s the hope?

Jesus finally drops the hammer:  

I am the bread of life;  whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.  But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.  All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:35-40). 

So Jesus is not talking about manna (Exodus 16), but is talking about how that manna from heaven that the people of Israel did not have to work for, but God provided for them to be nourished in the desert where no convenience stores nor Outbacks nor groceries existed.  The Father provided bread for his people to point forward to to the True Bread.  

So lastly, we notice that we cannot even get into the restaurant unless the Father brings us there. 

Consider John 6:37-40 again.  There were some who did not believe.  But there are those who do believe–how does this happen if they have no spiritual capability or righteousness enough on their own to seek after God?  Jesus says, “All that the Father has given to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me, I will in no ways cast out.”  Hope down to John 6:44 where Jesus, responding to their grumbling about him being the bread of life (just as they grumbled about the bread in the wilderness with Moses), say, “Do not grumble among yourselves.  No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And I will raise him up on the last day.”  

This is grace!  Call this whatever doctrine you want, this is grace!  We have no spiritual desire in and of ourselves to surrender to God, so God the Father comes, take those whom He chooses, wraps them in His righteousness, and gives them to His Son.  Those whom the Father has given to the Son will come to him.  By grace, the Father draws us to himself.  Here we think of a well.  In order for the water to get out of that well, the Father has to draw the water out to himself.  He does not stand up at the top of that well and say, “Here, water, water, water!”  That water doesn’t have the properties inherent in itself to come.  

In the OT, in Deuteronomy 7:6-8, we see this same principle about how the people of Israel became “God’s people.”  

6 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

God called His people due the covenant he made with Abraham, who would be the Father of this nation.  But even then, this people would rebel, showing that a deeper change was needed:

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke,though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

A time is coming when the covenant would not be based on how well we could keep the law, but on God writing his law on our hearts by the Spirit of God.  Ezekiel notes that he will put a new Spirit in us and give us a new heart of flesh, sensitive to the Spirit, and remove the heart of stone that is calloused to the Spirit’s moving.  Even Jesus said later in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

So God gives us a new heart, a new Spirit where he will write his law on our hearts.  He will draw us out of the well of darkness and sin and into his marvelous light, where he will craft our heart toward Himself and not ourselves.  Even when Jesus spoke this and everyone left him, the disciples didn’t.  Why?  They said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”  How did Jesus respond?  “Did I not choose you, the Twelve?” 

If it were not for God’s grace, we would have always chosen self!  But God comes to work.  But we must respond to His work.  “Whoever believes in me, I will in no ways cast out.”  “I will raise him up on the last day.”  “Whoever feeds on me abides in me and I in him.”  “Whoever believes in me has eternal life.”  

May bread be on your menu this Christmas—even if you have nothing else to physically eat. 

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Is the Culture at War With Christmas—Or Just Ignorant About It in the First Place?

Russell Moore penned a wonderful article on December 6, 2012 (“Is the Culture at War with Christmas?”) that addresses an issues so evangelical Christians struggle with.  Here’s how he opens:

Flipping through magazines on an airplane the other day, I found myself sighing with irritation. An advertisement for Budweiser was tagged with the headline, “Silent Nights are Overrated.” A few minutes later, in a second magazine, I came across an ad for a high-end outdoor grill, which read: “Who says it’s better to give than to receive?”

My first reaction was one that I’ve critiqued in others, to take some sort of personal, or at least tribal, offense: “Would they advertise in Turkey during Ramadan with the line, ‘Fasting is Overrated?’ or by asking in India, ‘Who says everything is one with the universe?’”

I was missing the point—and that matters.

His point is that most folks are simply not aware of what “Silent Night” means that that he doubts advertisers traced the origins of the song to the awe of the incarnation, or that the quote of “better to give than received” was seen in the New Testament as a quote from Jesus.

I am not sure how well our witness for Christ moves forward when we get frustrated and express this frustration to workers at Best Buy who may wish a Happy Holidays rather than a Merry Christmas!  For the majority, I do not even think Christ is on their radar—and at least they are being friendly by saying something “Happy.” 

Rather than get offended, use it as a glorious opportunity.  Moore closes:

All that means is that we need to spend more time lovingly engaging our neighbors with the sort of news that shocks angels and redirects stargazers and knocks sheep-herders to the ground. That it seems increasingly strange is all the better—because it is strange. A gospel safe enough to sell beer and barbecue grills is a gospel too safe to make blessings flow, far as the curse is found.

Christmas, then, isn’t about a fight for our right to party. It’s a reminder that we, like every generation before us, live in a “land of deep darkness” (Isa. 9:2). The darkness isn’t overcome by sarcasm or personal offense or retaliatory insults. The light of Bethlehem shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not, cannot, will not overcome it.

Read the rest—and subscribe to his blog.  The man loves Christ, loves the church, and helps us think about things we thought we’d already thought through, but hadn’t. 

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Christmas Has Its Cradle

Christmas has its cradle,
where a baby cried
Did the lantern’s shadow
show Him crucified?
Did He forsee darkly
His life’s willing loss?

Christmas has its cradle
and Easter has its cross
Christmas has its cradle,
shepherds came to see
Little Son of Mary,
Lamb of God to be
Had His Father warned Him,
none would spare Him room
Save in the Christmas cradle
or in the Easter tomb

Christmas has its cradle,
wise men came to bring
Myrr and gold and incense,
off’rings for a King
Myrrh alone stayed with Him,
death’s balm for this Boy
From the Christmas cradle
and to His Easter joy

Christmas has its cradle,
where that Baby cried
In the Easter garden,
Christ lay, crucified
When death’s pow’r was conquered,
God’s life through Him poured
Christmas has its cradle
and Easter has its Lord!

(Rae Whitney)

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Sermon Series for December 2011 at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church: Christmas is All About. . .

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December 2011 starts my ministry at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, Colorado.  With that comes the question that arises in the minds of all new pastors: what should I preach on when I first arrive?  With ARBC, not only will we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ (Christ taking on human form) but also have our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.  So with this, I am starting a series entitled, “Christmas is All About … .”  Below is the description on the flyer at ARBC.

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Winter wonderlands. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose! And don’t forget about bells jingling, halls being decked, and Santa watching every move you make! This is what Christmas is all about—at least that’s what most of the songs say! We know that Christmas is ultimately not about weather, terrific traffic, or presents under the tree. It’s about Christ coming on a rescue mission to save His people from their sins!

Sunday, December 4: Christmas is About a Rescue Mission by Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25)

Wednesday, December 7: Christmas is About Exposing Rebellion against Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12)

Sunday, December 11: Christmas is About a Relationship with Jesus (Galatians 3:23-4:7)

Wednesday, December 14: Christmas is About Recognizing Christ’s Work (Luke 1:5-38)

Sunday, December 18: Christmas is About Rejoicing in Christ (Luke 2:1-20)

Sunday, December 18 (PM): Christmas is About Receiving Christ (John 1:1-18)

Invite your FRANs (friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors) so they will know what Christmas is all about—it’s all about Jesus!

You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us) (Matthew 1:21-23, ESV).

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Can Anyone Tell Me What Christmas is All About?

Linus can!

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So This is Christmas… So What Are You Preaching?

Both Resurrection Sunday and Christmas put preachers on high alert!  We know from experience that those who are usually absent from church during the normal course of the year will attend on these two special days.  Some preachers grow nervous at the prospect—especially younger ministers.  Others get more amped! 

If I may, I’d like to reflect on twenty years of ministry and 8-9 years in pastoral ministry and pass along some things I’ve learned regarding preaching on such special occasions.

Pray for every person God brings in as well as your sermon.  Yes, pray over your sermon, but God has not called us to simply preach the Bible, but to preach to people the Bible.  Consider:

  • Folks are stressed because of the commercial nature of the holiday, and long to get back to the original intention of this time.  
  • For most parts of the country, it’s cold.  While ‘cold’ is relative (cold in Minnesota or New England is different than the cold I experienced in Florida, which is different to the cold my Trinidadian friends experience), and while some enjoy this, for many it brings on a melancholy, even a depressed state! 
  • For many who have lost loved ones during this time of year, which magnifies their grief.
  • Your regular attenders will likely be there, but as I mentioned earlier, others who are fringe attenders or unchurched will come as well. 

When you pray for those sitting in the pews or chairs, your heart will be burdened for the strengthening of Christians and the surrendering of unbelievers’ hearts to Christ. 

Make the gospel clear, clear, clear.  Just because unbelievers may be in attendance, don’t make the mistakes I’ve made: trying to be uber-cool and ultra-relevant, risking taking away from the thrust of the gospel.  One Easter, I preached on the power of the resurrection.  As a ‘relevant’ illustration, I mentioned how we as Americans are all about power and potency.  To my horror, I recall how I mentioned certain products men use for physical issues in certain areas—totally unnecessary to the point being made.  It didn’t add to the discussion, and I’m certain for many turned them off.  Make the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the atoning work of Christ, and the need to surrender to Christ clear, clear, clear.

In a broader sense, stick to the Scriptures.  Those coming into our service need to hear a word from God.  Again, they need reminders from God’s Book about the season’s reason!  James Robertson noted that the Dutch brought St. Nicholas to America, the Germans brought the Christmas tree, and the British brought the carols.  I fear we Americans have brought the consumeristic commercialism.  This last contribution weighs down many Americans (even Christians) to the point that counting down the days to Christmas brings moans and dread rather than introspection and celebration!  Yet in the Scriptures, we see that in the midst of the darkness of our sin and fallenness where creation groans for redemption (Romans 8:17-25), God brings a great light (Isaiah 9:2-7) in the person of Jesus Christ (John 8:12). 

Address the issues skeptics find in the incarnation and the crucifixion/resurrection.  Skeptics abound, especially when it comes to the particulars of the incarnation or anything along the supernatural.  If something cannot be observed, examined, or explained, then it loses credibility.  The teachings such as those regarding the Virgin birth are considered too outlandish or steeped in Greek mythology in order to be credible.  Yet, as Daniel Akin notes:

The virgin birth should not be an obstacle to faith but rather a help.  Jesus Christ did not enter the world like any other human.  He came as God incarnate, conceived in the womb of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is a miraculous gift to humanity and the world. . . .  If one rejects the virgin birth, he receives the approval of some people in the modern academy.  If one affirms the virgin birth, he receives the support of Scripture and almost two thousand years of church history (Akin, Theology for the Church, p. 512). 

Apologetics (defending the faith) is both for Christians and non-Christians as we seek to strengthen and explain, respectively, the rationale behind our faith.  Though only the Spirit can change hearts (1 Corinthians 2:11-14), we can certainly plant the seeds and give the reason for our faith as we dole out the reason for the season.

What think ye?

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