Thursday, December 31, 2009

Why I am a Christian...

The answer to that is multi-faceted, but it includes:

-- the evidence regarding the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and especially regarding the reality of his Resurrection
-- the impact of the preaching of the Word of God on me
-- significant times of engaging with God in prayer, worship, contemplation
-- my most ennobling experiences in life have been connected to the times when I’m most in line with his good will
-- the testimony and example of believers who have been formed by His Spirit and Word
-- the times when I engage in preaching and teaching God’s Word, true to my calling and gifts (I believe) have been the times when I feel most fully human and most fully alive.

There is much more that could be said, and I know there are doubters and detractors, but I have come to realize more clearly than ever, in recent days, that I am, bottom line (and in spite of all my failings, weaknesses and backslidings), a believer in Jesus Christ, dedicated to being one of his faithful followers.

To God alone be the glory. (Eph. 2:8-10)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bible reading plans

Justin Taylor's blog presents a number of options regarding Bible reading plans for 2010.

The Spirit's Influence Upon Every Area of Our Lives

“Be filled with the Spirit. Seek to be more and more under His blessed influence. Strive to have every thought, word, action, and habit brought under the obedience to the leading of the Holy Ghost. Grieve Him not by inconsistencies and conformity to the world. Quench Him not by trifling with little infirmities and small besetting sins. Seek rather to have Him ruling and reigning more completely over you every week that you live.”

~ J.C. Ryle
Old Paths, “The Holy Ghost”, 289.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Our Generation Needs Most...

"...There is nothing that our generation needs more than to hear the Word of God -- and this at a time of biblical illiteracy rising at an astonishing rate. Moreover it needs to hear Christian leaders personally submitting to Scripture, personally reading and teaching Scripture -- not in veiled ways that merely assume some sort of heritage of Christian teaching while actually focusing on just about anything else, but in ways that are reverent, exemplary, comprehensive, insistent, persistent. Nothing, nothing at all, is more urgent."

-- D.A. Carson (commenting on 2 Chron. 34) in "For the Love of God" reading for December 29 (Crossway: 1998)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sunday, December 27, 2009

New Year...New Beginnings...New Life in Christ

Characteristics of the New Life in Christ
(Matt.4:17; Jn. 3:1-16 ; Rom. 6; 2 Cor.5:17; Eph. 4:17ff.; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Pet. 1:13-17; 1 Jn.2:15-17)

· Christ-centered vs. self/man-centered (Gal.2:20; Phil.1:21; 3:4b-11; Col.1:10, 15-18ff.)

· Spirit-empowered vs. ‘flesh’-dominated (Gal. 5:16ff.; Rom.8)

· Gospel-driven (grace) vs. performance-driven (works) (Gal.2:20-21)

· Word-obeying vs. worldly wisdom following (Deut. 8:3 à Matt.4:4; 28:18-20; 2 Tim.3:16ff; Jas. 3:13-18 ; 1 Cor.1:18-2:6; 1 Jn.2:3-6) I simply don’t know what to make of professed Christianity that seems indifferent as to whether or not it’s truly Scriptural. Because it’s in the Word that we hear His Voice. And it’s in the Bible that we have authentic Christianity (worship, experience, fellowship, witness, etc.) described in ‘black and white.’

· Others-loving vs. self-serving (Matt. 20:24-28; Mark 8:34-37; Jn.13:34-35; Matt.22:34ff.)

· World-denying vs. culture-conforming (Rom.12:1-2; 1 Jn.2:15-17)

· Holiness-pursuing vs. ‘self-fulfilling’ (Heb.12:14 ; 2 Pet.1:5ff.

· Father-glorifying vs. man-pleasing (Mt.5:16; 1 Cor. 10:31)

· The way of peace vs. the way of the transgressor (Matt.11:28-30; Rom.3:15-17)

All these different facets are interdependent and ‘synergistic’ – they are to be maintained and experienced together.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Labor of Love"

Jill Phillips, from Behold the Lamb of God, with scenes from the movie, The Nativity Story:

The song and YouTube video.

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cryI
n 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

Noble Joseph at her side
Callused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
In the streets of David’s town
In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

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
For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
It was a labor of love....

HT: Justin Taylor

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas and the Cross

Christmas means "God is with us" (Matt. 1:23); the Cross means "God is for us" (Rom.8:31).

"Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!." (2 Cor. 9:15)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"Peace, be still": Learning Psalm 131 by Heart

by David Powlison

"God speaks to us in many different ways. When you hear, “Now it came to pass,” settle down for a good story. When God asserts, I am,” trust His self-revelation. When He promises, “I will,” bank on it. When He tells you, “You shall…you shall not,” do what He says. Psalm 131 is in yet a different vein. Most of it is holy eavesdropping. You have intimate access to the inner life of someone who has learned composure, and then he invites you to come along. Psalm 131 is show-and-tell for how to become peaceful inside. Listen in."

Continue reading this article from the Spring 2000 issue of "The Journal of Biblical Counseling."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The True Christmas Story...the Story We're Already In

“Not a Fable”

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Lk.1:1-4….

“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” 2 Pet. 1:16

The Biblical Christmas story is real history, it’s not a “Christmas Shoes” kind of story (e.g., a sentimental story of something that may or may not have happened, whether it did or didn’t doesn’t matter, you can still ‘learn the lesson’ or apply the ‘moral’ of the story…)

Christianity is the religion that insist that it rests upon what really happened, and that whether what it affirms as having happened really did happen, makes all the difference in the world. It matters crucially to the truth and claim that Christianity makes (1 Cor. 15:12-19; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 Jn.1:1ff.; Jn.20:30-32; Lk.1:1-4; cp. Acts 1:1-4). And that’s why you find the 'witness/eyewitness' theme throughout the New Testament (Lk. 24:45-49; Jn. 20:30-31; Acts 1:8; 4:20; 1 Cor. 15:14-19; Rev. 1:5; 3:14).

And think about it: how do we know anything that we know and believe about history? We know and believe it because we believe in the ‘witness/testimony’ of others who were there at the time.

The Bible is story, yes, but it is a story interpreted and applied by God himself (cp. 1 Jn. 5:9-13 regarding God’s own ‘witness/testimony’ concerning His Son).

The basic Christian message is NEWS – it’s reporting about what really happened (Lk.1:1-4), combined with a God-given explanation of what those events meant, and still mean today.

“Christ died…” that’s story/history/news “…for our sins…” that’s inspired interpretation and explanation... "according to the Scriptures" -- and the Scriptures faithfully bear witness to Christ (1 Cor. 15:1ff.; Jn. 5:39)

That a baby was born in Bethlehem is news…it happened in history. It really happened. But the Bible goes further, telling us who he was and what he had come to do…and that’s what makes it Gospel – Good News.

"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Lk.2:11)

And so the main reason a person should embrace Christianity, and become a Christian, believing in Christ – is because this Good News is really true, it really happened, and Jesus Christ is just who the Bible and the Gospel say he is – Savior, Christ/Messiah, Lord!

And the Christmas Story is a Story that always involves each of us, and always requires a response (Matt.28:18ff.; Acts 2:36ff.; Jn. 3:16)

In fact, the Biblical story is a story we’re all already in…. And in this Story, in the real and true history of God that is the history of our world, Jesus is Savior, so are to trust Him, and He is Lord, so we are to give Him our whole-souled allegiance.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"A Word About Family Tensions and the Holidays"

Here is an excellent, insightful, and sometimes hard-hitting essay from Russell Moore about how Christians should respond to family tensions during the holidays.

His counsel centers around five biblical concepts: (1) peace; (2) honor; (3) humility; (4) maturity; (5) perspective.

HT: Justin Taylor

The Father's two greatest gifts

“When God planned the great work of saving sinners, he provided two gifts. He gave his Son and he gave his Spirit. In fact each person of the Trinity was involved in the great work of salvation. The love, grace and wisdom of the Father planned it; the love, grace and humility of the Son purchased it; and the love, grace and power of the Holy Spirit enabled sinners to believe and receive it.

“The first great truth in this work of salvation is that God sent his Son to take our nature on him and to suffer for us in it. The second great truth is that God gave his Spirit to bring sinners to faith in Christ and so be saved.”

—John Owen, The Holy Spirit, ed. RJK Law (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1998), 1
posted at "Of First Importance"

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sharing Christ over Christmas (with family....)

Chris Castaldo has a helpful post about sharing Christ during the Christmas season, including with those closest to us. Here's the intro...

"Many of us approach Christmas dinner brimming with fear. Such anxiety doesn’t come from Aunt Mary’s liver sausage pate or her sour-apple fruitcake so much as our sense of the challenge of trying to direct conversation toward the gospel. After all, last year’s attempt was a proverbial train wreck. How can this year be any different?

"If I were to give one piece of advice, it would be to understand what evangelism is, and what it is not. The following definition and subsequent explication are intended to provide this sort of perspective, to help us approach Christmas dinner with a greater measure of optimism and hope.

"Evangelism is the activity in which the entire Church prayerfully and intentionally relies on God in sharing gospel love and truth, in order to bring people one step closer to Jesus Christ."

And you can read the rest of his post here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

True Meaning of Christmas: "God with us"

Preaching on Isaiah 7:14, C. H. Spurgeon closed with this flourish:

“God with us.” It is hell’s terror. Satan trembles at the sound of it; the black-winged dragon of the pit quails before it. Let him come to you suddenly, and do you but whisper that word, “God with us,” back he falls, confounded and confused. “God with us” is the laborer’s strength; how could he preach the gospel, how could he bend his knees in prayer, how could the missionary go into foreign lands, how could the martyr stand at the stake, how could the confessor own his Master, how could men labor, if that one word were taken away? “God with us” is the sufferer’s comfort, the balm of his woe, the alleviation of his misery, the sleep which God gives to his beloved, their rest after exertion and toil. “God with us” is eternity’s sonnet, heaven’s hallelujah, the shout of the glorified, the song of the redeemed, the chorus of angels, the everlasting oratorio of the great orchestra of the sky.

-- from Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How to Rightly Respond to Criticism

One of the most important marks of spiritual maturity (and one of the spiritual habits that is hardest to develop) is the ability to benefit from criticism. (cp. Prov. 9:7-9)

Today I came across a blog post from Justin Taylor that pointed me to three excellent, helpful treatments of this crucial practice..advice from John Newton, Tim Keller and David Powlison on how to constructively respond to criticism:

-- advice from John Newton (yes, the "Amazing Grace" John Newton):

-- an article from Tim Keller

-- a longer essay from David Powlison

Powlison's article is the longest, but it's also the most comprehensive, so it's well worth the time (although some might want to skip quickly through his section on examples related to his own work). Here's just an excerpt:

"Fair-minded criticism is one of life's best
pleasures, an acquired taste well worth the
acquiring. Someone who will take you seriously,
understand you accurately, treat you charitably,
and who then will lay it on the line is a
messenger from God for your welfare (whether
or not you end up completely agreeing). There
is nothing quite like being disagreed with
intelligently, lovingly, and openly: "Faithful are
the wounds of a friend" (Prov. 27:6). If I only
listen to my allies, or to yes-men, clones,
devotees, and fellow factionaries, then I might
as well inject narcotics into my veins. The
people of God are a large work in progress. To
engage and to interact with critics is to further
the process-in both of our lives."

-- David Powlison

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Come, Lord Jesus, to Redeem Us"

Come, Lord Jesus, to redeem us
from our foes and from our fears.
We await the hand of mercy
that will wipe away our tears.
We have labored long in darkness,
even now our hearts grow weak.
How we long for your appearing
and your great salvation seek.
(Rev. 21:4; Rom. 8:23; 2Tim. 4:8)

Come, Lord Jesus, true and righteous,
bring your pure and piercing light.
For we know when you appear, Lord,
ev’ry wrong shall be made right.
You will vanquish all the proud ones;
you will fill all those who thirst.
O, the first shall be the last, then
,and the last shall be the first.
(Rev. 16:5-7; Matt. 19:30; 20:16; 24:32-46)

Now prepare a path before Him:in the desert make a way.
Take the gospel to the nations
and proclaim his coming Day.
Ev’ry mountain must be leveled;
ev’ry valley must be raised.
Then all flesh shall see his glory.
God shall be forever praised!
(Isa. 40:3-5; Matt. 24:14)

Raise the cry of "Maranatha!”
We shall soon behold our King.
To the Alpha and Omega,
this one prayer and plea we sing:
joining voices with the Spirit
we, the Bride of Christ, say, "Come!”
Come, Lord Jesus, come and free us
from this death and bring us home.
(1Cor. 16:22; Rev. 22:13, 17)

Text: Gary A. Parrett (2002)
Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Spurgeon on Authentic Earnestness in the Pulpit

(What Spurgeon says here applies to singers and musicians too....)

"Earnestness in the pulpit must be real. It is not to be mimicked..... To sham earnestness is one of the most contemptible of dodges for courting popularity; let us abhor the very thought.

"Go and be listless in the pulpit if you are so in heart. Be slow in speech, drawling in tone, and monotonous in voice, if so you can best express your soul; even that would be infinitely better than to make your ministry a masquerade and yourself an actor."

-- Charles Spurgeon in "Lecture to My Students" (part 2, p. 149 -- Baker 1980)

Conversion: a total turning to God

“The whole proclamation of Jesus…is a proclamation of unconditional turning to God, of unconditional turning from all that is against God, not merely that which is downright evil, but that which in a given case makes total turning to God impossible…." [cp. the 'rich young ruler' -- Matt.19:16-29; Mk. 10:17-30; Lk. 18:18-30]

--"Repentance (metanoia)" in “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament” (Kittel)

Monday, December 14, 2009

What Happens In a True Conversion?

‘What happens then, in a true conversion, is that faith comes to life in the mind as the reality of the truths about Christ (whether they have been read or heard) begin to take life and to felt. In some shape or form, these truths center on God’s holiness and love, Christ’s self-giving for us and in our place on the Cross, His triumph over sin, death and the devil, and our sense of corruption, guilt, misery and despair.

‘Then we hear the words of grace in the Gospel. Emotions may well be stirred, for although the perception of spiritual reality is not itself emotional, distress, fear, shame, and hopeful joy are at different times the result of coming to realize the truth of the Gospel.

‘Faith, beginning as this knowledge [this real understanding of the truths of the Christian faith] blossoms into assent in which the will is now engaged; assent issues into heartfelt trust and from this trust flows real repentance and the turning from sin to Christ.’

-- David Wells, “Turning to God” p. 146 (Eerdmans)

Christmas Sermons

Here's a collection of Christmas sermons from Alistair Begg.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Where is forgiveness to be found?

“Where must a man go for pardon? Where is forgiveness to be found? There is a way both sure and plain and that way is simply to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. It is to cast your soul, with all its sins, unreservedly on Christ, – to cease completely from any dependence on your own works or doings, either in whole or in part – and to rest on no other work but Christ’s work, no other merit but Christ’s merit, as your ground of hope. Take this course and you are a pardoned soul.”

~ J.C. Ryle
Old Paths, “Forgiveness”, 185, 186.
J.C. Ryle Quotes

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Satan's Opposition to the Word of God

“There is nothing truer to the portrayal of Satan than a determination to undermine the word of God, to get people to live on any other basis than revelation.”

- J. A. Motyer Look to the Rock
HT: The Big Picture

Counterfeit Saviors

“If we are deeply moved by the sight of his love for us, it detaches our hearts from other would-be saviors. We stop trying to redeem ourselves through our pursuits and relationships, because we are already redeemed. We stop trying to make others into saviors, because we have a Savior.”

- Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009), 45.
HT: Of First Importance

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How to Know When God Is Truly at Work

"In The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Jonathan Edwards pulled out of 1 John 4 the biblical indicators that God is at work, even if the people involved are complicating it with their own sins and eccentricities. The true gold of grace is discernible in these four ways:

"One, when our esteem of Jesus is being raised, so that we prize him more highly than all this world, God is at work.

"Two, when we are moving away from Satan’s interests, away from sin and worldly desires, God is at work.

"Three, when we are believing, revering and devouring the Bible more, God is at work.

"Four, when we love Jesus and one another more, God is at work.

"Satan not only wouldn’t produce such things, he couldn’t produce them, so opposite are these from his nature and purposes. These are sure signs that God is at work...."

-- from Ray Ortlund

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Santa Christ" by Sinclair Ferguson (pt. 2)

This is part 2 of Dr. Ferguson's penetrating essay on the true meaning of Christmas. (See yesterday's post for part 1).

The Christ of Christmas

"...The Scriptures systematically strip away the veneer that covers the real truth of the Christmas story. Jesus did not come to add to our comforts. He did not come to help those who were already helping themselves or to fill life with more pleasant experiences. He came on a deliverance mission, to save sinners, and to do so He had to destroy the works of the Devil (Matt. 1:21; 1 John 3:8b).

"Those whose lives were bound up with the events of the first Christmas did not find His coming an easy and pleasurable experience.

"Mary and Joseph's lives were turned upside down.

"The shepherds' night was frighteningly interrupted, and their futures potentially radically changed.

"The magi faced all kinds of inconvenience and family separation.

"Our Lord Himself, conceived before wedlock, born probably in a cave, would spend His early days as a refugee from the bloodthirsty and vindictive Herod (Matt. 2:13-21).

"There is, therefore, an element in the Gospel narratives that stresses that the coming of Jesus is a disturbing event of the deepest proportions. It had to be thus, for He did not come merely to add something extra to life, but to deal with our spiritual insolvency and the debt of our sin. He was not conceived in the womb of Mary for those who have done their best, but for those who know that their best is 'like filthy rags' (Isa. 64:6)--far from good enough--and that in their flesh there dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18). He was not sent to be the source of good experiences, but to suffer the pangs of hell in order to be our Savior.

A Christian Christmas

The Christians who first began to celebrate the birth of the Savior saw this. Christmas for them was not (contrary to what is sometimes mistakenly said) simply adding a Christian veneer to a pagan festival--the Roman Saturnalia. They may have been doing what many Christians have done in marking Reformation Day (which happens to fall on Halloween), namely, committing themselves to a radical alternative to the world's Saturnalia, refusing to be squeezed into its mold. They were determined to fix mind, heart, will, and strength exclusively on the Lord Jesus Christ. There was no confusion in their thinking between the world and the gospel, Saturnalia and Christmas, Santa Jesus and Christ Jesus. They were citizens of another empire altogether.

In fact, such was the malice evoked by their other-worldly devotion to Christ that during the persecutions under the Emperor Diocletian, some believers were murdered as they gathered to celebrate Christmas. What was their gross offense? Worship of the true Christ -- incarnate, crucified, risen, glorified, and returning. They celebrated Him that day for giving His all for them, and as they did so, they gave their all for Him.

One Christmas Eve in my teenage years, I opened a book a friend had given to me as a present. I found myself so overwhelmed by its teaching on my recently found Savior that I began to shake with emotion at what had dawned on me: the world had not celebrated His coming, but rather had crucified Him.

Doubtless I was an impressionable teenager. But should it not cause us to tremble that "they crucified my Lord"? Or is that true only in song, not in reality? Are we not there when the world still crucifies Him in its own, often-subtle ways?

The truth is that unless the significance of what Christ did at the first Christmas shakes us, we can scarcely be said to have understood much of what it means, or of who He really is.

Who is He in yonder stall
At Whose feet the shepherds fall?
'Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
'Tis the Lord! the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall,
Crown Him! Crown Him, Lord of all!

And we might add:

Who is He on yonder cross
Suffers for this dark world's loss?
'Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
'Tis the Lord! the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall,
Crown Him! Crown Him, Lord of all!

"Let us not confuse Jesus Christ with Santa Claus."
This article is excerpted from Dr. Ferguson's book In Christ Alone.

Monday, December 7, 2009

"Santa Christ" by Sinclair Ferguson

This article is excerpted from Dr. Ferguson's book In Christ Alone. Today is part 1; tomorrow I'll post part 2.

"I took the hand of my toddler son (it was several decades ago now) as we made our way into the local shop on the small and remote Scottish island where earlier that year I had been installed as minister. It was Christmas week. The store was brightly decorated and a general air of excitement was abroad.

"Without warning, the conversations of the customers were brought to a halt by a questioning voice from beside me. My son's upraised index finger pointed at a large cardboard Santa Claus. 'Daddy, who is that funny-looking man?' he asked.

"Amazement spread across the faces of the jostling shoppers; accusing glances were directed at me. Such shame--the minister's son did not even recognize Santa Claus! What likelihood, then, of hearing good news in his preaching at the festive season?

"Such experiences can make us bewail how the Western world gives itself over annually to its Claus-mass or commerce-mass. We celebrate a reworked pagan Saturnalia of epic proportions, one in which the only connection with the incarnation is semantic. Santa is worshiped, not the Savior; pilgrims go to the stores with credit cards, not to the manger with gifts. It is the feast of indulgence, not of the incarnation.

"It is always easier to lament and critique the new paganism of secularism's blatant idolatry than to see how easily the church -- and we ourselves -- twist or dilute the message of the incarnation in order to suit our own tastes. But, sadly, we have various ways of turning the Savior into a kind of Santa Claus.

Santa Claus Christianity

"For one thing, in our worship at Christmas we may varnish the staggering truth of the incarnation with what is visually, audibly, and aesthetically pleasing. We confuse emotional pleasure -- or worse, sentiment -- with true adoration.

"For another thing, we may denigrate our Lord with a Santa Claus Christology. How sadly common it is for the church to manufacture a Jesus who is a mirror refection of Santa Claus. He becomes Santa Christ.

"Santa Christ is sometimes a Pelagian Jesus. Like Santa, he simply asks us whether we have been good. More exactly, since the assumption is that we are all naturally good, Santa Christ asks us whether we have been "good enough." So just as Christmas dinner is simply the better dinner we really deserve, Jesus becomes a kind of added bonus who makes a good life even better. He is not seen as the Savior of helpless sinners.

"Or Santa Christ may be a Semi-Pelagian Jesus -- a slightly more sophisticated Jesus who, Santa-like, gives gifts to those who have already done the best they could! Thus, Jesus' hand, like Santa's sack, opens only when we can give an upper-percentile answer to the none-too-weighty probe, 'Have you done your best this year?' The only difference from medieval theology here is that we do not use its Latin phraseology: facere quod in se est (to do what one is capable of doing on one's own, or, in common parlance, 'Heaven helps those who help themselves').

"Then again, Santa Christ may be a mystical Jesus, who, like Santa Claus, is important because of the good experiences we have when we think about him, irrespective of his historical reality. It doesn't really matter whether the story is true or not; the important thing is the spirit of Santa Christ. For that matter, while it would spoil things to tell the children this, everyone can make up his or her own Santa Christ. As long as we have the right spirit of Santa Christ, all is well.

"But Jesus is not to be identified with Santa Claus; worldly thinking -- however much it employs Jesus-language--is not to be confused with biblical truth...."

To view the entire article, go to

Saturday, December 5, 2009

True Meaning of Christmas, pt. 2

The Biblical message about Christmas is the wondrous truth of the Son of God becoming man to save sinners from the guilt and misery of their sin.

It is about the profound mystery of the Incarnation – the Word becoming flesh, God becoming man, dwelling among us, as one of us, fitting Him to be our sympathizing Savior and interceding High Priest.

It is about the fulfillment of promises and prophecies and about the inauguration of a new covenant, with the covenant gifts of forgiveness of sin and the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit.

It is about the drawing near of the reign of God in the person of the Messiah whom God had promised to send.

It is about the glory of God in the way that he brings peace – shalom (the way things are supposed to be) – to earth.

It is about the momentous decision that his coming presents to every human being – will they receive or reject Him? Will they repent and believe the Good News?

And the Good News is that a Savior from sin has come – and this One who is Savior/Redeemer is also Messiah, King and Lord. Those who refuse Him will bring final judgment and everlasting ruin upon themselves. Those who receive Him are actually made the children of God!

The Biblical stories surrounding the birth of Christ also give us compelling examples (in the responses of Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Simeon etc.) of what it means to trust and obey God, and to submit to his will even when that submission is very difficult. And these examples teach us about what it means to care more about the interests of the kingdom of God than our own individual concerns.

These are the themes that a faithful church will joyfully, reverently proclaim in music and message at Christmas time!

Friday, December 4, 2009

True Meaning of Christmas?

One of the ironies of the Christmas season is how often people chime in on ‘the real meaning of Christmas’ and then proceed, in my opinion, to get it wrong. For example, ‘Christmas isn’t all about shopping and getting, it’s about family and traditions….’ While I agree that quality family time is way more important than shopping and getting stuff, that’s not the same as saying that it’s the real meaning of Christmas.

The true meaning of Christmas has to do with Christ, right? It has to do with who Jesus Christ was and is, why he came, what he said, what he did, what he accomplished, and what it means when the Bible calls him the Savior, who is Christ/Messiah, the Lord.

And since the Bible is the inspired, infallible source for all we can truly know about Christ in his person and saving work, a focus on the true meaning of Christmas will mean a careful, comprehensive look about what the Bible, centering on the Gospel accounts of his birth, says about him. The true story of Christmas is told in the opening chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (with all their connections with Old Testament prophecies and with New Testament explanations of their meaning).

So I thought I’d do some blog posts about the true meaning of Christmas – I could have said ‘meanings’ since there is so much that the Bible says, but maybe we can think of it in terms of the rich variety of the aspects of the meaning of Christmas, once we agree that the true meaning of Christmas is the coming of the Christ.

More to come soon....

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Understanding the 'Big Picture' of the Bible

I've just finished an excellent, helpful book that explains the 'big picture of the Bible's story and message, organized around the central idea of the kingdom of God.

The book is "God's Big Picture" by Vaughan Roberts (IVP).

In what follows I very lightly revise and adapt Roberts' ideas. (And I would differ with some minor points where the author's amilleniallism colors what he writes):

The kingdom is God’s people in God’s place under God’s blessing and rule (by His Word).

The OT
1. the pattern of the kingdom [Garden of Eden]
2. the perished kingdom [the Fall]
3. the promised kingdom [covenant with Abraham…beginnings with Israel]
4. the partial kingdom [the life and history of Israel, esp. under David and Solomon]
5. the prophesied kingdom [OT prophets]

The NT
6. the present kingdom [with Jesus the king present and active]
7. the proclaimed kingdom [Acts, the epistles, the Church era]
8. the perfected kingdom [millennium and the new heaven and new earth]

I highly recommend this accessible, understandable, well-written book -- which includes excellent study/discussion questions.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Vital and Influential (Transforming) Christianity

"It is a growing conviction in my mind, that vital and influential Christianity consists, much more than is ordinarily apprehended, in an intimate personal acquaintance and friendship with our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the great Revealer of God; He is the revealed Divinity.... To be a Christian, it is not enough that we know and acknowledge a system of doctrine and law, deduced from the sayings of our Lord and the writings of his apostles. It is necessary that we be acquainted with his person, his character, and his work; that we know the doctrines of Christianity as his mind, the laws of Christianity as his will. The very life of Christianity consists in loving, confiding in [trusting], obeying him, and God in him; and he plainly can be loved, confided in [trusted], and obeyed, only in the degree in which he is known."

-- John Brown