Merry Christmas

25 12 2008

On this glorious Christmas day, I hope these words of prayer and reflection resonate with your heart.
May you have a wonderful and worship time with family and friends, rejoicing in our Lord who stepped so low to rescue us and raise us up to him!

“My heart melts at the love of Jesus,
my brother, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh,
married to me, dead for me, risen for me;
He is mine and I am his,
given to me as well as for me;
I am never so much mine as when I am his,
or so much lost to myself until lost in him;
then I find my true manhood.

But my love is frost and cold, ice and snow;
Let his love warm me,
lighten my burden,
be my heaven;
May it be more revealed to me in all its influences
that my love to him may be more fervent and glowing;
Let the mighty tide of his everlasting love
cover the rocks of my sin and care;
Then let my spirit float above those things
which had else wrecked my life.

Make me fruitful by living to that love,
my character becoming more beautiful every day.
If traces of Christ’s love-artistry be upon me,
may he work on with his divine brush
until the complete image be obtained
and I be made a perfect copy of him,
my Master.”

from “The Love of Jesus” in The Valley of Vision

Thank you, Jesus.


Meditating on Christmas

10 12 2008

Often, during this season, I am accused of  being a bit of a scrooge.  Previously, I have greeted such comments with a “ba humbug” and moved on.  This year, however, I’m hoping to respond differently.

Let me just say that I’m not opposed to Christmas.  There are elements of this “celebration” that I am very opposed to, such as us using the holiday to train our children in materialism, or making it about a cute little baby Jesus with no reference to sin, salvation, or that same Jesus’ atoning death and glorious resurrection.  But, I’m not opposed to celebrating the condescension of my Lord and the wonderful declaration of Immanuel.

Come, Thou Long-Expected JesusSo this year, to help me “talk and think Christmas” like so many around me, I’ve enlisted some help.  A couple weeks ago I purchased the new book Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, edited by Nancy Guthrie.  The work is a collection of short, Christmas-focused readings to help soften and prepare our hearts to celebrate the advent of our Lord.

The readings (22 in all) come from the works and sermons of such great Christian thinkers and preachers as Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, George Whitefield, John Calvin, and Augustine.  In addition to material from those historical figures, Guthrie also includes writings from modern Evangelical preachers and speakers such as J. I. Packer, John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul and Tim Keller. (Check out the entire list of authors here). Each reading is around 3-5 pages and makes a great supplement to your devotional time.

So, this month my morning devotions begin with a reading from this book.  Thus far, I must say that I’ve really enjoyed reading through the worshipful reflections of these great saints.  I’m hoping that thinking through these things each morning will prepare my heart and mind to engage with the celebrators of Christmas and respond more joyfully and graciously to their yuletide greetings.

Who knows, maybe this year a few sermons from the “ghosts of Christmas past”  will help soften this scrooge’s heart!

When You Think of the Babe in the Manger…

24 12 2007

… don’t forget:

“These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and spoke of Him.”
John 12:41 

 “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.  Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.’  And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.  Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.'”
Isaiah 6:1-5

Worshipful Christmas!

Joy to the Neighborhood!

18 12 2007

Those at the church where I serve know I’m not a big fan of Christmas carols.  As our church’s music pastor (one of the hats I get to wear) I usually hear each year: “Why aren’t we singing more Christmas carols?!”  My answer is that I’m not a big fan of them.  Why? Most Christmas carols are difficult for the congregation to sing (since they are designed for choral singing, not congregational singing) and often their theological content leaves something to be desired.

However, this evening I had a wonderful time singing Christmas carols!  My personal Barnabas, Dave, organized an evening of sharing Christ as we went caroling in a neighborhood near our church building.  This is the fourth year we have done this and God blessed us this year with a great group and decent weather for the evening (it was a little windy and cold, but God stopped the rain for most of the time we were out caroling through the neigborhood). 

A couple of thoughts on the evening:

1) Kudos to Dave for organizing caroling with a purpose.  He was very intentional about the reason for caroling, and it wasn’t to fill the cold evening air with Christmas songs.  Dave wanted these people, living a little more than a mile from the church, to know about our church and about the Gospel we embrace and proclaim.  He made sure each house received a pamphlet explaining our ministry and their need for the Gospel.  As we sang at each home, a few members of the group would ring the doorbell and share the information with those who answered their door.

2) Some people hid from us.  It was obvious that some of the folks who didn’t answer their door were actually home.  Some watched from upstairs windows.  Others came out after we left.  But it was obvious that at a few homes we were ignored.  As I rode back to the church in the fantastic old pick-up truck of my new acquaintance, Gary, he shared about ministry trips he had taken to Nicaragua and Mexico.  “They were so receptive” he said.  “When you came to their door, they didn’t ignore you, they would come right out and talk with you and really listen to what you had to say.”  I imagine there are a number of different reasons why someone might not come to their door, but one has to wonder how that moment might look to them from the perspective of eternity. 

3) As we approached one of the last houses and began to sing “Joy to the World,” I took great delight in being able to sing loudly and in public about the greatness of my Savior.  At times, Christianity can become too much of a “personal” thing and tonight was a wonderful chance to joyously proclaim publicly my affection for Jesus.  There is something invigorating about telling the world (or a neighborhood in the world) how marvelous Jesus is.  It was even better to be surrounded by a band of brothers and sisters who were joyously proclaiming the same thing!  

Thanks, Dave, for planning this great evening.  And the next time somebody comes up to me and asks why we didn’t sing more Christmas carols this year, I’ll tell them we did sing some more carols and you should have been there!

The Cost of Christmas

1 12 2007

What do you think about at Christmas?  I love thinking about the gifts I’ll be giving; shopping for Amy and Rylie, as well as the rest of my family, is a real joy for me.  I like spending the time trying to come up with some gift that will really excite them, something they might not be expecting but will really want.  (The first year Amy and I were married, I got so excited about the gifts I got for her that I made her open them early- two weeks early!)  So, between now and December 25th I’ll probably spend a bit of time dwelling on the perfect item to communicate to them how special they are to me.  However, if that is where my mind primarily dwells this December, it would be to my shame and their detriment.
Every year, I try to remind myself that there is something far more important than presents and purchases that cries out for my attention- there is the overwhelming price my Savior paid: the real cost of Christmas. 
Paul describes the cost this way: “Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (Phi. 2:5b-7)
Take a moment and read through that text again (I’ll wait). 
Can we possibly fathom that cost?  The Almighty and Holy God Who had always existed in perfection and glory, stepped down and made Himself nothing.  The King James has the better translation here when it says He “made himself of no
reputation,” which is the real meaning of the phrase “He emptied Himself.” 
But what does Paul mean by this idea “of no reputation?”
Think about this: our glorious King Who had existed from all eternity as the center of the unceasing praise of heaven stepped into this fallen world and lived just like one of us; actually He lived far worse.  We modern Americans have more food than we can eat and more wealth than we even understand.  I’m sitting, typing this in my warm, cozy home.  I have a comfortable bed in which I will (eventually) rest tonight.  I have a fresh, clean set of clothes to put on in the morning (and a closet full of clothes to wear after I’ve worn those).  I have two cars and money in the bank (although not a lot).  Jesus had none of those things; He entered this world in poverty and died naked and alone.  
And how did this world He stepped into respond; how did they react to His great condescension?   “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:10-11)  Or to put it another way, “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isaiah 53:3).  Or, in Paul’s words, He was “of no reputation.”
Sure, at the manger there were a few poor shepherds who responded in worship to the coming of the King of Glory (Luke 2:8-20; Psalm 24), but by the cross even the Father turned His face from Him (Matthew 27:45-46).  In between, He was reviled, rejected, hated, misunderstood, attacked, and mocked.  He knew hunger like most of us will never experience (Luke 4:2).  He felt the limits of the body (John 4:6) and understood the welling up of anger (Mark 3:5) and tears (Luke 19:41).  He was assaulted by the Enemy (Matthew 4:1-11) and faced anxiety like we will never know (Mark 14:34-36; Luke 22:41-44).  And He did this all willingly, giving up the bliss and glory of heaven. 
This is the staggering reality of the Incarnation.  It is an act of unfathomable condescension and reveals for us what real love truly looks like. It is something worthy of our serious contemplation, especially at this time of year.