Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas!

xmas6From all of us here at Gospel Convergence may we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

We hope and pray you will enjoy time with your family and friends over the Christmas holidays as you celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom belongs all glory both now and to the day of eternity!

We will return on the 6th of January 2014.

See you all in the New Year!

Wishing you all God’s blessings,
The Gospel Convergence Team

 

Advent: Adoration

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In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

     ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Luke 2:8-21 NRSV

Christmas is in danger of passing me by this year.

Studying for an MA sometimes makes you throw out the baby with the bathwater or, in this case, the baby with the manger.

For many reasons I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to really ponder this passage, along with Mary, and to share some thoughts on the theme of adoration.

Firstly, adoration, according to the OED, means ‘the action or an act of displaying profound reverence or respect; worship of God…’

Adoration is very much a doing word.

Adoration requires action and in this passage we see a variety of actions at different stages.

The shepherds’ first action is to respond in fear to the angels, even though they are sharing ‘good news of great joy’: the gospel message of Christ. Maybe the first ever public declaration of the gospel message explicitly proclaiming Jesus as the long awaited Messiah? And how do the shepherds choose to respond? They leave the sheep and run off to find out what this is about – they investigate the claims of the angels for themselves and respond in worship: glorifying and praising God. Thus, we see that from his first hours on earth, Jesus called people to come and follow him.

Our Shepherd called shepherds to adore him.

Though she had been carrying the child for 9 months, we get a glimpse of Mary’s adoration of her child in this small part of the unfolding story. Undoubtedly, she is tired and confused – she has given birth to the Son of God and yet, here he is lying in a feeding trough. Through the shepherds, God speaks into her heart in these moments:

“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!”

Mary chooses to not let these precious moments and messages pass her by. Rather, she ponders: reflects, meditates and wonders as the voice of God ministers to her weary heart:

Mary, do not be afraid.

Mary, be at peace. You have been shunned by society, but this child is good news for all people, including you. Keep trusting.

Mary, your child is the Messiah – the hoped for and long awaited one.

Mary, you may not understand, but I had planned his birth in this way and in this place.

Mary, give me the glory, for I have done this. Adore your child, the God the Son on earth, for he brings peace and hope to all who will trust in him. 

I have to admit, I feel a bit like the shepherds at times. The Christmas season comes and goes in a similar manner to being flash-mobbed by an angel choir.

Do you ever get that feeling?

I hope this year I take time to adore Christ like Mary did; to let the truths of Emmanuel take root in my heart; to ponder and consider what “God with us” really means for this world and for me.

Adoration may be a simple, childlike wonder. But I don’t want to lose it as I grow older. Christmas will always hold a great mystery:

God became one of us.

He lived among us.

He ate and drank.

He laughed and cried.

He healed the sick and comforted the broken hearted.

And then he died for our sins, bearing the wrath of God so we could be forgiven, and rose from the dead so that we can be restored to a right relationship with God.

Why, oh why? I often ask myself.

So that I would have the option of choosing the True Shepherd, the one who assures me that I shall not want, that he shall carry me and keep me from straying.

Like Mary, do not let the words of God wash over you this Christmas or this very day – treasure them and ponder them in your heart. The promises of God are the greatest gift to us on earth. His promises are our future hope and our inheritance through Jesus Christ. Cheesy perhaps, but it really is the best Christmas present to know we have a home with our Heavenly Father.

~

Editor’s Note: This is the final post in our four part Advent series. Click here to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Out With The Old And In With The New

sunrise new yearIt is approaching that time of year again.

The end of one year and the beginning of a new one.

Perhaps this past year has been a difficult one for you, full of loss and despair, and so the thought of a new beginning, a new dawn, fills you with hope as you look forward to what the future holds. That things will get better

Or maybe these hardships have soured your heart to the point where you can no longer see an end to your suffering.

Alternatively, you may have had a great year. One overflowing with joy. The best year of your life and you are excited to see what God has in store for you next.

But maybe you’re a worrier, “What if this is as good as it gets?” you ask, “What if it’s all downhill from here?”

Most of us probably fall somewhere in the middle. Our year has been a mixture of joy and sorrow, and likewise, our expectations for this new year, for 2014, are a mixture of hopeful anticipation and nagging anxiety.

The truth is we have no idea what 2014 will throw at us. We have no idea of the circumstances we will experience in the next 12 months. In fact, we are very much at the mercy of these circumstances which are far beyond our control.

There are things coming that we simply cannot control. That we cannot stop. That are going to bulldoze straight over us.

However, we can be in control of how we meet these circumstances if we trust in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour because we know we belong to a God who is sovereign over every aspect of our lives and over every circumstance we encounter, not just in 2014, but throughout the whole of our lives right into eternity.

It’s not just unbelievers who need to trust in Jesus but us Christians too!

We need to trust in Jesus because only in trusting Jesus will we be empowered to live boldly in the face of the uncertainties of life.

As we trust in Jesus we also need to continually be repenting of our sinful tendencies to try and wrestle control away from Jesus and back into our own hands.

We need to repent of trying to be our own little sovereign and instead embrace wholeheartedly the truth that we are powerless over the majority of things that happen to us and by faith rest in the Sovereignty of Jesus who rules over the Cosmos for the good of his body, the Church (Ephesians 1:22-23).

Please take a few minutes to meditate on the words of Paul to the church in Colossae as he encouraged them to follow Jesus:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful .Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

(Colossians 3:1-17 ESV)

Together let’s enter 2014 with renewed vigour to follow Jesus by putting our sin to death and putting on the fruit of the Spirit.

Is Ebenezer Scrooge a Christian?

christmas carolIn Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, the central figure, Ebenezer Scrooge, has two attitudes toward Christmas – bah humbug and joyous generosity.  Undoubtedly, he is more famous (or rather infamous) for his former attitude.

It appears to me that this bah humbug attitude, exemplified by Scrooge, is the one adopted by many people today with regard to Christmas – especially Christians!

Like Scrooge himself, this group is made up largely of older people who hitch themselves to the bah humbug band wagon.  You know who I am talking about.  Those older people who hate the fact that it gets dark early, are afraid of slipping on the icy pavements, resent the amount of money spent on unnecessary things and detest the Christmas music being played in November (maybe because they have heard it so many Novembers in a row).

Now, before we get all high and mighty let’s acknowledge (well, in my opinion anyway) that older people have some credence for their Scrooge mentality.  The dark is frightening, a 75 year old broken leg takes a bit longer to heal, instead of a £5 toy children now need a £500 mobile phone and there aren’t that many new Christmas songs written.

However, we must always guard against bitterness and hatred when it comes to things that aren’t exactly to our liking.

It cannot be denied that ‘super-spiritual’ Christians often join these older people – you know the type.  They say:

“Christmas is a marketing gimmick.”

“Trees are a pagan alter.”

“Materialism is the Demon Screwtape’s master plan.”

“There is no textual evidence that there were three wise men (so don’t send me a Christmas card with three wise men on it, or it is going straight into the bin).”

However, these ‘super-spiritual’ Christians do not have so much credence for their bah humbug attitude.  The only difficultly is that often I find myself in their camp.  In fact, I think that all Christians find themselves with this bah humbug attitude about Christmas from time to time.

Look at my last few posts.  I have used these sentences:

“I assure you that if read this book will guide our thoughts – at this most materialistic time of the year – toward the real gift that should be celebrated – King Jesus.” – In Christmas Reading.

“As the advent season begins, this truth portrayed in the announcement by Gabriel – God is at work – must not be forgotten.” – In Advent: Announcement.

“As we edge ever closer to the 25th December, and celebrate ‘Christmas’, let us take some time to pause and consider Jesus, the light of the world.” – In Christmas, Fireworks and Jesus.

“So this Christmas as you enjoy Elf (perhaps even more than once as I plan to), by all means revel in this strange man from the North Pole that rescued Christmas.  But, don’t stop there.  Remember, the incarnation.” – In Elf: The Incarnation?

There we go.  At times, in four separate posts, I have accused Christians of materialism, an empty celebration, forgetfulness about the real meaning behind Christmas and a fascination with Elf that eclipses Jesus.  While that has not been the thrust of the post, this bah humbug attitude has reared its ugly head.

I would dare say that this reflects my own heart – the traps I walk into and the guilt I feel.  This has led me to ask the question – Am I right?  Are there elements of Christmas that need to be tackled?  Should I forgo Christmas?  Should I try to make others forgo Christmas?  Does this mean that Ebenezer Scrooge is a Christian when it comes to his bah humbug attitude to Christmas?

I don’t think so (reserving judgement on Scrooge!).

Something which has struck me as I have studied and preached the book of Ecclesiastes is that even though the Preacher is adamant that life is meaningless, vain, futile, transitory, fleeting and elusive – there is still joy to be had!  More than that, joy is to be commanded.

Here is how the Preacher says it:

Ecc. 2:26 – For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy

Ecc. 3:12 – I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live…

Ecc. 5:20 –God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart…

Ecc. 7:14 – In the day of prosperity be joyful

Ecc. 8:15 – And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful…

Ecc. 9:7 – Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do…

There is joy to be had, and it should be embraced whole heartedly.  This is Ebenezer Scrooge’s attitude toward Christmas at the end of ‘A Christmas Carol’ – and perhaps this is the Christian attitude that Scrooge exudes.

Depending on your opinion about dark nights and Christmas music in November, there isn’t a more joyful time than Christmas.

So, perhaps, like me you sit and think,

‘Is this ok?’

‘Are Christians being faithful if they celebrate Christmas with others who don’t appreciate the real meaning?’

‘Am I breaking a commandment by putting up a Christmas tree in my house?’

‘Is buying a load of chocolate for people who don’t really need it justifiable?’

‘Are there no nativity scenes with more than three wise men?’

If you are asking yourselves these questions – then listen to the Preacher in Ecclesiastes – enjoy the good things of life with the knowledge of the best thing in life.  John Piper begins, and argues throughout, his book Desiring God by saying ‘Happiness is what God commands’ (pg. 9).  In fact, he quotes Jeremy Taylor, who says ‘God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy’.

Let us listen to this advice, and let us not ignore God’s good gifts – lights, trees, presents, chocolates, turkey, music and carol singing – which only magnify his greatest gift.  Christmas is a time to be enjoyed – so let us celebrate it as such.

~

This post benefited from Kevin DeYoung’s Christmas Christian Grinches.  If you found this helpful, read his too.

Advent: Arrival

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“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn”.

(Luke 2:1-7 ESV)

I’ve never had a child. But, I did once wait four years for a Blue Peter badge to arrive. I imagine the experiences are somewhat similar, bar the rather overt biological differences. I remember the nervous pacing, the anxious muttering, and the occasional sitting on our numbingly uncomfortable telephone seat. The momentary joy when the postman appeared, the hungry devouring of letters, the inevitable disappointment at the lack of envelopes inscribed “Master Kelso”. And then, one fine afternoon, ten-year old me found a letter on my bed. At last, my Blue Peter badge had arrived.

The Advent has been announced by Gabriel. It has been anticipated by Mary, Elizabeth and womb-bound John the Baptist. And now, “the fullness of time [has] come”, as “God [sends] forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4). Jesus, the Saviour, has arrived.

But, where? Into which place, which moment, was Jesus made man?

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus” (2:1). Christ arrived into a specific moment of history. The incarnation is not a fable, nor is it merely a literary technique, but it is a literal moment, rooted in human history. Christ was born amidst the power-parades of the first Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus. Caesar Augustus flaunts his supremacy, demanding that “all the world” (2:1) be subject to his decree. He seeks a census. Presumably, Augustus seeks to bask in his self-appointed glory, revelling in the conquest statistics of his empire.

The moment appears to be filled by a self-appointed god-king. And yet, implicit all over this narrative is the sovereign Lordship of the One who rules the Cosmos. Augustus joins with all other emperors as merely God’s instruments in God’s redemptive plan. For, God uses Augustus’s pride-fuelled census to fulfil His promise: “but you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).

So, Luke’s Gospel focuses in on Joseph and Mary. They hail from the obscurity of Nazareth. But Joseph is of “the house and lineage of David” (2:4). To register in this census, Joseph must return to his home-town in Bethlehem. Before the infant Jesus – God incarnate – draws breath, we witness the fulfilment of a prophecy, many centuries old.

Jesus’ arrival brings fulfilment.

And, therefore, while they were in Bethlehem, “the time came for [Mary] to give birth” (2:6). Surely, we must be staggered at the place the Son of God arrives? He isn’t born in Caesar’s palace, nor is He born in a place of comfort or ease. He’s born among animals in poverty and laid in a (probably) crudely-wrought, dirty, stinking “manger” from which the animals would have eaten.  The only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father before all worlds: God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, the One through whom all things are made. And yet, He’s brought into the world in the most dismal of conditions.

Now, as Piper postulates in Good News of Great Joy, “if God so rules the world as to use an empire-wide census to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem”, surely He could have ensured that a room was available in the inn. Of course He could! Yet, this shows the depths to which Christ wilfully humbled Himself. Christ’s humility doesn’t begin at the Cross, nor at the outset of His ministry, nor when He is twelve years-old in the Temple. Christ displays His wilful humility, from the very first breath He inhales. And, this shows the depths of God’s grace toward us: He willed that, for our sake, Christ would become poor (2 Corinthians 8:9). Forget crackers, mince-pies, non-alcoholic mulled wine, Home Alone, snow, trees, baubles, cards. Forget all our man-made trappings of Christmas. For there is no thought quite as lifting, quite so humbling, quite so full of joy, quite as rich and deep and powerful as this. That Christ’s arrival is joy-beyond-joy. That Christ’s arrival in this place is grace-beyond-measure.

In his magnificent chapter “God Incarnate”, in Knowing God, J.I Packer considers various “stumbling-blocks” many postulate toward Christianity: the reality of atonement, the possibility of resurrection, the scientific rational against miracles and so on. However, he argues “the supreme mystery of the gospel” (Packer, 53) does not lie with any of these issues. Rather, it is “in the Christmas message of incarnation” that we see the single most staggering claim of Christianity: “that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man –

the second person of the Godhead became ‘the second man’, determining human destiny…He took humanity without loss of deity…the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby…there was no illusion in this: Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as He was human” (Packer, 53).

The baby in the manger is the Son of God. Let’s continue to reflect on the arrival of God, the Prince of Peace, the Light of the World, the Lord of Angel-Armies, made manifest in the flesh, throughout Advent. I’m certain our Christmases will be all the brighter for it.

~

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a four part series. Click here to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 4.

What Are You Known For?

So there I was, one Sunday evening not long ago, sitting in a rather uncomfortable seat in the corner of a room when the person next to me asks what millennial position I hold.

Coincidently, I was, and still am, making my way through Sam Storms’ Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative, though I entirely failed to make mention of this. Instead I opted to stammer and said, in effect, “No comment.”

It isn’t that I don’t have any, shall we say, leanings, I do. Neither am I disinterested in discussing eschatology, in fact I believe we should discuss eschatology a lot more (though certainly not with a major focus on what John meant by “a thousand years”).

He pressed me a little, not aggressively (he wasn’t one of those people, you know the kind I mean), so I admitted that this particular aspect of eschatology, unfortunately the focus of too much eschatological discussion, has many different interpretations and settling on one is difficult and requires study and reflection.

And then I said, “I don’t really like to argue…” At which point someone across the room immediately chimed in, “Of course you like to argue, you always argue!” I then proceeded to prove I don’t always argue by arguing that I don’t always argue… In case you’re wondering, yes, I did win that argument.

I’m not going to defend myself or my actions (though I would sorely like to! I’m kidding!), it would just cement my friend’s opinion of me.

My point is that we often do not see ourselves quite the same as our friends and family do. We don’t see ourselves aright. This is why we sorely need to be in community with others because we are blind to our blindness.

So let me ask you this question, “What are you known for?”

Are you, like me, (apparently!) argumentative? Or are you…

Image by Maja Lampe
Image by Maja Lampe

Lazy?

Selfish?

Cold-hearted?

Cowardly?

Insensitive?

Rash?

In denial?

“Well, of course not!” We tell ourselves.

We are wonderful, kind, loving, servant-hearted, courageous, winsome, gracious…

Please allow me to issue a challenge to you.

Instead of just asking yourself, ask a close friend. Someone who knows you well and won’t be afraid to tell you the truth, who will tell you what you’re really like.

The answer(s) may surprise you!

A caveat: if this person is entirely negative you’ve (probably) asked the wrong person! Conversely, the same applies if they are entirely positive.

The answer you receive should be a mix (not necessarily an equal mix) of positive and negative, encouraging and discouraging comments.

I do this occasionally and I have benefited tremendously. Obviously I’m still a work, very much, in progress but I have made progress!

According to the people I’ve asked anyway.

Allow me to conclude with a note of encouragement.

Change is a very slow process and not without effort but the power for change does not originate in us, it comes from “God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13 ESV). As we seek to change, as we “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12 ESV), let’s remember that God has promised to give us the strength to repent of sin, trust Jesus and pursue holiness. With this in mind we can boldly and courageously strive together toward holiness for, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 ESV).

Luke 16:1-15 ‘Heavenly treasures are the ultimate investment’

Guest Post by Paul Ritchie.

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They say that the statistic for death is currently standing at 100%—for every one person who is born one person will eventually die.  How does that statistic affect how we live?  Does the fact that every day is one closer to death affect how we use our possessions?  Do we forget that we will not be able to take any of our money with us into eternity?  Do we realise that storing up treasures in heaven is great use of this short life.

Heavenly treasures are the ultimate investment!

The Puritan Thomas Adams once said,

“To part with what we cannot keep, that we may gain what we cannot lose, is a good bargain.”

Similarly, the twentieth-century missionary and martyr, Jim Elliot, wrote,

“he is no fool to give up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

This morning we are talking about the ultimate investment: heavenly treasures!  Heavenly treasure are the ultimate investment!

1. Invest with a view to life beyond death

treasure

Jesus tells the story of a shrewd manager.  But is he really telling us to imitate this man?  Only in one respect!  We are not to follow his example by wasting his boss’s possessions, and so earning the sack.  We are not to follow his example in deceiving his boss’s debtors.  But we are to follow his example in how he prepared for the future.  As he prepares for life beyond being made redundant, we are to prepare for life beyond death.

This man says to himself, “My master is taking away my job.”  He hasn’t many prospects for getting another job and is too proud to beg.  So he uses his remaining time of influence to call in his boss’s debtors and offer them knock-down rates on their debts.  He is winning people’s favour so that after his job has gone people will welcome him into their homes.  Just as that man makes preparations for life after work, we are to use our possessions for life after death.  Our possessions can be used to store up treasure in heaven.

God saves people by grace (his free, unmerited and undeserved favour).  He transforms people by grace, giving us new desires and enabling us to live a life that pleases him.  He rewards people in grace; we will not receive our heavenly-reward thinking ‘this is what I deserve’ but rather we may exclaim ‘this is kindness beyond anything I imagined.’  Heavenly treasures are the ultimate investment.

God so kind.  He inspires us to give, he teaches us how to live for him, and he delights to lavishly reward us for the things that he has enabled us to do.

2. Invest in people for Christ

The founder of Kraft (of Kraft Foods), James L. Kraft, was a Christian.  For many years Mr. Kraft made it his practice to give away twenty-five percent of his enormous income to Christian causes.  On one occasion he spoke of his attitude to worldly wealth saying, ‘The only investment I ever made which has paid consistently increasing dividends is the money I give to the Lord.”

Jesus teaches something similar, ‘I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings’ (it literally says ‘that “they” may welcome you into eternal dwellings’).

Think of the joy that there will be when people we have made sacrifices for on earth welcome us in heaven.  We will look back and know that money was well spent.  The same could be said of our time and our prayers.  In heaven God will enable us to love his people beyond measure, and it will thrill our hearts to recall how we used this life seeking to be a blessing to them.

Or imagine someone coming up to you in heaven and saying, ‘the money you gave contributed to me being here, for I heard the gospel through that missionary you supported.’  Similarly, someone might approach you in heaven and say ‘God used your prayers as part of his process in drawing me to himself?’

We can live now in a way that will add to the joy we will experience for all eternity.  We can use our money in a way that will bless us for all eternity.  Heavenly treasures are the ultimate investment!

3. Invest with a generous heart

Finally, God’s economics are not our economics.  He does not need our giving but he graciously uses our giving.  What matters most to him is the heart with which we give.  Remember the widow’s mite?  From a worldly perspective she gave almost nothing; from a heavenly perspective she gave everything.

In the Old Testament provisions were made for giving.  In particular we remember how the people were to tithe ten percent of their income.  In fact they were to give more than ten percent when we factor in different offerings that were commanded. I don’t believe that tithing is commanded in the New Testament.  Instead the Apostle Paul writes, ‘Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a generous giver’ (2 Cor. 9:7).  Our generosity should be the product of a transformed heart.

There is actually a risk with tithing.  The Pharisees were experts at tithing, but they loved money.  We can think that if we give a certain percentage then we are free to do what we like with the rest.  Notice, however, that Jesus refers to our worldly possessions as something we have been entrusted with.  All we have comes from God and should ultimately be at his disposal.

No matter how wealthy we are in this life, it is nothing compared to the riches that the Christian will be entrusted with in eternity.  But if we have simply lived for ourselves with the things of the world we will not be entrusted with the riches of heaven.  How we use our money actually demonstrates whether we have been born again.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.”

Conclusion

Lynda Sittser concluded a letter to friends with a line that reflected her philosophy on life.  She said, ‘I am trying to live my whole life in the light of eternity.’  Days latter a drunk driver crashed into their family car and Lynda died.  Are we living our whole life in light of eternity? Her husband later wrote, ‘An eternal perspective will affect how we make choices. It stresses the important over the urgent, need over want, service over pleasure, people over things. A seminary professor told me just as I was beginning my first pastoral charge, “People and the Word of God are eternal. Most everything else in temporal.  Make sure you invest in the eternal.”’

God is so kind.  He takes undeserving wretches and makes us his dearly loved children.  He changes our hearts.  He enables us to serve him.  And he delights to reward us for all that we so imperfectly do for him.

Jesus tells us that heavenly treasures are the ultimate investment.  So invest with a view to life beyond death, invest in people for Christ, and invest with a generous heart.

Elf: The Incarnation?

The film Elf has become something of a Cult Classic – and I have to admit that I am one of the fans!

elfThe background story to the comic antics of Buddy the elf (Will Ferrell) is that as a baby he was put up for adoption by his mother (the father never knew he was born).  One Christmas Eve he sneaks into Santa’s sack at the orphanage makes it back to the North Pole before being discovered and is then raised by the elves.  As he grows though, it is soon evident that this six foot tall man is not an elf.  The film then follows him as he heads back to New York to find his father (his mother is deceased).

As he arrives in New York it is immediately obvious he is a strange man from another world.  This is given away by his clothing – yellow tights and a green tunic – an elf costume.  There is no one else on the streets of New York dressed like that.  He is always happy, waving at someone trying to wave down a taxi, congratulating a grubby looking cafe because they have a sign that says ‘World’s Best Cup of Coffee’ and laughing his leg off at getting his shoes polished by a shoe shiner.  In general he is a bit weird, a bit different.

This produces a variety of reactions from the general public and those he comes into contact with.  Some people ignore him (man waving down a taxi and the coffee shop guys) and some people get angry with him (men handing out flyers).  However, when it comes to making contact with his father the reaction is bewilderment.  His father, Walter Hobbs, thinks he is crazy and so when this claim that he is Buddy’s father comes to light he organises a DNA test.  It is positive and so he brings him home to his wife and child.  The Walter’s wife, Emily, immediately has pity for Buddy, while the son, Michael, at first shows disdain, but soon grows to love Buddy.

As the film progresses though Buddy begins to win people over.  He wins over his half brother Michael, he wins over his Emily, he wins the heart of Jovie (the romantic interest in the film) and he even begins to win over his father.  They all begin to love him.

And this winsome influence he has on people begins to change their attitudes and behaviours.  The mail room in his Walter’s office turns from a dreary, dark place of hard work into a room full of people singing and dancing, Walter for the first time in his life puts his family before his job (even though it costs him his job), Jovie who is quiet and shy finds her lovely singing voice in public, and most importantly the everyone begins to put their faith in Santa again.

In this way, by coming to New York to find his father, Buddy the elf ends up rescuing Christmas.  It is the classic Christmas film ending and yet it never gets old.

More than the classic Christmas ending, however, I think we see something of a reflection of the incarnation in this film.

The great story that we read throughout all of the Bible is God seeking out his people.  Central to this story is the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  That is, Jesus Christ taking on flesh, being born of a woman and then living, dying and rising again on this earth.  It is the classic Christmas narrative at carol services and yet it never gets old.

As we read the narrative, especially at the beginning of the Gospel according to both Matthew and Luke, we come to realise that Jesus is a strange man from another world.  This is evident from the fact that his mother would give birth to him even though she was a virgin (Lk. 1:34).  This was possible because of some mysterious working by the Holy Spirit (Mt. 1:18).  Even as Jesus grew into a young boy he stood out – instead of following Mary and Joseph home after celebrating the Passover he remains in the Temple to question the Rabbis (Lk. 2:41-52).  He was different and he stood out for it.

Jesus, much like Buddy, is a strange man from another world who experienced a variety of reactions.  The religious leaders of the time, the Pharisees, hated him and were keen to get rid of him (Mt. 12:14).  The Israelites were amazed by him at times (Mt. 7:28-29; 9:33), and on other occasions so enraged by him they were ready to kill him (Lk. 4:29).  Others loved him, sought him out and followed wherever he went (Lk. 4:42).  Being a bit different, weird even, Jesus evoked a variety of reactions to his mission.

It is here the similarities begin to end.

Both Jesus and Buddy are strange, clearly from another world and experience a variety of reactions.  But whereas Buddy changes everyone’s opinion to a positive opinion, Jesus divides opinion straight down the middle.  As is clear from the reactions Jesus experience, some people loved him and some people hated him.  There was no winning everyone over, and this is hardly surprising considering how Jesus talks about his message.  In Matthew 10: 34 Jesus says this ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword’ (ESV).

Likewise, Buddy’s arrival in New York changes people’s behaviour, but Jesus arrival does not just change behaviour – he changes hearts.  Think back to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.  Repeatedly he speaks of the heart:  he speaks of anger in the heart (5:21-24), adultery in the heart (5:27-28), pride in the heart (6:1), and idols in the heart (6:21).  However, Jesus point isn’t that his follows would live up to these standards – his point is we will never fulfil the law, but that is exactly what he has come to do so we can be given new hearts.  Any change of behaviour then is a consequence of Jesus changing our hearts.

Therefore, Jesus did not come to rescue Christmas like Buddy the elf.  Rather, Jesus came to rescue his people.  This strange man from another world, born of a virgin, by the power of the Holy Spirit, acted differently, experienced a variety of reactions, split public opinion straight down the middle and changed people’s hearts as opposed to their behaviour – and he did all of this to rescue us!

~

So this Christmas as you enjoy Elf (perhaps even more than once as I plan to), by all means revel in this strange man from the North Pole that rescued Christmas.  But, don’t stop there.  Remember, the incarnation.  Jesus left heaven, took on flesh, entered history, walked this earth and did it to rescue you.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

Advent: Anticipation

xmas5

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

(Luke 1:39-56 ESV)

Apart from some rather cheesy multiple choice questions and that dreaded lingering feeling that you might, at any moment, be asked up front to demonstrate, our one and only pregnancy class at Antrim Area Hospital wasn’t that bad! Much better than the mental images you conjure up before hand of lying on the floor, propping up your wife (or someone else’s wife/partner!), while listening to the “this is what you must do or you aren’t a good husband” talk. However, one thing that was predictable was the fact that everyone was talking about the anticipated baby in the womb (note: not the anticipated foetus. Anticipation has the wonderful ability to shatter much scientific theory. I digress!):

“When are you due?”

“8th June”

“8th June!! You are looking well for that.”

“How have you been?”

“Fine, just some sickness at the start, but that’s to be expected”

“How have you been?”

“Hmm, I can’t wait for it to be over!”

“Have you any names yet?” (O, the boldness!) 

“We can’t decide” (mildly offended because of the question!)

And so it went.

Now, imagine this excitement and anticipation, but multiply it by 1,000 and you get somewhere near to what Mary & Elizabeth were experiencing in the 1st century.

With the angel’s ‘God-possible’ announcement (Luke 1:37) that both she and her cousin were pregnant, Mary “hurried” (Luke 1:39 NIV) around 100 miles from Nazareth to “somewhere outside of Jerusalem” (Darrell Bock, Luke: NIV Application Commentary).

A little like our pregnancy class, I’m sure the Aramaic language was being put through its paces as the questions flowed & as joy overflowed. Even the unborn John got in on the action! However, one question was asked that you never hear:

“Why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43 NIV).

Something special was happening. Something that caused the baby John in the belly of Elizabeth to “leap for joy” (Luke 1:44 ESV). This was something different to the in-utero gymnastics that he was performing by now. Mother & child recognised that they were in the company of not only Mary, the faithful servant of the Lord, but the Lord (kurio) himself!

Imagine!

How did Mary respond to Elizabeth’s Holy Spirit inspired joyfulness? You know those awkward situations when someone praises you & you don’t know what to do or say? Well, she sang (Luke 1:46-55). A song that showed off her grace enabled humility, commonly known as the Song of Mary, or the Magnificat.

This was a song steeped in the Old Testament.

Not only does Mary employ “quotes from and allusions to the psalms” but “the Magnificat’s closest parallel is Hannah’s song of thanksgiving in 1 Sam. 2:1-10” (Craig A. Evans, Luke: New International Biblical Commentary). In both these songs we have expectant mothers full of praise, and children destined for Gods service. Scattered throughout them we have allusions of a deliverer, a King, the anointed one, the Messiah. Promises of lowly exaltation, and descendants.

The parallels are remarkable!

Two songs.

Three expectant mothers.

Three children destined for Gods service.

But only one Saviour.

You see, although the anticipation of the mothers was clearly apparent, a greater anticipation jumps out from this passage in Luke.

The anticipation of a thousand ages, the anticipation of the Messiah, a friend of sinners, who was God, the Lord, the anticipation of a King who would rule forever over all the nations.

And here he was, the baby in the belly of Mary.

Samuel would foreshadow him, and John would run before him and proclaim him as the “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

Mary’s baby.

Jesus.

The Messiah.

Our sin bearer and High King was the long anticipated one.

Surely a song is the only appropriate response!

No wonder Mary stayed with Elizabeth until she was about to pop. She probably couldn’t get away!

The night we left our one and only pregnancy class at the Antrim Area Hospital I was filled with relief (as were all the other men!) but also with deep, joyful anticipation. We walked away, anticipating our wee Devy, who arrived on the 20th of June, to our delight!

In the days to come during this season of advent, and in this series, as we anticipate our Saviour’s birth and consider the events surrounding his arrival in the world please join with us in praying for a deep, joyful anticipation and, like Mary, sing, sing, sing!!

~

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a four part series. Click here to read Part 1, Part 3 and Part 4.

All Glory Be To Christ by Kings Kaleidoscope

In my previous post on Christmas music I made particular mention of one song by the Mars Hill Band Kings Kaleidoscope entitled All Glory Be To Christ.

all glory be to christI really love this song!

The words, paired with the familiar melody of Auld Lang Syne, are excellent and saturated in Scripture.

This year please allow me to commend this fantastic song for your Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

It is a joy to sing with brothers and sisters in Christ whether in church or simply at someone’s house as you ring in the New Year.

Our thanks go out to Jesus, to whom belongs all glory. To Dustin Kensrue for providing the words of this wonderful song and to Kings Kaleidoscope for the arrangement.

Please take a few minutes to watch the video, read the lyrics and consider making use of this superb hymn during your holiday celebrations!

 

Should nothing of our efforts stand
No legacy survive
Unless the Lord does raise the house
In vain its builders strive

To you who boast tomorrow’s gain
Tell me what is your life
A mist that vanishes at dawn
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

His will be done
His kingdom come
On earth as is above
Who is Himself our daily bread
Praise Him the Lord of love

Let living water satisfy
The thirsty without price
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

When on the day the great I Am
The faithful and the true
The Lamb who was for sinners slain
Is making all things new.

Behold our God shall live with us
And be our steadfast light
And we shall ere his people be
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

~

from Joy Has Dawned, released 27 November 2012
Words by Dustin Kensrue, arrangement by Kings Kaleidoscope / © Dead Bird Theology (ASCAP), It’s All About Jesus Music (ASCAP)