Here it is again; a fresh new year, 2013, staring me in the face. And here I am again with a couple dozen incomplete articles and nothing ready for publishing. As Van Morrison once sang, “Don’t want to discuss it, I think it’s time for a change.”
In 2013, if God wills it (James 4:15), I’m going to publish shorter articles more often. Since this blog’s inception a little more than three years ago, I’ve averaged about two “longish” articles per month. I’d like to increase that to one or two articles per week but they’ll be significantly shorter. Longer articles will continue to be published periodically.
So please plan to check back at least once a week and I’ll do my best to prayerfully provide something of substance for our mutual growth in Christ.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. –Matthew 6:33
Yes, I’m jumping onto the end-of-the-year bandwagon and publishing a retrospective. I know it’s cliché, but this is a really slow week on the blog and a really busy week at work and at home, so I guess we can call this a compromise. Something is better than nothing, after all; and if Tim Challies can do it, so can I.
This was written in September 2011, but continued to get many hits this year. It was my first foray into poetry since I was in college. The inspiration for this article was receiving Communion at Harvest PCA by going to the front of the church and kneeling. I was struck by how resistant to kneeling we are as humans – we do not willingly submit to any authority unless forced to do so. When God drives us to our knees in repentance and submission, it is a great mercy.
This article was also written in 2011 and had just a few more hits than Drive Me to My Knees. It occurred to me that there are many times when we don’t understand the love of God – especially after the death of a loved one. In John 11:5-6, Jesus does something completely counter-intuitive to show his great love for Lazarus, Mary and Martha. God’s love manifests itself in ways that we often do not (cannot!) understand.
Written in 2011, this was one of two from the Leaving-Searching-Finding series to make the top five this year. This article was an attempt to reason through some bad and good reasons for breaking fellowship with your church. Personally, it marked my realization of the main reason I had left my previous church and my acceptance that it was the right thing to do. Doubt is a formidable enemy to the Christian who seeks the will of God where it is unclear or adiaphorous.
This was a rather controversial article; at least it was in r/Christianity on Reddit. In this I attacked beliefs that many professing Christians claim are true and a few that I used to believe as well. The axe I used was double-edged and also cut against those who are Pharisaical in their orthodoxy to the point of being uncharitable to their weaker brethren.
With more than twice as many hits as the number five entry, this article from the Leaving-Searching-Finding series leads the 2012 blog post ranking. That this article tops the list is somewhat surprising to me. I perceive that reliable information on this topic is sparse on the Internet and demand for assistance in this area is high. Visiting a church and doing it well is a skill much like that of a parent – once you’re good at it, you don’t do it anymore.
These were not necessarily the busiest pages on the blog in 2012, just the busiest articles. The Narrow Gate sermon had more hits other than the number one article in the list above. It is still the most-viewed page on tando.org.
For me, it’s just not Christmas without ___________________.
It might be your favorite holiday movie or a visit from a dear friend or family member. It could be a drink or a food or even a candlelight church service. It might be your favorite Christmas music, your tree, your lights or that nativity set that belonged to your grandmother. Maybe it is a special musical concert or children’s play that you always attend.
What would you put in the blank space above that “makes” Christmas, Christmas for you?
This coming Lord’s Day, you’ll probably hear a reading from the book of Luke or Matthew. Most Christian churches focus on the first chapters of these two books which relate the events of the first advent of Jesus of Nazareth. But one of the most important bible passages for Christians at Christmas time can be found in the book of Exodus.
You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. — Exodus 20:3-6
So what does idolatry have to do with Christmas?
John Calvin was absolutely correct when he wrote, “The human mind is… a perpetual forge of idols.” Or, as others have put it, an “idol-making factory.” Many devout Christians struggle in their faith by putting created things ahead of the creator (Rom. 1:25). Don’t kid yourself; it’s possible. Your Christmas tree with the ornaments that mean so much to you can be an idol. Your children’s matching Christmas sweaters, your choir Cantata, your Facebook page, your blog, even that nativity set that belonged to your dear sainted grandmother can become an idol.
An idol can be anything that takes attention away from God; something that we are devoted to in the way we should be devoted to God. It is the zenith of pitiable irony that celebrating the birth of Jesus can so easily get in the way of the celebration of the birth of Jesus.
Here are a few ways this can happen:
Do you spend more time in prayer in December than you do putting up decorations?
Which takes more time on the weekend: worshiping or shopping and baking?
Do you spend more time writing and reading Christmas cards than you do reading and meditating upon scripture?
The examples I’ve given are not written to heap guilt upon you for doing them. They are examples from my own life that have the potential to become ends unto themselves, rather than means through which we honor our Lord and Savior.
Everything that has the potential to become an idol also has the potential to be redeemed for the glory of God. For example, those matching Christmas sweaters can become an object lesson teamed with Galatians 3:28 to teach our children that though we are all very different, in Christ we are all the same.
Decorating (or even un-decorating) the house and the Christmas tree can become an opportunity for thankfulness to God for each of the sweet memories that our decorations bring to mind. Going through Christmas cards can easily turn to prayers of gratitude for each of our friends and loved ones.
Setting up or taking down that special nativity set is an occasion to talk about each piece and how they all came together to give glory to God. Think of what the birth of Jesus meant to each of them and talk with your family about what it means to you. How this babe in a manger changed not just your life, but the course of all human history!
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” – Luke 2:8-14
For me, it’s just not Christmas without ___________________.
God is grieved over what happened yesterday. He is angry. His fury burns toward wickedness, and his heart breaks for those who lost loves ones. He is not a stoic, unemotional God. He grieves for the children that were killed, and for the parents who lost their children. And be assured, he will bring full justice upon the killer. He will repay Adam Lanza for every life he took. There will be no injustice, no getting off on a technicality, no hung jury. Our God is just, and he will bring justice to the man who took so many lives.
A nativity play begins with smiles and carols. The real Christmas began with scandal, shame, and shock. Here’s the scandal. Mary was a normal girl living in a nothing town called Nazareth, in the north of Israel. She was probably 14 or 15—and (as was normal in that society) engaged to be married. But, before Joseph had touched her, she fell pregnant.
Today, that might prompt a bit of gossip, nothing more. Then, it was hugely scandalous. They took marriage seriously in Israel—so seriously that adultery could get you stoned to death.
I would like to wish you and your family a very happy and memorable Christmas.
The whole reason we celebrate is to commemorate the greatest gift ever given. Christmas is the time to honor Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son, the Son of God, who was born in human flesh to live among His creation for a few decades. What he did, during what we would consider a very short life, was to teach us to love God and one another, to take our sins upon him, and to cover us with His perfect righteousness so we can once again be in full fellowship with God the Father now and forever.
If you only half-heartedly believe this, or don’t believe it at all, please think about it for a few minutes. Consider the fact that all of us will die someday and how many toys we have really doesn’t matter. Consider the fact that there is no way for anyone to live a life good enough to qualify for even a moment in the presence of a perfect, Holy God. The only way to earn a place in heaven is to live a perfect, holy life, and none of us can do that. But if you believe Jesus (not just believe IN Jesus) and turn away from your sins, God will look at your sinful life and see Jesus’ perfect life. Jesus’ work on the cross has assured all believers of this.
Everything else you may have been told that you have to do in order to gain heaven is extraneous. Repent and believe that Jesus is Lord and you are saved – by grace alone through faith alone, not by works. No other religion in the world teaches this, grace is unique to Christianity. Grace is the best kind of gift because none of us deserve it. What a wonderful gift! God loved us so much that he sent his Son to defeat death and sin, and give all believers the undeserved gift of eternal life in His presence.
May the blessings of Christmas be upon all of you.
Chrystal scanned the woman’s purchases one at a time. A bag of red and green foil bows, a roll of clear tape, a pair of Christmas cards, two boxes of twenty crayons and a couple of coloring books went into the yellow plastic bag next to her cash register.
“Ten dollars and sixty-three cents” she said as she shifted her weight to her other foot. She reached out and took the lady’s credit card, swiped it and handed it back. She leaned against the counter and reached for a pen beside her register. After a few moments, she presented her customer a slip of paper and said, “Sign this, please.”
The lady took the pen and scratched the paper with the tip. “This pen is dry.” she snapped as she dropped it onto the counter.
“Sorry,” Chrystal said as she took another pen from beside the register and presented it to her customer. The woman took it and signed the slip without a word. She put it on the counter next to the dry one as she grabbed the yellow bag and headed for the door.
“Have a happy holiday,” intoned Chrystal toward her departing customer’s back.
The woman spun around and barked, “You should say ‘Merry Christmas!’ Isn’t it obvious that I’m buying these things for Christmas? I don’t want to hear ‘happy holidays’ like I’m some kind of pagan. It’s people like you who make Christmastime a misery!” And with that, she departed.
Her final sentence echoed in Chrystal’s ears, “It’s people like you who make Christmastime a misery!”
“The feeling is mutual,” thought Chrystal as she turned to help the next customer in line.
Did the Christmas Lady succeed in relating the point of Christmas to Chrystal? No. She failed miserably. And so do you and I when we rigidly insist upon conformity to our notions about Christmas from everyone we meet.
Christmas is not about whether you say ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays.’ It’s not about silver bells, evergreen trees, or colored lights. It’s not about Christmas carols, decorations or shopping. It’s not even about nativity scenes, advent candles or candlelight church services.
Christmas isn’t about doing nice things for your neighbor or giving money to the poor. It isn’t about having a heart of wonder like a child. It’s not about peace on earth. It’s not even about being nice to the checkout lady at the dollar store.
And Christmas is certainly not about Santa Claus.
Christmas is about God’s love. It is about the wonderful way that God expressed His love to His creation by coming to us and dwelling with us. We sing “Re-joice! Re-joice! E-ma-a-a-nu-el,” which means, “Celebrate! Celebrate! God is with us,” and so He is. This is what Christmas is about.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8
Christmas is about celebrating the greatest gift ever given, and we cannot accept this gift with anything but empty hands. The greatest gift ever given was Emmanuel, God with us; Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Christ.
The person and work of Jesus Christ was an intrusion into history that changed the world forever. To receive this gift we must let go of everything we deem worthy of holding on to: Our selfish and too easily satisfied desires, the “respectable” sins that we nurture and justify to ourselves, all our idols.
“My richest gain, I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” We are to lay it all at the foot of the cross; repent and believe, and accept the free gift of eternal life in God’s presence which is ours by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
If you insist upon saying Merry Christmas to everyone you encounter this month, that’s fine; but please remember the gracious gift you received from God and show a little of that grace to others.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. — John 13:34-35
This coming Saturday evening, if God wills it, Harvest Presbyterian Church will present the Christmas selections from Handel’s Messiah. If you are in the Cleveland/Akron/Medina area of Ohio, I invite you to attend and join in worshiping the world’s Messiah through the music of George Frideric Handel. If you cannot attend, will you please pray that the Good News of Jesus Christ will be communicated clearly through words and music this evening?
“And the glory, the glory of the Lord shall be revea-led” – G.F.Handel
All the words of this Chorus are taken from one Bible verse: Isaiah 40:5,
“And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
These three ancient poetic lines of prophesy are laden with meaning. Have you ever considered how earth-shaking it is that the glory of the Lord shall be revealed?
To the people hearing these words from the prophet, they would have immediately thought of Moses with a veil over his face.
In Exodus 33 Moses is placed into a crevice of a rock and is allowed to see the back side of God as he passed by. This was a reflection, really; an afterimage or muted expression of his true glory (because no man can see God and live Exodus 33:20). And the glory of the LORD was so overwhelming that it changed Moses’ face! It glowed with an internal radiance! He had to wear a veil over his face when he got back to camp because the people were afraid to look on his glorified countenance. Exodus 33:18-23, 34:29-35
Paul knew this well when he wrote to Timothy, “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. – 1 Timothy 6:15-16
This prophetic promise that came through Isaiah, that Yahweh would reveal his glory, and ALL flesh would be able to see it was enormous. Almost too much to bear; today we might say it sounded too good to be true. But the third line of this verse belies that possibility.
“For the mouth of the LORD hath spoken.” Yes. It is too good, andit is true. Why? Because God Almighty has said so; He has promised it and it will come to pass.
The glory of the LORD, the Lord God Almighty, whom no man can see and live, who dwells in unapproachable light, who created all the stars and planets in the heavens and all the life on earth, who existed before time began and will continue to reign forever; this God, this glorious God will show His magnificence and splendor to a people who exist like a mist for a little while.
It boggles the mind. Thanks be to God.
The Glory of Christ is beyond all comparison—the glory which excels. Oh, that I knew how to speak of it! But I feel like Paul when he said, “I could not see for the Glory of that Light.” It overpowers me! The Lamb is the Light of Heaven itself—what more shall I say? John on the rock of Patmos saw our Lord in vision and he said His “countenance was as the sun shines in his strength. And when I saw Him I fell at His feet as dead.” Moses wore a light on his face that might be covered, but Jesus was, and is, all Light and in Him is no darkness at all. “That was the true Light, which lights every man that comes into the world.” “The Law was given by Moses, but Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ.” – C.H.Spurgeon Sermon #2143
This election has caused me to lose all hope that any one man, political party or government can solve the problems that face our nation. In the week since the election, this despair has prompted me to take down the flag that has adorned my home since September 11, 2001. I affixed a flag to my garage that day and have left it up, day and night, for more than 11 years. And yes, I light it at night.
The American flag is not a symbol of any one man, party or even our government. It is a symbol of our nation and represents the foundational ideals of our country: Principles such as equal justice for all; the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; and the responsible exercise of personal and commercial freedom. It also represents the people who hold fast to these ideals and have campaigned, voted, fought and died to defend them.
Such beliefs are held by a minority of Americans today. The presidential election of November 6, 2012 was a mandate from the majority that democratic socialism is now, and will continue to be, the practical reality of our nation and her government. The contest was between two statists and the statist won!
Most of the people in this country don’t want a government that works to guarantee them a fair chance; they want a government that will guarantee them subsistence. They don’t want a government that will level the playing field for commerce, but one that will purchase companies outright when they are deemed too big to fail. They don’t want free markets where supply and demand dictates prices; they want powerful, unaccountable bureaucrats to unilaterally manipulate the markets. The choice between independence and dependence has been made, and the people have chosen dependence, they want a nanny.
For this reason, the United States of America is no longer worthy of the flag. The flag represents something that is dead and gone, and I refuse to fly it over a country that has abandoned their principles and embraced socialism; a people who have rejected self-governance and embraced a slave-master; a country that is becoming a poor, hollow mockery of what it once was. My flag will be folded properly and put into a case. I will take it out when I tell my grandchildren stories of a great nation that used to be.
And yet I hope.
Now that I have lost hope, I, too, have chosen dependence.
To my shame, I now see that I was hoping in men and nations. Men are sinful and nations are temporary, so of course governments built by men will be corrupt and transitory. There is nothing in either that is worthy of enduring faith or hope. To depend upon either is to build upon shifting sands [Matthew 7: 26-27].
In declaring my independence from man and nation, I have recognized my sin, rejected it, and more fully embraced my dependence upon God Almighty. There is not even a shadow of changing with God [James 1:17], he is the same yesterday, today and forever [Hebrews 13:8], so he will always be worthy of glory, praise and honor [Rev 4:11, 7:12]. To depend upon God and His permanence is to build upon a solid rock [Matthew 7:24-25]; upon a foundation that cannot be shaken [Psalm 62:6].
There is no flag that is representative of God’s unchanging goodness and love. The image of His perfect and enduring holiness and mercy is found in His only begotten Son, Jesus. To Him I pledge my allegiance; to Him I swear an oath of loyalty; and in Christ alone I rest knowing that when human ideals change and nations perish, He is still King of kings and Lord of lords [Rev. 17:14, 19:16].
In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the power of Christ I stand.
-Keith Getty and Stuart Townend
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand
- Edward Mote
I may put up a flag again someday, certainly on Memorial Day. But even then, perhaps especially then, it will be important to remember that the sacrifices of all Americans are mere reflections of the one perfect sacrifice that was offered to God the Father by Jesus Christ.
If you’ve seen a few presidential elections in the United States, then you’ve heard the question before.
Are you better off now than you were four years ago?
Every election cycle, the non-incumbent party trots out this tired cliché in an attempt to motivate voters who might answer “no.” The idea is to blame the incumbent for worsening circumstances and thereby get their own candidate elected. This year, the Republicans are asking the question; four years ago it was the Democrats.
But it is the wrong question.
The question assumes that the most important thing in any American’s life is to have constantly improving conditions for themselves. In other words, one’s standard of living should keep getting higher and higher or else the incumbent party has to go. One problem with this logic is that the president does not single-handedly control the nation’s economy. But the main reason this is wrong thinking is because it is self-centered and very “now-centric.” This attitude is the primary cause of the worsening condition of our society. In a word – selfishness.
The zeitgeist in America has changed from one of delayed gratification to instant gratification. If you are over 40 years old, this change has happened largely in your lifetime. In our grandparents’ time, most Americans just wanted the government to keep things fair so citizens could work hard to build a better life for themselves and their families. Nowadays, more people want government to give them a better life now and guarantee more in the future – without any hard work.
This difference in worldview is the difference between “I want it all; and I want it now!” and “I want everyone to have a fair chance.” One is a selfish child’s cry and the other, a mature perspective on government and free enterprise. A baby cares only that his physical needs are met now, while a father will work hard now and a mother will forgo comforts now with hopes for the future of their family.
In 1961, in his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy famously said, “And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Such an idea is archaic today, and foolishness to the majority of Americans. As long as this is the case, America will continue to suffer decline.
Voters should not be asking, “Am I better off now than I was four years ago?”
What voters should be asking is, “What am I able to do that I am not doing, that will help make this country better?”
And it should be followed with,“Which candidate will work to ensure that our nation continues to offer opportunity to all her citizens fairly and responsibly?”
Our nation needs an attitude adjustment. It must begin with an exodus from selfishness and a journey toward altruism. The Bible says, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). This is the very definition of selfless love. Every human being on earth regardless of age, race, religion or culture can agree with this unchanging truth.
Thankfully, dying isn’t necessary to reorient our nation (yet); we just need to be a little less selfish. Some need to be a lot less selfish. But that’s not going to happen until the problem of selfishness is recognized, exposed and understood.
Both major parties have their blind spots to selfishness.
The Republican Party is blind to the working poor, the environment and racism. If you are a Christian and are planning to hold your nose and vote for Romney (as I am), then you need to actively work against this blindness and serve the poor, be a good steward of our planet and fight institutional and personal racism wherever it is found [Prov. 14:31, Gen. 2:15, Gal. 3:28].
The Democrats are blind to fiscal irresponsibility, the sin of abortion and racism. If you are a Christian and are planning to pinch your nose, cover your eyes, plug your ears, hold your breath, curl up into a fetal position and vote for Obama, then you need to actively work against this blindness by fighting against unchecked spending, opposing abortion and stop perpetuating racism. [Heb. 13:5, Jer. 1:4-5, Col. 3:11]
Regardless of who wins in November, rest assured that God will use the election for His own good purposes. The outcome of this election will not surprise God, and He will not have to change His plans because of its outcome. As people of His Kingdom, let us remember that this nation, this world is not our home; it is just a temporary dwelling. Our ultimate good comes not from the state, not from any politician, but from God alone. Our salvation from the problems and sins of this world, comes not from any political party, but from Jesus Christ alone.
[With thanks to Dr. David Wallover for an idea that helped me conclude this article.]
By Paul Washer Reformation Heritage Books(Grand Rapids, Michigan ): 2012
Strictly speaking, this is not a book review. The Gospel’s Power and Message has just been released and I’ve only read the preface and the first chapter. Based just upon this though, it is a powerful message that Paul Washer relates in the pages of this tome.
Brother Paul has been a missionary to Peru and is the founder of HeartCry Missionary Society which supports more than 165 indigenous missionaries in more than 26 countries throughout the world. He is probably best known on the Internet for his “Shocking Youth Message” video. He presents the gospel in all its powerful glory and makes no apologies to those who think it foolish or offensive. He doesn’t sugar coat the bad news so the good news of Jesus Christ is all the sweeter.
Here is an excerpt from the preface:
One of the greatest crimes committed by this present Christian generation is its neglect of the gospel, and it is from this neglect that all our other maladies spring forth.
This is a serious indictment of many nominal Christians, churches and denominations, and it has massive implications. It proposes that if the gospel of Christ were proclaimed plainly and accurately, then the distressing state of affairs in some churches – that greatly dishonors God – would vanish. I can’t argue with his assertion. Too many so-called Christian churches soft-peddle the gospel, wink at sin and completely ignore Christian discipline. The antidote for this, and all sin, is a liberal application of the gospel of grace. On this subject, Washer also says:
When the church proclaims a lesser gospel, it fills up with carnal men who share little interest in the things of God, and the maintenance of such men is a heavy burden upon the church. The church then tones down the radical demands of the gospel to a convenient morality, and true devotion to Christ gives way to activities designed to meet the felt needs of its members. The church becomes activity-driven rather than Christ-centered, and it carefully filters or repackages the truth so as not to offend the carnal majority. The church lays aside the great truths of Scripture and orthodox Christianity, and pragmatism (i.e., whatever keeps the church going and growing) becomes the rule of the day.