From the Cradle to the Throne

Throughout history, from Biblical times to our day, a throne has been a representation of power, authority, and rulership. A throne is off limits to the citizens of the king.

Even in the Biblical story of Esther, she risks her life going before the king on behalf of the lives of her people. If King Xerxes did not want to speak to her, he could have her sentenced to death for simply being in his presence without his permission.

In our day, when we hear the word throne, our minds jump to the show, Game of Thrones, which is full of killing and envy for power. Everyone fears the Iron Throne, partly because it is made from pointed swords that look like they’ve been melted together.

Or maybe we think of the Queen of England and Buckingham Palace. It is fun to look at from the outside, but there’s not a way in. No one can just strut up to doors of the palace and be granted access. No. There is a separation of royalty from every day people.

But then you read Hebrews 4:16 which says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” For some reason, we now have the ability to not only approach the throne, but we can do it in confidence.

Why is that? What has changed?

Well, the verse right before this says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15). As I was reading through this chapter this morning, I couldn’t help but connect the Christmas story with our ability to have access to the throne.

It is through the incarnation, the Son of God becoming a son of man, that we are able to draw near to the throne with confidence. Jesus flipped this all upside down. Because Jesus came in the form of a man, just like us, we have a Savior who can sympathize and empathize with our struggles.

C.S. Lewis put it this way, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”

Now the throne of God that may have seemed distant and far away has been brought to us in the form of a baby. This baby would live a human life and be tempted in the same ways that we are tempted, yet without sin. He would then die our death on the cross. And then he would be raised to life and bring us eternal life.

Jesus went from:

Son of God —> son of man
alive —> crucified
dead —> life
cradle —> throne

In all of his work, we now have access to the throne through Christ. The King of Kings took on the humility of a human child in order to give us access to His throne. Full access.

Tim Keller helps us understand it in this way, “The only person who dares wake up a king at 3:00 AM for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access.”

Lastly, I think Matt Chandler illustrates this truth perfectly when he shared this in a recent sermon:

Let’s just say we were in London, and we wanted to go meet the queen. We just wanted to hang out with the queen and see her house. We wanted to go up to Buckingham Palace. We’re going to knock on the door and go, “Hey, I would like to see the queen.” Then we’re going to come in and check out all of the rooms in the house, even the secret rooms. We can have full access. We get in one of those weird cabs, and we head over there. Then we kind of knock on the door. They open up the door. I guess it’s a door. I don’t know. They open up the gate or something.

“Can we help you?”

“Yeah, we’re here to see the queen. Also, we would like to check out the palace, maybe even some of the secret rooms in the palace.”

“Who are you?”

“Matt Chandler.”

“Okay, sir, we’re going to need you to leave the premises immediately.”

Don’t giggle. You’re not getting in. What, are you going to drop your name? “Oh, come on in. Check it out.” No, we’re going to be denied, just categorically denied. “The queen is busy today. No, you can’t look around the palace.” It’s just going to be access denied. Do you know who that was true about at some point also? Kate Middleton. At one point, Kate Middleton, 15 years old, came up and knocked on the gate.

“Hey, I would like to see the queen.”

“Who are you?”

“Kate Middleton. I would also like to see the palace while I’m in there. In fact, I would like full access. I would like to be able to go into every room. I would like no security. I would just like to come in and make myself at home.”

They would have gone, “Little girl, get out of here,” but they don’t say that to her now. Do you know why? Kate’s title is Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge. Now she has full access. When she says, “I want to see the queen.” “Who are you?” Her response is, “I’m with him.” I am the princess married to the prince. I am Her Royal Majesty. I am with him.”

That, “I’m with him,” has moved Kate from, “Who are you? Access denied,” to, “I’m with him,” every door open, full access. The, “I am with him,” has fundamentally changed her access to royalty and to power and to wealth and to all the heart is hungry for. She is now fully accessed because she’s with him.

That is now the church, the Bride of Christ. In the same way that Kate is granted access to the queen or access to Buckingham Palace by saying, “I’m with him,” we get access to the throne of God by saying, “I’m with Him, the baby.”

We now have full access. We can approach the throne of grace through a manger, because of a baby, which was all part of God’s plan.

The Church and the Issue of Race

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Over the past couple of weeks, I have written down many thoughts on what is happening in our country and even in our entire world when it comes to race, and I have kept them to myself to make sure I was not speaking out in frustration or in the heat of the moment. I pray that these thoughts and reflections are fruitful and ultimately begin a discussion for others on these issues.

A few weeks ago as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed one night, the graphic video of the shooting of Alton Sterling popped up. Before I could even process what I just watched, another horrific video was posted of a man being shot by police, this time Philando Castile. Then just days later during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, TX, 5 police officers were ambushed and killed while 7 more were injured in retaliation to the previous murders.

While all of this was unfolding, I kept stumbling upon the typical Christian response that is tweeted out in this type of situation:

“Come, Lord Jesus.”

In the moment, this was my prayer too. For Jesus to come back. For Satan to be defeated. For the madness to end. Maranatha. Why must we suffer through the hate and the hurt day after day?

Then it hit me.

Christians, myself included, were typing this phrase and praying this prayer simply as a cop out. These three words were our way of saying something is messed up, but we can’t do anything about it. It was our way of showing remorse without taking any responsibility. In this way, people could know where would stood, but we didn’t have to make any steps towards real action.

The cop out of “Come Lord Jesus” lies in this truth: Jesus already has come. And when he came, he established his church. In Matthew 16:18, he said this, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” Jesus has already been here, and he launched a movement that would bring hope to the world that could never be conquered.

The calling and responsibility of the church is to shine the light of Christ in the midst of the darkness and share hope where hope looks bleak.

As Matt Chandler puts it,

We’re called to give everything we have to this mission so that individuals God has put into our lives and in our communities and in the world will encounter the good news and be forever changed. Like candles positioned throughout a dark room, we’ve been strategically placed-by God’s sovereign design-as light pushing back darkness.

So yes, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

But even more so, “Come On Church.

Church, it is time to start showing how the gospel can unify even in the midst of times of racial tension.

If there was ever a time for the church to step up and make a change, now is the time. Truthfully, the church is the only hope we’ve got. And it’s the only hope we’ve got because the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only message that leads to true unity.

Admit It. We Have a Problem

The first step we have to take is to admit we have a problem, and that this problem goes deeper than just race. The truth is, that when we are left to our own devices, there will always be frustration and dissension between men and women of different backgrounds, different stories, different languages, and as we have seen these past few weeks, different colored skin.

And maybe you look at your church on a Sunday morning, and you are one of the lucky ones who is in a community that is multi racial. But I want you to take note of something, what happens when that final song is sung and everyone goes their separate ways?

I know what has happened everywhere I have been. We all instantly clique up into our little groups. These groups are full of people who share our interests, who understand us, who look like us, and who share our worldview.

When we get into this group, we begin to say this is “us.” Or these are “my people.” And then we look across the room and see those who are different than us, and we start talking about “them.” Or “those people.” In our human nature, we will inevitably clique up into these “us” vs. “them” crowds.

Why?

Because we don’t drift toward diversity. We drift away from it. If we make no effort at all to fight against our natural tendencies, we will end up feeling a type of frustration towards another group.

These groups can be based upon so many different things. They can be based on race, political party, income level, sports team, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and I could go on and on and on. This is because we gravitate towards people who are like us, and those who are different, we avoid and push away from. And in the most extreme cases, we hate and kill those who are different. This is true all around the globe, not just America. Take a look at the world news.

Now many of us in the church would say we don’t have this problem. That this is not a problem of the church. Well I would beg to differ.

If you disagree with me, think about a normal weekend in the Fall. I grew up in Knoxville, TN, and the most diverse scene in the city is a Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium. Men and women from every background come together for one cause, and that is to cheer on the Tennessee Volunteers. Then, not 12 hours later, comes the most segregated time in America: Sunday service.

Church, we have a problem. But, by God’s grace, we also have the answer.

The Hope of the Gospel

So what do we do to make a change? Surely we can’t make a difference with all the craziness that is taking place.

Well Jesus in his last hours on earth actually gave us the answer. He was actually praying specifically for us today when he prayed these words, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21).

All we have to do to make a change is to be one with one another. To put our differences aside, and come together under the banner of the gospel. To take Ephesians 2:16 to heart and believe that Jesus can “reconcile us [all] to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

The greatest thing the church can do to kill the hostility that is ever present in our country is to show unity in the midst of our diversity. To put our differences aside for the sake of one another and for the sake of our world.

It is often in the darkest hour that the light of Christ shines the brightest.

Humility that Leads to Empathy

So yes the gospel brings hope, and that hope will be seen when we come together in unity, but how in the world do we do that?

Unity begins is in our humility. The root of all racial tension and disunity is our pride.

C.S. Lewis would say this about pride in his book Mere Christianity, “Pride is the complete anti-God state of mind. For pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.

I would add to that unity. Pride eats up the very possibility of unity.

In order to fix this problem, we must take a humble posture towards one another and realize we are in this thing together.

It’s like a football team where you have different personalities, different backgrounds, and different skill sets coming together for the common purpose of winning the game.

We’re all created in God’s image. We’re the same team. We’re the home team. We should be rooting for each other.

In our humility, we must take steps into what is uncomfortable. See another reason we love to be in our circle and clique is that it is comfortable. We can be our self, and we don’t have to change the way we act and never have to change the way we think.

But when we take steps of humility and enter into circles and groups that are not like us, we get to see this world and our faith from a whole new vantage point. We will see a whole new world view.

And when we do this, we will begin to see what it is like to walk in our brother’s shoes. We will begin to have the hard conversations that lead to real change and real unity.

The beginning of all change and understanding begins with empathy. Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Have conversations with others who are different than you. Hear how they feel. Be someone who asks good questions. And truly listen to what they are saying rather than thinking ahead to what point you want to make. The only way to understand someone’s experience is to let them tell you about it.

So church, let us begin to shine the light of the gospel on this racial tension and push back the darkness that is filling our world.

Let us start by stepping out of our comfort zones and stepping into hard conversations.

Let us start by killing our pride and living in humility.

And let us start praying the same prayer that Jesus prayed which was “that we may all be one, just as He and the Father are one.

Come On Church.

The Lie of How Are You Doing

How Are You Doing

One of my favorite TV shows is Friends, and if you have ever seen it, you know Joey’s famous line of “How you doing?”

We get asked this question multiple times a day, and we all have a canned response to the question.

Great.

Busy.

Tired.

Stressed.

Fill in the                      .

Sadly, this question should open up conversations about the state of our lives with those close to us and give us freedom to express what’s actually going on. Instead, we give a one word answer and get on to talking about trivial conversation matters such as sports, weather, and countless other things.

These are not inherently bad subjects of conversation. Heck, most of my conversations have something to do with sports throughout the day, but if that’s the furthest I get while talking with someone, I’ve missed an incredible opportunity.

C.S. Lewis would say we are “like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” We are settling for sticking our feet in the baby pool while God is offering us to explore the depths of the deep end.

We are all craving to know and be known by others. We want someone to care about what is going on in our lives. So when the question of “How are you doing” gets asked, deep down we want to spill it all out. We want someone else to understand the hurt in our heart. The stress in our home. The struggle in our faith. We desire to have others share in these things with us.

Why?

Because we were created to walk out our faith in community. The Christian life is not a one man game. It’s a team sport. We need each other.

Paul Tripp captures this idea in his book, Whiter Than Snow, when he says this,

“We weren’t created to be independent, autonomous, or self-sufficient. We were made to live in a humble, worshipful, and loving dependency upon God and in a loving and humble interdependency with others. Our lives were designed to be community projects. Yet, the foolishness of sin tells us that we have all that we need within ourselves. So we settle for relationships that never go beneath the casual. We defend ourselves when the people around us point out a weakness or a wrong. We hold our struggles within, not taking advantage of the resources God has given us.”

Sadly, we are carrying the weight of our own burdens alone while Scripture tells us to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). That’s the beauty of Christian community: we get to do life together. Our lives become, as Tripp put it, community projects. The weight of our burdens gets dispersed across multiple pairs of shoulders, rather than just weighing down on our own.

But for many of us, we are refusing to let others into our mess. Instead, we are trying to cover it up with a fake smile and a response of, “I’m doing fine. How are you?” to make sure they still think our lives are perfect. For some strange reason, we have a hard time sharing our own sinfulness with other sinners.

When we do this, we are missing out on a key process that God has given to be able to grow us and help us through the trials.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his book Life Together, “A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person.” I would add to this that not only when we not confess our sins, but even share our burdens with another do we get to experience the peace of God in the reality of the other person.

For this reason, we must begin to see the question of “How are you doing” as an ever present avenue into the hearts and lives of others.

What if we actually answered this question truthfully? Imagine the conversations that would follow.

“How are you doing?”

“Man, honestly life is just hard now. Money is hard to come by, and it’s causing some frustrations that are taking over my life. I feel like all my time is spent worrying, and I’m just struggling.”

Of course, we don’t need to emotionally vomit on strangers, but I’m talking about when someone asks this question when they are expecting a conversation, especially someone you know and trust.

When we open up about our lives, they will open up about theirs. Vulnerability leads to vulnerability. And vulnerability leads to growth.

Maybe it is growth in your own walk, and if so, that will be extremely fruitful. But one area where I think this truth could help us is as we share our faith. One of the greatest testimonies we can share with others and the world is how Jesus changes the way we handle our trials and struggles.

So let’s say a friend of yours (who is not a Christian) asks you, “How are you doing?” You answer in honesty, but then you spin the hurt and pain and share with your friend how you have hope in the situation because of Jesus. How you are able to find peace in the chaos because Jesus offers “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

Let us not continue to neglect the community that God has given us to walk in, and the conversations he is offering us to speak into.

Let us begin to share in one another’s burdens.

Let us begin to be honest with one another about “How we are doing.”

Tune Out the Noise

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When was the last time you just sat quietly with no music, phone, TV or Internet to distract you? Think about just how often you grab your phone just out of habit when you have nothing else to do.

This morning I was sitting at my kitchen table finally slowing down and spending time with God when I read these words from Psalm 131, “But I have calmed and quieted my soul.” As I am reading this, I hear outside my window the sounds of construction equipment beeping, workers yelling, and hammers beating against the side of the building. In this moment, it hit me that noise is everywhere in our lives, and if we are not intentional about calming and quieting our souls before the Lord, it will never happen.

Our culture does not know how to sit in silence. We are scared of it because when we don’t have noise pouring into our lives, we finally have to do deal with the thoughts and feelings that we have been suppressing and running away from.

From the moment we wake up to the minute we lie down to sleep, we always have to have something occupying our mind and entertaining us.

What’s the first thing we do when we get up in the morning? Look at our phone. Then we hop in the car and turn up the music. While walking around campus or school, we have our headphones in our ears. At work, we have music on in the background. Then any downtime we do get, we have our face buried in our phones checking social media.

One study found that the average teenager spends over 7.5 hours a day on media, some even estimate up to 10.5 per day. I’d say this isn’t much different for all of us. That means we spend over 53 hours per week, and roughly 113 days per year on some sort of media.

So with all this social media and entertainment before us, surely we are satisfied right?

Not even close.

One study found that Americans are twice as likely today to say they are lonely compared to ten years ago. So actually social media has made us less social and more isolated.

Another stat says that 42% of all mobile phone users say they expressly use their phone for entertainment when they’re bored.

At Oxford, England’s Social Issues Research Centre, researchers say, that “by filling almost every second of down time by peering at our phones we are missing out on the creative and potentially rewarding ways we’ve dealt with boredom in days past.”

They would go on to say, “Informational overload from all quarters means that there can often be very little time for personal thought, reflection, or even just zoning out.”

Sadly, we are filling our boredom with noise that will never satisfy our desires. As Matt Chandler put it, “We are the most entertained generation ever, and yet the most bored. That unsatisfied heart should reveal that we were meant for more.”

With all of this said, we can see we are chasing after satisfaction from the wrong places. We are expecting the entertainment of this world to fill us up, but in the end, it is like training for a marathon and fueling our body with McDonalds. It will not sustain us.

The same goes for many of us as we are trying to live out a Christian life without ever quietly resting in God’s presence. And what God is asking from us is to simply turn down the noise in our lives and start listening to Him.

It is so easy to settle for momentary noise to temporarily fill our boredom instead of resting in the everlasting Father who fills us with His eternal peace.

So if we are going to do this, we must intentionally hit pause and assess our lives. This is straight from Scripture when it says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Eugene Peterson phrased the verse this way in the Message,

“Attention, all! See the marvels of God!
He plants flowers and trees all over the earth….
“Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
loving look at me, your High God,
above politics, above everything.”

We need to step out of the traffic of our lives and take a break and simply, be still and keep our eyes on God.

How can you be still this week?

What if you put up your phone during the down time and instead used that time to pray?

What if instead of listening to the same songs on the way to school or work, you listened to the Bible app, and then prayed through those words the rest of the commute?

What if you kept a journal with you, and rather than checking Instagram, you wrote to God about what was going on in your heart?

What if you tuned out the noise of this world and tuned into the Creator of the universe?

All we have to do is be still…

I’d love to hear any other ways you have found helpful to disconnect from the busyness of the world and connect with God.

Make Your Life Count

Have you ever thought about how short life is? James 4:14 says this, “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” Our life is like the morning fog, here and then gone, yet it seems that so often we forget how short our time really is. We take our life for granted like there’s an endless supply of days that will never run out.

Eternity, on the other hand, is very long. Like longer than you could ever imagine. Eternity is so long, in fact, that it goes on and on and never ends, ever. So what this means is that we have a few short years here on earth, and then we will spend eternity somewhere else. So if we do the math, our 80 years (on average) are a tiny speck compared to the endless years to come.

Why is it that all we think about is our time here on earth and never about eternity? We only get one shot at this life. My life may last for 100 years, or it may end tomorrow. But I know one thing for sure, I want to make the time God has given me count.

The truth is that we often need to be reminded about how short our life really is. Psalm 39:4 says “LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered–how fleeting my life is.” This needs to be our desire: to understand how short this life is. When we’re aware of how fleeting our life is, we will be less likely to waste it.

So how should we live during the time that we have? Maybe the better question is who should we live for during the time we have. The answer, of course, is Jesus Christ. But why does he deserve our lives? If our time is short, why should we devote the days we have to Him? Because He was willing to give His life for us. We turned our back on God and we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). But even though we were sinners and enemies of God (Rom. 5:10) Christ died for us. Because of Jesus we can stand forgiven and have a relationship with our Lord.

When we experience the love, grace, and forgiveness that we’ve received from Jesus this should change us. When we truly experience the gospel we become like the gospel. We’ve experienced love so we should love God and love others. We’ve experienced amazing grace so we should have that grace for others. We’ve experienced forgiveness so we should forgive even the inexcusable. And finally, we know that Jesus gave His life for us, so we should devote our lives to Him.

So who are you living for? Are you living for yourself? Maybe your goal is to make as much money as possible, drive the nicest car, have the biggest house, the perfect family, and anything else you believe will make you happy. That’s what we’re told makes for a successful life, right? As Christians, we know that eternity is coming. When our lives come to an end we will spend eternity with Jesus. Live your life for Him. Go all in for Him. Spend your days loving God, loving people, and telling others about what He has done for you. That is truly a successful life.

It all comes down to this: life is short, eternity is long, and we need to start living like it.

“Remember, you have one life. That’s all. You were made for God. Don’t waste it.” – John Piper

What Are We Talking About?

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Have you ever been reading through the gospels and come to a part where Jesus heals someone, and then he commands them to tell no one? It always was confusing to me why Jesus did this? In Mark 1:44 Jesus cleanses a man with leprosy and right after he heals him he says, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” So what does the man do? He goes and, “began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter” (Mark 1:45). Jesus told him to tell no one and he began to tell everyone. He could not keep this great news to himself. While on the other hand, Jesus commands us to tell the world about him, and we keep it to ourselves. We must start sharing the good news of Jesus with others.

Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, he commanded men and women to keep his miracles on the down low. During a conversation with his disciples in Matthew 16, Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Son of the living God, and it says that soon after Jesus “charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ” (Matthew 16:20). All of this was because his time had not yet come.

But after his resurrection, everything changed. Jesus being the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God was no longer a secret. The disciples were charged at the end of Matthew 28 to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Basically, Jesus said, “Go tell the world about me.” Sadly, though we have not been faithful to this command. Francis Chan put it bluntly when he said, “Simon says, ‘Pat your head,’ we pat our heads. Jesus says, ‘Go therefore and make disciples,’ we memorize that verse.” If we are going to impact this world for the kingdom of God, we must start doing more than talking about evangelism. We must start talking about Jesus with others.

But where do we start? The task seems so daunting to strike up conversation about Jesus with those around us.

Rethink Evangelism

I believe we have to start by changing the way we think about sharing our faith. We tend to think of evangelism as a one-time conversation with someone about Jesus, and yes that can be a part of evangelism, but even more so, evangelism is a way we live our life. As Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” The same way with the man with leprosy in the story, Jesus has changed our lives drastically. What made the man able to share Jesus with so many people was the fact that so many of them noticed something different about him. His appearance had changed and was healed of leprosy, but on top of that, I guarantee this guy had a huge smile on his face. The people were most likely used to seeing him with his head down in embarrassment, and now his head his held high displaying a smile that showed the joy that he had experienced.

This should be how all Christians go about life. We should remember the sin that Christ has saved us from and the joy that he has saved us into. This is where evangelism happens: when we start living our life out of an overflow of joy for what Christ has done for us in our ordinary, everyday life, around ordinary, everyday people. Evangelism is very rarely this supernatural moment where someone hears the gospel for the first time and has a spiritual epiphany. Instead, it is normally us investing our lives in the people around us and showing them the love of Christ by sticking around for the long haul and speaking truth into their life.

Many Christians share the gospel with someone one time, and if they do not accept Jesus in that moment, they move on and see that person as a lost opportunity. But when we do that, we have it all wrong. If they refuse to accept Jesus, we need to understand that they do not believe in this moment and then pray that God would use us to help show his unconditional love because we are going to continue to be a friend and neighbor to that person. Evangelism is not a drive by gospel presentation. Instead, it an investment of our life in those around us for the purpose of them coming to know Christ as their Lord and Savior.

But how do we go about constantly letting others see Christ in our life? Well think about the simple truth that we talk about what we love most. So let’s think about our life. What fills most of our conversations? For some of us we talk about sports all the time or some TV shows and movies or even gossiping about others. Whatever it is fill in the blank for yourself. Sadly, for most of us, the thing we love the most is something or someone other than Christ. Which means we have to go to battle every morning to allow Christ to be what fills our mind the most, so that he can be what fills our conversations the most. And even when we don’t explicitly talk about Jesus, he shapes our speech in every way.

So one very practical application to becoming better at sharing our faith is to simply fall in love with Christ more and more each day. When we do this, our lives will be lived out of an overflow for our affections for Christ. And just like the man with leprosy, the people we encounter throughout our day will hear about Jesus because we can’t help but talk about what our heart loves the most.

 

What the Christmas Story Means for Us

Every time I read through the book Matthew, I find myself skimming over Chapter 1 which walks through the genealogy of Christ in order to set up His birth. Sadly, when I do this, I skip over one of the greatest parts of the Christmas story: God perfectly planned every detail of Jesus’ birth before the beginning of time.

Matthew strategically breaks it down from Abraham to David to Josiah to Jechoniah to the Messiah, reiterating Jewish history. He also includes the names of several women, including Rahab the harlet. All of this is to show that God perfectly ordained every detail of Christ’s birth, not just in the moment, but also every moment leading up to the Creator stepping into His own creation.

The genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1 proves that God is sovereign over every single birth that happens on this earth. “The whole history of human procreation is under God’s control, as he acts intentionally to bring about the conception of each of us” (John Frame). God perfectly brought about Christ through all the descendants from Adam, and in the same way God perfectly brought about each of us through all of our descendants to create us just as we are.

This Christmas season, I know for many of us, we feel that we are coming to the end of another year where we just feel we have not found our purpose. As well as thinking, maybe God doesn’t have a plan for us, but that is the furthest thing from the truth. God has had a plan for each of us from the beginning of time. In Ephesians 1:10 it says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” In the same way that God perfectly brought about Jesus for a purpose, He has brought about each of us through our genealogies, circumstances, and experiences for a specific purpose. One that He has had planned since this whole thing started.

You were not haphazardly created. God created each and every one of us uniquely. Just as God said to His prophet Jeremiah, he speaks to us, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jer.1:5). John Frame expounds on this verse in saying, “If God knew Jeremiah before his conception, then God must have arranged for one particular sperm to reach one particular egg to produce each of Jeremiah’s ancestors back to Adam, and then Jeremiah himself. So God is in control of all the ‘accidents’ of history to create the precise person he seeks to employ as his prophet.” And in the same way, God has perfectly controlled all things to create you precisely as you are.

So this week as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we can look deeper than just a simple manger scene and see God’s perfectly ordained plan to bring about His Son. But it doesn’t end there. We can also see that the same amount of care and precision has gone into our own story beginning with our own birth. No one has slipped through the cracks. God knows you (Jer. 1:5). He made you (Psalm 139:13-16). And He delights in you (Zeph. 3:17). All because “for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Presents

When I was a kid, there was no time more exciting than Christmas. I would go to bed on Christmas Eve and never get much sleep. I would lie in bed, stare at the ceiling, and just wait anxiously as I thought about what awaited me in the morning.

Why is it I couldn’t sleep? Why was there all this anticipation for Christmas morning? It was because I knew Christmas meant presents. Lots and lots of presents! When I think back to Christmas mornings as a kid I remember the joy of opening gift, after gift, after gift, throwing wrapping paper throughout the living room and posing for a picture while holding up each present. The joy I felt as a kid while opening presents is hard to top.

Looking back now, as a 23-year-old, I realize something about those presents that I never realized as a kid. I didn’t deserve them. It’s true. My parents went to great lengths to get me everything I wanted, but I didn’t really deserve any of it. I wasn’t a bad kid; I was actually a good kid, but I definitely didn’t do anything to earn the gifts I received. I never had to do extra chores to earn my presents, I never paid my parents back, and I never gave my parents gifts that compared to what they gave me. The only thing I did to earn those presents was in being their child. I was their child, they loved me with an amazing love, and they gave me gifts I never earned all because they loved me. That pretty much sums it up.

As Christians, we’ve all received a present we didn’t deserve. On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who came to earth to live a perfect, sinless life and die a death that we deserved. We can experience salvation because of this amazing gift of grace that was given to us. Ephesians 2:8 says it clearly, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

Isaiah 9:6 says this, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

This Christmas season I look forward to and I’m thankful for the presents I will receive. During this season and every season I’m most thankful for the present that was given to me in Jesus Christ, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace who was born and then died for me.

My New Year’s Resolution

The new year is upon us and everyone is making resolutions. For many, it’s that they would eat healthier or workout more to get in shape. For some, it’s that they would give up a bad habit that they have developed. I have a different New Year’s resolution this year, and I challenge you to join me in keeping it in 2015.

In 2015 I want to read through the entire Bible.

I will admit that it is very difficult for me to be consistent in being in the Word. Some days I forget because I’m busy while some days I’m just simply lazy. But there’s no excuse for me with all of the opportunities that I have to read my Bible each day. Even on my busiest days I have the Bible on my smart phone that I can easily access. That’s why this new year I am making a plan. There are plenty of options out there for reading plans, and I’ve been searching for the one that fits me best.

I’ve tried many times to start and stick with reading plans, but many times I’ve failed. I know that this year there will be days that I forget and days that I get busy. There will be times where I fall behind. But being in God’s word is of extreme importance for our growth as Christians, and there is no excuse not to spend time with the Lord.

Take this challenge with me to read through the Bible in 2015. Find a partner to hold you accountable in the process ,and if you have a smartphone use technology to help keep up. Let Psalm 1:2 be the key to the next year, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Challenge one another to not just read daily, but also let Scripture change you.

In January all of the gyms in town will be packed, and then come March the numbers drop considerably. Diets start out strong and after a couple weeks they often can’t be kept up. Resolutions are usually made in January just to be broken in a few months. But there’s no resolution that’s more important than this, let’s make it a resolution we actually keep.

If you have found a reading plan that works for you please share it here! Happy New Year!

Here’s a couple of links to very helpful plans:
http://www.ligonier.org/blog/bible-reading-plans/
http://about.esvbible.org/resources/reading/ https://www.bible.com/reading-plans

The Gift that has Already Been Given

This is the week full of gifts, stress, and last minute Christmas shopping with everyone else and their brother searching for the same thing. Its funny how in the midst of this “joyful season,” we are typically frustrated with the people causing us to wait in the long line at check out. Finally we get to Christmas morning and get to see the look on each others’ faces of surprise and excitement, and then if you are like me, the last gift has been opened and your eyes are already searching the corners of the room to see if there might have been a gift forgotten to be put in your pile.

The truth is no matter how great the gifts are this Christmas morning, we are all going to be disappointed. It happens every year. The excitement of the surprise builds up. Then finally we get to throw the wrapping paper off and open the gifts we have been waiting so anxiously to receive. No matter what it is though, the excitement fades over the next couple of days, or sometimes as soon as the gifts are unwrapped. This is because we love the surprise that comes with the gifts. We love the unknown and can not wait to see what someone has bought for us and thinks we will enjoy. And often times the gifts are heartfelt, lasting gifts that we will have for years., but even when it is the greatest gift we could ask for, they also look better wrapped up with a bow on top.

This is when I started asking myself, why do we love gifts.

Why do we love the mysterious visage a gift brings and desire to explore what’s inside?

What if it is because we were wired to explore the most mysterious gift there is and never find disappointment, but instead, find true satisfaction, joy, and contentment.

In Luke 11:13, Jesus says this about the matter, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” So think about this in terms of Christmas. We cherish the gifts that are given to us by those who know are hobbies, favorite movies, favorite books, and so on. But there is a limit to what they know about us. They don’t know our heart’s true needs and desires; only God knows this, and He knows the exact gift that we all need: Himself.

He knows of a gift that will never leave us searching the room for a forgotten present, but instead will leave us seeking our forgiving Savior. He knows that our need is the Holy Spirit living inside of us and transforming us into holiness. This gift is one that last year round, 24/7. Its a gift that never leaves us wishing there was more. It simply leaves us wanting more of Jesus.

So this Christmas, rest in the gift that has already been given to you. The gift that will give meaning to every other one you will give or receive because when you see how graciousness of the Father, you will be free to see the gifts as a means to the end not the end themselves. God has also given you himself to be able to take a deep breath while shopping in the crowds, to love your family in the craziness of traveling, and to share the gospel with those you are close to.

Let the Father’s gift of his Spirit free you to celebrate Christ’s birth.