Sunday, December 25, 2016

25 Thoughts on Christmas # 25

“For unto us a child is born

My wife and I have been blessed with four beautiful children.  In 2006 we decided to try to get pregnant for the first time … once again in 2008, again in 2009, and again in 2011.  “Be fruitful and multiply” is one of our favorite commands in the Bible!

Although we chose to bring children in to this world, none of our kids actually chose to be born.  In fact no one alive has ever chosen to be born … that is no one except Jesus.  Jesus is the only One to ever choose to be born, the only Person to choose to enter our broken world.  I believe it’s something He still chooses to do today.

As happy as this time of year can be for many of us, I know that joy and happiness are not a reality for everyone.  For some, dreams have been shattered and life has felt broken. I know people recently diagnosed with cancer.  I know people who have lost their husbands or wives through divorce or separation.  I know families that have been torn apart.  I know parents who have lost children and children who have lost parents.  I know men and women who have lost their jobs.  As merry as this time of year is for some, for others it is lonely and it’s painful and it hurts.   And it is there that Jesus wants to meet us.

Psalm 40 starts out by saying “I waited patiently for the Lord and He turned and heard my cry.”  It ends by saying, “As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.”  I love that!  “The Lord takes thought of me.”  I love when my wife sends me a text or a note that simply says, “I’m thinking of you.”  To be thought of, to be noticed … it feels like an emotional hug.

When we experience the brokenness on the inside of us and on the outside of us, it’s easy to believe that God has forgotten us.  But, if Christmas has shown us anything, it shows that that we are incapable of being unnoticed by God.  God has a long history of hearing the cries of His people and entering in to their hurt and longing to provide shelter in His living embrace.

Throughout the New Testament, one of the defining characteristics of the life of Christ was compassion.  When He saw the hurting, the lonely, the poor, the enslaved, the broken, He was “moved with compassion” for them … literally moved on the inside.  He was willing to allow Himself to be touched by what touched someone else and to be moved by what moved someone else.  This is empathy … a willingness to feel in to another person’s pain, to take on their perspective and enter in to their world. So often I see myself back away from the places or people that are uncomfortable or difficult, but so compassionate was Jesus that He was willing not just to see another person’s pain, but to enter in to their pain and to empathize with their weaknesses.

On Christmas, as we celebrate Jesus entering in to our world, I pray that we will remember that He’s also willing to enter our personal world … that we are not, nor will we ever go unnoticed by Him.  He’s still willing to be moved with compassion and shelter us in His loving embrace.  As He does, I believe we will find that the presence of the right Person will make all the difference in the world. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

25 Thoughts on Christmas # 24

“For God so love the world that He GAVE His only Son.” 

The happiest people you know are the most generous people you know.  Show me a generous person and I’ll show you a happy person.  Show me a stingy person and I’ll show you a grumpy person.  When you live a generous life, you’re truly experiencing life.  Jesus said it Himself … It’s more blessed to give than to receive.  Now, I’m no certainly no brain surgeon or rocket scientist, but given the option of choosing to be more blessed or less blessed … I’m probably going to choose to be more blessed.  And, the way I can choose to be more blessed … the way I can truly experience life … is simply by choosing to be more generous, to intentionally give, to daily sacrifice, to really feel generosity in my budget, to say “no” to some of my wants so I can say “yes” to another’s need, and to look to Jesus.  You see, a greater paycheck will never help me be generous, but a greater view of grace certainly will. A heart overwhelmed by grace is a heart willing to overwhelm others with generosity.

At the very core of Christmas we find a generous God who is willing to give to us. He saw a need, our need for salvation, and He “gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 

We can never be guilted in to generosity.  We can be guilted in to giving, but we can never be guilted in to being generous. Generosity is the result of a life restored by grace. Guilt may motivate you to give today.  Grace will motivate you to be generous for a lifetime.  So, as we turn our thoughts this Christmas Eve toward a generous God who gave His only Son, may our hearts be transformed and may a generous life just be one of the results.

25 Thoughts on Christmas # 23

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” (1 John 4:16)

This Christmas, remind yourself and your family that hope is only found in how much you've been loved by Jesus. It will be tempting to look for hope in the gifts that you receive or in the gifts that you give or in the people that you celebrate Christmas with, but those gifts will get old, your generosity will wrestle with your selfishness, and the people who say they love you will find a way to disappoint you once again.

The only hope that you have this Christmas is in the love that God has for you. Husbands, you won't love your wife like you're supposed to. Wives, you won't love your husbands like you're supposed to. Brothers and sisters, you won't love your siblings like you're supposed to. Parents, you won't love your kids like you're supposed to. Kids, you won't love your parents like you're supposed to. But God will always love you perfectly.

Christmas Day is a celebration of how much God loves us. Don't miss out on an opportunity to share that Good News. Remind yourself and your family to fix your eyes on Jesus and celebrate that there's eternal, life-changing hope for you!

By Paul Tripp

25 Thoughts on Christmas # 22

"Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.'”

In response to announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, it’s almost as if the angels could contain themselves no more. The armies of heaven arrived on the scene and shouted “Glory to God in the highest way possible! What God has just done dude, it just doesn’t get any better than this!” (my translation).  But, as one reads the Christmas story, it wasn’t just the angels shouting “It doesn’t get any better than this.”  There is a consistent theme of worship throughout the story.
  •  Luke 1:47 "And Mary said: 'My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.'"
  •   Luke 2:20 "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard, which were just as they had been told.”
  •  Matthew 2:11 “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him.”    Luke 2:28 “Simeon took Him (baby Jesus) in his arms and praised God.”
  •  Luke 2:38 “Coming up to them (Mary and Joseph) at that very moment, she (Anna) gave thanks to God and spoke about the child (baby Jesus) to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”  

Tim Keller has defined worship in this way:  “Worship is treasuring God: I ponder his worth and then do something about it--I give him what he's worth.”  God crossing the expanse of the Universe, entering our world, remaining 100% God and yet becoming 100% man, offering “Good news of great joy for all people” it just doesn’t get any better than this.  As we edge closer and closer to Christmas day, let us ponder His worth and treasure all that God has done, and may our response be the same as those throughout the Christmas story worship. 

25 Thoughts on Christmas # 21

“And he will be called Everlasting Father”

I believe the greatest influence a man will ever have is the influence he has on his kids.  Never in a man’s life will influence come easier than it does with his children. It is impossible to over-estimate the importance of the role dads have in the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual development of children.  The calling of being a dad is one of the highest callings given by God.

In my 14 years of being a pastor, though, I have talked with many men and women and a consistent theme has come up.  It’s a theme that John Eldridge calls “the father wound.” As I’ve talked with men and women, I’ve heard many of them say things like:

  • ·  “My dad was physically present, but not really emotionally present.”
  • "My dad was a hard worker, but that’s what he did all of the time.  He worked.  It was like his job was more important than his kids.”
  • “My dad was a hard man.  If we broke the rules there would be hell to pay.
  • “I never heard my dad say that he was proud of me.”
  • “I’m not sure I’ve ever had a ‘real’ conversation with my dad.  He never lets me see who he really is.  He’s distant and unknown to me.”
  • “My dad abused me.”
  • “Every day I woke up with a desire to be loved by this man and every night I went to bed wandering why he seemed to hate me so much.” 

As these wounds progress throughout the formative years of childhood, we begin to learn things like:

  • I know I want to be loved, but at the end of the day I am not.  I need to find intimacy on my own terms, then.
  • Accomplishments appear to be more important than character.  Work hard, regardless of the cost to those around me.
  • I better not mess up because if I do, wrath is on it’s way.  Play it safe.
  • Don’t ever let anyone get too close.  Vulnerability is not safe and a sign of weakness.
  • I will prove to my dad I am worthy of his praise, even if he will not give it to me.  I need to perform, perform, perform.
  • I can’t trust men or anyone in authority.  They are out to get me and want to hurt me.
  • I’m not sure anyone really enjoys me.  I need to gain attention and affection any way I can.

We take these wounds with us in to adulthood and many live their adult lives as those scared little children still seeking to earn the approval and love of their father or continue to live in fear of him and compensate for that in some way.  I think this is also one reason why, as a pastor, I have heard many say that it is difficult to relate to God as a “Heavenly Father” because of the way they were treated by their earthly father.  Imagine what it is like to learn from the wounds of our earthly fathers and apply them to our Heavenly Father.  What would that teach us?

  •  I know God loves me I’m just not so sure He enjoys me.
  • God is more concerned about what I “do” than who I am becoming in the process.
  • I better not mess up.  If I do, God is out to punish me.
  • I need to earn God’s approval.  The more I do for Him, the happier He is with me.
  • I cannot trust God.

It’s natural to do this.  It speaks to the incredibly powerful influence that dads have on their children.  But, this is not the God I know.  There’s a certain theme throughout the Old Testament that was used to describe the character of God.  And, that theme started in Exodus 33.  It’s there that Moses asked God “please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight.” (Exodus 33:13)  He then took it even a step further and made an incredibly bold request to God.  He asked to see God in all of His glory.  Now, what’s amazing is God didn’t shy away from that.  He wanted to reveal Himself to Moses, but God said, Moses I cannot show you my glory because no one could survive seeing Me in all of my glory.  But, I will allow my goodness to pass in front of you.  When God said He would let His goodness pass before Moses, He was in essence saying I will allow my character to be known to you. 

In Exodus 34 we see that happen.  We’re told that God passed in front of Moses and as He did, God proclaimed His character to Moses.  He said, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.  Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.” (Exodus 34:6-7a)

This Exodus passage can be discovered all throughout the Old Testament.  It’s quoted 7 other times in the Old Testament as a way to describe the character of God.  It describes His character as a Heavenly Father … compassionate (He does not leave us alone in this world), gracious (freely given love and acceptance), patient (slow to anger), abounding in love (I want to be in relationship with you and will demonstrate that in the most powerful of ways), faithful (I’m firmly fixed in place.  I am not going anywhere.), does not leave the guilty unpunished (Hebrews 12 tells us “For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how.  But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in His holiness.  No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening – it’s painful!  But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” God’s discipline of us is a way to rescue us from our foolishness and not a way to punish us for making Him angry.  Jesus already took our deserved wrath on the cross.), forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin (If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. (Psalm 130:3)

What Moses saw only a glimpse of is fully revealed in Jesus Christ.  “The Son radiates God's own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command.”  (Hebrews 1:3)  Jesus is our “Everlasting Father” and can heal the wounds of our earthly fathers.  Truths like that bring such encouragement to me as a son and as a dad. We can bring those hurts to Him and trust that He will hear us, He will love us, and He will heal us.

Friday, December 23, 2016

25 Thoughts on Christmas # 20

“He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

Jesus expects his disciples to be radically different from the way people ordinarily act. They are to serve each other and unbelievers. In that service they are to drink the cup of whatever suffering it will cost. And it will cost. But if that were the only message of Christianity, it would not be good news. There would be no gospel. I need more than for someone to tell me what I should do and should be. I need help to be and to do. This is why Jesus says what he says in Mark 10: 45: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” What a horrendous mistake it would be if we heard Jesus’s call to be the servant of all in verse 44 as a call to serve him.

  It is not.

It is a call to learn how to be served by him. Don’t miss this. This is the heart of Christianity. This is what sets our faith off from all other major religions. Our God does not need our service, nor is he glorified by recruits who want to help him out. Our God is so full and so self-sufficient and so overflowing in power and life and joy that he glorifies himself by serving us. He does this by taking on humanity and seeking us out and then telling us that he did not come to get our service, but to be our servant. Here is a general truth to ponder and believe: every time Jesus commands something for us to do, it is his way of telling us how he wants to serve us. Let me say it another way: the path of obedience is the place where Christ meets us as our servant to carry our burdens and give us his power. When you become a Christian— a disciple of Jesus— you do not become his helper. He becomes your helper. You do not become his benefactor. He becomes your benefactor. You do not become his servant. He becomes your servant. Jesus does not need your help; he commands your obedience and offers his help. Christmas. He came to serve, not to be served. He came to help us do everything he calls us to do.

By John Piper

Blog Archive