Seven Notes in 2014 – Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Advertisements

Sentimentalizing, Sanitizing, and Spiritualizing Christmas | Worship Matters

Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

Here is an excellent description of three possible ways to celebrate Christmas – and the consequences of each. Praying your Christmas celebrations are both merry and meaningful. God is with us – Emmanuel! Blessings to you this Christmas!

“It’s difficult, if not impossible, to overstate the significance of the Incarnation.

Writers, philosophers, poets, and composers through the centuries have searched in vain for words that adequately capture the wonder, mystery, beauty, and power of Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us.

The miracle and meaning of the Incarnation can be so difficult to grasp that we can give up and start to view Christmas in ways that leave us impoverished and unimpressed with the real story. Even in the church our songs and reflections about about Christmas can fail to leave people gasping in amazement or humbled in awe that God would come to dwell among us.

Sometimes we sentimentalize Christmas.
Sentimentalism is focusing on the sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas that give us good feelings. Dazzling decorations, fresh baked sugar cookies, poinsettias, family get-togethers, gift shopping, twinkling lights, Christmas carols, cards from friends, tree-cutting expeditions, wrapping presents. Of course, all these Christmas traditions are an expression of common grace, for which we can joyfully thank God. My family has developed a few of our own over 30+ years and I look forward to them every year. But man-made traditions aren’t the whole story, or even the main story of Christmas, and they fail to solve our deepest problems or fulfill our deepest needs.

Sometimes we sanitize Christmas.
We sanitize Christmas when we only present a picture-perfect, storybook rendition of what took place in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Kind of like the picture above. The straw in the manger is fresh and clean. There’s no umbilical cord to cut and no blood. It’s a “silent night.” The surroundings are strangely free from the pungent odor of manure. Joseph and Mary are calm, cool, and collected. Everyone gets a good night’s sleep. There’s no controversy or gossip surrounding the birth. It’s a pleasant, appealing way to think about Christmas, but obscures the foulness, uncertainty, and sin that Jesus was born into. We forget that rather than coming for the put-together, well-to-do, and self-sufficient, Jesus identified with the rejected, the slandered, the helpless, and the poor.

Sometimes we spiritualize Christmas.
Spiritualizing Christmas is ignoring Christmas as earth-shattering history and using it simply to promote general virtues like brotherhood, peace, joy, generosity, and love. And tolerance, of course. Again, it’s evidence of God’s common grace and a reason to give thanks that our culture sets aside a time of year, however commercialized it might be, to celebrate and commend loving your neighbor. But the fruit of Christmas is impossible to achieve or sustain apart from the root. We understand what love is by looking not to ourselves and our good deeds, but by considering Jesus, who came into the world to lay down his life for us (1 John 3:16). Preaching or singing about peace without recognizing our need for the Prince of Peace is a shallow peace indeed.

By this time, most of us have already made our choices about what Christmas means to us and how we’re going to present it to others. But Christmas comes every year. And it’s not too early to start thinking about next year.

More importantly, the glory of God becoming man was never meant to be marginalized to a few weeks. It means something cataclysmic every day.

  • Jesus, the eternal Son of God who before time was worshiped by countless angels, set aside his glory and entered the world through the birth canal of a young woman he had created.
  • He came not into a 21st century environment with trained doctors, sterilized instruments and fetal monitors, but into a 1st century cave filled with flies, animal excrement, and filth.
  • The fullness of deity took of residence in the body of a baby gasping for its first breath.
  • The one who spoke the universe into existence lay silent, unable to utter a word.
  • He came by choice and with the sole intention of redeeming a fallen and rebellious race through his perfect obedience, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection.

If we have the privilege of leading others in corporate worship at Christmas, let’s be sure to help them understand why nothing is more wonderful about Christmas than Christ himself.

God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
Begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. (Nicene Creed)

The incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. (Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word)

He deigns in flesh t’appear, widest extremes to join;
To bring our vileness near, and make us all divine:
And we the life of God shall know, for God is manifest below. (Charles Wesley)

The Son of God descended miraculously from heaven, yet without abandoning heaven; was pleased to be conceived miraculously in the Virgin’s womb, to live on the earth, and hang upon the cross, and yet always filled the world as from the beginning. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, II, xiii, 4)

See the eternal Son of God, immortal Son of Man,
Now dwelling in an earthly clod whom Heaven cannot contain!
Stand amazed, ye heavens, look at this! See the Lord of earth and skies
Low humbled to the dust He is, and in a manger lies! (Charles Wesley)

Herein is wisdom; when I was undone, with no will to return to him,
and no intellect to devise recovery, he came,
God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost
as man to die my death,
to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
to work out a perfect righteousness for me. (The Valley of Vision)

As He sleeps upon the hay, He holds the moon and stars in place
Though born an infant He remains the sovereign God of endless days (God Made Low)

And who would have dreamed or ever foreseen that we could hold God in our hands?
The Giver of Life is born in the night, revealing God’s glorious plan
To save the world (Who Would Have Dreamed)

Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. (Charles Wesley)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn. 1:14

O come, let us adore him.”

by Bob Kauflin

http://www.worshipmatters.com/2014/12/18/from-the-archives-sentimentalizing-sanitizing-and-spiritualizing-christmas-2

The truth that rescues, renovates and restores

rainbow treeAnd I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26 ESV)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV)

I just love the grace and truth of these two favourite passages (of mine) from God’s word. They sum up the compassionate heart of a God who would send his own son to die in order to make alive those dead in their rebellion against himself! They explain that the abundant new life we have in Christ is in no way something we have dreamed up. This is the intervention of an all-powerful God into the hearts of mortal men and women!

I also love the way the band Tenth Avenue North have described this rescue and restoration plan of our loving God (album: Light Meets the Dark). He came to bring us truth, which is his very substance. He came to bring us back to the start, to a relationship with him unhindered by our sin. He came to touch our hard hearts, to soften and make them tender and alive toward him. I trust you will enjoy meditating on the truth of these verses, particularly the grace of God which they reveal, grace which comes to us by no merit of our own.

“The Truth Is Who You Are”

It would be easier if You were just a thought in my head
Simply something that I once read
A belief needing my defense

And it would be easier if You were something I once knew
A hope just to hold on
But You’re holding out Your hands

You came to take us back to the start
You came to touch the hardness of our hearts
You gave us truth, that truth is who You are, it’s who You are

And it’s not enough to just say, “I believe”
‘Cause truth is that talk is cheap
So grace give me eyes to see

You came to take us back to the start
You came to touch the hardness of our hearts
You gave us truth, that truth is who You are
It’s who You are

Flesh and blood You offer us
Oh, to eat the bread and drink the cup
Oh, to taste, to see, to feel, to touch
Emmanuel, God with us
Emmanuel, God with us

‘Cause You came to break the chains apart
To wake the dead and the sleeping of our hearts
You gave us truth that truth is who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are

Here is a video commentary by the lead singer, explaining more about the meaning of the song:

Seven Christmas Meditations from John Piper

Nativity_tree2011I found each of these short Christmas devotions really encouraging. You will easily find a place to share them in your home, your church, your classroom or your facebook wall this Christmas!

1. A Big God for a Little PeopleLuke 2:1–5

Have you ever thought what an amazing thing it is that God ordained beforehand that the Messiah be born in Bethlehem (as the prophecy in Micah 5 shows); and that he so ordained things that when the time came, the Messiah’s mother and legal father were living in Nazareth; and that in order to fulfill his word and bring two little people to Bethlehem that first Christmas, God put it in the heart of Caesar Augustus that all the Roman world should be enrolled each in his own town?

Have you ever felt, like me, little and insignificant in a world of four billion people, where all the news is of big political and economic and social movements and of outstanding people with lots of power and prestige? If you have, don’t let that make you disheartened or unhappy. For it is implicit in Scripture that all the mammoth political forces and all the giant industrial complexes, without their even knowing it, are being guided by God, not for their own sake but for the sake of God’s little people—the little Mary and the little Joseph who have to be got from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God wields an empire to bless his children. Do not think, because you experience adversity, that the hand of the Lord is shortened. It is not our prosperity but our holiness that he seeks with all his heart. And to that end, he rules the whole world. As Proverbs 21:1 says: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” He is a big God for little people, and we have great cause to rejoice that, unbeknownst to them, all the kings and presidents and premiers and chancellors of the world follow the sovereign decrees of our Father in heaven, that we, the children, might be conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.

2. Calvary Road—Luke 2:6–7

Now you would think that if God so rules the world as to use an empire-wide census to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, he surely could have seen to it that a room was available in the inn. Yes, he could have. And Jesus could have been born into a wealthy family. He could have turned stone into bread in the wilderness. He could have called 10,000 angels to his aid in Gethsemane. He could have come down from the cross and saved himself. The question is not what God could do, but what he willed to do. God’s will was that though Christ was rich, yet for your sake he became poor. The “No Vacancy” signs over all the motels in Bethlehem were for your sake. “For your sake he became poor.” God rules all things—even motel capacities—for the sake of his children. The Calvary road begins with a “No Vacancy” sign in Bethlehem and ends with the spitting and scoffing and the cross in Jerusalem.

And we must not forget that he said: “He who would come after me must deny himself and take up his cross.” We join him on the Calvary road and hear him say: “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20). To the one who calls out enthusiastically: “I will follow you wherever you go!” Jesus responds, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Yes, God could have seen to it that Jesus have a room at his birth. But that would have been a detour off the Calvary road.

3. Fear Not—Luke 2:8–11

The angel said to Zechariah: “Fear not!” He said it to Mary: “Fear not!” And now he says it to the shepherds: “Fear not!” It’s a natural thing for a sinner to fear. The more guilt we have, the more things we fear: fear of being found out for some little deceit, fear that some ache we have is God’s judgment, fear of dying and meeting the holy God face to face.

But even though it’s natural, God sends Jesus with the word: Fear not! Hebrews 2:14 says: Jesus became man “that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death have been held in lifelong bondage.” Doesn’t this last phrase imply something tremendously liberating for our daily life? If the worst fear—fear of death—has been taken away through the death of Christ, then surely God does not want us to fear the lesser things in life: job insecurity, not having enough time to finish a sermon, having over for lunch someone who can’t speak English, failing a test in school, being rejected by your friends, etc. The message of Christmas is fear not! God is ruling the world for the great good of his children. Believe his promises: “Fear not for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will help you; I will strengthen you; I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness . . . Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall wear . . . Cast all your anxieties on God because he cares for you . . . The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?”

4. Rejoice!

And in the place of fear Jesus puts joy. Joyless faith in Jesus is a contradiction in terms. Paul summed up the goal of his whole ministry like this: “for the advancement and joy of your faith.” And he told the Philippians and Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, and again I will say rejoice.” Always? Yes. Not without tears of grief and pain. But still joyful. When my mother was killed, I cried for about half an hour before I could stop. But as I knelt there by my bed, I was not only grieving. I was hoping. And while it is very hard to describe, there was a kind of joy in God and his sovereign goodness that later on at her funeral I tried to express.

So don’t oversimplify: it is not wrong to cry (weep with those who weep), but there is a joy rooted in God’s rule of love that is never overcome in God’s children.

5. Peace for Whom?—Luke 2:12–14

Peace for whom? There is a somber note sounded in the angels’ praise. Peace among men on whom his favor rests. Peace among men with whom he is pleased. Without faith it is impossible to please God. So Christmas does not bring peace to all.

“This is the judgment,” Jesus said, “that the light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil.” Or as the aged Simeon said when he saw the child Jesus: “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against . . . that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” O, how many there are who look out on a bleak and chilly Christmas day and see no more than that.

6. For Everyone Who Believes

He came to his own and his own received him not, but to as many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, to as many as believed on his name. It was only to his disciples that Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” The people who enjoy the peace of God that surpasses all understanding are those who in everything by prayer and supplication let their requests be made known to God. The key that unlocks the treasure chest of God’s peace is faith in the promises of God. So Paul prays: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing“. And when we do trust the promises of God and have joy and peace and love, then God is glorified. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men with whom he is pleased: men who would believe.

7. Spreading the Light—Luke 2:17–20

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light that all might believe through him.

If you are ever granted to see that light for what it really is, you will believe it. Everybody who knows the light is like John the Baptist: we have seen the light and testify to it. We have been lifted out of the dark caverns of our sin and guilt and fear into the bright daylight of his grace. How can we help but spread the light?

To symbolize the coming of the light into our dark world and the spreading of the light through the world we will spread the flame of the Christ candle through the room.

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/a-big-god-for-little-people