Faith in our strong God magnifies Grace

father holding hands with daughter walking in shallow water at beachToday’s post comes from John Piper, but his childhood story struck a chord with me. I can faintly remember a similar moment when my dad rescued a mini-me  from under a freak wave at the beach (in his good shoes). I trust you will find this an encouragement:

I do not nullify the grace of God. (Galatians 2:21)

“When I lost my footing as a little boy in the undertow at the beach, I felt as if I were going to be dragged to the middle of the ocean in an instant.

It was a terrifying thing. I tried to get my bearings and figure out which way was up. But I couldn’t get my feet on the ground and the current was too strong to swim. I wasn’t a good swimmer anyway.

In my panic I thought of only one thing: Could someone help me? But I couldn’t even call out from under the water.

When I felt my father’s hand take hold of my upper arm like a mighty vice grip, it was the sweetest feeling in the world. I yielded entirely to being overpowered by his strength. I reveled in being picked up at his will. I did not resist.

The thought did not enter my mind that I should try to show that things aren’t so bad; or that I should add my strength to my dad’s arm. All I thought was, Yes! I need you! I thank you! I love your strength! I love your initiative! I love your grip! You are great!

In that spirit of yielded affection, one cannot boast. I call that yielded affection “faith.” And my father was the embodiment of the future grace that I craved under the water. This is the faith that magnifies grace.

As we ponder how to live the Christian life, the uppermost thought should be: How can I magnify rather than nullify the grace of God? Paul answers this question in Galatians 2:20–21, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God.”

Why does his life not nullify the grace of God? Because he lives by faith in the Son of God. Faith calls all attention to grace and magnifies it, rather than nullifying it.”

http://www.desiringgod.org/books/future-grace

9 Glorious things about Jesus’ Resurrection

empty tombSharing today a great post from Stephen Altrogge at The Blazing Center – because I couldn’t have said it better myself. The resurrection is the most significant event in history, which changed everything – and continues to change everything for individuals, families, communities, and the world as a whole. Here are 9 glorious things which the empty tomb means for us:

“The resurrection baffled everyone. When the disciples came to Jesus’ empty tomb, they couldn’t comprehend what they were seeing. They had witnessed him die, saw the spear plunge into his side, heard him cry out, “It is finished!” But they couldn’t make heads or tails of the resurrection and the vacant grave clothes and the stone that had been tossed aside. What did these things mean? John 20:9 says:

…for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

They knew Jesus was not there but they didn’t really understand what his resurrection meant. We can be just like the disciples. We know that Jesus rose from the dead but we don’t know what it means for us. . . 

1. THE RESURRECTION MEANS JESUS IS ALIVE

This may sound like I’m stating the obvious but think deeply about this for a moment. Paul said that if the resurrection didn’t happen, we are most to be pitied. Everything we’ve believed and built our lives upon is a horrendous trick, a lie of demonic proportions.

But the resurrection IS true, which means that Jesus is alive, which means that everything he promised will happen. It’s not a myth, fairy tale, or children’s tale. Christ is risen from the dead and is achieving EVERYTHING he said he would.

2. THE RESURRECTION MEANS JESUS IS REIGNING

Our risen Lord is just that – Lord. He sits on the throne of heaven, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Our lives and the world may seem insanely chaotic but there is nothing outside of the sovereign rule of King Jesus.

Satan, every demon, and every nation may plot against us and the Lord, and yet Jesus responds like this:

He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision (Ps 2:4).

Nothing can stop our Lord from accomplishing his good plans.

3. THE RESURRECTION TOMB MEANS A MAN SITS UPON THE THRONE

This is utterly mind boggling. The incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ mean that a man, a human, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, is seated on the throne of heaven.

God is not distant, unfeeling, and unable to sympathize. We have a king who became like us. He knows hardship, grief, sadness, and rejection. Jesus the King is high and exalted, Jesus the man draws near to the brokenhearted.

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered (Heb 5:8).

4. THE RESURRECTION MEANS THE PENALTY FOR SIN HAS BEEN PAID

The wages of sin is death. Those who love wickedness must face the just consequences of their choice. Our rightly deserved punishment is both spiritual and physical death.

When Jesus rose from the dead, it demonstrated that the penalty for sin – death – had been satisfied. Nothing else was needed, the price was paid, all had been accomplished.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote:

The Resurrection is the great announcement of the momentous fact that Christ has finished the work He came to do. He is no longer “under the law.” He is back in glory. Why? Because He has done everything that the Law could demand. Now the Law has exhausted itself upon Him, and He will die “no more.”

When Jesus cried, “It is finished,” he was not exaggerating or adding theatrics. It was a beautiful statement of objective truth.

5. THE RESURRECTION MEANS JESUS WILL MAKE ALL THINGS NEW

In the song “All Things New,” Andrew Peterson writes:

So hold on to the promise
The stories are true
That Jesus makes all things new

Jesus will come again, and when he comes he will make ALL things new. Every tear will be wiped away, sin will be eradicated, and this rickety, run-down, sin-stained world will be made new.

Thank God that this world is not our final home. Thank God our life doesn’t consist of eating, drinking, and then dying. The risen Christ will make all things new.

6. THE RESURRECTION MEANS WE WILL RECEIVE NEW BODIES

Christ is the first fruits of the harvest that is coming.

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Co 15:49).

Right now, our bodies decay. Fall apart. Go to pieces. We afflicted with cancer, depression, Alzheimer’s, and ALS. But this won’t always be the case. Christ will return and we will receive new, resurrection bodies that don’t feel the crippling effects of sin.

That is such good news.

7. THE RESURRECTION MEANS WE HAVE A SYMPATHETIC GREAT HIGH PRIEST

The risen Jesus is our Great High Priest, taking us into the Most Holy Place, and praying on our behalf. Because he also suffered, he is able to sympathize with our weakness.  He knows our frame, knows that we are dust, and strengthens us accordingly.

Jesus is near to us, helping us, praying for us. He brings our requests to God, purifying and sanctifying them. Because of our sympathetic great high priest, we can draw near with confidence.

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. 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 (Heb 4:15–16).

8. THE RESURRECTION MEANS WE HAVE THE HOLY SPIRIT

Now that Jesus is alive, he gives the Holy Spirit to all who believe in Him.

Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear (Acts 2:32-33)

Praise God, the Holy Spirit is no longer reserved for prophets and mighty men and women. He comes to all who believe, weak and strong, young and old, mature and immature.

Through Christ, we are brought into a relationship the triune God.

9. THE RESURRECTION MEANS WE HAVE HOPE

Though we struggle and flail and stumble now, we have hope. Though we are pressed and afflicted, we are not destroyed. Though we walk through the Valley of Death, we will fear no evil. We can let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, Jesus has risen from the dead.

Risen indeed!

Back to 3:16 – Your reason for hope (1 Peter)

sunrise for hope1 Peter 3:14-16 (NIV)
14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  

Greetings fellow bloggers,

It is nearly three years since I stalled in my exploration of the Three Sixteens, but today is the day to jump back in. With only four more of these 3:16 verses to go, perhaps I will make it to Revelation by Christmas! (If you missed all the earlier posts, on Matthew 3:16 through to James 3:16, then I’d encourage you to go back to the start and check them out.)

It is truly astounding the way such rich theology is anchored at this point in nearly every New Testament book. Admittedly, the more memorable verse sometimes does fall at 3:15 or 3:17, but this one starts in 15 and carries on.

Firstly, some context. In Chapter 3, Peter has been writing about submission to Christ and to each other, about our witness, and suffering in doing good. Verse 14 says, if we are doing what is right and suffering for it it, we should not fear the threats and slander of mere humans. These should be of no consequence to us (which is much easier said than done, right?). In fact, Peter says we are blessed/rewarded for the suffering we must endure, as we seek to live a holy life. This right behaviour ‘in Christ‘ (done in his strength and for his sake) is further described in verse 16. Other people are going to speak maliciously against us, but Peter says that when we act in good conscience, the slanderers who criticise our good behaviour will ultimately be put to shame. That’s tough for them, but good for us. (However, you certainly wouldn’t want to be doing ‘good things’ with that motivation in your heart – to shame others!)

So, what is the heart of the matter in this 3:16?

As I said before, verse 16 begins in 15, and it starts with a big BUTBut in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. In the midst of suffering and slander, revere Christ. This is Peter’s solution.

The presence of the BUT tells me that our natural inclination is to do just the opposite. Our natural reaction is NOT to revere Christ as Lord. Instead, we hold the opinions and power of mere humans as being more important than that of Christ. We are naturally afraid of living in a way that brings suffering for following Christ (verse 14). That is the precisely the way the World lives –  fearing one another, and the power that others’ have over us, yet constantly seeking the approval of those very people.

That’s why Peter has to say, “But . . “ do this instead! Honour Christ. Fear Christ.

Rather than fearing Man, we Christ-followers are to revere Christ as Lord, to recognise that He is the Lord of this universe and He holds ultimate power. Because He will Judge each of us, He is the right person to fear. And when we fear the right thing, everything else falls into place. When we fear the Lord, the suffering that brings blessing for us also brings hope and peace!

This is what Peter alludes to in verse 14, which is a reference to Isaiah 8:12-15:
12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” (NLT)

In the fear of the Lord there is refuge and sanctuary. In fearing the Lord we find peace and confidence (we are not frightened), because we revere the true power! Isn’t that astounding?

Perhaps it is only when we patiently suffer for Christ that we find the strength and opportunity to express the HOPE that is in us.

What an encouraging bunch of verses we have here, which remind us that our strength comes from Christ! The meat in the sandwich (verse 15) is honouring or revering Christ, which brings us hope and a readiness to share the hope. This hope allows us to cope with the suffering wrapped around our hope, as we live for Christ in a world that despises him, and us.

Ultimately Peter’s message is this:
As you live for Christ, you will suffer – but you will be blessed and strengthened in your hope as you honour Christ as Lord of your life.  

That sounds like a pretty significant message to take away.
Thanks for another great 3:16, Peter!

(Note: If you have ever wondered how we got chapters and verses in the bible, you can read about it here.)

When God shuts the door

I’ve been procrastinating about finishing this blog post for over a year now. Why the delay? Partly, it is the strange irony of a church song/worship leader who can no longer sing, who is also the author of a blog about church music and grace. Shouldn’t God just be giving more grace, and healing, so that I continue in this role which has been so much a part of my identity for 26 years?

My reluctance is also partly down to the enormity of the struggle in my head; having to explain it to you means I have to think about it, and try to reason with it, and accept it to some degree.

Let me fill in some of the background.

Since the end of 2015, I have been struggling with the effects of a hiatus hernia (where the top of your stomach bulges up through your diaphragm, at the place where stomach meets the end of oesophagus, and this allows acid to flow upward. Gruesome isn’t it?). The result is reflux, oesophagitis and coughing, particularly when singing – or when playing any number of wind instruments, which is something I’ve also done for almost four decades. The medication I take for this situation is reasonably effective, but not when I have to sing or project my voice. So, for the last year, I’ve contributed to church music only from behind the keyboard.

Few people know the enormous sense of loss I feel not being able to stand out the front and do what I can (do well, apparently) to lead people in enthusiastic praise of our great God. Worse still, I can’t even sing as part of the congregation, unless I want to pay for it with a tight throat, cough and stinging tongue for the rest of the day. My participation is thus reduced to lip syncing and whispers.

Now I know that some people would be quite content with this amount of involvement in congregational singing. For them, my loss would seem pretty minor. Not so for me.

And there’s more.

Moving beyond what I was originally going to describe (in that difficult blog post I’d been avoiding), I now must share another loss: the end of high school teaching.

About five weeks ago, I realised that my throat/hernia could no longer cope with the demands of the classroom. Despite six weeks symptom-free in the Christmas school holidays, I came back to Term 1 and things soon got pretty bad, brought on by full days of enthusiastic English teaching. With worsening symptoms, I made the difficult decision to leave at the end of term.

Today is the last day of term. Tough day, made more difficult by the flood emergency in Brisbane which kept students away from school for two days. I didn’t really get to say goodbye.

But I will cherish the moment with my Year 12 students a few weeks ago. When I told them of my impending departure their reaction was priceless: they stood around me in a circle, holding hands, and prayed through tears for healing and blessings for my future.

As you may imagine, I now feel like I’m in the middle of a ‘Job’ experience (you know, the guy from the Old Testament who lost everything, as a test in a spiritual battle). I feel like much of who I am is being stripped away, taken away, and I’m wondering what is left. Sure, I have a degree in journalism, so I still have a useful skill to offer. But is this really God’s perfect plan for me? Is it some test I have to endure? Is this punishment? And what is left of me when all that is gone? What happens now that the teaching and the music fades away?

I could easily choose to give in to despair at this point. In some moments, that is exactly how I feel. I’m sad for lost relationships with students, and lost opportunities to challenge them and bring out their best writing. I also grieve the many good friendships I had at work, friendships which will never quite be the same again. A Christian school is such a unique community, and across three different schools I’ve seen such a consistent witness to the grace of God which transforms lives. I’ve been blessed to see the power of Christ working in people from such diverse backgrounds, yet with a common outcome – we become more like Christ.

As I reflect on all this, I must choose my attitude, and in Christ’s strength fight the despair, and focus on the fact that our sovereign God does all things for a reason. In fact, as things are stripped away (that I have relied on to validate my existence) I more clearly see that only one thing of value remains –  Jesus Christ, Lord of my life, Ruler of my heart. He gives and takes away. Blessed be His Name!

For whatever reason, God has shut the door on this season of my life. But no matter what happens, my continuing purpose is to give him praise. Please pray for me that I will do just that. 

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” (John Piper)

Blessings, 

Ros.

(I wrote this on March 31, but I accidentally have an older publishing date. It’s just one of those enigmatic things about the internet!)

Magnificent & Song of the Father

Loving these songs from Urban Rescue. Excellent and uplifting lyrics – “Magnificent

And “Song of My Father“:

MAGNIFICENT

Welcomed in, I’m overcome at the feet of perfect love
I am ushered in by Your nail scarred hands
to the place where my chains come undone

Chorus
Magnificent! Magnificent!
We crown You Lord of all, Lamb upon the throne
Magnificent! Magnificent!
Awake my soul to sing to Him who died for me
Magnificent!

See His face now glorified
See the grave where death has died
By His royal blood
Christ has covered us
Crown Him Lord, crown Him Lord of all
He is Lord, He is Lord of all!

Bridge
All of heaven bows down
all creation cries out
‘Jesus, Jesus, Je-sus!’
All of heaven bows down
all creation cries out
“Jesus, Jesus, Jes-us!”

 

Song Of My Father

Verse 1

When silence falls
I hear You call in the secret place
You still my soul with quiet joy
And I’m wide awake

Chorus

In the middle of the night
I look up to the sky
I can hear You singing over me
Through the fire and the flood
I know that I am loved
I can hear You singing over me (yeah)

Verse 2

You spoke the earth with just one word
And You hold my heart
My ev’ry step my ev’ry breath
Is Your work of art

Bridge

I hear Your melody I hear Your symphony
There’s nothing louder than the song of my Father
(REPEAT)

Count it all Joy that God is in control

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

The call to ‘consider it pure joy’ when we face trials and sufferings is quite the challenge. Should we actually be happy that we have lost something or someone, or that we are rebuked and persecuted? Can we really find pure joy in such a situation? Or are we called simply to put on a brave face, or fake smile?

While trials may not bring us direct or obvious ‘happiness’ they can bring us lasting joy – when they push us to rely on God, rather than ourselves. They shout a loud reminder through our shattered shell of comfort that He alone is in control. God is God, and I am not.

These lyrics come from an older song by Sovereign Grace Music, which works quite well as a congregational song. I hope you find it encouraging.

(Here is the link to get the sheet music)

Count it all Joy
VERSE 1
Lord I’ll count it all joy
When my troubles
Close me in on every side
Lord, I’ll count it all joy
When this road of faith
Runs through the darkest night
For I know You’re at work in me
Yes I know You’ll provide
All the grace I need 

CHORUS
You have always been my Rock 
I will trust You forever, forever 
You have never failed me God 
I will trust You forever, forever 

VERSE 2
Lord I’ll count it all joy
When the weight of sorrow
Drives me to my knees
Every heartache and pain
In Your mighty hands
Is forming Christ in me
And I know that Your Word is true
Yes, I know every trial
Will only prove 

BRIDGE
Who can separate us
From You and Your great love 

Words and music by Steve & Vikki Cook © 2004 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music/Sovereign Grace Worship

Flashback: God is God

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)

I recently listened to an old favourite album of mine by Steven Curtis Chapman and was struck by the words of the song, God is God. I won’t try to comment on what is significant about these words. There are so many treasures here. But they hold one simple and powerful lesson, that takes most of us a lifetime to realise: Only God is God.

“God Is God”
(Listen here on Spotify)

And the pain falls like a curtain
On the things I once called certain
And I have to say the words I fear the most, I just don’t know

And the questions without answers
Come and paralyze the dancer
So I stand here on the stage afraid to move, afraid to fall,
oh, but fall I must on this truth that my life has been formed from the dust

[Chorus]
God is God and I am not
I can only see a part of the picture He’s painting
God is God and I am man
So I’ll never understand it all
For only God is God

And the sky begins to thunder
And I’m filled with awe and wonder
‘Til the only burning question that remains
Is who am I

Can I form a single mountain
Take the stars in hand and count them
Can I even take a breath without God giving it to me
He is first and last before all that has been
Beyond all that will pass

[Chorus]

Oh, how great are the riches of His wisdom and knowledge
How unsearchable for to Him and through Him and from Him are all things

So let us worship before the throne
Of the One who is worthy of worship alone

[Chorus]

From the album Declaration (2001)
image

A Prayer for Father’s Day (Down Under)

I prayed this prayer last year on Father’s Day at our church. Praise God for his heavenly Fatherliness!

nativitystorythe_photos_1Dear Heavenly Father
Thank you for sending your Son Jesus to earth, entrusting him into the care of an earthly Father and modelling to us your sacrificial love and servant leadership. We give thanks for our own earthly fathers, for the love, provision and protection they have given us, even though imperfectly at times. Lord, forgive us for demanding perfection from our dads, which is only something you can give. Help us all to be prayerful for our fathers and appreciate the important role they played in leading and guiding us. Help us to show and express our love for our dads today.
We also think of the many children around us who live in a fatherless world, through absence or neglect or abuse. We pray that those children might find in you the father they seek. We pray children and families we connect with through Clubhouse and the Kids holiday program, that they might know your perfect Father’s love, that they might know you as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you Lord that you are the Father to the Fatherless.
We pray too for those who have lost fathers in the last year, for your comfort at this time while others are celebrating the love of fathers. Thank you Lord for the good memories we can share at this time, and the many good things our fathers have contributed to our characters and lives.
Pray for all dads, that they can love and accept and affirm their children, showing wisdom and patience as they seek to teach their children about Jesus. We pray particularly for new dads, for the task of leading and guiding which they may feel so unprepared for. Thank you that no matter what experiences they have had, with a good, bad or absent father, that they can love like you because your holy and fatherly spirit lives in them, by faith.  We pray that your design for families to be led by Christ-following dads, would be lived out amongst us, and would influence the society around us, for good and your glory!
Amen

Reflectors

image

God made humans in his image so that the world would be filled with reflectors of God. Images of God. Seven billion statues of God. So that nobody would miss the point of creation.

John Piper

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