Friday, December 20, 2013

What's Christmas all about anyway?

The Question.
"What IS Christmas all about?" That is the question I never asked that God just recently truly brought to bear on my heart and mind.  It's not that I did not know the story that was revealed to me.  I simply had not thought of it from this perspective.  Others don't know the story at all or have any idea of this perspective.

My exposure.
I grew up Southern Baptist.  From there I have been associated with a non-denominational church for the last nineteen years.  In neither of these environments was Advent or Lent something that was practiced or taught as a theme throughout the holiday seasons.  At least not at the Southern Baptist churches I remember.
It is important to note that I am not saying this in order to insult or slight those ministries in any way.  I have learned from both, the first of which, my father was the pastor.  Advent seems to be one of those seasonal faith themes that is practiced more by some churches than others.  Is does not seem fair to narrow it down by denomination because I am using a wonderful Advent app in my ipod that is based on the Advent curriculum from The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL.  This church, led by Dr. David Platt, is part of the Southern Baptist Convention.  I say all that only to give some background as to my experience and exposure to this faith based, seasonal celebration.

The word Advent means "to arrive".  As I am learning, Advent is a time of the year, if done right, that ties the story of the birth of Christ into the entire biblical historical narrative of the bible.  Now I have learned much about this narrative and the importance of understanding that, the story of our redemption bought by Christ's perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection runs from Genesis to Revelation.  However, I had never considered the ways in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus into this world as it's own little moment, without ensuring that we are remembering and sharing with others it's place in the grand scheme of redemptive history.  This was a surprise to me.  I had never really thought about it.  Partially, because it is not something I am accustomed to hearing every year at Christmas.

The Greater Question.
The fact is that Advent is the answer to the question, "What's Christmas all about?"  So if someone asks the question, can you answer it?  Greater still the question should be, will you tell them even if they don't ask?  Will you start the conversation?  What will you tell them?

The Answer.
The answer to this question, "What is Christmas all about?" should never simply be, "It's about the birth of Jesus."  Yet this is the typical understanding and response.  While it is true, it is incomplete.  The answer should be that Christmas is about the coming of a Messiah, a deliverer, a rescuer.  This then should prompt the questions, "What's a Messiah?"  "Why do I need a deliverer?"  "What do I need to be rescued from?"  Then, if they don't ask those questions, we should suggest them.  Then we answer them.

There are many verses and ideas that are involved in this answer.  If it is being taught or studied through over the month of December they should all be meditated on and this Advent App is a great way to do that.  It has an introduction that fleshes out the plot.  It then has six parts that are broken down like this:  1.) the promise of His coming, 2.) the promise of His birth, 3.) the promise of His life,  4.) the promise of His death,  5.) the promise of His resurrection, and 6.) the promise of His eternal reign.  Then an epilogue of promises kept.  All of these promises are crucial to the over all historical narrative of the story of redemption. 

Now, if we are in general conversation and this topic comes up do we need a six point response?  Of course not.  However, It is a prime opportunity for a basic gospel presentation in which the birth of Jesus is included.  For example:

"This is what Christmas is all about.  The creator of the universe created man in his own image to fellowship with him, that man might glorify the name of Almighty God.  God blessed man and gave him much authority over the earth with just a few instructions.  Man disobeyed God thus bringing the curse of sin, death, and destruction into the world to be experienced by all of creation.  But from the beginning God knew this would happen and had already put in place, a plan of redemption that would defeat the curse of sin.  God's plan was His very own Son, Jesus.  Throughout the Old Testament, God provides prophecies about the coming of His Son.  His Son would be known as the Messiah.  A righteous branch springing up from a broken or cut down tree. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  God's son, Jesus Christ, conceived of the Holy Spirit, would be born of a virgin and live a perfect life of obedience to God, being both fully man and fully God.  He would not be esteemed.  He would be despised and rejected, eventually being crucified by His very own people, the Jews.  He would die on a cross, taking the punishment for and removing the guilt, of the sins of all who would believe.  But on the third day, Jesus would be risen from the dead by the power of God's Spirit, thus defeating death and making His righteousness available also, to all who would believe.  After a little more time with man, Jesus would ascend to the right hand of the Father and there He would remain, praying for His people and directing the Holy Spirit whom He would send as our comforter and helper.  One day, He will return again.  This is the second Advent.  On that day He will complete the story, destroying evil and all of it's sources and taking all those whom have believed to reign with Him forever in glorious perfections and endless worship."

Or something like that.  It doesn't have to be quite that detailed but wouldn't it be awesome to have such a comfortable handle on the basics of the redemptive narrative, from beginning to end, that you could do that.  What I just wrote is maybe a minute or two worth of explanation.  I just wrote that off the top of my head.  I don't tell you that to brag.  It is certainly not perfect.  I tell you that to say that I am better at writing it, than saying it out loud and I could not possibly give you all the scripture references for that little quote from memory.  But, there is something exhilarating about being able to write something like that down.  Because I know it means that this story is really getting on the inside of me.  That is humbling and thrilling all at the same time.

I want to encourage you to consider this.  Consider making Christmas not only about Jesus' coming as a baby, but that you would take this season as an opportunity to consider the entire story of what the Holy Trinity has done for us in this grand narrative.  Remember, by our time table, we think of what God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit did, are still doing, and are going to do.  By God's time table, it is already finished.  From beginning to end, the story has been told.

Because of this we have a great hope that carries us through every difficult time and with joy, drives us to share this awesome story with a lost and dying world that many of them may come to possess this same great hope and share this gospel with that same joy!

Hallelujah!  What a Savior!


Monday, December 2, 2013

Do You Hear What I Hear?

King David's love for God's creation
King David was a great psalmist.  Many of the psalms in the bible are attributed to him.  In Psalm 19:1-2 David says, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge."

Before King David was king, he was a shepherd. He had the pleasure of lying out under the night sky and observing the constellations, maybe seeing a shooting star here and there.  During the day he watched the sun move across the sky.  He probably observed those neat moments when the sun and moon both appear to be in the sky at the same time.

In this day, we are so busy that we don't even notice the sun except to be bothered by it's brightness and put on sunglasses.  At night, especially in the city, you have to work really hard to see the stars.  We still seem to be fairly enamored by the moon and it's phases.  Not to mention when it gets really big or takes on some beautiful and unusual color as it reflects the suns' light or is eclipsed.

Childlike love for creation
The greatest way to enjoy the glories of the day and night sky are through the eyes of a child.  For me those eyes first came in my oldest son Ryan.  When Ryan was a toddler and learning to speak, his first word was moon.  He loved the moon.  He would ask for it and when he saw it, his face would light up as big and bright as the moon itself.  But when it went out of sight, he would get sad.  His whole countenance would change.  To this day he still loves nature and science.

Taking creation for granted
I believe David's appreciation for the life of the sky was as vibrant as that of Ryan's with just one difference.  A young child does not realize that they are looking at the very handiwork of God.  Do you?  As adults we get so busy with day to day life that we very rarely look up and appreciate God's handiwork.  We certainly don't think of it as declaring God's glory.  Oh from time to time, on a peaceful night and somewhere that there aren't many lights, I can get a good look at the sky.  When I do, I actually remember, to some degree, the awe and wonder that is God's creation.

Do you take God's creation for granted?  I know I do.  I don't spend nearly enough time appreciating and expressing gratitude for what God has given me.  My boys Ryan and Alex know that nature is God's handiwork but at ages ten and six, I can already see them enjoying it, but not with the same awe and wonder that they did when they were smaller.

Teach your children!
What about your children?  That's where we come in.  Not only do we need to make a consistent effort at appreciating the splendor of the trees, the birds in the air, and the stars in the sky but we must remind our children.  We must help them never to forget that, not only is nature there, but it is crying out "look at the majesty of God's creation!"  "Glorify Him for He has done great things!" 

Once you hear it, teach your children to be active participants.  Ask them, "do you hear it?"  "Do you hear what I hear?"  The heavens are declaring it.  All of nature is declaring the glory and majesty of our Almighty Creator.  Now obviously this is something we learn to see with our eyes and perceive with out hearts by God's grace.  However, we must teach our children to desire to do the same.

Creations revelation, Our rejection. 
Romans 1:18-21 states, and I paraphrase, that the very condemnation that necessitates a Savior is ours, because what can be known about God is plain in the things that have been made.  It says that we are guilty and without excuse because we know and yet we reject our Creator.  This is known as general revelation.

At the fall, Adam and Eve decided that what God had provided wasn't good enough if they could not take of the one tree that they were instructed to leave alone.  God's creation has been crying out to us about himself since the beginning.  We have been rejecting God's provision and God's authority ever since.  That is why we are all guilty, condemned, and damned to hell.  That is why Jesus had to come to earth, take on flesh, live the life of perfect obedience that we could not live and die the death that we should have died.  He took our punishment by becoming sin and taking all the wrathful response to that sin that belongs to us.  He satisfied our debt.

Good news!
The good news is, HE IS RISEN!!!  He conquered death.  Now his righteousness and victory over sin are available to us so that we can have eternal life.  Isn't that amazing.  We rejected God.  Yet, He sent His Son to live righteously and die to take the punishment for our sins; then raised him from the dead so that we could have access again to the Father for all eternity.

All we have to do is repent and have faith.  By God's grace we can have that childlike faith that once again appreciates all that God has done for us and yearns to obey Him.  If you have never known this gift of faith that leads to belief, repentance, and eternal life, you can have it.  Cry out to God.  He hears our cries and He can save you and change your life right now.

May we all come with childlike faith and learn to enjoy the majestic handiwork of our Heavenly Father, from creation to the cross, once again.

In Jesus name,