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I had several hours to kill in a coffee shop last week. What follows is the fruit of that time. I apologize for its length. It wasn’t my intent to be this long. Because this is so lengthy I feel that I’m the pastor recently cited in the Babylon Bee where only four people read his post.

Do you ever wonder if we should celebrate Christmas? There are those extreme groups that are either outside the pale of orthodoxy or on the edge of heterodoxy who tell us that it is wrong to “deck the halls.” Then there are the solitary Scrooges and cranky curmudgeons who can’t “bah humbug” enough. Do these surly folks have a point? After all, there is no admonition in the Word of God to celebrate Christmas. Then there is the secular component to our Christmas. Most of us decorate our homes, buy presents, and hum along to the tune of White Christmas. This to say, the religious element of our celebration is at lest sullied, if not almost completely buried. Finally, there is the historical background of Christmas. It certainly wasn’t celebrated until the fourth century. The early church celebrated deaths not births. Then many would argue that Jesus wasn’t born on the 25th of December. Again, should we celebrate Christmas?

Even with the cultural baggage associated with Christmas, I would argue that the celebration is worth it. Granted, it takes work to get to the truth, but how great is the truth! What theology does Christmas remind us of? The list is too long. Christmas highlights God’s love, power, humility, salvation, and justice. As the old carol says, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Many, if not all, of God’s attributes are highlighted in Christmas. God is our Savior, and Christmas underlines this glorious truth. This is why preachers have no problem spending the month of December preaching about Christmas. Our Christmas is like eating lobster or crab. It is work, but it is certainly worth reveling in the glorious truth of the season.

What about the date? Why the 25th of December? I would say that the date doesn’t really matter. I think there is value celebrating “God with us” regardless of whether we get the date right or not. In fact, we almost certainly have the date wrong. Only God really knows when Jesus was born, and he isn’t telling us. While the date might be wrong, I think the general season is correct. There are reliable commentators who believe that the the 25th makes sense. It is a complex issue, but again, I don’t think the actual date matters. Some argue that the date was fixed on the 25th of December to coincide with the pagan festivals already in place. Rename a solstice party and you have an engaged crowd. However, the 21st isn’t the same as the 25th. It’s in the neighborhood, but I don’t think that the solstice has ever occurred on the 25th. Interestingly, as early as 200 there were those that believed that Jesus was conceived on March 25 (Feast of the Annunciation). Do the math; nine months from March 25 is December 25. But again, I don’t think the date is significant, and the church almost universally has celebrated Christmas on the 25th for well over 1,500 years.

I think we have freedom when it comes to Christmas. Paul writes in Rom. 14:3 “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.” Christmas is a gray area. Celebrating Christmas isn’t addressed in scripture. The wiggle room that applies to eating and drinking certain foods and drink applies to Christmas. Romans 14:5-6 says, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” The issue with celebrations like Christmas and Easter, celebrations that aren’t instituted by the Word, is whether or not one can celebrate with a clear conscience. We have freedom that we shouldn’t let others take from us. While there is no commandment in scripture to celebrate Christmas, I would suggest that there isn’t anything that prohibits it. And, more to the point, scripture is clear that as long as we do it to honor the Lord, we have freedom. If you don’t have freedom to deck the halls, I completely understand. On balance, if you appreciate the glorious message of the season, sing away!

I think there is a wonderful upside to Christmas. Because there is a secular/cultural component to our Christmas, we have a ready opportunity to move conversation to the real meaning of the season. In fact, the many symbols of the season from the tree, to presents, to great food, to family all provide handy access to the Christmas story and the heart of the Christian message. Also, people who never ever go to church will gather with family at a Christmas service. Even completely secular people have no qualms attending a Christmas service where the Christmas story is told. This (preaching) is God’s preferred way of communicating the gospel (Romans 10:14). By God’s extravagant grace, God might save your dear loved ones through the preaching of a Christmas message. Christmas is the gift that keeps on giving!

I would argue that the truth of Christmas is too good not to celebrate. But, on balance, I would adjust some things. I think the gift giving this time of year is inappropriate. The pace of the season is exhausting. That said, the truth of Christmas is too good not to celebrate.

I haven’t posted in a while. This might be the last piece of the year. Anyway, with the New Year in mind, here’s a great rework of Auld Lang Syne. By the way, you probably know that John Newton wrote Amazing Grace for his church’s New Year’s service in 1773. Thinking about God’s amazing grace is a wonderful way to kick off the New Year.

How’s Your Serve?

September 14, 2016

This morning on my yearly trek through the Bible I read Matthew 25. While reading the Sheep and the Goats passage of Matthew 25 I couldn’t help but think of its connection with the sermon passage last Sunday (Hebrews 6:9-12), where the text in describing things that accompany salvation (9) mentions, “the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints” (10). The truth of the passage is clear: saved people love God’s name and this love is expressed in serving the saints.

The Sheep and the Goats passage is scary. Those who enter eternal life (25:46) are those who serve Jesus. Jesus says in Mt. 25:35-36 “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” The “righteous” are stunned by this statement. They ask (37), “When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink?” Then Jesus said (40), “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” So, in this passage the sign of eternal life is meeting the needs of Jesus’ brothers, particularly the “least” of Jesus brothers.

This begs the question, who are Jesus’ brothers? Jesus in Mt. 12:50 says, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Putting all of this together, we might ask, what is one of the indications of salvation? Answer: we will serve the saints, Jesus’ family. We are saved by grace through faith, however, a key sign of life is that we will serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.

You see, if we love Jesus we will love what he loves. He loves the church. Therefore we will too. We will love no matter how needy, how broken, how irritating, and how reckless our brothers and sisters might be. We will love our brothers and sisters.

Destinations

July 13, 2016

B003D0TAM8.01._SX490_SCLZZZZZZZ_V190274968_Here are few links that might be worth your time.

Five Questions to Ask Before You Consume Cannabis – I think that the church needs to start grappling with this issue (whether it wants to or not).

17 Benefits to Reading the Entire Bible – At this point in my life, I don’t think I could not do this on a yearly basis. I would never be legalistic about it, however, there is great value in reading the Bible through. At the same time, I would say that meditating on key texts (e.g. the gospels) might be more beneficial.

HOW SHOULD I PROCESS THE CURRENT TENSIONS AND VIOLENCE IN OUR COUNTRY? Kevin DeYoung grounds us in the truth of Scripture as we face national tragedy on fairly regular basis.

On religious liberty: Has all goodwill run out? Freedom is on the wane in our country. This is certainly the bad news. The good news is that Christians are becoming more distinctive everyday.

 

Destinations

July 7, 2016

B003D0TAM8.01._SX490_SCLZZZZZZZ_V190274968_Here are 4 Reasons Why Every Christian Ought to Know the Traditional Creeds. Sadly, often evangelicals have an aversion toward these helpful creeds.

Is shame The Silent Marriage-Killer? I think that given our history of sin, shame often lurks.

What are The 4 Most Popular Ways to Read the Song of Songs? Iain Duguid helps sort the issues of this vexing book.

The movie Me Before You raises the question of assisted suicide. In a culture where death is increasingly prevalent and accepted (think abortion), this is no surprise. In Assisted Suicide: A Quadriplegic’s Perspective, Joni Eareckson Tada argues against the practice.

Christian dating sites must arrange same-sex matches reminds us that America is no longer the Land of the Free. With rulings like this and the popularity of socialist candidates, it is certain that freedom in America will continue to wane. Perhaps it is time for a new national anthem?

 

What are believers to do with the ordinances, sometimes referred to as the sacraments ? In the evangelical world, they are almost expendable. Some believers are never baptized and haven’t participated in the Supper in years. I think the reason for this is that as evangelicals we tend to stress our subjective faith over the objective work of God. However, in the ordinances, the emphasis is more on God’s work than it is on our faith. Carl Truman, in his inimitable way, articulates this truth while unpacking Luther’s view of the Sacraments. We marginalize the ordinances at our peril.

What is Worship?

June 11, 2016

No doubt most believers can formulate a working, accurate definition of worship. Worship is not just about our song service on Sunday morning, it is about a life consumed with the glory of God. Certainly our music is a component of worship, but it alone is far from the full-orbed concept of worship that we find in God’s word where song, prostration, and silence are but a few elements of worship. I’m reading Alister McGrath’s book The Journey, and I came across this definition of worship. I think it captures the heart of worship, and I trust that it will be an encouragement.

Worship is the human response to catching a glimpses of God in all his radiance and glory. It is a moment in which words fail us and we fall to our knees in joy, wonder, and amazement. We realize that human language is simply not capable of doing justice to the majesty and glory of the Lord. Worship refreshes us precisely because it forces us to raise our eyes upward and appreciate the immensity and grandeur of our maker and redeemer.

I hope our souls will be refreshed as we worship our glorious God.