Jesus Gets Excluded From His Own Birthday Party

Christmas obscured

The last two days on Grace to You, John MacArthur has remarked that much of the world celebrates Christmas, but few people spend any time celebrating Jesus Himself. This fact bothers me most years, but this year I find it particularly irksome.

It’s not simply that the excitement of presents, food and activities overshadow serious reflection on the Lord. In a sense, I can understand how that happens. It’s not right, obviously, but I think even the most devoted Christian falls into that trap from time to time. In and of itself,  that sense of distraction doesn’t upset me very much.

But it deeply disturbs me to Read More »

Flashback Friday: Beyond The War On Christmas

Originally published December 7, 2016:

christmas-crossThis is the time of year when many evangelicals complain about the “war on Christmas.” Admittedly, something inside me  cringes at the politically correct greeting,  “Happy Holidays,” causing me to rebelliously answer, “Merry Christmas!” I’d love to attribute my rebellion to a desire to follow the great Reformers, but it probably really comes from having been a young teenager in the 1960s.

Anyway, I do understand the feelings of those who take offense at the secularization of Christmas. I emphasize with folks who quote the cheesy line, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” But sometimes I wonder if these culture warriors are more interested in “taking back Christmas for the Lord” than in the Lord Himself.

The practicalities of the Incarnation raise amazing questions. And the questions multiply, alternately intriguing me and frustrating me with the complexities of Jehovah, the very Sustainer of all creation (Colossians 1:17), depending on His mother for His basic needs.How could Mary and Joseph teach the Word of God (John 1:1-14) how to speak? How does a young couple raise God? Did  Jesus attend Hebrew School already knowing the Torah, and did He work to memorize the Psalms with His brothers?

Of course, too much speculation on such questions lead to apocryphal stories, tempting us to believe that the Bible isn’t sufficient to tell us everything we need to know about Jesus. Take care, dear sisters in Christ, to let such questions lead you to worship this Incarnate God, content not to understand the particulars.

That said, I’m going to ask one more question. When He ate the Passover lamb each year, did He anticipate that Good Friday afternoon when He would suffer and die as the Lamb of God Who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:35-36)?

Actually the answer to that one isn’t as important as its main point. The Second Person of the Trinity took on human flesh, becoming fully Man without ceasing to be fully God, laying aside His glory (but not His deity) for 33 years for one specific purpose. He came to be crucified.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ~~Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

That death on the cross, mentioned in verse 8, offered atonement for sin which would apply to all those who would believe in Him. See John 10:11, Romans 5:8 and 1 John 3:5 for just three of many Scriptures testifying to His atoning work on the cross. Through His sacrifice, He allows us all to glorify God the Father.

Christ’s incarnation rightly fascinates us. But it should do so much more than engage our intellect with speculation. It should bring us to the   cross, assuring us of His grace to pay for our sin. And as we worship Him for dying in our place, perhaps we can be patient with well-meaning people who wish us Season’s Greetings.

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The Wonderful Message Of Christmas — And Why People Work So Hard To Obscure It

2015 ChristmasI personally know many non-Christians who just love Christmas. They’ll decorate their homes to the hilt, send out beautifully illustrated year-end newsletters wishing people peace and joy, and maybe even put up a cute nativity scene as an homage to the story of the first Christmas.

For them, Christmas is primarily about brightly wrapped presents, feasting on scrumptious food, and parties. Songs mentioning benign infants lying in mangers must be supplemented with other songs about jingling bells and an obese elf from the North Pole who sees us when we’re sleeping. And then there are the infamous office parties and their accompanying innuendos about who was nice and naughty.

Most of all, they’ll declare that Christmas is about children. Not so much about a specific Child, although some might give Him an obligatory nod, but children and their sense Read More »

Prayer: A Seldom Realized Privilege

king-jesusEach morning, John and I listen to John MacArthur’s Grace To You broadcast. Currently, Grace To You is featuring MacArthur’s most popular Christmas messages that he’s preached over the course of his fifty years of pastoring Grace Community Church. Today’s message focusing on the deity of Christ captured my attention, but not in the way you might expect.

As MacArthur preached on Jesus being the Son of the Most High, and therefore being God Incarnate, I thought about God as the Most High Being. I don’t meditate on the fact that He is the Most High often enough, which usually leads me to regard Him a little more casually than I should.

That casual attitude particularly shows up in my prayer life, I’m sorry to say. Yes, I know the stereotype of Read More »

Singing Christmas Theology

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing has been my favorite Christmas hymn for most of my Christian life. It’s packed full of solid Biblical doctrine ranging from the Incarnation to regeneration, always bringing us back to His glory.

Singing this beloved hymn grows more meaningful each year as I notice new depths of theology in its familiar verses. As a result, I love it even more now than I loved it as a new Christian. I pray that you’ll discover truths about our wonderful Savior every time you sing it too.

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I’m Not Fond Of Seasonal Blog Posts

Thanksgiving is Thursday, and Advent is quickly following. As a Christian blogger, I feel a certain pressure (a gentle pressure, but a pressure nonetheless) to write about these celebrations. Yesterday, Thanksgiving came in handy, I’ll admit.  I didn’t have to spend hours Saturday afternoon scouring through YouTube for a hymn that interested me. A seasonal hymn really bailed me out!

But for the most part, I don’t get terribly excited about either reading or writing Thanksgiving and Advent articles. That’s particularly strange to me because I love the doctrine of the Incarnation.

People have given up trying to figure me out.

Seriously, I think there are two reasons this year that I feel a heightened aversion to Thanksgiving and Christmas articles. The first is Read More »

What Constitutes A Glorious Day?

This past Thursday John and I went into Boston — for no other reason than to enjoy the perfect weather. After spending an hour at the Museum of Fine Arts, we went to Downtown Crossing, and wandered up Washington Street. We stopped at B.Good for lunch, where we shared the absolute best chocolate shake I’ve ever tasted. We then wheeled to Quincy Market to buy our annual bag of Ghriradelli chocolates and a 2020 Boston calendar before going down the Greenway to catch the early train home.

It was a glorious day!

Yet maybe calling it glorious trivializes the word “glorious.” As much as Thursday delighted us, it pales in comparison to the truly glorious day when Jesus will return for  His beloved Church. I don’t think I’m alone in failing to comprehend the thrill that day will bring. But I definitely know that when I see Him coming in the clouds, I’ll wonder why I ever thought a Thursday in Boston was glorious.

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Luxurious Bible Study? Oh Yeah!

Bubble BibleWhen I hear the word “luxuriate,”  I generally envision a nice long bubble bath in a jacuzzi. Preferably by candlelight.  Chocolate and/or cheesecake should definitely be involved. Maybe even some soft music in the background, Hey: an old lady can dream, can’t she?

But I woke up this morning knowing that I would luxuriate in my favorite passage in all of God’s Word. I’ve been working through Paul’s letter to Read More »

Flashback Friday: Where Worship Belongs

Originally posted on August 27, 2015

Even the most liberal of evangelicals would insist on the Lord being the focus of worship. Scripture makes this focus necessary by insisting not only that He created all things, but that He created them for Himself so that He might be preeminent. Less than a year ago, our pastor preached on this very topic as he approached Colossians 1:15-19. Let me expand a bit on the text to provide a  fuller context.

11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~~Colossians 1:11-20 (ESV)

I love this passage primarily because it teaches the amazing doctrine of Christ’s deity, as well as the doctrine of  His Incarnation and His atoning work on the  cross. These words  certainly draw me into an attitude of worship  as they show me Who He is and what He has graciously done. These words also remind me that everything  He has created exists for no other purpose than to bring glory to  Him.

Practitioners of so-called Holy Yoga would say that their form of yoga allows them to worship the Lord more fully. I passionately disagree with that claim based on the fact that yoga (even when it’s dressed up with Bible verses and praise music) is Hinduism. Much to my frustration, their website no longer explains what Holy Yoga actually is, but Chris Lawson of Spiritual Research Network found this quote (which I remember reading) on an earlier version of the Holy Yoga website.

Holy Yoga was created to introduce physical worship of the Lord through prayer, breath work and movement to all seekers and believers in Jesus Christ, regardless of denomination…The purpose of the ministry is to introduce people to yoga as a form of collective (mind, body and spirit) worship…as well as certifying teachers through the registered yoga school (RYS) of Holy Yoga…to facilitate Christ-centered classes in their individual churches, studios, and community spaces….Our sole purpose at Holy yoga is to introduce people to a unique and powerful yoga experience centered on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To deepen the experience, Holy Yoga classes are practiced to contemporary motivational Christian music…Yoga is NOT a religion; it is a practice of mind and body control. When led by scripture, prayer and worship poses; it is a practice that encourages patience and cultivates an understanding of what God can manifest in our physical and emotional bodies. 

That closing sentence betrayed the inconvenient fact that Holy Yoga is more about experiencing physical and emotional manifestations of “God” than about Biblical  worship. But according to an article by Christian  Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM) entitled Should Christians Practice Yoga? (this title is a link), this focus on experience pretty much sums up the primary goal of yoga.

The problem is that yoga is religious in nature.  The point of the practice of yoga is to unite oneself with God.  Take this quote from the Yoga Journal: “Connecting the mind, body, and breath helps us to direct our attention inward. Through this process of inward attention, we learn to recognize our habitual thought patterns without labeling them, judging them, or trying to change them. We become more aware of our experiences from moment to moment. The awareness that we cultivate is what makes yoga a practice, rather than a task or a goal to be completed. Your body will most likely become much more flexible by doing yoga, and so will your mind.”4  As one can see, Yoga is more than just a physical exercise.  We as Christians do not want to make our mind more flexible.  We do not want to leave our mind open to false teaching.

Today, I will leave out any discussion of yoga’s worship of Hindu gods (although  I hope to address that matter at some point) and instead emphasize the point that yoga, “‘Christian” or otherwise, subtly shifts the focus from the Lord to self. As I watched video after video on the Holy Yoga  website, the preoccupation with “meeting God on your mat” came up several times. Although you have to pay the  big bucks before accessing anything that explains exactly how Holy Yoga enables you to better experience the Lord, it indeed indicates that  a wonderful experience awaits you on your mat.

Scripture always presents worship as adoring and praising the Lord. Often, such adoration does engage our emotions, but those experiences come as by-products of worship. I don’t need yoga when I have Scripture to tell me about Jesus. Instead of mystical experiences that make me feel degrees of ecstasy, let me learn to die to myself and use my life to serve and glorify Him.

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Flashback Friday: Charismatics Aren’t Like Joseph

Originally posted December 23, 2016:

bethlehem-dazzle-frameDuring my years as a Charismatic, I remember using all sorts of Scriptures as proof-texts to validate whatever spiritual experience I happened to be practicing at the time. Most of the Charismatics I knew did the same thing to greater or lesser degrees.

At Christmas time, Matthew’s nativity narrative gave me and my Charismatic friends excellent proof-texts to substantiate our claims that the Lord spoke to us personally. Three times in Matthew 1 and 2, the Lord sent Joseph dreams, in which He spoke very clearly to instruct Joseph. For example, look at God’s intervention when Joseph learned that his fiancee, Mary, was carrying a Child that he hadn’t fathered.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. ~~Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV)

Naturally, we concluded that, since the Lord spoke to Joseph, we had good reason to expect Him to speak to us in dreams, visions, still small voices or what have you. Our conclusion certainly seemed reasonable at the time, granted, but let’s think through a few points regarding who the Lord generally spoke to in Scripture and why He spoke to them.

In the Old Testament, God spoke to prophets, or to people who would further the development of Israel (and the Messianic line). He didn’t speak to everyone in Israel, nor did He speak about inconsequential matters. He was building His nation, teaching them how to worship Him and to separate themselves from those who worshiped false gods and committed abominable sins.

Likewise, in the New Testament He spoke to apostles and prophets until His Word was written down by some of those same apostles and prophets. Those apostles and prophets, according to Ephesians 4:11-16, built the foundation of the Church by the revelations that the Holy Spirit gave them. That revelation (at least the revelation that we needed) has been preserved in the Bible’s canon.

The Lord spoke to Joseph because Joseph would serve as the legal father of Jesus, thus legitimizing His claim to David’s throne. In turn, this claim validated Jesus as the Messiah. Had Joseph divorced Mary, Jesus would not have had this legal claim. Therefore, God had to intervene by speaking directly to Joseph. Notice that His instruction that Joseph name the Child Jesus fulfilled prophecy.

God spoke two more times to Joseph (Matthew 2:13-15 and Matthew 2:19-23), both times to protect Jesus from an early death and, again, to fulfill prophecy. The Lord spoke to Joseph for specific purposes that resulted in Jesus growing to Manhood, demonstrating Himself to be God, dying on the cross to atone for the sin of those who would believe in Him and rising from the grave to break the power of sin. God’s words to Joseph held eternal consequences.

God’s words to Joseph were vastly different from the things that present-day evangelicals (particularly Charismatics) claim to receive. Joseph, like other key figures in Scripture, played a critical role in God’s plan of redemption. That being the case, 21st Century Christians need only the Bible in order to hear everything the Lord wants us to know.

Hebrews 1:1-2 says that, in these last days, God has spoken through His Son. Praise God He spoke to Joseph back then, so that we would have His Son’s Word for all eternity!

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